One of the most interesting stories in this book is that of what happened to the documents that were kept by the Dutch colony and its officers. This trove of papers that go so far in explaining the complexity of the issues of New Netherland lay unnoticed for a few hundred years in various libraries. Only in the 1970’s, when the translation of the papers to English finally began, did the importance of the Dutch influence in New York begin to get truly clarified.
The last chapter of The Island at the Center of the World is a little coda in which Shorto tells of the journey of the records of the colony over two and a half centuries, in the New World and the Old, always out of the public eye.
It is a riveting small essay on great good fortune. If you do not value librarians and those who care about the written record, you should read this chapter. It will certainly set you straight because these New Netherland papers survived through swashbuckling derring-do and because of a deep concern for history on the part of a very few individuals over the centuries.
The records were neglected, subject to mould, fire, wars and general indifference. But they remain more or less intact now because of the lucky interest of the few individuals that seemed to understand what they had in hand. Without them, the records would have perished, this book wouldn’t have been written and the ongoing revelations of the true importance of the Dutch Manhattan colony would have been lost to us.
For those interested in why New York is New York, and why the United States developed the way it did, those efforts – and this book – are invaluable.