Collapse of a Colonial Society

Chapter VIII.
The Dutch Vrouws.

THERE is much evidence to show that the women of Dutch descent of the early years of New Netherland and New York had other traits than those of domestic housewifery; they partook frequently of the shrewdness and business sagacity and capacity of their Dutch husbands. Widows felt no hesitation and experienced no difficulty in carrying on the business affairs of their dead partners; wives having capable, active husbands boldly engaged in independent business operations of their own; their ventures were as extended and fearless as those of the men. They traded for peltries with the Indians with marked success. I suspect part of the profit may have come through the Indian braves’serene confidence in their own superior sagacity in bargaining and trafficking with the “white squaws.” The Labadist travellers wrote thus despitefully of a “female-trader” in Albany in 1679:—

“This woman, although not of openly godless life, is more wise than devout, although her knowledge is not very extensive, and does not surpass that of the women of New Netherland. She is a truly worldly woman, proud and conceited, and sharp in trading with wild people as well as tame ones, or what shall I call them not to give them the name of Christians, or if I do, it is only to distinguish them from the others. She has a husband, who is her second one. He remains at home quietly while she travels over the country to carry on the trading. In fine, she is one of the Dutch female-traders who understand the business so well. If these be the persons who are to make Christians of the heathen, what will the latter be?”

Certain traits of a still more influential and widely known female-trader in New Netherland are shown to us in Dankers’pages through slight but extremely vivid side-lights, but which (having been written on shipboard) may perhaps be taken with the grain of palliative salt which should frequently be cast upon the condemnatory utterances of sea-weary, if not sea-sick, passengers on the raging deep when they regard everything connected with the odious ship which confines them.


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