Photo credit: @julesdwit.
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Novelist, historian and author Kevin Baker looks back over the 400 years of United States history while discussing his new book, America The Story of Us: An Illustrated History.
I'm a direct descendant of Anthony Van Salee — the first muslim in the US (he was also a retired Barbary pirate and married to a notorious hell-raiser, drunkard, and former prostitute). Luckily, I was able to do a lot of research on him (my x-great-grandfather) before the ground-zero mosque story broke and was appalled by the inaccuracies bandied about him in the (mainly right wing) media. I can't help but think that he faced the same prejudice and mistrust all those years ago.
Speaking of African-Americans, being of New Amsterdam stock my family, the Kiersteads, owned many slaves here. I live just a block from The African Burial Ground National Monument which is at the corners of Duane and Elk Streets, and often wonder if, given the abhorrent history of slaves and slave owners, if I have many relatives buried there.
A nation of immigrants indeed. Things that make you go hmmm.
Thank you!!! I used to work at the National Archives, and moist people changed thgeir names when they became citizens. There was a spot on the Petition for Naturalization for a legal name change.
Interesting interview. I am a direct descendant of Hans Kierstead, the first doctor in New Amsterdam, as well as Anneke Jans, who married into the Kierstead and Bogardus families, and was herself a large landowner; in fact, at one time she was the wealthiest person in New Amsterdam. She also owned a large brewery, an historical tidbit I relish.
Another relative was the great silversmith, Cornelius Kierstead, one of whose punch bowls recently sold at auction for the highest amount ever paid for an example of American silver. One of his lovely beer mugs is on display at the Museum of the City of New York.
Unfortunately, along came the Brits and the American Revolution, and our family, being loyalists, mostly fled to Canada. But ironically, here I am centuries later in Tribeca, living just two blocks from the old family farm. Duane Park in Tribeca, the second oldest public park in New York City, has a nice plaque mentioning Ms. Jans and some of the history of the area.
Thanks for the great interview!
I think my family history represents a common theme in America.
Great grandparents who came here in the late 1800's. Many children, grandchildren, cousins, uncles aunts, second cousins, third cousins, divorce, remarriage, blended families all moving from here to there. We've lost track of all our relatives and yet it's nice to know that we've many undiscovered ones just about anywhere in America we go.
My mother's family on her father's side came over before the Revolutionary War from Holland, and the story goes, her ancestor, Eliphalet Dikeman ran so hard from the British that he burst a lung, but for his valor was awarded most of what is today Fairfield County, Conneticut- The farm stayed in the family until the beginning of this century. On her mother's side they came from England, with their copper teapot (you can't get a decent cup of tea in the Colonies!) but stayed rather than go on to Australia because of the Civil War. They so strongly hated slavery, that they opened up an underground railroad station near St. Paul's Chapel in New York City, where my great grandmother was told to never tell anyone about the people who lived in their kitchen. (the slaves stayed near the heat in the kitchen, they were unused to the cold Northeast winters). Pigs then ran wild on Wall St., and my great great grandmother would pay a policeman to carry her daughter across the street, because the traffic of horses was so dangerous. American history, a living vivid part of our family.
My grandfather was born in 1863, in a little town outside Naples, Italy. He immigrated to the U.S. for the first time when he was 16, working as a laborer on the base of the statue of liberty and later, the Brooklyn Bridge. He traveled back and forth to Italy several times, marrying my grandmother and having his first children. The entire family came to NYC permanently in 1892, and my father (who had children in his fifties -- I'm not that old) was born in 1900. My father told me that he had witnessed in his lifetime a political, technological and cultural revolution -- he took a $5.00 "joy" ride in one of the first "flying machines" -- and between him and my grandfather, and my maternal grandparents, who were part of the great immigration from Sicily to the U.S. after the volcanic eruption/earthquake/tidal wave (no subtle "get out" message there) in 1906, we have been part of most of the major developments in American history in the past 150 years.
Yeah I think about my family's history in America all the time as well.
I think about my family in the context of American history all the time. I think my wife and I represent the zeitgeist of changing areas of the country: my wife is the primary breadwinner, she goes by her maiden name, we've been married six years but we're considering children for the first time.
I think that multicultural, immigrant-heavy places -- Long Island, Jersey, Westchester -- are a model of what the future of America is going to look like.
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