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Suriname in the Picture

Suriname in the Picture

Auction in New York

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Three documents that cleared the way for the British to take New Amsterdam in exchange for Suriname from the Dutch in the 17th century.

If you bought the 1664 deed — officially, a charter laying claim to a great deal of land — you would not own Manhattan.
If you could turn the calendar back 359 years, you would have controlled it — and territory as far north as Maine, said Richard Austin, the global head of books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s , the auction house that is selling the charter and two later documents this week of January 2023.  But the owner would have been the Duke of York, later King James II.
And you probably would have needed soldiers.  Richard Nicolls, whom the duke sent to carry out the takeover from the Dutch, arrived with nearly 2,000 “fighting men,” according to “Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898.”  Nicolls’s stated mission was to win the “entyre submission and obedience” of New Amsterdam, whose residents became New Yorkers after Nicolls changed the second word in the town’s name to honor guess which duke.
The charter directed “the Inhabitants of the said Lands, Islands & Places” in New Netherland to “Give Obedience” to Nicolls, but ownership remained firmly in royal hands.  The duke “saw immediately that the jewel in North America was New York because of the trading the Dutch had been doing,” Austin said. “It was already a commercial melting pot. This is why he wanted the English to control Manhattan.”
Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, in “Gotham,” added an important strategic reason: Controlling New Amsterdam “would also give Britain an invaluable base of operations against the French in Canada and their Indian allies.”
Peter Stuyvesant, the Dutch governor, tried to resist but lacked the personnel and support.  More than 90 Dutch colonists, including his own 17-year-old son, signed a petition endorsing the line of least resistance against the British.  And the Duke of York intended Nicolls to be magnanimous, all things considered. Nicolls’s orders included preserving the colonists’ rights to property and religious freedom.
The duke signed the two other documents in the Sotheby’s sale in 1674, two years after a Dutch squadron retook New York during an Anglo-Dutch war.  But the Dutch handed New York back to the English when the war ended in exchange for Suriname a then colony of the Dutch empire, and the duke appointed Major Edmund Andros as the colonial governor.
Andros “seemed to share James’s idea that the trade that would happen out of Manhattan would be an extraordinary part of the English empire,” Austin said.
It was Andros who made English the official language of the courts, although proceedings in areas where Dutch was dominant were also recorded in that language, and the English system of jury trials became the norm.
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Andros tangled with colonial leaders in Connecticut and Massachusetts and with political opponents in New York, who maintained that he gave Dutch merchants preferred treatment.  Andros lost his job, but not the royals’ confidence. He went on to spend three years as governor of New England and, after James’s death in 1688, six years as governor of Virginia and one as governor of Maryland. “We’re New York,” Austin said. “It was probably the toughest place to rule.”
Andros apparently hung on to the three documents, as did his descendants until they sold them in 1977, Austin said. The buyer was David Karpeles, a collector who had amassed a huge collection of historical documents and opened museums around the United States before his death last year at age 85. Austin said Karpeles bought the three documents for about £10,000, the equivalent of $68,008 in today’s dollars.

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