Nicole Saffold Maskiell (Fall 2011)

Lecture by Nicole Saffold Maskiell

Nov. 15, Dwinelle 160, 3.30-5pm

Sometime after arriving on the island of Curaçao, a small group of adults and children from New Netherland was lost. The misfortune was discovered by the Director General’s wife, Judith, who had, before their disappearance, stood as baptismal witness for the missing persons at her own family chapel on the bouwery in Manhattan. This launched a series of correspondences between the two Dutch colonies throughout the summer and fall of 1664. That the group was lost was not extraordinary: piracy, storms and warring polities made the late seventeenth century Atlantic world a place of frequent disappearances. What was extraordinary was that the incident was noted at all and at the highest levels of Dutch colonial society. For the missing persons were enslaved Africans. In 1687, Judith Bayard Stuyvesant died in New York. Through the pieces left to her descendents, a lifetime of connections between New Netherland and the larger Dutch slave empire emerge. To her granddaughter, Judith, she bequeathed “all my Testracies Wearing apparel of silk and Wollen belonging to my body Together with a Summe of One thousand Gilders Wampum.” The legacy she left to her Caribbean-born granddaughter uncovers the ways that the VOC silk trade was knit together with the New Netherland economy of Wampum. To her son, Nicholas Stuyvesant, she left a “black Cabbinett of Ebbon wood with the foot or frame belonging to it.” While New Netherland provisioned the Caribbean with timber and foodstuffs, the Caribbean supplied New Netherland with slaves and the black wood from the western African coast. Even as slavery disrupted the personal and family lives of enslaved Africans, it created a common slave culture and knit together merchant Dutch families, cementing Atlantic alliances which crossed contested colonial lines. When smallpox swept through the Massachusetts Bay colony during the summer of 1721, Cotton Mather and fellow Harvard alum and amateur scientist Benjamin Colman interviewed enslaved people in Boston about their experiences of smallpox inoculation in Africa. Mather and Zabdiel Boylston submitted Boylston’s son as well as his enslaved man servant and child as test subjects. The consultation of blacks caused a strident debate in Boston, but the inoculation bore favorable results. In his diary, Mather planned to “hasten unto Holland” and share his “account of the astonishing Success, which we have here seen of the Small –Pox inoculated.” His intention to “Hasten unto Holland” with his smallpox results illuminates the ways in which the Dutch and English continental and Atlantic worlds were tied along lines of honor and the products resulting from trade in human beings. Letters, wills and diary entries uncover hidden pathways of slavery connecting Caribbean planters, Harvard elites, New York magistrates and Holland’s scientific society. Insults and niceties, secret deals and veiled deceit flowed between members of the Dutch slaveholding Atlantic, moments easily missed without a framework for understanding the coded world they inhabited. My paper will explore the ways that slavery transformed the cultural landscape of the Dutch Atlantic through an examination of the social, intellectual and kinship networks that intertwined Dutch slaveholders with those they enslaved.

Nicole Saffold Maskiell is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of History at Cornell University. Her research is focused on the networks that connected communities across racial lines in colonial New York and New England, and how those ties affected the larger culture of the Dutch and English world during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. She is currently writing her dissertation tentatively entitled “A Kind of Extravagant Blood: Slavery Among Elites in Colonial Massachusetts and New York,” for which she received the 2010 Huntington Library Mayers Fellowship and the 2010 Gilder Lehrman Fellowship.

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