New York: the novel - By Edward Rutherfurd

NEW YORK IS, first and foremost, a novel. All the families whose fortunes the story follows are fictional, as are their parts in the historical events described. But in following the stories of these imaginary families down the centuries, I have tried to set them among people and events that either did exist, or might have done.

The names of the principal families in this book have been chosen to represent the traditions from which they come. Van Dyck is a common and easily remembered Dutch name. Master is a fairly common English name, though I confess that while considering the family’s destiny as merchants and Wall Street men, the phrase “Master of the Universe” sprang naturally into my mind. White is another typical English name. Keller is the fiftieth most popular German name, meaning a “Cellar Man.” O’Donnell is a well-known Irish name, Caruso a famous Southern Italian name, and Adler, meaning “Eagle” in German, is found all over Middle Europe. In the case of characters who make brief appearances, the Rivers family are invented; the family of Albion appeared in my book The Forest. My choice of the name Juan Campos was inspired by the famous Puerto Rican composer Juan Morel Campos. The name Humblay does not, so far as I am aware, exist, but is an old spelling of “humbly” to be found in sixteenth-century prayer books. For the origins of the names Vorpal and Bandersnatch, readers are directed to Lewis Carroll’s poem: Jabberwocky.

It has been necessary to invent very little in terms of historical event during the course of this narrative. Here and there, to maintain the narrative flow, there are a few simplifications of complex historical sequence or detail, but none, I believe, that misrepresent the general historical record. A few words, however, are needed as to historical interpretation.

American Indian tribes. While I have made reference to certain local tribes, such as the Tappan and the Hackensack, whose names are still to be found in local topography, the New York region contained such a multiplicity of tribal groups that I have not wished to confuse the reader by using too many. Instead, I have often followed the common practice of referring to these tribes by the name of their shared language group, which was Algonquin. Similarly, the tribes to the north are often called Iroquois—which was their language—although where appropriate, individual tribes like the Mohawks are so named. Readers may be surprised that in the early part of the story I have not used the name of Lenape to denote the native people of the Manhattan region. But in fact, this name was only applied to these groups at a later historical period, and so I have preferred not to make use of it when it would have signified nothing to the people described.

Some recent histories, in particular The Island at the Center of the World, Russell Shorto’s admirable book on New Amsterdam, stress the tradition of personal and civic freedom bequeathed to New York by the Dutch. I have tried to incorporate this work into my story, with the slight proviso that civic independence had a history dating back into the Middle Ages in England and much of Europe, as well.

My view in my original draft, that the English were harsher slaveowners than the Dutch, has been modified in conversations with Professor Graham Hodges, whose book Root & Branch covers this subject thoroughly.

I have chosen to believe that the English governor, Lord Cornbury, was indeed a cross-dresser. Several distinguished historians have been kind enough to agree that this is a good choice.

My view of the changing relations between Englishmen and Americans evolved considerably during the course of this narrative thanks to my conversations with Professor Edwin G. Burrows, the distinguished coauthor of Gotham, whose book on this subject, Forgotten Patriots, came out during the the writing of this novel.

New York is a vast subject, and one of the most complex cities in the world. Any novelist covering its rich history will have to make many choices. I can only hope that the reader may find that this book conveys something, at least, of the history and spirit of what is, for me, a much-loved city.

New Amsterdam


SO THIS WAS freedom.

The canoe went with the river’s tide, water bumping against the bow. Dirk van Dyck looked at the little girl and wondered: Was this journey a terrible mistake?

Big river, calling him to the north. Big sky, calling him to the west. Land of many rivers, land of many