Dan Rattiner's Stories

East ‘amster,dam: Imagining the Hamptons if the Dutch Won New York

Would our biggest ‘Ham(p)tenz celebs be Famke Janssen, Carice van Houten and Rutger Hauer?

In the 1640s, the Hamptons were settled by New Englanders as a counterpoint to the Dutchmen who settled New Amsterdam. I’m sure you know the story.

A day came when the English sent four man-o-war ships carrying 400 soldiers to Manhattan, pointed the guns at the Dutch headquarters and demanded that Peter Stuyvesant hand over that place to the English crown. As Stuyvesant’s Nieuw Amsterdam had never been more than a trading post for the West India Company of Holland, there was no army that Stuyvesant could use for his defense, he surrendered without a fight. Thus New Amsterdam became New York City.

Well, what if that never happened? What if the King of England decided to forget trying to overcome the Dutch in Manhattan and Long Island and instead focus on growing Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts?

Our little English settlements in the Hamptons would have to be turned over to the Dutch, and, in short order, it would be the Dutch who would put their imprint out here, and it would be the wealthy Dutch who would be coming out from Nieuw Amsterdam in Manhattan to enjoy their summer homes in, well, the ‘ham(p)tenz. And maybe, if it is what is now Quogue, Nieuw Aerdenhout.

Everything would be different today. The main language being spoken on the street by the locals might remain as English, but for the Upper Classes it would all be in Dutch. The High Dutch version.

Make a phone call. The recording would answer you in English, but then it might say “Druk op twee vor Nederlands” or, in consideration of the recent influx of Hispanics, “Presiona tres para Espanol.” Life would be a little more complicated, but everyone would know who was boss. The Dutch.

I think this is important to consider, because today in the Hamptons, all the names of the streets South of the Highway (now called Ten Zuiden Van de snelweg) would be in Dutch, and the dominant architecture would be Dutch. Instead of snooty street names such as Meadow Lane, Further Lane, Hither Lane and Lily Pond Lane, the snooty streets would be named after the Wyckoffs, or the Van Cortlandts, or the Roosevelts or Vanderbilts. Monument Square in Southampton would be named Peter Minuit Plaza. In every living room in ‘ham(p)tenz would be dish cabinets floor to ceiling displaying the greatest Delft cups and dishes.

Comparison of English and Dutch windmills
English and Dutch windmills don’t look that different, Photos: iStock

The 11 beautiful windmills were not built in the early settler days. They were built around 1800, and if the Dutch were still in charge they would be of Dutch design, not English design. (There are more than 1,000 working windmills in Holland at the present day. Most pump water back out from behind the dikes where they leak in.) Hook Mill in East Hampton would be Haak Molen.

Here in the Hamptons, you might be sitting in the fanciest restaurant in town, about to order from the menu—bitterballen, stroopwafels, and for dessert, chocolobely—when some people come in speaking Dutch and sit down at the next table. The men in white shirts and suspenders, the women in high-buttoned bodices, frilly white bonnets and wooden shoes, wearing gold and diamonds…and you lower your voice to a whisper. Perhaps some famous actors or actress gets mentioned—Famke Janssen, Carice van Houten or Rutger Hauer. Is that Derek de Lint?

But they are not talking about the cinema. They are talking about politics, about Mark Rutte, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, who is in town visiting Carola Schouten, his deputy who has a home in Zuiden ‘ham(p)tenz.

Most interesting I think is that all our real estate brokers and financial advisers would never have been named for upper class English firms. They will have been named for Dutch firms—a much higher class.

Thus, Saunders will have a different name. Bespoke will have a different name. Sotheby’s will have a different name. They will be owned by the same people today who own them—Irishmen, Italians, Californians, whatever—smart businessmen and women offering excellent services from all over. But they will be given names to simulate the highbrow Dutch. They will call their firms Wereldhave, Jpbowen and Lankhorst Makelaars. White-shoe law firms? Forget Cravath, Swaine & Moore, forget Simpson Thatcher and Bartlett, forget Covington & Burling or anything with Skadden, Tweed, Cromwell and Milbank in it. The ones with the touch of class will be F. van Lanschot Bankiers and Rabobank. And there will be “wooden shoe” firms, not white shoe firms.

A downside of having the Dutch in charge would be that we’d have to learn dates of all new holidays, and Holland has the second fewest holidays in any developed country. Forget President’s Day, forget Thanksgiving. Celebrate Koningsdag, King’s Birthday (that’s King of the Netherlands) and Nieuwjaarsdag, New Year’s Day, Pasen (our Easter), Bevrijdingsdag (translated in English to Liberation Day), Hemelvaartsdag or Ascension Day, Pinksteren or Pentecost Sunday, Whit Monday, and Kerstmis or Christmas.

I don’t want to make a big deal about religion, but the Dutch are fierce defenders of freedom of religion of whatever sort there is. The East End would have Buddhist temples, Muslim mosques, Jewish synagogues, Taoist shrines and Catholic and Protestant churches of all kinds. The state religion, not mandatory, is Dutch Reform.

I would like to close by announcing that all the fears of high tide flooding in the Hamptons will be over. Behind all the windmills are the dijken. That’s the dikes to you—50 feet tall, made of shafts of steel you can see through, (to see all the fishes) but not that the water can get through. Donald Trump would be proud.

And finally, it would still be confusing out here, naming everything. North Fork? East End? South Fork? In English, these names do not designate official places. They are the informal names of regions, and some of them overlap. And what exactly is “The Hamptons?” We have no idea. If the Dutch were in charge, we’d still be tripping over names—we’re from Holland, the Netherlands and Dutch (which is not even the name of a country.)

So I’m going out for the weekend to the “‘Ham(p)tenz.”

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