Notes from the Field: Sint Eustatius, the "Golden Rock," Part 2

Known as the "Golden Rock," Sint Eustatius supplied the slave and free trade needs of the 18th-century Atlantic World. Part one of this three-part series offered an overview of the history of Sint Eustatius. This post discusses my visit to the island.

Visiting Sint Eustatius

Tim and I traveled to Statia to explore its history, scuba dive in its reefs, and to relax. Like most tourists, we stayed in Lower Town in one of the two hotels on the beach (there are only two hotels on Statia) and climbed the steep Bay Path when we wanted to visit Upper Town.

Not much remains of Lower Town. At the height of Statia's "golden years," approximately 600 warehouses lined the shoreline to greet and trade with ships. Today, the Statian shoreline is mostly beach. A few modern buildings and a few restored warehouses now used as hotels and shops stand interspersed among the partial stone remains of many warehouses.


View from Fort Oranje. Note stone ruins along beach, in the 18th-century those ruins would have been the foundations of stone warehouses.

Scattered stone warehouse ruins along Gallows Bay shoreline


Upper Town also has many ruins of buildings that once stood in the 18th and 19th centuries. Fort Oranje anchors the town and from it spreads a core of historic houses and government buildings and a newer modern town. The historic buildings all share common features. Ground floors are constructed with either brick or native volcanic stones and upper floors with wood. Many who occupy historic buildings still use kitchens and ovens constructed by the Dutch during the 18th century.

Sint Eustatius History Museum. In 1781, Admiral George Rodney used this house as his headquarters; it had the best wine cellar. The bottom of the house is built of brick and stone, the upper part of wood.

Garrison house inside Fort Oranje. Note stone first floor, wooden upper floor.

18th-century Dutch kitchen in Sint Eustatius. Used today as the kitchen for a restaurant.


Comparing Dutch Atlantic Towns

Throughout our stay, I couldn't help but compare the historic Upper Town of Oranjestad with Beverwyck/Albany. Both settlements served the Dutch as port and trading towns, albeit Sint Eustatius had a large Atlantic port that prospered in the slave trade and Albany had a much smaller inland river port that prospered in the fur trade. The architecture of the settlements differed a lot because of environment; Albany had a much more urban layout common to Dutch cities in the Netherlands while Statia had many buildings that were placed together less closely.

In the 18th-century this building served as the local rum shop. Today, it's the local office supply shop. Many buildings in Statia took advantage of space so that the widest part of the building fronted the street.

Pearl Street, Albany, NY, ca. 1800. Note the more urban clustering of buildings. Of the Dutch-built buildings, the narrowest side of the buildings faced the street, not the widest side as in Statia.

Statia and Albany also differed in their use of language. Although Sint Eustatius is a Dutch municipality, English is the official language of the island and has been since the early 18th century. According to island historian Martin Hellebrand, who led Tim and I on a tour of Upper Town, Statians have been speaking English since at least the 1720s. He noted the earliest evidence they have of this fact is an official court record. The record recounts a fight between two women, one of whom slapped the other for calling her a whore. Hellebrand stated that altough all the official court records are in Dutch, as required by law, the court clerk had to work to keep them in Dutch as all the testimony offered in the case was in English.

I found this interesting because by the 1720s, the official language of Albany was English. And yet, even in the 1720s, many notaries and clerks had to work to keep their records in English because many Albanians still preferred to speak and write in Dutch.


Not All History

Although this post and the one that preceded it speak mostly to the historical part of our trip, exploring Statia's history comprised only about a day of our week-long adventure. Tim and I spent the majority of our trip diving in Statia's reefs, napping, reading, and watching the sunset with Mai Tais.

This is one of two anchors at the Double Wreck reef in Statia's Marine National Park. They call the site double wreck because the reef grew on top of the ballast stones created by two ship wrecks, one Dutch and one English. The anchor in the picture is of the English anchor. Photo courtesy of Statia Tourism.


Was My Dissertation Just a Dissertation?

Over the last couple of years, I've read many blog posts wherein authors discuss their successes and struggles with turning their dissertations into publishable book manuscripts. I've enjoyed, sympathized with, and benefited from these posts because I too have been trying to turn my dissertation into a book manuscript. However, there's one type of post on this subject that I haven't yet seen: How to know if your dissertation is just a dissertation.

This thought has been churning in my mind for most of this year.


Is My Dissertation A Book?

By all accounts, I should be able to turn my dissertation into a book.

I was fortunate and privileged in my graduate education. I attended a good, funded doctoral program where I worked with one of the best historians and writers in the profession. Ever practical in his outlook, my advisor does not direct his students' dissertations, he directs first drafts of their books.

James Eights Pearl StreetThis means my dissertation never had a literature review. Most of the references I made to other scholars occur in my notes, not the main text. And while not perfectly written, my dissertation conveys its ideas with clear writing and active verbs.

This is not to imply that I wrote a dissertation ready for publication as a book. My dissertation has some serious flaws.

First, it purported to trace how the people of Albany, New York created first Dutch, then British, and finally American identities. That's a false claim. My first chapter provided a very brief overview of Albany and its people during the Dutch and early English periods. Chapter two begins in 1750.

Second, chapter four implies that the fighting of the War for Independence ended right after the Battle of Saratoga in 1777. In reality, fighting carried on in vengeful, civil war-like manner until 1784. Albany and its people played a big role in this fighting. Chapter five begins in the 1780s.

Third, I didn't think broadly enough when I framed my dissertation. My work speaks to an important local and small piece of the historiography. However, the events, politics, and interactions I explored and interpreted could have added valuable insight to the larger story of American and United States history, but they don't because I didn't frame and situate them properly.

Plus, there are instances when I did not consider my sources carefully enough. Further consideration would have changed parts of my argument.

These are all flaws that I can fix, and in some cases, I've already fixed them. If I had to guess, I would say that my book manuscript needs somewhere between 6-12 months worth of work before I could send it to a publisher for consideration.

So why have I been thinking about the question "how do you know if your dissertation is just a dissertation?"


Is My Dissertation Just a Dissertation?

America's First GatewayOne year ago this week, I shelved my book manuscript. I didn't want to put it aside; I was making great progress. However, good issues and problems due to the quick growth of Ben Franklin's World had piled up and required my attention before they hurt the podcast. I made the decision to set aside my book project and work on the podcast full-time for a month or two.

Here we are one year later. I've made almost no progress on my book since I set it aside. My lack of progress is not for lack of trying. What I thought would be a one or two month leave of absence turned into a six-month hiatus.

I attempted to return to the project in February. I wasn't sure where I wanted to jump back in, so I took chapters one and three with me on a week-long, distraction-free retreat. Chapter one is a new chapter. The binder I took with me consisted of an outline for the chapter and the research I needed to write it. Chapter three is an old chapter that needs some slight reframing and good editing. I thought having two different chapters in two different states of being would allow me to pick and choose how I wanted to wade back into my project.

I didn't make much progress. I tried for hours and days to get back into my project. I tried free writing, editing on my computer, editing with pen and paper, the Pomodoro technique to encourage short bursts of progress, and long walks to generate ideas and think my material through--nothing worked. 18th and early 19th-century Albany, places which had once seemed so familiar to me now seemed like foreign countries.

Because I'm stubborn, I've been trying on and off to get back into my project as time has allowed. It's been six months since February and I haven't made much progress.

Part of my inability to get back into my project could be that my podcast work doesn't allow for more than a few hours of book time a week. (Some weeks it doesn't even allow for that.) Therefore, dedicated focus has been a problem. Subject-matter fatigue could be another factor. I've been working on this project since 2004.


Moving On

Regardless of what is causing my block, it's time to stop being stubborn about it. It's not productive and it's not fun. I've decided to stop trying to force myself to work on the project. I'm moving on.

Articles of Confederation BooksI'm starting work on my next long-term research project: The Articles of Confederation. Over the last year and a half, I've been mining footnotes and steadily accumulating books about the subject. No one has undertaken a serious study of the Articles since Merrill Jensen in 1950.

In the current historiography, the Articles appear as one of the most maligned aspects of the Revolution. Many scholars treat them as a mere stepping stone to the Constitution of 1787. I intend to look at the creation of this government within the context of the American Revolution. I'm curious about how the Continental Congress drafted them, what regional issues accelerated or hindered their drafting, and whether their creation and ratification fostered a sense of national identity.

I'm really excited about my new project. But saying "hello" to the Articles of Confederation means I need to say "goodbye" to Albany, at least for now.

Will I return to this project and see it into the great book I know it could be? I wonder.

I hope the opportunity to read and think deeply about a different aspect of early American history will somehow reconnect me with Albany.

But it may turn out that my dissertation was just a dissertation.


Indulging in Counterfactuals: The Three-Fifths Clause of the Constitution

Upside Down US Map What would have happened if the Constitution of the United States had not had its Three-Fifths clause? Joe Adelman poses this thought-provoking question in “Alternative Fractions,” a post that responds to both Rebecca Onion’s “What if?” essay on Aeon and Kevin Gannon’s “The Constitution, Slavery, and the Problem of Agency."

I love counterfactuals because they make me think about contingency. However, the counterfactual posed by Joe requires serious thought because of its scope.

In this post, I take a stab at addressing what would have happened if the Three-Fifths clause had not been added to the United States Constitution.


A Brief Overview of the Three-Fifths Clause

The Three-Fifths clause appears in Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution.

Article 1, Section 2 outlines the House of Representatives. It addresses who can serve as a Representative and how population will determine House membership.

Here is the Three-Fifths clause:

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons."

The clause represents a compromise. The Articles of Confederation apportioned taxes according to land values. States undervalued their land to lower their tax burden. During the Constitutional Convention (1787) many delegates wanted population to be the basis for tax allocation.

As the Convention debated the merits of the “Connecticut Plan,” the version of the Constitution that supported a bicameral legislative branch, northern states and southern states disagreed over how slaves would count if the Constitution based representation in the House of Representatives on population. James Wilson of Pennsylvania and Roger Sherman of Connecticut proposed a compromise to entice southern support for the population-based House: Each slave would count as three-fifths of a white person.

The result of this compromise: The delegates agreed on the Constitution and southern representation in the new government increased from about 38 percent under the Articles of Confederation government to about 45 percent under the new Constitution. This increase in representation gave southerners the power they needed to control presidential elections with electoral votes. However, the representative advantage proved short lived as the population in northern and western states grew more rapidly than in southern states.


Major Components of the Three-Fifths Clause Counterfactual

Joe's counterfactual question has two major components that if we altered their history would have far-reaching implications.

Presidential elections, 1789-1828: Five of the first seven presidents hailed from southern states; four from Virginia.

Congressional Representation: Without the Three-Fifths clause congressional leaders may not have come from the south and legislation that failed to pass without southern support would have passed.

Hamilton Jefferson Madison


One Brief Scenario for the Three-Fifths Clause Counterfactual

If the states had ratified the Constitution without the Three-Fifths clause the history of the nation would be very different.

Northern states would have had more control in both the House of Representatives and the Electoral College. This means George Washington may have been the only member of the “Virginia Dynasty” to serve as president between 1789 and 1825.

Alexander Hamilton would not have met Thomas Jefferson and James Madison “in the room where it happen[ed]” to exchange congressional votes for removing the nation's capital to the banks of the Potomac River because Hamilton would not have needed their support to get his debt assumption bill passed.

Without Hamilton, Jefferson, and Madison's backroom deal, the nation’s capital would not have moved south. It would have moved west from New York City.

Actual History

After the Revolution, 700,000 to 800,000 New Englanders migrated into New York State. The Yankees flooded into post-war New York City and established new, New English towns in northern and western parts of the state. Once the migrants filled New York they pushed west to Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois. Americans further south also migrated. They moved into what would become Kentucky and Tennessee.

As the population expanded in the west, it also burgeoned in eastern cities like New York City and Philadelphia. The cost of living in these cities rose as demand for living space and life necessities increased. On November 1796, the New York State Assembly and Senate voted to relocate the state capital to Albany. They made this decision partly because the population of the state had grown in its northern and western regions, but mostly because New York City had become too expensive for many representatives to live in and travel to.

The economic and population factors that caused the New York State government to relocate its capital to a more central and cheaper location would have also forced the federal government to relocate from New York City. As Philadelphia experienced a similar rise in cost of living, I believe a different negotiation would have occurred and the capital of the United States would have moved to a place like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Cincinnati, Ohio, Lexington or Louisville, Kentucky, or Indianapolis, Indiana.

New Capital Map

A Return to Counterfactual History

Without southern control of the Electoral College, John Adams would have won the Election of 1800 handily, even amidst Jeffersonian criticism for the Alien and Sedition Acts.

Would President Adams have made the Louisiana Purchase?

Yes, presuming Napoleon’s situation in France remains on its actual historical trajectory.

The loss of the French forces in Saint Domingue in 1802/1803 and France’s wars in Europe would have have forced Napoleon to raise capital by selling Louisiana to the United States. A shrewd Yankee, Adams would have found a way to make this purchase happen. Even if Adams hadn’t been perceptive enough to see the bargain Napoleon offered, his wife Abigail would have and she would have talked her “Dearest Friend" into the purchase.

After President Adams, the United States would have had more northern presidents. Men like George Clinton, DeWitt Clinton, Rufus King and Daniel Tompkins of New York, and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts offer real possibilities. John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts also would have served and possibly before 1825.

President Clinton

Aspects that Require More Thought

Joe poses an intriguing counterfactual question. Without the Three-Fifths clause a lot would have been different. Even after investing some time into thinking about this counterfactual, several big questions remain unanswered in my mind:

Would the United States have declared war against Great Britain in 1812?

Would the charter of the First Bank of the United States have been extended? If so, what would that have meant for the economy of the United States? Would the Panics of 1819 and 1837 have happened?

How would a northern or western president's approval of the Bonus Bill of 1817 have changed western expansion and internal commerce?

If the north and west had secured electoral and legislative power sooner than it did, would the Compromise of 1820 have been necessary?

Would the expansion of slavery have been an issue?

Would the nation have overpowered the south and voted to gradually abolish slavery before the Civil War?


What Do You Think?

What do you think would have happened in any of the above scenarios?  

New Article, New Project: The Articles of Confederation

Articles of ConfederationThe editors of the Journal of Early American History have published my article "Trade, Diplomacy, and American Independence: Cuyler, Gansevoort & Co. and the Business of Trade During the Confederation Era" in their latest edition. I came across the papers of Cuyler, Gansevoort & Co. during my volunteer work at the Albany Institute of History and Art. In exchange for building a finding aid for the Ten Eyck/Gansevoort Papers (MG2), I had the opportunity to be the first scholar to look at the collection. I had hoped that the papers would contain information for my book project AMERICA'S FIRST GATEWAY: ALBANY, NEW YORK AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA, 1614-1830. Instead, the collection led me to my second book project: The Articles of Confederation.

The Ten Eyck/Gansevoort collection contains many of the papers from Cuyler, Gansevoort & Co., an import-export firm that conducted business during the Confederation Era. The correspondence between Jacob Cuyler, Leonard Gansevoort, and their trading partners reveal the hope and perils of conducting domestic and foreign trade during the first years of American independence.

The idea for my second book project came as I wrote the historiography section, which I opted to place toward the end of the article as not to breakup the story of Cuyler, Gansevoort & Co. Few books discuss the Articles of Confederation on its own terms. Merrill Jensen wrote two books on the subject between 1940 and 1950. Since Jensen's work, scholars who discuss or investigate the Articles look upon the government as a stepping stone to the Constitution of 1787.

My future book will not claim the Articles of Confederation as a successful government. My article below uses a case study to discuss the diplomatic and economic weaknesses of the government. Instead, my book on the Articles will investigate the government and its making within the context of the American Revolution. I am sure it will take great interest in the regional debates surrounding the formation of the government because I am fascinated by the diversity of American culture and how the United States functions despite Americans' cultural differences.



Archive Pay Dirt: Americans in Albany

New York Public LibraryEureka! I found it! I am in New York City this week conducting research at the New York Public Library. I also have a ticket to see Hamilton the Musical.

My research goal for the trip: find information about the role the people of Albany played during Sullivan's Campaign of 1779 and the Native American and Loyalist raids between 1780-1782.

If you read my dissertation, you would be surprised to learn that the War for Independence in Albany ended with the Battle of Saratoga in 1777. (Don't always believe what you read.)

Yesterday, I went through the Henry Glen Papers. Henry Glen lived in Schenectady and served as a Deputy Quarter Master General throughout the war. As I went through this small collection and read over supply requests, orders, and personal correspondence, I stumbled upon a letter to Glen from Jeremiah Lansingh of Albany.

Dated 6 July 1778, the letter conveys intelligence from the Battle of Monmouth.  Some of the intelligence is wrong, but Lansingh discusses how "our troops" caused the enemy to retreat. Moreover, he ended his letter with the following sentence:

"I don't doubt but our Troops will keep up the old Maxim (Work well begun is half ended) And may they make an End of them All [British soldiers], is the sincere Wish & one who glories in the Name of an American and is your humble Servt.

Jerh Lansingh"

For more than 10 years I have searched for a statement by someone from Albany that explicitly stated they viewed themselves as an American. I never thought I would find one, but I held hope. Unlike my dissertation, my book won't have to deal in abstractions. I made a convincing case before, but now I have a real statement.