Sparkle in Microhistory

by
September 2002, no. 244
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Death of a Notary: Conquest and change in colonial New York by Donna Merwick

Cornell University Press US$17.95 pb, 281 pp

Sparkle in Microhistory

by
September 2002, no. 244

‘He was the only one. He was the only man to have committed suicide in the town’s seventeenth-century history.’ Thus Donna Merwick invites us into this sad and instructive tale about the colonial Dutch world of North America.

On one level, this is the story of Adriaen Janse van Ilpendam, a Dutch schoolmaster and notary based in the small settlement of Beverwijck, later known as Albany, who hanged himself on 12 March 1686, seventeen days after meeting with his last clients. Janse was sixty-eight years old. He left no suicide note, and we know nothing of the circumstances of his hanging. His death occurred a few years after the English had taken New Netherland from the Dutch and begun its transformation into New York. As warring powers swept up and down the Hudson River valley, Janse did his best to accommodate himself to whoever occupied Beverwijck, or ‘Albanij’, as he wrote it. He tried to learn English but, as a notary – a legal official trained in the recording and witnessing of personal and property transactions – it may be that Janse was a colonial Dutchman for whom the new English legal structures were ultimately impenetrable.

Peter McPhee reviews 'Death of a Notary: Conquest and change in colonial New York' by Donna Merwick

Death of a Notary: Conquest and change in colonial New York

by Donna Merwick

Cornell University Press US$17.95 pb, 281 pp

Buy this book

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