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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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2. Exploring Borders   

2. Exploring

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Gloria
- Bartolomé
de las Casas
- Bernal Díaz
del Castillo
- Samuel
de Champlain
- Christopher
- Adriaen
Van der Donck
- Americo
- John Smith
- Álvar Núñez
Cabeza de Vaca
- Garcilaso
de la Vega
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Authors: Adriaen Van der Donck (1620-1655)

Van Bergen Overmantel
[2642] John Heaten, Van Bergen Overmantel (c. 1730-45), courtesy of the New York State Historical Association.

Adriaen Van der Donck Activities
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Adriaen Van der Donck began his professional life studying law at the University of Leyden in the Netherlands. Then, in 1641, he changed the course of his career by accepting a commission to travel to the Dutch commercial colony in America (present-day New York) to administer the estate of the wealthy patron Kiliaen Van Rennselaer. Van der Donck's assignment--to stifle the fur trade and instead promote agricultural settlement in Van Rennselaer's land in the Hudson Valley--soon brought him into conflict with the Dutch colonists, who were more interested in lucrative fur trapping and hunting than in farming. Uncomfortable with the climate of "great strife, uproar, quarreling . . . [and] mutual discord," as he put it, Van der Donck decided to leave Van Rennselaer's employment in 1646 and strike out on his own. After negotiating with the governor of New Netherland, William Kieft, he received a grant from the Dutch West India Company to purchase an estate just north of Manhattan. There, at the junction of the Hudson and Nepperhan Rivers, Van der Donck built one of the first saw mills in North America. His success and his status as an educated gentleman prompted settlers in the region to refer to him as "Jonk Herr" ("young gentleman," or "young nobleman"). Eventually, the name evolved into "Yonkers," now the name of a city north of Manhattan.

Van der Donck once again found himself at the center of political controversy when he clashed with the new governor of the colony, Pietr Stuyvesant, who arrived in New Netherland in 1647. Van der Donck wrote a lengthy formal complaint against the governor, entitled Remonstrance of New Netherland, and sailed back to the Netherlands to personally deliver it to government authorities in 1649. While residing in Europe, Van der Donck completed another work, the Description of New Netherland. This detailed account of the native inhabitants, plants, animals, and other natural resources of the colony was a promotional tract, meant to encourage immigration from the Netherlands and to defend Dutch imperial claims against rival European powers such as the French, Swedish, and English. Van der Donck returned to his adopted land in 1653 and died on his estate two years later.

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