Leasa Replies to Harder on Plockhoy
by K. Varden Leasa.
Harder is probably right that the tone of my article was too
close to arrogant. I regret my failure to write more humbly,
especially since I was only "announcing" discoveries
made by someone else.
Harder comes down harder on me than on Platenga, despite admitting
that Platenga added nothing new to the story and "most of
what he wrote was gleaned from my book published fifty years
Like Bart Platenga, however, I am not a professional historian.
My work is mostly in genealogy, with secondary interests in church
and local history. A member of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania,
I read the Peter Craig article when it first appeared in 1998.
When I saw or heard no response to it from Mennonite historians
over the next several years, I decided to write something to
draw attention to it. When I was asked to contribute an article
to a new Delaware Mennonite historical publication, I wrote "Setting
the Record Straight."
Like Platenga, I relied quite heavily on Harder's published
work on Plockhoy. And I did not intend to demean or dismiss it
in any way. I did not say that the story he told fifty years
ago was "mostly false," but I said: "much of [the
story] is false." Misidentification of the Germantown Plockhoy
and the belief in the total destruction of the community were
what I had in mind, and, given the paucity of historical information
on the colony, that seemed to me to be "much of the story."
I also tried to explain the origin and history of the errors
in the story.
Did I inadequately document my "hunches," as Harder
accuses? This is interesting, since I was in large part using
his book to construct my "picture" of what happened.
I looked at the difficulty Plockhoy had in getting colonists,
the socioeconomic well-being of the Dutch in general and the
Mennonites in particular by the 1660s, the lack of evidence of
Mennonites in Delaware at any time from 1663 on, and the words
of Plockhoy in his first letter to the Amsterdam City Council
in November 1661 (quoted in Plockhoy from Zurik-zee) and concluded
that there may have been few Mennonite families in the colony.
Those seemed to me adequate grounds for what I clearly stated
was a guess.
Yes, my statement that the 1671 census was a "previously
unknown historical document" is incorrect. But Craig argues
that the "misleading and garbled" 1877 publication
was responsible for it remaining undiscovered by Delaware historians
until a new transcription was done in 1977. The contents of the
document were certainly "unknown" to almost all interested
I appreciate Harder's concern that Plockhoy's communitarian
ideals and vision not be overlooked by focusing on the historical
record of his colony. But the aim of my article was really limited
to disclosing the new material. Judging from the tone of his
criticism, Professor Harder doesn't think I performed a useful
service by doing that.
I am sorry. In a letter to Harder, I expressed my admiration
and gratitude for his detailed, compassionate scholarship of
a half-century ago. I can see how the somewhat narrow focus of
my article on the events of 1663 and afterward and my catchy
title would have irritated someone who had studied, thought,
and written on the subject so deeply and for so many years. I
really wish I had titled it: "Something New on Peter Plockhoy"
and had adopted a more humble tone in my writing.