From the takeover of New Netherland in 1664, through to the 1820s, New York collected inventories of the material possessions of the deceased. The records, now available for free on Ancestry.com, (search for “Estate Inventories and Accounts, 16661-822”) are far from complete, but might be useful to historians and genealogists. I’ve been using them, for example, to compile slave prices, particularly the prices of slaves held by the Dutch. I will be writing about this a lot more down the line.
But for the moment, let me draw your attention to some of the personal goods of the colonial Dutch as listed in wills from New York. Most wills list farming implements, household furniture, wagons, etc., and these don’t easily distinguish the Dutch from their English neighbors. But Dutch books (particularly Dutch bibles) and beaver hats are distinguishing items, a kind of material legacy of the 17th century passed down for generations.
Some 17th and a few 18th century New York wills are written in Dutch, but more so are written in English by a “Dutch hand.” This is clear both in the style of writing and in the spelling of certain words. For example, this signature of “Chrisstoeffel Tappen” from 1731 in which he signs as the “justice of the peace’. Here, the “j” of “Justice” is a Dutch “y” and the word “the” is spelled using the old symbol that we sometimes mistake for “ye.”
There is plenty of opportunity here for historians, particularly historians of the NY Dutch to dig further. Certain farming implements, called “Dutch plows” or ‘English plows” for example, might lead us to a better understanding of Dutch agricultural practices. Lists, prices, and descriptions of household items, tools in the barn, kinds of animals and building implements might not be immediately useful if we are not trained to understand their purpose or use. But historians with the proper material culture training should be able to extract some meaning about what the Dutch owned, what was dear to them, how they use it, etc.