They were the first minority in Manhattan. They were disliked and distrusted. They were objects of unflattering humor. They were called all sorts of names, one so insulting they adopted it into their own native language.
They were the Holland Dutch.
The Dutch were there first, you know. It was Dutchman Peter Minuit who purchased Manhattan from the Indians in 1626. The settlement was called New Amsterdam and would become the seat of government for the colony of New Netherland.
The Dutch West India Company paid little attention to the settlers at first. For three years New Amsterdam attracted a rough bunch –privateers, smugglers, and so on.
The first organized social system in the colony was a kind of feudalism. Huge estates with dozens of tenant families on each. The early governors and councils ruled without popular assemblies and were renowned for their harshness.
Meanwhile, the British were growing perturbed over the presence of New Netherland, an obtrusive interruption in the sequence of their coastal possessions. In 1664 a small English naval force went and captured the Dutch colony. The Dutch surrendered without firing a shot.
Seven thousand of them decided to accept British rule in order to keep their homes. For a while Anglo-Dutch relations were not bad. Yet as the hostilities developed between the respective motherlands, the English inhabitants of the colony now known as New York grew increasingly unfriendly toward the Dutch minority.
First privately, ultimately publicly, the British New Yorkers began making fun. Anything negative was automatically characterized as being “Dutch.”
Many related phrases remain a part of our vernacular:
And the list goes on.
But there was one epithet to which the Dutch themselves particularly objected. You know how ethnic slurs often reflect the foods with which a minority may be identified? Well, the Dutch were supposedly characteristically fond of cheese. So the English began referring to Dutchman as “John Cheese.” That upset the Dutchman so much that they eventually turned the nasty nickname around, actually calling the Englishmen “John Cheese.”
In the language of the Netherlands, naturally.
It was that epithet which made the most indelible impression of all.
In time the world would forget that a hangover was a ”Dutchman’s headache,” and that “Dutch Gold” meant the phony stuff.
What we remember is the unflattering term “John Cheese,” a label the Dutch ultimately laid on us.
The way they said it was Jan Kees.
Now you know the rest of the story.
New York, NY, U.S.A.: Doubleday, 1977 ISBN: 0385127685.