The New Amsterdam History Center presents
Dutch Voices From Around the Globe
The Prize Papers Collection - The Vrooman Letters
Dr. Frans Blom led a discussion on the so-called Prize Papers, a trove of 40,000 commercial and private Dutch letters that never reached their addressees. They were intercepted at sea and brought as intelligence information to England during the wars with the Netherlands. Later they were stored in the British National Archives and forgotten for centuries, until rediscovered in the late 20th century by Dutch historians.
Personal details and individual stories reveal the emotions in the grand portrait of history. We connect to the past through people’s experiences. Some of the best insights into history come from private letters such as the Dutch Prize Papers Collection. The letters contain the voices of husbands and wives, friends and foes, sisters and brothers, children and parents about everyday life in the 17th century.
Paradoxically, the letters owe their existence to the Anglo-Dutch sea wars of the 17th and 18th centuries. On their way to or from the homeland aboard Dutch vessels, the overseas letters never reached the addressees. Instead, they were intercepted by privateers and ended up as war loot in England, where they survived, carefully preserved as part of the British National Archives (Kew).
Dr. Blom’s presentation deals with some striking samples of the Prize Papers collection, many focusing on personal experiences in the Dutch colony of New Netherland. How did ordinary people, like the Vrooman family members based near Fort Orange (Albany), experience life in the new world? Were they desperate to return to Europe? Or did they try and make the best of it? Personal voices tell the experiences of Dutch men and women, both before and after the British take-over of New Netherland.
Frans R.E. Blom is an expert in Dutch and Neolatin Literature of the Early Modern Period. Working at the University of Amsterdam, he studies Amsterdam as a creative city in its European context, with a focus on the city’s Grand Theatre, or Schouwburg. He is general editor of the ONSTAGE online datasystem for Theatre in Amsterdam of the Golden Age. His new study on the Amsterdam theatre as an international cultural endeavor was published in 2021: Podium van Europa. Creativiteit en ondernemen in de Amsterdamse Schouwburg van de zeventiende eeuw (Amsterdam: Querido, 2021)