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Governor Kieft's Personal War
By Walt Giersbach

The Native Landscape

Americans today know little about the Dutch influence in the New York region except for odd place names like Harlem, Yonkers and Spuyten Duyvil. Or, the tale of Rip Van Winkle. Or, the bargain in which Pieter Stuyvesant bought an entire island for $25 worth of trinkets.

For a brief period, the Dutch managed one of the most democratic, tolerant and socially liberal settlements in the New World. In contrast, one of its governors, Willem Kieft, will forever be known as the spiteful tyrant of New Amsterdam. In the wake of his administration lay more than a thousand dead Indians—men, women and children.* Such was the viciousness of his warfare that a contemporary complained to authorities in Holland that the Indians were being decapitated and burned alive by Kieft's soldiers. "Young children, some of them snatched from their mothers, were cut in pieces before the eyes of their parents, and the pieces were thrown into the fire or into the water; other babes were bound on planks and then cut through, stabbed and miserably massacred so that it would break a heart of stone."

While the English embarked on a search for theological utopia, the Dutch immigrated for one purpose: to make money. In fact, they could be said to have "invented" New World money. The explorer Adriaen Block, following Henry Hudson by five years, realized that the polished shells the Pequot made were greatly prized by the Mohawk to the north. The Mohawk were wealthy with fur-bearing animals. The Dutch innovatively set themselves up as trading middle-men: the Pequot acquired European goods, the Mohawk got their wampum, and the Dutch received the furs. **

The gigantic area they called New Netherlands was the sole possession of a commercial monopoly—not a colony of Holland. The States General, Holland's governing body, licensed the New Netherlands Company in 1614, taking in an area from New York State on the St. Lawrence River south to the Delaware River. The West India Company (WIC) was chartered seven years later. Following the traders, the first colonists—dependents of the WIC—arrived in 1624.

Dutch relations with the Indians began benevolently. A director of the WIC, Johannes de Laet, wrote that the Indians were friendly people if they were treated well. Governor Willem Verhulst was also instructed from Holland to treat them with "honesty, faithfulness and sincerity" and to respect their land claims.

Inevitably, incidents between such diverse cultures could be expected. Some of the events grew out of major errors in judgment. In 1622, there was such an incident at a Dutch trading post on the Connecticut River. In order to dominate the fur trade in the area, the Pequots attacked a group of Mattabessic who had come to the post for trade. The Dutch trader reacted by seizing a Pequot sachem as hostage. The Pequots offered a ransom to secure his release. The trader took the wampum but killed his prisoner; the Pequot retaliated by burning his trading post.

In 1624, the Dutch also brought thirty Dutch families north and began building Fort Orange on the west side of the Hudson at Albany. This was the source of valuable pelts, but it was also the scene of antagonism between the Mohawks and Mahicans. These dominant tribes were involved in a bitter struggle along the St. Lawrence River with the French-allied Huron, Algonquin and Montagnais. Both the French and Dutch limited the amount of guns and ammunition they would sell, but their competition with other Europeans put a stop to these restrictions. (In Manhattan, the Dutch refused to arm the Metoac and other tribes near their settlements.) Two years later, the Dutch joined a group of Mahicans in a raid on a Mohawk settlement. The Mohawks struck back, killing four Dutchmen, including Daniel van Crieckenbeeck, commander of the fort, before peace was restored. In the process, the Dutch lost their impartiality in inter-tribal disputes and with it any moral superiority.

In the East, the Pequot War of 1637 waged by the English ravaged New England, but cleared the way for English expansion.

Consolidation on Manhattan

The influx of Dutch settlers combined with Indian belligerence led the Dutch to create a settlement at the foot of Manhattan Island. In 1626, Peter Minuit, then director of New Amsterdam, purchased the island from the Manhattan Indians for twenty-five dollars (according to a valuation made in 1866) in trade goods. He relocated settlers from Fort Orange, from Connecticut and from Delaware to the new settlement, The fledgling colony amounted to little more than a few log huts connected by dirt paths, a warehouse for storing furs and trade items, a church and several other buildings.

Expansionist pressure from the English, however, posed a growing problem for the Dutch. English colonists were spreading through Massachusetts to Connecticut and to eastern long Island. Populations grew as emigrants left England for religious and personal reasons. This brought the Dutch and English to within fifty miles of each other. The English drove west, while a small but stable Dutch population held outposts on the western end of Long Island and in what is now Westchester County.

The Dutch built a fort at the southern tip of Manhattan island, and New Amsterdam was created for the farmers who supplied the garrison. In 1636, Nieuw Amersfort—the first Dutch settlement on Long Island—was built at a place called Flatlands (Flatbush). The name would later be changed to Breukelen (Brooklyn), but until 1639 there were so few Dutch that the Manhattan tribespeople continued to live on the north end of their island.

While the English colonized settlements with a promise of "freedom" (insofar as their religious sectarianism allowed independent action and secular thought), the Dutch chose "patroonships" in 1629 to induce settlement. Until that date, the Company held a monopoly on trading. It was a feudal system; the indentured servants were essentially serfs who worked the land for ten years. The patroons founded the great families of New York: the van Rensselaers, Schuylers, Livingstons and others. Amsterdam pearl merchant Killian van Rensselaer, the first patroon, founded Rensselaerwyck on the upper Hudson in 1630, on land purchased from the Mahicans Seven years later, his holding measured 24 miles by 48 miles, or most of the future Albany and Rennsselaer Counties!

The Company and the patroons soon quarreled; Minuit was removed in 1632, accused of favoring the patroons by refusing to ban private (unsanctioned) fur trade and open the business to independent traders. Minuit was succeeded by acting director Janz Crol. Crol was followed in 1633 by Wouter van Twiller,Van Twiller brought with him 104 Dutch musketeers, the colony's first regular troops. A 27-year-old related by marriage to the van Rensselaers, he located himself at Bossen Bouwerie as the first European to settle in "Greenwich Village." He also purchased Long Island land from the Lenape, in the Red Hook and Gowanus neighborhoods of Brooklyn, ending up in two years owning 15,000 acres. After being forced to leave office in 1638, accused of wasting the Company's money while enriching himself, he went on to buy Great Barcut (Great Barn) Island, which later became Ward's Island in the East River between upper Manhattan and what is now Queens.

The benevolent but ineffective van Twiller was replaced by Willem Kieft, in 1637, and this ushered in the beginning of real conflict in New Amsterdam.

An Auspicious Arrival

Willem Kieft became the fifth governor of New Netherlands on Sept. 2, 1637, following a curious personal history. He was born in 1600 in Amsterdam. According to a pamphlet published in 1649, the Breeden Raedt , he was educated as a merchant and entered the mercantile business to no small disaster. "After having taken charge of his own and his master's business … at Rochelle, he happened to fail there." According to custom, his portrait was "stuck up on the gallows there" – he was hanged in effigy, which was a lasting disgrace. After being out of business for some time, the government sent this bankrupt businessman to Turkey to ransom Christian hostages there. The hostages with the lower prices on their heads were released; the more "expensive" were left in chains and the balance of the ransom went into Kieft's pocket. His reward for these actions was to be appointed governor.

Kieft's arrival in New Amsterdam on March 28, 1638, was coldly received as he stepped off the ship Herring . Likely, one of the first people Kieft met was Pastor Evardus Bogardus. Bogardus, the second minister in the colony, became a nemesis of Kieft and their destinies interlocked. Bogardus, who had accused former director van Twiller of misfeasance, was himself charged with unbecoming conduct and was about to return to Holland to defend himself when Kieft detained him.

Kieft was called energetic by his peers, but spiteful and utterly ignorant of the principles of governing. Upon his arrival, he immediately concentrated all executive power in his hands, relying on one counselor, Dr. Johanne La Montagne. New Amsterdam was in a miserable physical condition, he complained in his first letter back to Holland. "The fort is open at every side, except the stone point; the guns are dismounted; the houses and public buildings are out of repair; the magazine for merchandise has disappeared; every vessel in the harbor is falling to pieces; only one windmill is in operation; the farms of the company are without tenants and thrown into commons."

Building the Common Weal

No one could fault Kieft for his initial force of energy. To this shambles of a colony, Kieft was faced with another domestic crisis: Peter Minuit, who had been Kieft's idea of a model governor, had led a colony of Swedes to the Delaware River. The impertinent Swedes were claiming the entire country west of the river from the falls at Trenton to Cape Henlopen (Lewes, Del.) and as far inland as they pleased! Kieft stormed and railed against the invasion and issued a proclamation, but was powerless to do anything in retaliation.

Locally, however, he nailed proclamations on trees and fences ordering that "no attestations" or public writings would be valid in a New Netherlands court unless they were written by the colonial secretary. If the colonies in Massachusetts might be termed theocracies controlled by religious zealots, the governor of New Netherlands was akin to a chief executive officer of the company. New Netherlands was not a democracy.

Kieft's attention was drawn to the things he could do, and this included improving the appearance and functioning of the town. He chose Pearl Street, a simple road on the bank of the East River, for the best class of houses. A windmill stood on State Street, and not far away were a baker and the company warehouse. He repaired the fort, and a private brewery on Staten Island began producing the first beer in the new world. (On May 15, 1638, Jan Gybertsen had stabbed New Amsterdam gunner Gerrit Jansen in a brawl, killing him. There's no indication whether the brewery was to blame for New York City's first murder.)

New Amsterdam was the size of a small village during Kieft's governorship. A wall to the north (right), built in 1653, was a defensive line at what is now Wall St. The Heerengracht canal (lower left) was crossed by pretty bridges in the Dutch style. The State House, a former tavern, was at the far lower left.

Larger social pressures were looming. A major change in the way New Netherlands was structured—for the better—was dictated by the States General in 1638. This governing body and some of its directors saw that it was a mistake for New Netherlands to fill the province only with Company dependents. The States General proposed that the Company relinquish control of New Netherlands, making it a colony of Holland. The Company, obviously, did not want to surrender control. Meanwhile, the grasping patroons proposed their own "wish list" to the States General to expand their privileges and exemptions: monopolize more territory; have a longer time to settle colonists; enjoy free trade throughout and around New Netherlands; be invested with greater feudal powers independent of Company control in governing their manors; have a vote in the council of the governor; and to be supplied with Negro slaves and convicts from Holland to serve as laborers. The patroons actually suggested that all "private persons" and poor immigrants should be required to settle within the manors under the jurisdiction of these manorial lords.

This was so offensive to the States General that they forced the Company to throw the new land open to competition. In 1639, the West India Company surrendered its monopoly in fur commerce, allowing individual colonists to join the trade and to cultivate farms. The effect was electric. Settlers moved down from New England, up from Maryland and Virginia, and over from Europe. Rich and poor, educated and unlettered headed for the Dutch areas of control. With them came David De Vries, who planted a colony on Staten Island and became a fulcrum in leveraging the colony's future.

The immigrants brought with them a demand for homesteads, while outside pressure grew as the English expanded through Connecticut. The English created the thriving village of Stratford on the west bank of the Housatonic River, settled Norwalk and Greenwich further west on the Long Island Sound and threatened to push on to the Hudson River. To the south, the Swedes were planting settlements on the Delaware River.

Governor Kieft set up a defensive perimeter in 1640 by purchasing from the Indians all the small islands near Norwalk and the domain westward, or nearly the whole of Westchester County and nearly all of the present Queens County on Long Island.

Growth of New Amsterdam was exponential. In 1641, two taverns were built: Philip Geraerdy's at Stone and Whitehall Streets and City Tavern (possibly also called the Wooden Horse) at Coentes Slip and Pearl Street. The latter was converted into the Stadt Huys (State House) by the end of the year.

By 1642, it was said that no fewer than a dozen languages were spoken in the little colony of New Amsterdam, The following year, Kieft reportedly told a priest that eighteen languages were spoken among a population of just 800. Some estimates place the Dutch population at 50 percent, with the other major nationalities and ethnicities being German, English, Africans, Scandinavians, French and Jewish.

There were perhaps 15 streets in the new capital, with the town developing out and around the fort. A small inlet cutting through the grid of streets was called Heerengracht, or canal, and the settlers built pretty bridges over it as they might have done in Holland. In 1642, a new church was built for Domine Bogardus' parishioners.

In order to further agriculture, Kieft established two cattle fairs and a market in what is now Bowling Green, saw that orchards were planted and gardens were cultivated. The town was growing. Notably, religion and morality were encouraged and ordained clergy held public services. Governor Kieft forbade "the tapping of beer during divine services, and after one o'clock at night." He also prohibited illegal traffic and selling guns to the Indians, enforced town ordinances, ordered the town bell rung every night at 9:00 p.m. to announce the hour for retiring, every morning and evening to call people to and from their labors, and on Thursday to summon prisoners to court.

We don't know how personally religious Kieft was, but any piety may have dissipated over time. By 1643, Bogardus warned Kieft against making war on the Indians. By 1645, he was openly denouncing Kieft for drunkenness and rapacity. In those later years, Kieft was noticeably absent from church and ordered the troops to make noisy amusements during services.

Antagonisms Turn Bloodthirsty

If Kieft's policy and conduct at this point had been as wise and just as it was firm and energetic, his administration would have been marked by peace and great prosperity. Against this background, however, he pursued a policy that inflamed the Indian populations. His partiality for the Mohawks, with whom the Dutch had traded at Fort Orange, aroused the jealousy of other Hudson River tribes. Dishonest traders also exacerbated the situation by bilking the Indians when they were drunk, Kieft tended to turn a blind eye to these misdemeanors while sharing in the traders' gains. He also required a tribute of furs, corn and wampum from the Manhattan-area tribes.

Kieft wasn't ignorant of the growing resentment. In 1640, it was reported that swine had been stolen by white people from De Vries' plantation on Staten Island. The governor charged the innocent Raritans of New Jersey with the crime and sent 100 men, armed with muskets and pikes, across the harbor to the island. The troops killed several Raritans, including a sachem. A show of power, Kieft probably concluded, would deter the Indians' vengeance.

The tactic backfired. Neighboring tribes were angered and they refused to pay tribute any longer. In retaliation, the Raritans burned a farm and killed four Dutch workmen. Settlers then were murdered whenever the Indians met them in the forests of New Jersey, and De Vries' innocent settlement was ruined.

Kieft's reaction to the growing hostilities was to outlaw the Raritans and eliminate them through genocide. He placed a bounty of "10 fathomes of wampum" on the head of each Raritan who was killed. It was not an effective policy, economically or strategically. A group of Metoac brought Kieft just one head whose owner was never identified.

Another event also came to a climax. Many years earlier, some of Peter Minuit's men had murdered an Indian from the Wecquaesgeek tribe north of the Harlem River. His nephew, who was then a boy, vowed revenge. In 1641, amid the growing tension, the boy who was now grown attacked an innocent Dutch man in his wheelwright shop at the north end of Manhattan Island. While the mechanic was bent over his task, the young Indian seized an axe and almost cut the worker's head from his body. The Indian returned to his tribe in triumph, carrying the worker's scalp.

Governor Kieft ordered the murderer turned over, but the chief refused to give him up, saying the young man had been rightfully avenged.

Kieft was determined to punish the Wecquaesgeek the way he had the Raritan, and told the settlers in New Amsterdam to pick up their weapons. The townspeople saw the rashness of this order and refused. In fact, they charged Kieft with inciting a war that could "make a wrong reckoning with the Company." They added insult to their refusal, calling Kieft a coward. Collectively, they stated, "It is all well for you who have not slept out of the fort a single night since you came, to endanger our lives and our homes in undefended places."

Pastor Bogardus was one of the enraged colonists, calling the governor "a child of the devil" to his face. On one occasion, Bogardus said that if Kieft would not behave himself he would give him such a "shake from the pulpit the next Sabbath as would make him tremble like a bowl of jelly."

This tongue-lashing may have soured Kieft from attending services. He may also have become aware of the tenuousness of his position. He called an assembly of "masters and heads of families" to choose 12 men. Without becoming aware of it, he in effect created the first representative assembly in New Netherlands. David De Vries was chosen president. On Jan. 2, 1642, Kieft convened the Council of Twelve Men to plan a campaign against the Algonquins. His charge to the organization was whether the wheelwright's murderer ought to be demanded of the tribe, or if the Indians refused to surrender him to make war and burn the village.

The Twelve Men under De Vries counseled peace and turned their attention to considering the needs of governing their own settlement. We can imagine Kieft's anger at this intrusion on his power. Cunningly, he offered a compromise: he would make popular concessions to the Twelve if they would authorize him to make war at an appropriate time. The group trusted the governor and agreed, only to see Kieft dissolve the Council of Twelve on Feb. 18 and forbid it to reorganize.

This was turning into a bad year for the settlement. Kieft acted on Feb. 25 by sending an expedition against the tribe in Westchester County—only to be thwarted by their getting lost en route and, eventually, the signing of a treaty. (The murderer may also have taken refuge with another tribe.)

Another situation involving the Hackensacks developed across the Hudson. The Hackensacks were already irritated over a questionable takeover of their land by Myndert Van der Horst when the son of one of the tribe's leaders was invited to a Dutch establishment and gotten drunk. When the Indian woke up, he discovered his hosts had stolen his beaver-skin coat. In response, he shot an arrow into a worker who was thatching the roof of Van der Horst's home. Kieft, of course, demanded the surrender of the killer only to get the usual response: the murderer had fled to another tribe.

Tensions were further aggravated when the Narragansett sachem Miontonimo, with 100 of his warriors from Rhode Island, visited the Metoac villages on Long Island that summer to recruit allies for a war against the Mohegans in Connecticut. Kieft in his paranoia misinterpreted Miontonimo's intention and became convinced that a secret uprising was being organized against the Dutch and English.

In what is now upstate New York other developments were taking place that would have repercussions for the Dutch on Manhattan Island. After years of fur trading, the beaver were being hunted to exhaustion. The Mohawks and the Mahicans needed new hunting territory, which necessitated more weapons to fight outside their territories. The currency for gun-buying was wampum, so the Indians demanded tribute from weaker tribes—particularly the Metoacs, Wappingers and Munsee Delawares who the Dutch would not arm. While the Mohawks pressured the Munsees west of the Hudson, the Mahicans went after the Wappingers on the east side of the river. In the winter of 1642-43, Mahican warriors came to the Wappinger (Wecquaesgeek) villages, but their extortion was resisted. In the fighting, seventeen Wappinger were killed and many of the women and children were taken captive. Some 500 Wappinger fled south to—they presumed—the protection of the Dutch.

Following a short rest, the Wappinger moved across the Hudson River to the Hackensack and Tappan villages at what is now Jersey City, New Jersey.

Governor Kieft saw their arrival and became convinced an uprising was being prepared. David De Vries, always the humanitarian, proposed a treaty and a lasting peace. Kieft and some of the leading citizens, however, overruled this merciful gesture and ordered a preemptive massacre.

On a cold night in February 1643, the fugitives at Jersey City and others at Corlaer's Hook (now the foot of Grand Street at the East River) in Manhattan were asleep. Two armed parties were mustered out from the fort. One group went north to slay those at Corlaer's Hook. They set upon the unsuspecting Indians and proceeded to indiscriminately kill forty of them.

Another group of armed men was sent to Jersey City. Silently crossing the river, the Dutch invaded the encampment and turned the snow red with the blood of men, women and children. The sky, it was reported, was lit with the fires from their tents.

"Warrior and squaw, sachem and child, mother and babe were alike massacred," stated the 19th Century historian John Romats Brodhead. "Daybreak scarcely ended the furious slaughter. Mangled victims, seeking safety in the thickets, were driven into the river, and parents rushing to save their children, whom the soldiery had thrown into the stream, were driven back into the waters and drowned before the eyes of their unrelenting murderers."

Between 100 and 110 Wappingers reportedly were murdered that night in what has been called the Pavonia Massacre and a prelude to the Wappinger (Kieft's) War.

It is said that De Vries watched the fighting and flames from the wall of Fort Amsterdam. He reportedly told Governor Kieft, who had remained in safety, that he had commenced the ruin of the colony. Kieft ridiculed De Vries. When the Dutch troops returned to the fort with 30 prisoners and the heads of a number of Indians on their pikes, he shook their bloody hands delightedly, praised them and gave them presents. The soldiers, it was reported, also used the severed heads to play kickball.

The massacres had the disastrous effect of bringing the tribes together and defusing their animosities in common cause against the Dutch.

The Wappingers retaliated with the assistance of the Hackensack and Tappan tribes, and attacked outlying Dutch farms and settlements. The Dutch withdrew into Fort Amsterdam. Kieft prepared for a prolonged siege by sending troops to seize corn from the Metoacs. Three Canarsees were killed and the war spread to the Metoacs on western Long Island.

Twenty tribes ultimately consolidated in the fight against the Dutch: Hackensack, Haverstraw, Munsee, Navasink, Raritan and Tappan from New Jersey; Wecquaesgeek, Sintsink, Kitchawank, Nochpeem, Siwanoy, Tankiteke, and Wappinger from east of the Hudson; and Canarsee, Manhattan, Rockaway, Matinecock, Massapequa, Secatoag, and Merrick on Long Island.

The colonists must have been amazed at the maelstrom Kieft had unleashed. However, David De Vries believed the situation might still be salvaged. That spring, De Vries convinced 18 Metoac sachems to sit down in a meeting with Governor Kieft. Still denouncing the Dutch as "corn thieves," the Metoac agreed to a truce and sent envoys to the Tappans and Hackensacks urging them to do the same. The Wappingers were not mollified, however, and the fighting resumed that fall of 1643.

Governor Kieft may have become aware he had unleashed a whirlwind of terror. On Sept. 13, 1643, he again asked the prominent family heads to create a new counsel, calling the group the Eight. Instead of sanctioning Kieft's actions, the Eight sought an expanded role in New Amsterdam's government and, ultimately, asked for relief from the government in Holland.

Kieft tried a flanking movement to stanch the war by traveling north to Fort Orange, where he signed a treaty of trade and friendship with the Mahicans and Mohawks. Neither of these tribes had taken a position in support of the Dutch, but the mere threat of the upriver Indian alliance discouraged more tribes from entering the war.

The Dutch offensive was renewed in the spring of 1644. After an unsuccessful expedition against the Raritans on Staten Island, the English and Dutch combined strategically to decimate the Canarsee, Merrick and Massapequa villages on the western end of Long Island. Governor Kieft hired the English mercenary and veteran of the recent Pequot War, John Underhill, for 25,000 guilders. Underhill brought with him two companies of 120 to 150 volunteers and Mohegan scouts. Underhill's company proceeded to kill over 120 Indian men, women and children where they lived near today's town of Massapequa.

After some 500 Indians were killed on Long Island, the governor declared a day of thanksgiving. Other attacks followed against the Wappinger on the north shore of Long Island. (The population of all the Long Island tribes in 1600 was estimated at 10,000. The effects of warfare and sickness reduced this population to 500 by the year 1659.)

Underhill's army also attacked Indian encampments north of Stamford, Connecticut, killing some 700 people before sunrise on a single day. Underhill again had fulfilled his bloody reputation as the "scourge of the Indians" and exercised his unusual Christian belief that "Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents."

The Wappinger were threatened now with total annihilation. By the time their sachems came to make peace at Fort Amsterdam, they and their allies had lost at least 1,600 of their people in the fighting. The Dutch still had their hands bound, however, because the Metoacs, who had suffered more than 1,000 dead, refused to stop fighting.

By summer of the following year—Aug. 9, 1645—the Dutch and Wappingers used the Mahicans' influence to establish a tenuous peace. The Metoacs, realizing their tribe was threatened with extinction, finally agreed to terms. A treaty was signed at Fort Orange making the Wappingers and western Metoacs subjects of the Mahicans and forced to pay an enormous annual tribute of wampum to the Mahicans.

This agreement effectively put the Mahicans (and indirectly the Mohawks, which paid tribute according to the treaty of 1628) in control of the wampum trade on Long Island. Insultingly, the Mahicans didn't collect the tribute personally, but used the Wappingers as collection agents.

By Aug. 30, New Amsterdam was left with only 100 white settlers. Kieft's War—the Wappinger War—had ended. Peace was celebrated with a salute from three cannons. During the firing, one of the cannons—a six-pounder—exploded killing Jacobsen Roy, a gunner.

The Counsel of Eight, upon whom the entire colony now relied, had no legal executive power. Their plans, such as De Vries' treaties, were often frustrated by Governor Kieft. When the Eight protested his methods of taxation, Kieft declared, "In this country, I am my own master and may do as I please." In response to the will of the people—those who were left—the Eight sent a petition to the States General advising them of the critical situation and asking for Kieft's recall.

One year later, on July 28, 1646, Governor Kieft was ordered to give up his post.

On May 11, 1647, the new director general, Pieter Stuyvesant, arrived from the Caribbean to replace Kieft. His governance included all of New Netherland, Curaçao, Bonaire, Aruba and other of Holland's dependencies.

Was this change of administration for the better? Not really. While today Stuyvesant is chiefly remembered for his relations with the English, he was described in the 1649 Breeden Raedt as conducting himself arrogantly and promptly taking the side of his predecessor against Cornelius Melyn and Joachim Petersen Kuyter, leaders of New Amsterdam's populist party. Stuyvesant had been successful (except for the loss of a leg) prosecuting the Company's business and wars in the Caribbean. This son of a clergyman was no prince of peace; in Holland, he had robbed the daughter of his own landlady, was caught, and was released because of his father's influence.

The colonists, including Pastor Bogardus, had petitioned for Kieft's recall and his departure was celebrated with cannon salutes. Kieft sailed for Holland on Aug. 16, 1647, on the ship Princess Amelia carrying 400,000 guilders—more than $100,000. His fellow passenger was Pastor Bogardus, who was returning to Holland to answer charges brought by Kieft. Two others on board were prisoners, Melyn and Kuyter, who were being sent back after being tried, convicted and sentenced to be fined by Stuyvesant.

It must have been an uncomfortable voyage, but its end was more painful to all. The Princess Amelia was wrecked by mistakenly entering Bristol channel on the coast of Wales. Governor Kieft, Pastor Bogardus and 81 others were drowned.

The Breeden Raedt pamphlet states that when the ship foundered, "this ungodly Kieft seeing death before his eyes, sighing very deeply, dubiously addressed both [Kuyter and Melyn] 'Friends, I have done you wrong, can you forgive me?'"

Melyn and Kuyter were able to remain afloat as the ship broke into pieces that night, and they were washed ashore and saved. Both were frantic to secure the papers on board the ship, which were critical for their defense in Holland against Stuyvesant's sentences. Three days after the shipwreck, they found the box with these papers and proceeded to Amsterdam to plead their case before the States General.

The States General suspended the sentences and granted the men an appeal, which they later won.

Although Governor Kieft's reforms and improvements in the colony were of lasting benefit, his governance was marked by such tyranny and his petty, bellicose nature was vented in such cruelty that he was rather universally detested. He died without wife, descendents or memorial.

* Throughout, I've used the term Indian instead of Native American. Christopher Columbus was too intelligent to have believed he had landed in "India" in 1492. The indigenous people were named by the early Spanish, in the 1500s, niños en Dios—children of God—and were not mistaken for the population of the East Indies.

** Wampum seems to have been institutionalized by Block. There were many business failures, and Europeans (excepting the silver-rich Spanish) didn't want valuable coins lost in the new world—nor did the colonists have much currency. Wampum (Algonquin or Naragansett: wampumpeake) were small, tubular beads made from white or violet shells, a quarter-inch long and half as wide. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a "fathom" of white wampum with 240 to 360 beads was worth five to ten shillings; purple was valued at twice that. Wampum became legal tender in all 13 colonies. White wampum was made from various shells, the violet was from the purple portion of the quahog clam. The exchange rate was six white or three black wampum beads for a penny. Their value came from the scarcity of the shell and the patient labor needed to grind it with a flint into a cylindrical shape and drilled for stringing.

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Show Notes

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© 2024 Walt Giersbach.

Written by Walter Giersbach.

About the Author:
Walter Giersbach’s fiction has appeared in a score of online and print publications. He also writes extensively on American history, with 10 pieces published in Military History Online. Two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, published by Wild Child (www.wildchildpublishing.com) were available from online retailers until his publisher ceased operations. He served for three decades as director of communications for Fortune 500 companies, helped publicize the Connecticut Film Festival, managed publicity and programs for Western Connecticut State University’s Haas Library, and moderates a writing group in New Jersey.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MilitaryHistoryOnline.com.

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