Saturday, July 31, 2010

Tulips in Dutch New York

I am finalizing the annual newsletter for the Stoutenburgh-Teller Family Association and was asked to include a picture of the Equitable Life building at 120 Broadway in New York City. This is the site of Pieter Stoutenburg's alleged tulip garden. Pieter (1613-1698/99), according to family legend, is supposed to have brought tulip bulbs with him to New Amsterdam and was the first to plant a tulip garden.

It is not clear when Pieter arrived in New Amsterdam but he certainly was there in 1649 when his marriage banns were posted. Most of the information concerning the time of his arrival is hearsay. I have not found a document that provides a clue as to when he arrived in New Netherland. Some relatives claim that he arrived with Director-General Willem Kieft in March 1638. And, again I can find no supporting documentation.

Tulips are an Asian plant that were introduced to the Netherlands in 1571. The bulbs were very expensive as the supply of bulbs was not large. Only the very wealthy could afford the bulbs. A virus had attacked some bulbs producing a multicolored bloom. The bulbs of these flowers were highly desired by the rich. By 1634, the price of a single bulb was out of the reach of all but the very, very rich. Tulipmania swept the Netherlands between 1634 and 1638 when the bubble burst. In the succeeding years, the price continued to drop.

Many of the people who settled in New Netherland were refugees without great means. And those who were not fleeing religious persecution also came to the New World with very little means. The Dutch West Indies Company, a trading company, depended on these people to cultivate a trading resource in the New World. I really did not expect to see tulips in North America before 1638 because of the prohibitive cost but tulips appear to be in New Amsterdam by 1640.

Once the cost of tulip bulbs cratered, I naturally assumed that I would find some reference to the bulbs appearing in New Netherland. It does not seem plausible to me that Pieter Stoutenburg introduced tulips to Dutch New York when the colony was established by a huge trading company. Adriaen van der Donck settled in New Netherland in 1641 for a few years before he was sent back to the Netherlands for a period of time. While Adriaen was in Europe, he wrote about New Netherland. This account was published after 1644 and includes passages that describe the gardens of New Amsterdam. These gardens include among other plants tulips.

I don't believe that Pieter Stoutenburg was the only resident of New Amsterdam who was growing tulips. But ironicially the tulip associated with the Dutch and the Netherlands is not a native plant. However, the tulip is viewed by much of the world as Dutch. The Netherlands imports tulip bulbs throughout the world with the United States as the largest buyer. The winter of 1945 was a famine year for the Dutch. The allies had cut off supplies to the Germans occupying the Netherlands. The German military stole all of the food sources leaving nothing for the citizens. The enterprising Dutch used the tulip bulbs as a food source.

The Dutch princess, Juliana, and her children were sent during WWII to Ottawa, Canada for safekeeping along with some tulip bulbs. Ottawa has to this day a tulip festival to commemorate Juliana's stay.

No comments:

Post a Comment