The colonists of New Netherland and members of the Lenni-Lenape clans who lived in the lower Hudson Valley met daily to trade furs, negotiate land use, work for one another, and share news. But the relations between the two communities were not always friendly. Small disagreements could quickly turn into open war. Leaders on both sides relied on translators to communicate openly and keep the peace. Sarah Roelfs Kierstede van Borsum was one of the most trusted translators working for the New Netherland government. The Lenni-Lenape accepted her because she was a woman, and as such, she did not have the political or economic interests that might make her biased in negotiations. The Dutch government believed she was trustworthy because she was related to nearly all of the most powerful families in New Netherland. Sarah also had a natural talent for learning foreign languages. All of these factors made her a perfect translator in delicate negotiations. Her work was so important that she received rewards from both the Dutch and the Lenni-Lenape for her work.
This document was written in 1673, during the five months when the Dutch recaptured New Netherland from the English. That rewarding Sarah Roelfs Kierstede van Borsum for her work as interpreter was a high priority speaks to how much the government valued her. But the land was granted to Sarah’s husband instead of Sarah herself because even important women were treated as dependents of their husbands in colonial Dutch society.