A Description of New Netherland


A Description of New Netherland

Adriaen van der Donck
Edited by Charles T. Gehring and William A. Starna
Translated by Diederik Willem Goedhuys
Foreword by Russell Shorto

The Iroquoians and Their World Series

204 pages
map, index


January 2010


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eBook (PDF)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

October 2008


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About the Book

This edition of A Description of New Netherland provides the first complete and accurate English-language translation of an essential first-hand account of the lives and world of Dutch colonists and northeastern Native communities in the seventeenth century. Adriaen van der Donck, a graduate of Leiden University in the 1640s, became the law enforcement officer for the Dutch patroonship of Rensselaerswijck, located along the upper Hudson River. His position enabled him to interact extensively with Dutch colonists and the local Algonquians and Iroquoians. An astute observer, detailed recorder, and accessible writer, Van der Donck was ideally situated to write about his experiences and the natural and cultural worlds around him.

Van der Donck’s Beschryvinge van Nieuw-Nederlant  was first published in 1655 and then expanded in 1656. An inaccurate and abbreviated English translation appeared in 1841 and was reprinted in 1968. This new volume features an accurate, polished translation by Diederik Willem Goedhuys and includes all the material from the original 1655 and 1656 editions. The result is an indispensable first-hand account with enduring value to historians, ethnohistorians, and anthropologists.

Author Bio

Charles T. Gehring is the director of the New Netherland Project with the New York State Library and the coeditor of numerous collections of original documents from Dutch New Netherland. William A. Starna is a professor emeritus of anthropology at the State University of New York College at Oneonta and a coeditor of Iroquois Journey: An Anthropologist Remembers (Nebraska 2007). Gehring and Starna coedited A Journey into Mohawk and Oneida Country, 1634–1635: The Journal of Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert and (with Dean R. Snow) In Mohawk Country: Early Narratives of a Native People.
Diederik Willem Goedhuys is a native of the Netherlands and thirty year resident of South Africa. In addition to having knowledge of Dutch, Afrikaans, and English at his disposal, he also spent several months at the New Netherland Project in Albany, New York, where he had access to the best reference sources for the translation of a seventeenth-century publication.


“If you’ve been waiting for centuries for a full translation of Adriaen van der Donck’s 1655 work A Description of New Netherland, your wait is over. In this work, edited by Charles T. Gehring and William A. Starna, one of the colony’s most astute observers ruminates on flora and fauna (his six-foot-long lobster sounds like the subject of a proverbial fish story), including meditations on “the amazing ways” of beavers and sightings of beached whales near Albany. . . . [Van der Donck] paints a generally positive picture of American Indians. His informative book is surprisingly accessible.”—Sam Roberts, New York Times.

"With this new edition, translator Diederik Goedhuys and editors Charles Gehring and William Starna look to elevate Van der Donck's Description to its rightful place in the canon of early American historical texts. . . . This lively translation is a much-needed teachable primary source for studying both New Netherland and its Indian neighbors."—Andrew Lipman, New York History

"This new edition and original translation of a tract by Dutch settler and lawyer van der Donck makes more widely accessible a document crucial for understanding the history of Dutch colonization in North America. . . . This document is an important primary source for students and researchers in colonial Dutch history, the settlement of New York and North America more generally, and the understanding of Indian cultures in the Northeast."—J. Mercantini, CHOICE

"Long underutilized, this edition will place A Description of New Netherland alongside Thomas Harriot's A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia, John Smith's A Description of New England, and William Wood's New England's Prospect as essential primary-source narratives of the early days of the New World."—Wendy Lewis Castro, Southwest Journal of Cultures

"The sources on this geographical area in the Dutch period are sparse, so that the addition of this superb translation of van der Donck is of high importance to scholars."—Barbara Alice Mann, Anthropos

Table of Contents



Publication History of Adriaen van der Donck's A Description of New Netherland

Map of New Netherland

A Description of New Netherland:

The Country

      Where New Netherland Is Situated

      When and by Whom New Netherland Was First Discovered

      Why This Territory Was Named New Netherland

      The Dutch, the First Possessors of New Netherland

      The Limits of New Netherland and How Far They Extend

      Of the Coast, Foreshore, and Seaports

      The South River

      Of the North River

      Of the Fresh River

      Of the East River

      Of the Various Waters and Their Shapes

      Of the Formation and Soil of the Land

      Of Wood and Vegetation

      Of the Fruit Trees Brought Over from the Netherlands

      Of the Vineyards

      Of Vegetables Generally

      Of the Flowers

      Of the Medicinal Herbs and Indigo

      Of Agriculture and Field Crops

      Of the Minerals and the Kinds of Earth and Stone

      Of the Paints and Dyes

      Of the Animals in New Netherland

      Of the Wild Animals

      Of the Avifauna, Aquatic and Terrestrial, and First the Raptors

      Of the Terrestrial Birds

      Of the Aquatic Birds

      Of the Fish

      Of the Poisons

      Of the Wind

      Of the Air

      Of the Seasons

Of the Manners and Extraordinary Qualities of the Original Natives of New Netherland

      Their Bodily Shape, and Why They Are Called Wilden

      Fare and Food of the Indians

      Of the Dress and Ornaments of Men and Women

      Their Houses, Castles, and Settlements

      Ways of Marriage and Childbirth

      Of Suckling, and the Relations between Men and Women

      Ways of Burial, Lamentation, and Mourning

      Their Festivities and Special Gatherings

      How Human Beings and Animals First Came to That Country

      Of the Different Nations and Languages

      Of Money and Their Manufacture of It

      The Innate Character and the Pastimes of the Indians

      Their Bodily Care and Medicine

      The Farming, Planting, and Gardening of the Indians

      Special Account of Their Hunting and Fishing

      Distinctions of Birth, Rank, and Quality

      Of Their Warfare and Weapons

      Of Their Administration of Justice and Penalties

      Of the Universal Law of Nations

      Of Gifts and Offerings

      Of the Indians' Government and Public Policy

      Their Religion and Whether They Can Be Christianized

      Of Their Sentiments regarding Hope of Afterlife

      Of the Knowledge of God and the Fear of Devils

      Their Thoughts on the Creation and Propagation of Mankind and Animals in the World

Of the Nature, Amazing Ways, and Properties of the Beavers

A Conversation between a Dutch Patriot and a New Netherlander concerning the Condition of New Netherland

Appendix: A List and Suggested Identification of the Latinized Plant Names Recorded by Adriaen van der Donck



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