Carel de Vos van Steenwijk left Amsterdam at the end of June 1783 to accompany the first Dutch Ambassador to the United States, Pieter van Berckel, on his trip to the new American Republic. The 24-year-old De Vos, from a large and influential noble family in the eastern Netherlands, had no official position in the Embassy but was simply part of the entourage which was intended to lend luster to this historic occasion. In this capacity, De Vos took part in the Ambassador’s first audience with the Congress at Princeton, New Jersey, and attended all the various receptions and banquets which accompanied it. Having done that, however, De Vos began a series of travels which took him to all thirteen states (except Georgia and Connecticut) over the next six months; he returned to Europe in July 1784.
Carel de Vos’ journal describing his trip begins with an account of the voyage across the Atlantic with a squadron of four Dutch ships. After a brief stop in the Azores, their progress was hampered by continually unfavorable weather, and finally the ships were hit by a hurricane in early September. The squadron was broken up by the storm, and one of the ships eventually sank off Cape Cod with 303 men on board. In all, the crossing to Philadelphia took 15 weeks, and the reader is very much impressed by the tenuous quality of Trans-Atlantic communications at the end of the 18th century.
Upon their arrival, the Dutch found that the U.S. Congress no longer resided in Philadelphia because of the political volatiliy there, and after considerable waiting, the Dutch Embassy proceeded to Princeton for the official reception at the end of October. From Princeton, De Vos went on a brief excursion to New York before returning to Philadelphia. By the end of November, De Vos had teamed up with another young traveler and was making plans to head as far south as Charleston, S.C., for the winter. Through his numerous influential contacts, including George Washington, De Vos carried letters of introduction to many leaders in state and local politics along his route. But at the same time, bad weather and terrible roads insured that in between his contacts with high society and urban culture, he was also afforded a personal view of the low life of slave auctions, hardscrabble agriculture, and the rural frontier of the Carolinas.
After a brief stay in Charleston, De Vos sailed to New York and from there set out again on a trip to Newport, Providence, Boston, and Portsmouth, which took him through the more populous and prosperous areas of New England. Returning again to New York, he sailed up the Hudson River as far as Albany and explored many of the older Dutch settlements along the Hudson Valley, Finally, having said farewell to Ambassador van Berckel in Philadelphia, he sailed from New York to England at the beginning of July.
The 225-page manuscript is part of a private family archive and has only been published in Dutch in a limited edition, edited and annotated by historian Wayne Te Brake; who also translated it into English. Carel de Vos would be active in the Dutch Patriot Movement and held various government positions during the time of the French occupation. The diary seems to have been conceived as a report to explore the trade possibilities for the Netherlands in return for its help in the American Revolution.
Maria van Epenhuysen Rose Bio
Ms. Rose is a native of the Netherlands and is an active performer on historical pianos. In addition to performance degrees from the Netherlands and England, she has a PhD in Musicology from NY University and has written many articles on piano performance practice. Ms. Rose has recorded piano works by Hummel, Clementi, John Field, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven on period instruments. She presently works as editor at the International Center of RILM (Repertoire International de Litterature Musicale) at the CUNY Graduate Center in NYC and Lives in Stone Ridge, NY.
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