Women and the Construction of Racial Identity in Global Dutch Communities of the 17th and 18th Centuries

AHA Session 93
American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies 3
Friday, January 5, 2018: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Columbia 8 (Washington Hilton, Terrace Level)
Dennis Maika, New Netherland Institute
This panel was made possible by the generous support of the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York, Dutch Culture USA, and the New Netherland Institute
Wim Klooster, Clark University

Session Abstract

Dutch, Indigenous, and enslaved peoples constructed and revised racial categories based on their experiences of encounter in the expanding global Dutch empire. The personal could challenge such nascent identities in intimate colonial spaces, yet imperial discourses and the colonial legal system, especially in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, increasingly encouraged the regulation of encounter and the enforcement of racial boundaries.

This panel explores women’s actions and community responses that shaped racial identity formation in the Dutch empire. The first paper, by Erin Kramer, considers women tavern-keepers prosecuted for selling alcohol to Native peoples in New Netherland. Although the rhetoric of safety underpinned such prosecutions, in practice magistrates sought to stiffen the borders between Native and Dutch communities and promote an elite construction of social distance. Deborah Hamer’s paper examines Asian women who married Dutch men in Batavia [Jakarta] and challenges the historiographical focus on women who easily integrated into Dutch imperial society. The unease surrounding Batavian interracial marriages, she argues, sparked a discourse on race and gender that hardened racial categories in both colony and metropole. The third paper, by Nicole Maskiell, explores the remarkable case of Philip, a mixed race enslaved man who, as an abandoned orphan, was nursed by a white woman named Margaret Wiser. Philip later appealed to the courts for his freedom, using his white wet nurse and connections to the elite Dutch community of Somerset County, New Jersey, as evidence of his nativity. In all three papers, the intimate decisions of women—to wed, to suckle, to pour a drink—directly influenced the delineation of racial categories in global Dutch communities. These choices at times could subvert or remake racial identity, or they could bring to bear the full weight of a legal system increasingly invested in distinguishing racial difference.

See more of: AHA Sessions