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THE NEIGHBORS OF NEW NETHERLAND
MACHIAVELLI observed that to the wise ruler only two courses were open — to conciliate or to crush. The history of the Dutch in America illustrates by application the truth of this view. The settlers at Fort Orange conciliated the Indians and by this means not only lived in peace with the native tribes but established a bulwark between themselves and the French. Under Stuyvesant the settlers at Fort Amsterdam took a determined stand against the Swedes and crushed their power in America. Toward the English, however, the Dutch adopted a course of feeble aggression un-backed by force. Because they met English encroachments with that most fatal of all policies, protest without action, the Empire of the United Netherlands in America was blotted from the map.
The neighbors of the Dutch in America were the Indians, the French, the Swedes, and the English. The earliest, most intimate, and most continuous relations of the Dutch settlers were with the Indians. These people were divided into a number of independent tribes or nations. The valley of the North River was shared by the Mohawks, who inhabited the region along the west side of its upper waters, and the Mohegans, or Mahicans, as the Dutch called them, who lived on either side of the banks of its lower reaches, with various smaller tribes scattered between. The warlike Manhattans occupied the island called by their name, while the Mohegans raised their wigwams also on the eastern shore of the upper river opposite the Mohawks, and ranged over the land reaching to the Connecticut River.
The Mohawks, with the Oneidas, the Onondagas, the Cayugas, and the Senecas, formed the famous Five Nations, generally known as the Iroquois. Their territory was bounded on the north by Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, on the east by Lake Champlain and the North River, on the west by Lake Erie and the Niagara River, and on the south by the region occupied by the Lenni Lenape, or Delaware tribes. But their power extended far beyond these limits over dependent tribes. They were in a constant state of warfare with their Algonquin neighbors on the north and east, who had been enabled to offer a formidable resistance by the use of firearms furnished them by the French.
When, therefore, the white men appeared among the Mohawks, bearing these strange weapons which had been used with such dire effect against the Iroquois by the Algonquins, the Mohawks eagerly sought the friendship of the newcomers, hoping to secure the same power which had made their enemies triumphant. The Dutch were intelligent enough to make instant use of these friendly sentiments on the part of the natives and hastened to make a treaty with the Iroquois, the Mohegans, and the Lenni Lenapes.
This treaty, which is said to have been signed on the banks of Norman’s Kill in the neighborhood of Albany, was concluded with all formalities. Each tribe was represented by its chief. The calumet was smoked, the hatchet was buried, and everlasting friendship was sworn between the old inhabitants and the new. By this agreement the Dutch secured not only peace with the neighboring Indians — a peace never broken in the north, whatever broils disturbed the lower waters of the river — but at the same time a guard between them and any encroachments of the French and Algonquins in Canada.
On the other boundaries and outskirts of their possessions, the Dutch were less fortunate. They had always claimed all the territory from the South or Delaware River to the Fresh or Connecticut River, but their pretensions were early challenged by the English on the ground of prior discovery and by the Swedes on the argument of non-occupation of the land.
The reports of the wealth to be acquired from the fur trade had quickly spread from Holland to Sweden, and as early as 1624, Gustavus Adolphus, encouraged by William Usselinx, a Dutchman and promoter of the Dutch West India Company, was planning expeditions to the New World. But the entrance of Sweden into the Thirty Years’ War in 1630 put a stop to this plan, and the funds were applied to war purposes. Gustavus Adolphus fell at Lützen in 1632, leaving the kingdom to his little daughter Christina. Her Government was conducted by Oxenstiern, a statesman trained in the great traditions of Gustavus, who felt with him that an American colony would be “the jewel of his kingdom.” An instrument for his purpose presented itself in Peter Minuit, who had returned to Holland in 1632, smarting under his dismissal as Director of New Netherland. He offered his services to Sweden for the establishment of a new colony, and they were accepted. In the opening of 1638, he arrived in what is now Delaware Bay with two ships, the Griffin and the Key of Kalmar. From the Indians he bought large tracts of land in what is now the State of Delaware, and on the site of the present city of Wilmington he planted a fort named Christina.
When news was brought to Kieft that Minuit had sailed up the South River and planned to raise the Swedish flag on a fort upon its shores, the Director promptly dispatched the following letter:
I, Willem Kieft, Director-General of New Netherland, residing in the island of Manhattan, in the Fort Amsterdam, under the government of the High and Mighty States-General of the United Netherlands and the West India Company, privileged by the Senate Chamber in Amsterdam, make known to thee, Peter Minuit, who stylest thyself commander in the service of Her Majesty, the Queen of Sweden, that the whole South River of New Netherland, both upper and lower, has been our property for many years, occupied with our forts, and sealed by our blood, which also was done when thou wast in the service of New Netherland, and is therefore well known to thee. But as thou art come between our forts to erect a fort to our damage and injury, which we will never permit, as we also believe Her Swedish Majesty bath not empowered thee to erect fortifications on our coasts and rivers, or to settle people on the lands adjoining or to undertake any other thing to our prejudice; now therefore we protest against all such encroachments and all the evil consequences from the same, as bloodshed, sedition and whatever injury our trading company may suffer, and declare that we shall protect our rights in every manner that may be advisable.
This blustering protest Minuit treated with contempt and continued building his fort. The Swedish colony soon grew so rapidly as to be a serious menace to the Dutch in spite of their stronger fortifications.
In 1642 Johan Printz, a lieutenant-colonel of cavalry, was sent over as Governor of New Sweden with instructions to maintain friendly relations with the Dutch, but to yield no foot of ground. He established several other settlements on the South or Delaware River. So tactlessly, however, did he perform his duties, that conflicts with the Dutch grew more and more frequent. He built two forts on opposite sides of the river and ordered that every ship entering the waters should strike her colors and await permission to pass. The first vessel on which the new orders were tried carried as a passenger David de Vries. The skipper asked his advice about lowering his colors. “If it were my ship,” De Vries asserts that he answered, “I would not lower to these intruders.” But peace at any price prevailed, the skipper lowered his colors, and the ship passed on to New Gottenburg, the capital of the colony. Here De Vries was welcomed by Governor Printz, whom the traveler describes as “a brave man of brave size.” The evening was spent in talk over a jug of Rhenish wine. Such friendly intercourse and the aggressions of the English against both Dutch and Swedes led to the temporary alliance of these latter in 1651. Indians called in council confirmed the Dutch title to all lands except the site of the Swedish fort planted by Minuit, and a peace which lasted for three years was declared between the Dutch and the Swedes.
In endeavoring to understand the relations between the settlements of the different nations in America in the seventeenth century we must realize that the colonies were only pawns in the great game being played in Europe between Spain and the Papacy on the one hand and the Protestant countries, England, Sweden, and the United Netherlands on the other. Once apprehending this, we can easily understand why the governor of each colony, though instructed to seize and hold every foot of land which could be occupied, was advised not to antagonize the other friendly nations and thus weaken the alliance against the common enemy. As the power of Spain declined, however, and the estimate of the value of the American colonies increased, the friction in the New World became more acute and the instructions from the home governments grew imperative.
Affairs then came to an open rupture between New Netherland and New Sweden. In 1651 Governor Stuyvesant inaugurated a more aggressive policy against the Swedes by building Fort Casimir near what is now New Castle, Delaware, not far from the Swedish fort. Three years later Fort Casimir fell into the hands of the Swedes. The Dutch Government now commanded Stuyvesant to drive the Swedes from the river or compel their submission. As a result the Director and his fleet sailed into the Delaware in September, 1655, and captured one fort after another, till Rysing, the last of the Swedish governors, was completely defeated. Though the colonists were promised security in possession of their lands, the power of New Sweden was ended, and the jurisdiction of the Dutch was for a time established.
New Netherland had, however, other neighbors more powerful, more persistent, and with more at stake than the French, the Indians, and the Swedes. These were the English colonists, pressing northward from the Virginias and southward from New England. From the beginning of the Dutch colonization, England had looked askance at the wedge thus driven between her own settlements. She had stubbornly refused to recognize the sovereignty of the States-General in the region of New Netherland while at the same time she vainly sought a pretext for the establishment of her own. England put forward the apocryphal claim of discovery by Cabot; but here she was stopped by the doctrine announced in a previous century that in order to give title to a new country, discovery must be followed by occupation. When England maintained that, since Hudson was an Englishman, the title to his discovery must pass to his native land, she was reminded that Cabot was a Genoese, and that Genoa might as well claim title to Virginia as England to New Netherland.
The Plymouth Company particularly was concerned at the Dutch occupation of this middle region to which the charter granted by King James gave it a claim. It formally protested in 1621 against these “Dutch intruders.” Whereupon King James I directed Sir Dudley Carleton, his ambassador at The Hague, to protest against the Dutch settlements; but nothing was accomplished, both parties having their hands too full with European quarrels to carry these transatlantic matters to extremities. The tension, however, was constantly increased on both sides by a series of encroachments and provocations.
In April, 1633, for example, the ship William arrived at Fort Amsterdam under command of Captain Trevor, with Jacob Eelkens as supercargo. Eelkens had been dismissed by the West India Company from the post of Commissary at Fort Orange, and was now in the service of some London merchants, in whose behalf he had come, as he told the Director, to buy furs on Henry Hudson’s River.
“Don’t talk to me of Henry Hudson’s River!” replied Van Twiller, “it is the River Mauritius.” He then called for the commission of Eelkens, who refused to show it, saying that he was within the dominions of the English King, and a servant of His Majesty, and asking the Dutch Council what commission they themselves had to plant in the English dominion. Whereupon Van Twiller replied that it was not fitting that Eelkens should proceed up the river, as the whole of that country belonged to the Prince of Orange and not to the King of England.
After this exchange of amenities, Eelkens returned to his ship, which remained at anchor for several days. At the end of the time, he presented himself again at the fort to ask if the Director would consent in a friendly way to his going up the river; otherwise, he would proceed if it cost his life. In reply, Van Twiller ordered the Dutch flag to be run up at the fort and three pieces of ordnance fired in honor of the Prince of Orange. Eelkens on his part ordered the English flag to be hoisted on the William and a salute fired in honor of King Charles. Van Twiller warned Eelkens that the course which he was pursuing might cost him his neck; but the supercargo weighed anchor and proceeded calmly on his way.
Van Twiller then assembled all his forces before his door, brought out a cask of wine, filled a bumper, and cried out that those who loved the Prince of Orange and him should follow his example and protect him from the outrages of the Englishman; Eelkens, by this time, was out of sight sailing up the river. The people drank, but only laughed at their governor, and De Vries told him that he had been very foolish. “If it were my affair,” he said, “I would have helped him away from the fort with beans from the eight-pounders.”
The William, meanwhile, journeyed up the river and Eelkens, who knew the country well, landed with his crew about a mile below Fort Orange and set up a tent where he displayed the wares which he hoped to exchange with the natives for beaver-skins. Very soon reports of this exploit reached the ears of the commissary at Fort Orange, who at once embarked with a trumpeter on a shallop decorated with green boughs. The Dutch landed close beside the English and set up a rival tent; but the Indians preferred to deal with Eelkens, whom they had known years before and who spoke their language.
In the high tide of success, however, Eelkens was rudely ordered to depart by a Dutch officer who had come up the river in charge of three vessels, a pinnace, a caravel, and a hoy. To enforce the commands came soldiery from both Dutch forts, armed with muskets, half-pikes, swords, and other weapons, and ordered Eelkens to strike his flag. They pulled down the tent, sent the goods on board ship, and sounded their trumpets in the boat “in disgrace of the English.” The Dutch boarded the William, weighed her anchor, and convoyed her down the river with their fleet, and finally dismissed her at the mouth of the river.
The troubles of the Dutch with their English neighbors, however, did not end with these aggressions on the Hudson and similar acts on the Delaware. In the year 1614, Adriaen Block, a great navigator whose name deserves to rank with that of Hudson, had sailed through the East River, and putting boldly across Long Island Sound, had discovered the Housatonic and Connecticut rivers. He also discovered and gave his own name to Block Island and explored Narragansett Bay, whence he took his course to Cape Cod. These discoveries reported to the States-General of the United Netherlands caused their High Mightinesses at once to lay claim to the new lands; but before they could secure enough colonists to occupy the country, restless pioneers of English stock planted towns in the Connecticut valley, along the Sound, and on the shore of Long Island. These were uncomfortable neighbors with aggressive manners which quite upset the placid Dutch of New Amsterdam. Inevitable boundary disputes followed, which reached no adjustment until, in 1650, Stuyvesant went to Hartford to engage in a conference with commissioners of the United Colonies of New England.
The Director began as usual with bravado; but presently he consented to leave the question of boundaries to a board of four arbitrators. This board decided that the boundary between the Dutch and English possessions should run on Long Island from Oyster Bay south to the Atlantic, and that on the mainland it should run north from Greenwich Bay, but never approach within ten miles of the Hudson River. The Dutch in New Netherland were amazed and disgusted at the decision; but though Stuyvesant is said to have exclaimed in dramatic fashion that he had been betrayed, he found it hopeless to struggle against the superior force arrayed against him.