The Island at the Center of the World

The significance of early Dutch Settlers

In my early 20s, I spent a short time in Manhattan, Montana, a small community of Dutch farmers. I found these tall, intelligent, handsome people to be quite interesting. Committed Calvinists, many read every edition of the Reformed Journal cover to cover. Two Reformed churches—alike and yet different—stood a short distance from each other in the village, competing with each other for the soul of the community. Until a few years before my visit, these were Dutch Reformed churches, but the name was changed to Christian Reformed to indicate that non-Dutch were also welcome to their congregations. Not until recently, while reading a book by Russel Shorto, The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America, did I connect Manhattan, Montana, to Manhattan, New York.

I was simply unaware of the significance of early Dutch settlers in the history of the United States. Reading Shorto’s book was very educational. The blurb on the back cover of the book is quite enticing.

“When the British wrested New Amsterdam from the Dutch in 1664, the truth about its thriving, polyglot society began to disappear into myths about an island purchased for 24 dollars and a cartoonish peg-legged governor. But the story of the Dutch colony of New Netherland was merely lost, not destroyed: 12,000 pages of its records—recently declared a national treasure—are now being translated. Drawing on this remarkable archive, Russell Shorto has created a gripping narrative—a story of global sweep centered on a wilderness called Manhattan—that transforms our understanding of early America.”

The book lives up to this advertisement. As my wife and I read the story aloud to each other, we often stopped to examine maps to fix in our minds the locations of the events described. We found the book to be carefully researched and well written—a great combination for history books. Few are so well crafted.

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