Book Review: Voices from Colonial America, New York

Reading Level

Ages 9-12

Also in This Series

• California
• Delaware
• Georgia
• Louisiana
• Massachusetts
• New Jersey
• Pennsylvania

Also on This Subject

• The 13 Colonies
• U.S. States
• The Making of the 50 States

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The one thing that stands out most about this book is the overwhelming early and continuing influence of the Dutch on the colony of New York. Wall Street, Harlem, Brooklyn, freedom of religion, an emphasis on trade, a specialization of education, strong rights for women—all these things that were and continue to be symbols of New York are Dutch in origin. The city and state might be called New York, but the influence of New Amsterdam continues to be felt even today.

The book is an excellent introduction to the story of the colonization, colonial struggles, and revolutionary independence of the New York colony, with special emphasis on what life was like in the towns and rural areas and in family life, independent of the trade and war themes for which the colony is much more famous.

Space is, naturally, given to the Native Americans who lived on the land before European settlers arrived and to the famous $24 Purchase by which Peter Minuit gained Manhattan. But we also see how important it was to New York colonists to worship as they pleased and to work as they pleased. Trade was vital to the survival of New York City, Albany, and other cities, yes; but keeping the family unit stable was nearly as important.

The French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War are discussed in appropriate length, with stunning maps and famous engravings and paintings illustrating the way. What is even more impressive is the highlighting given to smaller incidents, such as the "Peach War" and Leisler's Rebellion, the former a slight conflict that endangered agricultural supplies for months and the latter an exercise in representative government that ultimately failed but created echoes throughout colonial America.

Some of the most famous of the colonial American heroes hailed from New York, among them Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and John Peter Zenger. Hamilton's and Jay's efforts to convince New Yorkers to ratify the Constitution are chronicled with a focus on the Federalist Papers, and Zenger's libel trial is highlighted. Due diligence is given, too, to the enigmatic Benedict Arnold, who was both an American hero and a traitor to the cause.

The book ends, as do the other books in the series, with reference material, in this case a timeline and bibliography, the latter containing both books and websites. It is a fitting end to a well-researched, well-written exploration of the turbulent, exciting, revolutionary, decidedly Dutch early days of the New York colony.

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