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Interpreting the Evidence

Life in New Netherland

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Colonial America (1630s - 1760)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Comprehension

  • Grade Level:

    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School

  • Topics:

    Colonial America

  • Primary Source Types:

    Written Document

  • Regions:

    Capital District
    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Baker's Receipt, Paid by Madam Van Rensselaer, 1675 and 1676 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Topic: Early Colonial New York, Persistence of cultural practices

 Skills: Interpretation of cultural values, Interpretation of life in the late 1600s for Dutch settlers

This document shows the Dutch way of life and evidence that the Van Rensselaer family continued to support the Dutch way of life after the English took over the colony.

 ​​​​​​​Historical Context: The Van Rensselaer family owned a large portion of what is now the capital region. The family was one of the first patroons who held the land along the Hudson River.  They established their manor when New York was a Dutch colony. In 1664 England took over the Dutch Colony, but the family continued to own land and lease land to settlers. Madam Van Rensselaer was a widow after her husband died in 1674. It is important to note that celebrating Saint Nicholas was forbidden by the Dutch Reformed church at this time.

Essential Question: Did the Dutch settlers continue their Dutch way of life after the English took over the colony?

Document Analysis:

1.       Vocabulary: discuss meanings of the following words before reading:

·        sewant= black and purple bead used as currency (1 sewant= 2 wampum)

·        stiver= nickel coin (Dutch currency)

·        guilder= dollar coin (Dutch currency)

·        rusk= hard, dry biscuit

·        schepel= a dry measure

·        patroon= a Dutch landowner with land in the American colonies

2.     If not completing the online learning activities, students can use the “Written Document Analysis” graphic organizer to analyze this document.  Students should look at the original document. Explain that it is written in Dutch. Ask the students to notice the condition of the document- is it torn or in good condition? Do you think it is an official document that is important? Do you see any symbols or seals? Have them complete the Overall Observation of Document section of the graphic organizer.

3.      Part 1 is the Anno 75 in March, part 2 being the Anno 1676, and part 3 being the sum.  The teacher should think aloud for part 1: I Read. “I know that a school is an amount, and it says 3 chapels of Dutch rusks or biscuits. Then it has the amount of money that she paid for the rusks…. 7 guilders or dollars, and 10 stivers or nickels. The next line says cookies in May for 7 guilders… “ etc.  “So for the, I Read box I am going to write “list of goods bought from the bakery.”

4.      “The next box is I Think, and so I think that she purchased a lot of baked goods from the bakery. It says Dutch rusk, so perhaps it is a biscuit from The Netherlands. That is what I will write in box 2.”

5.      “The last box says It Means, I think that even though England has taken over the colony, they are still eating the foods that are from their home country. I am going to write still eating food from the Netherlands.”


1.      After the teacher models the entire part 1, students should be given the opportunity to work with a partner or small group to complete part 2. The teacher should be walking around the room and assisting students when necessary.

2.      The teacher should review what the word “sum” means for this receipt. And then allow students to finish the graphic organizer for part 3.

3.      After students are finished filling out the graphic organizer have partners or groups share what they have written.

4.      After sharing, pose the essential questions. If students are having difficulty with the third question about sewing, remind them about the fur trade and Native Americans, how the settlers made their money, etc.

Check for Understanding:

Write a few sentences that answer the essential questions. Use the graphic organizer and evidence from the document to support your answers. Sample answers:

·        The Van Rensselaer family continued some Dutch ways of life after settling in America. One way is that they continued to eat Dutch food from the bakery, such as rusks.

·        It is possible that they celebrated Christmas like many Americans do today. An indicator of this is the Saint Nicolas goodies in the list of baked goods purchased.

·        Madam Van Rensselaer may have had wampum because the fur trade was very important to the success of Europeans settling in New York. Wampum was considered a currency, just as the stivers and guilders were.

Optional Extension Activity

The following activity could be completed in order to extend students’ thinking and encourage them to make connections:

·        Research the use of currency in the colonies. When did colonists stop accepting wampum as a form of currency? When did the colonies stop using money that was from their home country and instead create a system of currency specific to their colony?