Harder Responds to Leasa on Plockhoy
by Leland Harder
Several months ago a friend drew my attention to the three
articles about Plockhoy published in the Mennonite Historical
Bulletin (April 2001, January 2002, October 2002). I suspect
that's about all you want on this subject, although more could
and perhaps should be said.
Plantenga's articles are certainly well written and are excellent
for adding contexts to Plockhoy's endeavors in Amsterdam and
London. He had no new information about Plockhoy himself, and
most of what he wrote was gleaned from my book published 51 years
ago, Plockhoy from Zurik-Zee.
Leasa's article does indeed "set the record straight"
on one part of the story. The new information reported here is
the 102-page hardcover book, 1671 Census of the Delaware by Peter
S. Craig, published in 1999 by the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania.
There is a difference, however, between setting the record straight
and updating it. The story I told fifty years ago is not mostly
"false" as he claims but needing the corrections that
his new source contributes. A little less arrogance and guesswork
on Leasa's part would have been appreciated. His 37 endnotes,
eleven of which cite my book and articles on Plockhoy, do not
document his hunches. For instance, how can we know for sure
that Plockhoy's settlers were recruited from the "urban
poor" of Amsterdam and that the majority of them were not
Mennonites? Leasa cannot document these assumptions but can only
say, "I believe...."
Leasa's hunch in this regard is based on the new finding that
one of Plockhoy's settlers was his brother, who had been serving
at the Dutch fort at the Delaware Horekil in 1660 and was probably
the soldier-informant that Plockhoy mentioned in his Amsterdam
prospectus. If the settlers were Mennonites, why would a veteran
Dutch soldier have joined? Insight on this question can be gleaned
from Plockhoy's second Dutch publication, Kort Verhael Van Nieuw
Nederlants (Brief Account of New Netherlands), which explains
the kind of pacifist polity Plockhoy had in mind: Article 40:
"It is further recommended that every colonist who feels
personally free to do so provide himself with that which is necessary
for his defense, at least with a firelock, pistol, and broad
sword, powder and lead in proportion." Article 41: "The
Mennonites and all those who could not conscientiously do so
should in relation to this regulation and also in relation to
guard and other military service pay a certain tax if the community
would desire or if a majority vote would so indicate." Article
42: "They will also be exempt from all voting on defense
matters and fortification, and from orders from officers in this
relation and concerning military service." In a self-governing
"commonwealth" on the colonial American frontier, with
constant threats of invasion by European raiders of English (1664)
and Swedish (1673) nationality, not to mention the assumed threat
of native Americans, Plockhoy had implemented a two-kingdom ethic
that subsequently characterized American Mennonitism for the
next three centuries.
We are indeed indebted to Peter Craig for reliable information
about what happened to Plockhoy's settlers after the settlement
was "destroyed to a naile" in the Anglo-Dutch war for
control of New Netherland/New York. Plockhoy himself died during
or soon after the attack by the Duke of York's forces. His wife
remarried, and his sister's husband took over the leadership
of the group. It was Plockhoy's blind son and wife (and not the
parents) who came to Germantown in the 1690s seeking refuge.
The 1671 census was scribbled on two sheets of parchment, and
it took Craig a decade to identify the names using records of
deeds, land allotments, wills, and other bits and pieces of extant
information. It was a singular research achievement, but Leasa
is not entirely accurate when he alleges that this was a "previously
unknown historical document." The census had actually been
published in 1877. Until 1977 it was unknown to Delaware historians
because it had been appended to an unrelated document in the
New York State Archives.
Most of the interest in Plockhoy's ideas over the past fifty
years has centered on his communitarian vision. Apropos to what's
going on in Mennonite Church USA, Plockhoy's ideas for new mechanisms
for open-minded discussion and discernment of issues should have
a renewed relevance.
Leland Harder, North Newton, Kan., now retired from teaching
at Bethel College, co-authored Plockhoy from Zurik-zee: The Study
of a Dutch Reformer in Puritan England and Colonial America in
1952 (with Marvin Harder).