I know you’ve all been on the edge of your seats, waiting for the site visit portion of my research trip blogs, right? Right?? Well don’t you worry at all, I’ve got all that fieldwork goodness for you here! (is this a weird way to start a research blog? haha)
The second half of my research trip consisted of site visits to three of ‘my’ Dutch settlements that I’m looking at for the landscape analysis portion of my dissertation research. Those sites are the infamous Sleepy Hollow, NY, as well as the town of Kingston, and Albany, NY. You might be familiar with Albany from the Broadway Hamilton, as the city where Philip Schuyler and the Schuyler sisters lived (coincidently we did go see Hamilton live in Boston, and it was amazing, 100/10), and you likely already know a little bit about Sleepy Hollow, so lets get into what I was doing there, and what I’m looking at for these sites!
For this portion of my trip, myself and my husband Ian were staying in Catskill, NY, a town I’d never heard of until I was searching for accommodations that were sort of in between Sleepy Hollow and Albany, without being in a large city. I’ve been to NYC before and found it very overwhelming so I was definitely looking to avoid that! Catskill has a really interesting art scene with several independent bookshops and cafes, some kind of art collective space, so many amazing historic buildings, a cidery, and a brewery! It was adorable, and we’d love to spend time there in the future.
My first site visit was to Sleepy Hollow, NY, made famous in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by American author Washington Irving. Contrary to popular belief, the town only changed its name to Sleepy Hollow in 1996, after a proposition in the 1980s was put forward. Previously known as ‘North Tarrytown’, the town’s website states that “in 1655 Adriaen Van der Donck, a Dutch colonist, first published a work which referred to the Pocantico River as Slapershaven or, literally, Sleepers’ Haven. Sleepy Hollow appears to be a later, Anglicized version of this name and actually applied to the valley of the Pocantico River,” giving some history to the origins of the name (History of Sleepy Hollow website). I was interested in visited because the town, aside from being famous in the literary world, was founded as a European settlement by the Dutch in the early-mid 17th century, and prior to the British takeover of New Netherland in 1664, a burial ground had already been established at the north end of the settlement.
While the church itself was not constructed until the 1690s by Frederick Philipse, First Lord of Philipsborough Manor, he stated that there were at least 50 burials in the burial ground when construction started, and he had the church placed on the south end of the site (Greenwood 1976). While the British ruled the area from 1664, the settlement remained very Dutch in tradition and language, with Dutch being present on many of the gravestones at the burying ground. The gravestone pictured here, of Catriena Ecker Van Tassel, is thought to have been the namesake for Katrina Van Tassel in Irving’s story, and you can see how damaged the stone has become from years of gravestone rubbings. It was very interesting to see that stone in particular in person, as well as this site that has such legend behind it, but also such an early burial site in colonial Dutch North American history!
The second site I visited was Kingston, NY, around an hour and 20 minutes north of Sleepy Hollow on the Hudson River. Originally known as ‘Wiltwijck’, and was the third Dutch settlement started in the Hudson River Valley after Fort Orange and New Amsterdam (NYC), founded in 1652. The burial ground and church have been in the same location since the first Dutch settlers established it. The first church at the site was built into a portion of the wood fortifications which surrounded the community, which began construction in 1658 and was expanded several times, completed around 1677. The map below from the Ulster County Archives page about the historic district (website here), with the church and churchyard just to the left of the work ‘Main’, within that internal fortified area, also called ‘the fort’.
The site is marked in the churchyard today by a sign which can be seen in the photo below, with the 5th iteration of the church visible behind it, constructed in the 19th century. This is not the only Dutch church to have been used as both house of worship and defensive structure, as I have learned, and is certainly something that is sticking out as a major difference between the Dutch and British during this period. I’m still doing research into the background on this site for my dissertation, so if anyone has a lead on any other historic maps of Wiltwijck kicking around, I’d love to see them!
Finally, we went up from Catskill to the city of Albany, the present capital of the state of New York! Albany was originally founded by the Dutch starting with Fort Orange in 1624, and Beverwijck in 1652, which became the blueprint for modern-day Albany that we know today. Some of the streets in downtown Albany are the exact streets from 17th-century Beverwijck, while the location of Fort Orange is now under a huge pile of overpasses that I was a little horrified of when we drove over it, it was so high up! The community of Beverwijck was surrounded by wooden fortifications and the first Dutch Reformed Church constructed there was also built as a blockhouse, and was placed in the centre of the intersection of State Street and Broadway, streets which still exist in Albany today. Before this church / blockhouse was constructed in 1655, services were held in the back of the patroon’s house in a warehouse. Janny Venema writes that the “structure, which was built of heavy wooden timbers in a square configuration, was erected squarely in the middle of the intersection of the two roads, so that the large weather vane in the form of a rooster could be seen from all directions” (2003:84). Burials took place both within the church and surrounding it, until the burial ground on Beaver Street was established a few years later in 1658.
The Beaver Street burial ground is now under a car park, as is the late 17th-century Lutheran burial ground and church site pictured below. The site was utilised far beyond the space available, burying rows of coffins under several feet of soil to make room for another stack on top, and in the 19th century Joel Munsell wrote that “this ground on Beaver street was completely buried over, when a foot of sand was added to the surface, and a new tier of coffins placed upon the first, each coffin required to be square and to be placed against the previous one” (Munsell 1876:25). I was told while visiting the NY State Museum, that this practice came over with the Dutch from the Netherlands, due to the need to save space in their small home country, a topic that I will be exploring further throughout my research!
It was so cool to be able to visit these sites as part of my research trip, and being able to meet with some of the curators of archaeology and history at the New York State Museum was really helpful as well! They set me up with some archaeology reports that I’m excited to dig into further, as the history of early Dutch burial landscapes in the northeast from the 17th century is a pretty under-researched topic. Hopefully my research can speak a little bit to what was going on, and how it compared to their neighbouring colonial nations’ settlements in the region as well!
Now that we’re home, I’m back to writing on some of my background sections, as well as working on some research for Annapolis Royal and writing some non-academic side-projects (as one does). This year will be pretty devoted to desk research and writing now that I’ve wrapped up my fieldwork and research trips, and I’m looking forward to getting through it and sharing what I find out with all of you!
Greenwood, Richard. 1976. Dutch Reformed (Sleepy Hollow) Church. National Registry of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form. Historic Sites Survey, National Park Service. Available online: https://npgallery.nps.gov/NRHP/GetAsset/NHLS/66000581_text. Accessed on February 6, 2023.
Munsell, Joel. 1876. Men and Things in Albany Two Centuries Ago. Read before the Albany Institute, April 18, 1876. Available online: https://archive.org/details/menthingsinalban00muns/mode/1up?q=human+bones. Accessed on February 18, 2023.
Venema, Janny. 2003. Beverwijck: A Dutch Village on the American Frontier, 1652-1664. Hilversum, the Netherlands: Verloren.