Spring 1976- FRT
Frisians in the History of the United States:
Not many Americans of Frisian origin will know that their ancestors have contributed more to the origin and the development of the USA than many other nations. The reason for this is of course that Friesland is not a sovereign state in our time. Therefore historic facts about Frisian-American relationships are hidden in history books of other countries, mainly in Dutch, German and Scandinavian sources.
How many New Yorkers know, that in the time of Peter Stuyvesant, who himself was a Frisian, the Frisians from North, East and Westfriesland were the largest ethnic group in their city, that David Peterson de Vries, a Westfrisian, who in 1631 built the fort Swanendael near present day Lewes and later the fort Vriesendael near present day Tappen, should be regarded as the founder of New-Amsterdam, and that Jonas Bronk, who gave his name to Bronx, was the leader of a North-Frisian group of settlers, who carried out the first well prepared and thoroughly organized permanent settlement in the area now called New York. These North-Frisians were- survivors of the flood-catastrophe of 1634, in which their big and rich island of Nordstrand disappeared and 7000 to 8000 people drowned in one night. They introduced their old democratic traditions into the patrician Dutch society of that time, characterized by the Amsterdam jeweler Rensselaer. Instead of big land owners and investors, who often stayed in Holland and never saw their possession in the New World, the farmers, who owned and worked their own land and the working citizens in the New Netherlands determined the policy of the new country.
How many Philadelphians know about the influence of Frisian Quaker communities in all three parts of Friesland on the planning and origin of Philadelphia, or about the crucial part in the cultural life of "Penns holy experiment." played by the Frisian Reynier Jansen, one of the earliest printers of America.
In the year of the 200th anniversary of American independence all Frisians should remember, that the first state in Europe to acknowledge the independence of the USA was the State of Friesland. This early recognition of the new democracy was well prepared by the visits of Benjamin Franklin to Friesland. Still in those years before the French Revolution it was not only an act of Forsightedness and good political judgement, it also required courage. Probably neither the Frisians nor the Americans involved in this act were aware of its symbolic character. This first recognition of the independence of the USA by the Frisian parliament is in fact an impressive symbol for the historic fact that the new democracy across the Atlantic had taken on the historic function, which the Frisian countries had held during many centuries, namely to accept and protect people. mainly from Northern Europe, who went westward to escape oppression and search for political. religious and economic freedom. To achieve this goal a refugee coming to Friesland had to have the economic means or the strength to participate in a land reclaiming project, an emigrant coming to America had to have at least enough money to pay the ticket.
There are many connections between the age old Frisian concept of freedom. which may already in Roman time have given the Frisian people their name, and the political system of modern USA. It is a pity that the thesis of the Westfrisian Henry K. Pasma at Washington University, 1930: "The contribution of the Frisians and the Dutch to the Philosophical idea of freedom," never was published. Here it shall only be mentioned, that already the pilgrims on the Mayflower did not sail from England to New England, as many believe, but that they first went to Holland and Friesland in order to learn about the republican laws and customs they wanted to establish in their new colony. The federal constitution of 1787, one of the most ingenious and effective constitutions ever prepared, is in important parts based on the Frisian traditions of federalism and decentralization of political power. Again this Frisian heritage in the political ideas of the young USA has found its symbolic expression, namely the national flag of the new country the "stars and stripes." The "star-spangled banner" is made after the Frisian Flag, the oldest national flag in the world. which is already described in the "Gudrun-sage," but probably is still much older, going back to the year 846 A.D., when the Frisians raised the siege of Rome by the Arabs and therefore were granted eternal freedom both by the Pope and the Emperor.
The Americans took the colors and the stripes from the Frisian flag, but, instead of the 7 red hearts (or water lily-leaves), which in the Frisian flag represent the 7 Frisian sea-countries, they took the 13 stars to represent the first 13 states.
In the second half of the following, the 10th century, North-Frisian emigration to the U.S. reached a new height, when more than half of the Frisians from the island went to the U.S.
Thus, the 200th anniversary of the USA is also an anniversary for Friesland, and we Frisians at home can only hope that all Americans of Frisian origin are proud and conscious of their people's contribution to the development of the basic principles of modern America.
Dr. F. Paulsen (Aalkersem/Feer)