Monday, 12 May 2014

Work | What is being written about Norwegians and Dutch people in old Irish emigrant letters?

I was born in the Netherlands but moved to Norway at the age of ten, so it's always fun to come across a mention of either country in my research. I decided to run some corpus searches to get the scoop on what Irish emigrants really thought about Norwegians and Dutch people, and found some interesting results!

The Norwegians

Unfortunately, Norway or Norwegians (or Norwegens as one writer spelt it) are not mentioned that much. There are some references to the country in a discussion around sea travels; a mention is made of a group of Norwegians concerning a business transaction (Twin Peaks, anyone?); and there was talk of the ship The Norwegian running aground off the coast of Canada. Other than that, only three instances are worth mentioning.

One man wrote about an adventurer named Lamont whom he had met and fished with. Lamont had also fished in 'Namsen, the best river in Norway' (Samuel Bruce Junior, 15.07.1862) - and apparently authored a book. Not much was written about the people or the country itself, but the two passages I did find were decidedly positive in their descriptions:

I must say that the Rockey Mountain scenery has not improved
me much & that it comes no where near the Himalayas or even
Norway, either in colour or form.
(Earl of Ava, 17.07.1893)

The Earl of Ava was impressed by the Norwegian mountains, it seems. Another letter writer was impressed by the people themselves:

The advantages of combined emigration are better
understood by other nations. Whole villages, pastor and and all, will
rise up, and make an exodus from Germany to the states. The hardy and
intelligent Norwegians go out in strong colonies. This plan should be
sirenously [sic] put before our people.
(John Porter, 08.03.1845)

Norwegians: hardy and intelligent. Unfortunately, that is all there is about my adopted homeland. There was more to be found about the Dutch, and not all of it good!

The Dutch

One thing we must bear in mind here is that Dutch was (and is!) sometimes confused with the German word Deutch (the German people or language). One clear example of this are the Pennsylvania Dutch who are of German descent, not Dutch. One letter writer even acknowledges this confusion, after which he flies into a rant about the people in question and their food (Dutch readers will notice smear case 'smeerkaas' (cheese spread):

I am fairly sick of it, at least of this
section of it, which is highly settled with "Cobbed
ear'd" Dutch or Germans, (for both names are here
[synonymous?]) whom I rate in the scale of
civilization but one degree above the Hottentots,
unsocial, ungenerous, illiberal, uneducated, mean and

so so superstitious are the Dutch here, that except in
harvest the moon governs all their operations so that
one may with some propriety term them lunatics, pulse
and grain must be sown when the sign is up, that is, when
the moon is in the ascending mode

a child
that has the whooping cough must be placed thrree times
in a small hopper, if a man cuts himself with an axe or
another edge tool, the instrument must be carefully wiped
& laid away , or the wound will not heal - marriage is an
infallible cure for a broken leg (illegitimate pregnancy)
&c &c. 

two or three fowls cut up and stewed, with a few
pounds of veal or beef dressed in the same manner (for they
have no idea of dressing a whole joint in this part of the
country) comprises all the animal food - these are
distributed over the table on plates - saucers and small
plates with molasses, apple butter, bonny clabber, pickled
cucumbers, & red beets profusely scattered on the table
furnish the rest of the repast - no other vegetables of
any kind - [showers?] of tabacco sakin [sacking?] [sprinkle?]
the floor and clouds of segar [cigar?] smoke perfume the
air - as one leaves the table, the place is occupied by
another - neither change of plate or knife or fork is
necessary - several will use the same utensils - bonny
clabber or [smear?] [case?] is made of coagulated skim
[skimmed?] milk (for the Dutch dont skim their milk until
it has stood several days) beat up with a little fresh
(J. Wightman, 06.07.1833)

He writes out of Conway, but many states have a town called Conway, amongst them Pennsylvania. Dutch or German? Here is another case of Dutch/Deutch confusion:

Florrie is learning to speak German or Dutch it is a
great deal used here, there are so many Dutchmen here we
have all nations here.
(Tom Black, 24.09.1890)

Dutch, German; /təˈmeɪtoʊ təˈmɑːtəʊ/. In the next case it might even be just the transcriber of the letters who has mistakenly attributed Frow to be German and corrected it to Frau. But Dutch vrouw could equally well have been meant by the writer. (Even though the V is pronounced the same as in English, it is not infrequently realised as /f/).

a steady good
fellow working every day
and is gowing [going?] to bring out
his Frow [Frau?] this is a dutch
name for a wife.
(James Slevin, 01.05.1882)

That's enough Dutch/Deutch. What did the Irish think of the people? First of all, many mentions of Dutch relate to religious affiliations or churches. Some seem to find the Dutch quite pious in that regard:

The 3d of our
Inhabitants in America are Dutch I think & of them are many
pious people 
(Thomas Clark, 17.05.1771)

Others disagree:
my schoolhouse
was built [chiefly?] for a Dutch [meeting?] house and they have
meeting [sic] in it every thirteen weeks  for the Dutch [Don't?] care
much for religion  here 
(John Taylor, 28.09.1821)

A lot of letters mention Dutch ships, Dutch products like clover seed or Dutch is simply referring to where a person is from. There is also mention of a Dutch oven (the one used for cooking, not the other kind):

I was sorry to hear of the failure in the Potato crop and I understand
you are to import Indian Corn.  It is excellent bread when
properly baked.  It is generally cooked in a Skillet, about the size
of a Dutch oven but not so keep [deep?]. 
(Nancy Wightman, 04.11.1845)

A few times, Dutch people (or their descendants) are described in very favourable terms. Well, once you get to know them, anyway:

I have said nothing yet of the
domestic habits & amusements of the People of this Town the
old settlers principally the decendants of Dutch, are
[extremely?] cautious & [jealous?] of Strangers, but if your
[character?] bears scrutiny, after a [pretty?] severe ordeal
they become friendly & neighbourly
(John Caldwell, 18.10.1802)

 Or as having had a good influence on their neighbours:

the English and Scotch are a small minority, the population
being a mixed race, composed of the descendants of
adventurers from all the countries of Europe, and who,
under Dutch rule, settled down into a thrifty,
justice-loving, frugal, industrious, and virtuous people
(R. Gumbleton Daunt, 22.01.1848)
But remember the rant at the beginning of this section? Yeah, that seems to be the general consensus. This (probably Protestant) letter writer has this to say about Catholic Irish and Dutch people alike:

all men are respected that will respect themselves live at least morally and
improve their minds by study and reading so as to be fitted for society of
course this does not include the low catholic Irish and dutch for to a man
they are addicted to drinking and loafing around shops such men are abhorred
here as in every other civilised community.
(Andrew Greenlees, 30.05.1859)
Dutch and Irish are frequently unfavourably mentioned in the same sentence. The letter writers being Irish themselves, this is probably often because they belong to a different religion (as above), or because they have become integrated in their new country and see new Irish immigrants in a new light. 

This man seems to feel the Dutch have an unfair advantage in their quarrels with the Irish:

there is scarcely a day passes
but there [their?] quarling [quarelling?] on them and there
does be a great many lives lost it is
the irish and the dutch and the dutch sticks
always with there [their?] dish knives
(George Graham, 27.08.1847)

And to be fair, the following writer is only reporting on what others are saying:

Other years it was altogether foreigners who died and when there
would be 80 or 100 deaths reported daily they would say they
were only a lot of damned Dutch and Irish but the whole beauty
of it this year is that there is nearly as many Americans dying
as there is of foreigners.
(John Anderson, 12.09.1858)

Although his definition of 'beauty' leaves perhaps something to be desired...

William, below, describes one of the characteristics of the Dutch to be narrow-mindedness, which would apparently excuse a certain Rachel (of Dutch descent) of behaving in a less desirable fashion:

and for Rachel
Massey [?] or any one else to deduce any conclusions from
this fact only shows a narrow mind that cannot expand beyond
the vulgar prejudices the lower orders are so much addicted
to. However this is so CHARACTERISTIC of the Dutch that
Rachel being of a Dutch mother is excusable.

(Wm Montgomery, 16.04.1849)

And there are more examples than the ones posted here. Why such negativity? It can't be the Anglo-Dutch wars as they occurred before all of these quotes (except the one about Dutch people being pious). Perhaps simply because there were so many of them. Most of the letters quoted here were sent from the US, and the Dutch were one of the earliest, and in the nineteenth century largest, groups of settlers. Six presidents had Dutch ancestry, New York was known as New Amsterdam at one time, Coney Island comes from Dutch Konijneneiland ('Rabit Island'), and the words cookie (koekje) and dope (doop) come from Dutch. 

Then again, Germans also played a substantial part in colonising the US, and, as we have seen, Dutch and Deutch were often confused. In other words, there might just be a slight possibility that all the negative mentions of Dutch (bear with me) really refer to Germans (further research needed).

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