Being the Dutch

When responding to the Census, more than five million Americans claim to be of Dutch descent.  And they mostly are, at least a little. Now you might wonder how they compare with the Dutch back in the Netherlands: you might wonder about the relative academic or economic success of these two groups, which presumably have a common ancestry.  But you would be wrong to do so.   You would be comparing apples and House of Orangemen.

There were four or five different Dutch waves of settlement in this country. The first is pretty well-known, the Dutch colony in New York. Of course,  it was only about half Dutch in origin: the rest were Walloons and French Huguenots.  Lots of people have some ancestry from that group, including people I know.  Why,  if there was any justice, Henry Harpending would own a fine farm on Manhattan Island right now.

Of course, Henry isn’t all that Dutch.  His surname is.  He comes from an area of New York State that really did have some Dutch settlement. The thing is, white Protestants in this country have been intermarrying rather freely for several hundred years: it is rare to find someone in that category  whose ancestors all come from one ethnicity.  I would be surprised if Henry is 1/8th Dutch.  In much the same way, my patrilineal lineage is Ulster Scot (who fears mention the battle of the Boyne!?) but the rest includes English, Welsh, Scottish,  Green Irish, and a component that, I suspect, only became Dutch in 1918, and was Bavarian before that.  We’re talking about ye olde Americans, not Ellis Island types. Not that they haven’t mixed as well, but less so…

There were later Dutch waves.  Some moved to the Midwest in the 19th century , mainly for land but sometimes also for religious reasons.  You find clumps in of them in Michigan and Iowa and Wisconsin.  They haven’t been here as long, and probably aren’t so totally mixed – but I still think you’d have trouble finding many of them who were as much as 50% Dutch by ancestry. I have another good friend whose father came from that Iowa clump – although he himself  grew up in Long Beach.

There was a post-WWII pulse out of Indonesia, about 60,000. Most of them were half-Indonesian – like Eddie Van Halen’s mother.

Most of the people who self-identify as Dutch-Americans are mostly something else.    Why?   Sometimes a family tradition, or a surname, but more than anything else, fashion.

Fashions change.  For example, the fraction of Americans who report English ancestry has dropped drastically since 1980 – so much that so that you would have to wonder about secret death camps if you took it seriously.  But it’s fashion.  I looked at the census numbers for my home county, and then looked at the phone book:  Census result was 20% English ancestry, real number was more like 80%.  Of course this means that people in the US claiming a particular ethnicity can not only have limited ancestry from that group, but be oddly unrepresentative as well.

Sometimes those fashions have economic drivers.  For several decades now, there have been racial favoritism policies (mostly governmental, partly private) : different admissions criteria for low-performing groups, different criteria for scholarships, business set-asides, casinos for Injuns,  etc.

I know it’s shocking, but people game those things. They lie.  Look at Foxwoods: I doubt if anyone involved is as much as 25% Amerindian. But if you make enough political contributions, you can probably be anything you want to be – even Klingon or Ruritanian. I remember an Italian-American schoolteacher who moved to San Diego and changed his name to Garcia: it was useful.  I am reminded of a kid who was the star student at MIT’s  ‘disadvantaged minority’ prep course one summer:  he was 1/128th Potawotamie Indian. A credit to his race!

There are lots of people in New Mexico with both Hispanic/Mestizo and “Anglo” ancestry: there was a time in which it was probably useful to minimize your Hispanicness, but for the last 30 or 40 years, it has clearly been better to maximize it, which may make for an odd kind of population growth..  So if a kid’s mother (or grandmother) is from one of the old Hispanic families here, he can get a scholarship to the State U with a significantly lower score than my kids can.  White man’s burden, I guess.  Changing your name might help (Henry knows of a case or two, from when he was teaching in Albuquerque) but that is not really necessary.  You can get Hispanic AA credit if your last name is Jensen.  Nobody ever checks.

Of course, with genetic engineering on the horizon, someday we’ll see people actually switching their ethnicity (It’s Tuesday, I must be Belgian!) –  or perhaps subtly exaggerating it.  I am reminded of a certain Flannery I knew, who impressed me as being so Irish that he was barely even human.

Membership is not this fluid for every group in the US –  and even if it is today, it may not have been until recently. Jews intermarry a lot today, particularly non-Orthodox Jews, but the rate was much lower in living memory – and far lower than that, back in Europe.  Blacks really do average about 80% African ancestry – SNPs don’t lie. Out in the West, some Indian tribes really are pretty Indian.

If you want to make comparisons,  you have to know your subject. You need to know something about this country.  I wonder how many people do.





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45 Responses to Being the Dutch

  1. Greg says “Why, if there was any justice, Henry Harpending would own a fine farm on Manhattan Island right now.”

    Unfortunately there is no justice: see .

    • ziel says:

      From the description of the farm as the “Shoemaker’s land”, looks like your plot is #7 on this 1852 map, described as “The Shoemakers’ Pasture, (the Dutch Church property is comprised in this tract.)

      If so, it’s bounded by William St on the east, Anne St to the North, Maiden Lane to the south and Broadway to the west, just one block from the World Trade Center. Not a bad piece of property. Maybe you can re-file your claim.

  2. j says:

    “Dutch” is a recently created ethnicity. Caesar writes only meeting Ambiani, Atrebates, Bellovaci, Caleti, Suessiones, Veliocassi and Viromandui in the Low Lands, but he was so confused that he called them Belgians. In America, you forgot to mention, there are also Jewish Dutch, like Dutch Schultz (born Arthur Flegenheimer) a German-Jewish American businessman 🙂

    • gcochran says:

      If you were me, you would know that sometimes Dutch was used to mean German, back in the day. As in the Pennsylvania Dutch, who are not Dutch at all.

      • j says:

        How true! If I were you, I would know. Regarding Harpending origins, it may be English from Harpenden, Hertfordshire. Harpenden was settled by Belgians (see wiki) so it is OK.

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  4. typal says:

    Rule of thumb: the less claim to historical marginalization your primary ancestry tends to confer the more advantageous it is to deny it. Mormons being so English, Romney ought to do a Ted Kennedy and say there were ‘No English Required’ signs when he was growing up.

    Wait a minute – there still are: Avowed English need not apply

  5. That Guy says:

    I know a guy from Troy, New York (near Albany), who claims to be almost entirely Dutch, though his surname is English. I’ve known a handful of other people who claimed to be 1/2 or more Dutch from around the Albany area – home of one of the earliest Dutch settlements, after New Amsterdam.

    • As late as World War II there were a few elderly people living in the Hudson Valley region who spoke Dutch as their first language. Assuming they were in their 80’s and 90’s at the time, this means that children were being raised speaking Dutch as a first language for more than 200 years after the end of Dutch colonization and settlement in the region.

    • I would probably put “Dutch” on a census form if an answer were required. I am either 1/32 or 1/64 Dutch, and worse the supposed Dutch ancestor was a Huguenot or something like that, so I am likely really 0% Dutch. No matter…….

      • Anthony says:

        Question 10 in the 2000 census, “What is this person’s ancestry or ethnic origin?” implies a single origin, and only has space for 30 characters, which makes it difficult to put in more than two, even if you wanted to.

      • saintonge235 says:

        Personally, I’ve decided to identify as black Hispanic from now on.

  6. Will S. says:

    Dutch Protestants don’t intermarry as readily with outsiders as Dutch Catholics, esp. the Michiganders / Iowans, so you will still find that a fair proportion of the descendents of that wave of Dutch Protestant immigration, in the 1830s, are fairly ethnically pure, compared to the Dutch New Yorkers, and Dutch Catholic populations… I’m a minority in a Dutch Protestant church, and acutely aware of this. 🙂

    • JW says:

      Yes, I would like to see Greg explain this theory at a Christian Reformed (or RCA) church in Grand Rapids, Holland (MI), or Pella (IA). Within these groups you will find folks who brag about being not just Dutch, but majority Frisian.

      • Will S. says:

        Oh yes, the Frisians, or ‘Fries’ (pronounced ‘FREESH’), and even the part-Fries, will never stop letting people know they are not Dutch but Fries, or if part-Fries, then that they are part-Fries… It’s amusing and slightly nauseating, at the same time.

    • Will S. says:

      I should clarify, that I’m Canadian, but the same is true up here of the post-WWII waves of Dutch Protestant immigrants (who belong to the same churches as their American counterparts who have been in America much longer); they, too, intermarry very little with other Canadians.

      • Will S. says:

        And I don’t see that changing anytime soon, either, even if the few oddballs like me who aren’t ‘onze volk’ (‘our people’) but part of their churches do tend to intermarry; the reason isn’t so much ethnic as religious, marrying people who hold to the same creeds. But it ends up reinforcing the ethnicity, and very much assimilating the few outsiders who are admitted into their world (though maybe not those like me who haven’t married yet).

  7. sdlong says:

    My grandparents (a Herrera and an Alvarez from Mexico) did everything they could to assimilate to American culture, which, as far as I can tell, seemed to be a) emphasizing that their ancestors were Spanish and German, and b) making sure their kids, my mom included, only spoke English. My mom tells me that in her Spanish catholic school in 1960s L.A., speaking Spanish or proclaiming one’s Mexican-ness just wasn’t done. Assimilating to the Anglo culture was a good ideal to hold.

    My how the fashions change. I’m not complaining, though. I get to mark the Hispanic box! (Actually, I’ve only done it once, while applying for doctoral programs. Whether or not to mark it once I’m looking for a professorship will be a great moral dilemma for me.)

  8. ghazi-less says:

    The English surnames were normal; the German unusual, and therefore noticed. Probably the salience of the German surname accounts for the fact that more Americans claim German ancestry than claim English. As my own kids learn more about their heritage, and realize that multiculturalism is valued, they will likely focus on the weird-to-America fraction, and ignore the fact that they are nearly half English.

  9. winestock says:

    “who fears mention the battle of the Boyne!?”

    The good guys.

    Of course, you’d have to substitute the phrase “loathes to” for the word “fears.”

  10. typal says:

    Holland has a claim to be the first commercial society, before even England as Gregory Clark admits. The Dutch have never had a particulary bad press, they’re are not like the Irish at all. So the Dutch are not a good case in point.

    Either Ron Unz is correct, or there must be very widspread lying by those students claiming to be ‘Hispanic’ at Caltech and MIT. If Ron Unz is correct and ‘Irish Americans’ currently have IQ’s that exceed the English American average, then there must be many Irish American students at Caltech and MIT. Of course being smarter they will claim to be ‘Hispanic’. No, that can’t be right because they’d only do that if they were too stupid to get into Caltech and MIT on their own merits.

    Er, students at Caltech and MIT who are avowed English Americans are so clever they got in on merit and didn’t need to lie. Therefore they should be an elite group, and much smarter. But the social cachet of claiming to be of English stock is low – so they are high IQ but naive .

    • A Erickson Cornish says:

      Caltech gives close to zero consideration to race in undergrad admissions. It is the only elite American university with anything even resembling a meritocratic admissions policy.

      • typal says:

        Even if that avowed policy is practiced (and no university will admit that race can be a deciding factor) I’m afraid you didn’t read what I said about the reason WASPs claim to be other than they predominantly are is the social cachet of certain origins.

        Moreover there are issues with the maternal inheritance of IQ in relation to the fact that people with Hispanic fathers greatly outnumber those with Hispanic mothers..

    • Anonymous says:

      If having English ancestry is considered so undesirable now then what’s up with the tremendous popularity of Downton Abbey and the Anglophiles who love it?

  11. a very knowing American says:

    It can be interesting to see some of the minor European-American ethnic groups — the Dutch, the Swiss, the Welsh, the Finns — show glimmers of ethnic consciousness. A couple of novelists who could be pretty conscious of their Dutchness are John Updike and Peter DeVries. For both of them this sometimes showed up as a complicated relationship to their Calvinist roots. (From DeVries: one Dutchman, a Christian; two Dutchmen, a congregation; three Dutchmen, heresy.)

    The Dutch thing also shows up with screenwriter and director Paul Schrader, who did the screenplay for “Taxi Driver.” The surnames may be telling us that there’s an element of ethnic nepotism going on in Travis Bickle’s (i.e. the taxi driver played by Robert DeNiro) obsessional bloody rescue of Iris Steensma (the child prostitute played by Jody Foster) (beyond the more obvious crazed-Vietnam-vet theme.).

  12. Joe Walker says:

    Quote: “When responding to the Census, more than five million Americans claim to be of Dutch descent”

    How come there are so few Dutch in the United States when they have been here so long?

  13. teageegeepea says:

    This is off-topic, but a while back Greg Cochran mentioned GWAS studies of sexual orientation, and said he thought there might be a minor effect from some genes relating to pathogen resistance. n/a has the abstract of a paper, “Genome Wide Association Study of Sexual Orientation in a Large, Web-based Cohort”. The last paragraph:
    We carried out GWAS stratified by sex in a cohort of 7887 unrelated men and 5570 unrelated women of European ancestry collected in the two months since the initial survey release. No clear genome-wide significant associations have been found thus far, and the current data do not show any direct association for markers within chromosome band Xq28. However, data collection is still ongoing, and increased sample size may help to clarify the roles for currently suggestive associations.

  14. That Guy says:

    I happened to visit the “Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum” over the weekend, as they had a 1.5 hour extended lecture on the Dutch in New York. One thing I noted was that the original house was built by Pietar Wyckoff in 1652 and together with his wife – Van Ness – they raised 11 children to maturity in the original 1 room house. They had a landholding of 150 acres initially and by 3 generations later owned over 4,000 acres, making them the wealthiest landholders on Long Island.

    From this family of 11 children in 1652 are approx 65,000 descendants today!!! They initially spread to New Jersey, then to the US South, then Texas, then to the West. Today the Wyckoff Society says that the largest cluster of Wyckoff descendants is actually in Seattle, and on the West coast in general.

  15. typal says:

    Did you hear the one about the Dutchman, the Irishman, the Hispanic and the WASP?
    They were one and the same.

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  20. JayMan says:

    So on this topic, this fellow here – who deeply objects to my claim that the regional differences between White Americans have something to do with their genetic inheritance from their respective colonial forebearers – has claimed to have cooked up a way of estimating the share of the population (in this case, New England) who are descended from the original Puritan settlers. I suspect that his method is quite wrong, and I’ve left a comment there explaining why I think this is so.

    race/history/evolution notes: Ipsos-Reuters 2012 presidential polling data

    It’d seem to me that only broad genetic sampling could hope to pin down the true fraction of Americans in “Yankeedom” (as Colin Woodard describes it) that are actually Yankees in any part, and the degree that they are such. Sure, I’d expect that in regions that received heavy immigration throughout the 19th century, such as across Southern New England, the actually Yankee fraction might be somewhat diminished, but it’s likely a bit stronger in the less populated areas.

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  23. Anonymous says:

    This is the dutch register of surnames:

    Harpending does not show up. It might still be of Dutch origin though if the spelling was changed (Anglicized) after leaving the Netherlands.

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  26. Ron Pavellas says:

    Here are the descendants (well, many of them, and Henry should be in here somewhere) of Gerret Hargerinck (1640 -160), later changed to Harpending and other spellings:

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