Who is Hubert de Leeuw and why is he so concerned with New Netherlands?
In the early 1990s, Hubert de Leeuw (Tilburg, 1961), entrepreneur from the Low Countries, begins more or less by coincidence to research the history of the origin of New Netherland, the region on the East Coast of North America which today is known as New York State. de Leeuw is in Seattle on business – to introduce the five-gallon water cooler system used in North America to The Netherlands – and makes a trip to Vancouver, just over the border in Canada. At a rather curious meeting of, as he says, ‘spiritual people,’ he is introduced to the word ‘Algonquin.’ De Leeuw’s curiosity overcomes his skepticism and, back in Seattle, he visits the library to find the meaning of the word. ‘Algonquin’ appears to be the name of an Indian tribe directly linked to New Netherland, Fort Nassau, Hendrick Christiaensen, and other Dutch merchants. de Leeuw states, “Something happened within me. I just knew I had to do something with it.” And that is what happens:
During a second visit to the Seattle Library, de Leeuw discovers a book named ‘A Sweet and Alien Land’, about the early history of New York. When he searches for the telephone number of the author, Henri van der Zee, he is put in contact with Peter Vanderzee, who lives in Albany, New York. Although Vanderzee’s house is close to the place at the Hudson River where Henry Hudson landed in 1609, this Peter Vanderzee has nothing to do with Henri van der Zee, nor with the history of New Netherland. He does, however, know a few people who are doing research on the early New York history, and he willingly offers to introduce them to de Leeuw. Thus, less than 72 hours after his personal discovery through a door toward understanding of New Netherland, de Leeuw sits around a table with Charles Gehring and Peter Christoph, two prominent American historians of New Netherland.
From that moment on, de Leeuw is determined to learn every detail of the early history of New Netherland. As often as possible, he visits the Hudson Valley, researches its history, and studies the lives of Hendrick Christiaensen, Adriaen Block, and their contemporaries. He notices that surprisingly little can be found in mainstream Anglo-American history texts about the years 1609 to 1624, usually described in short as a ‘bloody throat cutting period.’ Soon discovered by de Leeuw, the history readily available fails to accurately acknowledge the achievements of Dutch merchants and the Native Tribes.
IIn 1994, he founds the Adriaen Block & Hendrick Christiaensen Historical Working Group, and takes the initiative to reconstruct Fort Nassau. A few years later, he initiates the building of a replica of the Unrest, the ship built by Adriaen Block on Manhattan Island after his ship the Tiger was destroyed by fire. Later, de Leeuw gives lectures and presentations in Holland, intended to raise awareness of this part of Dutch history. This infallible enthusiasm to bring ‘New Netherland’ to a wider audience leads to him being unofficially named ‘Ambassador of New Netherland’ in 2004 by Bill van Winkle, president of the Holland Society of New York.
Gaining momentum, de Leeuw becomes an active sponsor of the New Netherland Museum, also one of the founders of the New Netherland Companions (a group of volunteers who are engaged in developing and executing several New Netherland heritage projects), and becomes a board member of The Friends of New Netherland, a group which facilitates the New Netherland Project, now named the New Netherland Institute. In 2005 he is asked to become the chairman of the New Amsterdam History Center.
Nowadays, De Leeuw, lives between two countries, near the city of Antwerp and the Hudson Valley area of NY; is a businessman and explorer per say, resembling the merchants of the old days. Not only does he devote himself to the history of New Netherland, but he also conducts business in the United States. He concentrates his activities in New York, the Hudson Valley, and the Capital Region around Albany, where 400 years ago (in 1614) the Dutch established their first trading post, Fort Nassau. He assists and coaches Flemish and Dutch ‘merchants’ interested in anchoring themselves in America, and thus, treading in the footsteps of their ancestors.
“History repeats itself,” de Leeuw says. “During my journeys of exploration, I have had many unique experiences and friendships, forming part of what I would call the ‘New Netherland cosmos’. For me, it has been an odyssey of stories and discoveries which I like to share, as a chronicle of all I have seen and learned.”