Elizabeth M. Covart (PhD, UC-Davis, 2011) is an independent historian located in Boston, Massachusetts, who specializes in early American history. She also blogs at Uncommonplace Book: An Independent Historian’s Blog and is a Contributing Editor for the Journal of the Early Americas and contributor to the Journal of the American Revolution.
As my book project explores the cultural legacy of New Netherlanders who lived in Albany, NY, I attended the 36th Annual New Netherland Seminar on Saturday, October 5 at the New-York Historical Society. I admit that I attended the conference as an interloper; I study the revolutionary and early republic periods.
Sponsored by the New Netherland Institute (NNI), the New Netherland Seminar is the only conference dedicated to the study of the former Dutch colony. The seminar convenes in a different location each year, but always within the bounds of New Netherland. The NNI organizes each seminar around a theme. This year, it selected “The Dutch Revolt and New Netherland” in an effort to explore the contributions Flemish and Walloon migrants made to New Netherland. To this end, the NNI invited Guido Marnef, Kees Zandvliet, Maarten Prak, Wim Vanraes, and David Baeckelandt to discuss the Revolt and how and why the event led Flemish and Walloon migrants to participate in the Dutch colonization of North America.
The Dutch Revolt began in 1568 when the Low Countries revolted against the Habsburg Empire that ruled them. The struggle lasted 80 years and centered on political and religious issues. The Revolt ended in 1648, when the Protestant-dominated northern Netherlands (present-day Netherlands) achieved independence; the Southern or Spanish Netherlands (present-day Belgium) remained part of the Habsburg Empire.
The Antwerp Migration:
Guido Marnef (University of Antwerp) set the scene for the audience. In his paper, “People on the move: Migration movements from the Southern to the Northern Netherlands in the time of the Dutch Revolt,” Marnef used statistics to show how the Revolt affected migration into and out of Antwerp. For example, in 1567 the Duke of Alba’s arrival in Antwerp caused a large outmigration of Calvinists and Lutherans. In 1577, the reverse happened; the Protestants took control of Antwerp, which caused the Protestants to return and many Catholics to leave. In 1585, the same in- and out-migration patterns occurred again when the Spanish regained control of Antwerp.
How many Protestants left Antwerp? According to Marnef, Antwerp had a population of approximately 83,905 in 1582. By 1591, the population had plummeted to 46,123, a 45-percent decline.
So where did the majority of the Flemish and Walloon Protestants go after the Dutch Revolt? Initially, the migrants settled in many different European cities. Marnef cautioned that most of the migrants considered themselves to be “refugees” not “migrants.” However, after the Spanish secured their hold on Antwerp and the Southern Netherlands, the refugees accepted their status as migrants and resettled mostly in the Northern Netherlands.
Flemish and Walloon Contributions to the Netherlands:
Kees Zandvliet (University of Amsterdam) and Maarten Prak (University of Utrecht) continued Marnef’s story of the Flemish and Walloon migrants with a discussion of their significant contributions to the economic and geographic growth of the Netherlands.
Flemish and Walloon merchants stimulated the growth of Dutch trade and with it geographic expansion. Eight out of ten of the largest investors in the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (United East India Company or VOC) had migrated from the Southern Netherlands. Additionally, migrant merchants strengthened Dutch trade in the Mediterranean by introducing Dutch traders to their Mediterranean partners.
Cooperation between Dutch merchants and their new Flemish and Walloon neighbors proved so beneficial that Prak presented the audience with an equation: Antwerp + Amsterdam = Synergy. Synergy between the two groups led to the formation of the Dutch East and West India Companies, which expanded Dutch trade connections to Africa, East Asia, and North America.
Flemish and Walloon Contributions to New Netherland:
Wim Vanraes (Editor-in-Chief, Gazette van Detroit) and David Baeckelandt (President of Belgian Publishing Inc.) attempted to bring the theme of the conference full circle by discussing how Flemish and Walloon contributions to the Netherlands affected the development of New Netherland.
Many Flemish and Walloon migrants settled in New Netherland. In fact, thirty Walloon families comprised the first settlers of the colony. Vanraes discussed the correspondence of one early colonist, Antwerp-born Govert Loockermans, to highlight Southern Netherland contributions to the colony.
The Stuyvesant-Rutherford Collection at the New-York Historical Society contains 49 letters to and from Govert Loockermans. Loockermans migrated to New Amsterdam as a teenager in 1633. By 1647, Loockermans had become the main representative and trader in North America for the Vanbrugge firm. In his capacity as trader and New Amsterdam resident, Loockermans oversaw a lot of trade activities and the English conquest of New Netherland in 1664. According to Vanraes, the Loockermans correspondence illuminates life in New Netherland from the homesickness of contract workers to the kinds of news that traveled between New Amsterdam and old Amsterdam.
I am glad I attended the New Netherland Seminar. Its discussion of Flemish and Walloon contributions to the Netherlands and New Netherland will guide some of my research into the development of a New World Dutch culture in Beverwijck (later, Albany). However, I participated as an interloper.
For my colleagues who study New Netherland, the conference left them wanting more. Unlike many specialized history conferences, the New Netherland Seminar attracts a diverse audience of scholars and heritage enthusiasts. The speakers try to balance information that appeals to a knowledgeable, but general, audience against the arguments and detail that their colleagues find most interesting. In most cases, 30 minutes did not provide enough time to develop detail and arguments.
The New Netherland Institute understands this dual-audience dilemma. The NNI schedules several breaks, a post-seminar reception, and a dinner into its seminar. These breaks and gatherings facilitate periods of conversation when attendees can discuss the papers and ask the presenters for more information about detail and their argument. I, for one, had a wonderful conversation with Maarten Prak about the Low Countries during the Industrial Revolution at the post-conference dinner.
 The New Netherland Seminar started as the Rensselaerswijck Seminar. In 2010, the New Netherland Institute changed the name of the seminar to the New Netherland Seminar to make clear that the conference focused on the history of New Netherland and not just Rensselaerswijck. See: New Netherland Institute “Past Seminars,” http://www.newnetherlandinstitute.org/programs/events/new-netherland-seminar/past-seminars/
 Notes on Terminology: “Flemish” describes a person from Flanders, a region in northern Belgium, which sixteenth-century Europeans knew as the Southern Netherlands. “Walloons” spoke French instead of Flemish (a Dutch dialect) and came mostly from the southeastern provinces of the Southern Netherlands.
 Jaap Jacobs, The Colony of New Netherland: A Dutch Settlement in Seventeenth-Century America (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009), 64.