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The Algonquin War in New Netherland

08/24/2012Murray N. Rothbard

[This article is excerpted from Conceived in Liberty, volume 1, part 4, "The Rise and Fall of New Netherland," chapter 39 "Governors and Government," pp. 296–98; see "The Dutch West India Company," pp. 288–91 and "Dutch-Indian Relations Deteriorate," pp. 291–96.]

The entire Algonquin peoples, led by the Haverstraws, rose up against their Dutch tormentors. It was during this total conflict that poor Anne Hutchinson was killed by Indian raiders. The English settlements of Westchester were all wiped out. Even Vriesendael was attacked but, notably, while the destruction of Vriesendael was under way, an Indian spoke in praise of De Vries and the Indians departed after expressing regrets for their action. The Long Island settlements were also destroyed, as well as those on the west bank of the Hudson. The only Long Island settlement spared was Gravesend, a colony organized by Lady Deborah Moody, a Baptist refugee from Massachusetts. Only a half-dozen farms on Manhattan Island remained intact. By 1644, almost all the Dutch settlers were forced to abandon their homes and fields to destruction and to retreat behind the wall of Fort Amsterdam (now Wall Street), at the southern tip of Manhattan Island, around which fort the village of New Amsterdam had grown. Fort Orange and Rensselaerswyck, in friendly Iroquois country around Albany, remained unmolested. One of Kiefft’s contributions to the struggle was to be the first white man to offer a bounty for Indian scalps.

The disastrous consequences of Willem Kiefft were now becoming fully evident. A needless and terribly destructive war had been inflicted upon the Dutch as the sole result of Kiefft’s tough, hard-line policy toward the Algonquins. Popular indignation against Kiefft now rose insistently, and demands grew for his expulsion. De Vries, embarking for Holland, bitterly warned Kiefft that “the murders in which you have shed so much innocent blood will yet be avenged on your own head.” Typically, Kiefft tried to disclaim all responsibility by throwing all the blame on his adviser in slaughter, Maryn Adriaensen. Adriaensen, whose farm had just been destroyed, naturally grew somewhat bitter at this treachery, and with a few comrades rushed into Kiefft’s room to try to shoot the director. The assassination attempt failed; the man who fired the shot was instantly killed and his head publicly displayed.

With the Dutch community facing disaster, the despotic Kiefft, his treasury empty, was again forced to consult the leading colonists in order to raise money to fight a war of his own creation. In late 1643 he chose a board of Eight Men for this purpose. No funds could be obtained from the West India Company because it was in the process of going bankrupt. And money raised by piratic attacks on Spanish shipping could only be highly irregular. Regular funds were also needed to maintain a company of soldiers, recently sent by the company and peremptorily quartered upon the town. Faced with this problem, Kiefft turned to one of his favorite devices: the imposition of a crushing tax. Kiefft proclaimed an exise tax on the brewing of beer, on wines and spirits, and on beaver skins. The Eight Men strongly objected, arguing rather lamely that taxes could be levied only by the home company itself, and, more cogently, that it was the business of the company and not of the settlers to hire and maintain soldiers. Furthermore, they protested that the settlers were ruined and could not pay taxes. (The suggestion of the Eight Men to tax speculators and traders was not, however, very constructive.) Kiefft replied in his usual brusque fashion, “In this country, I am my own master and may do as I please.”

The people of New Amsterdam now had to confront not only Indians on the warpath, but further tyranny and exactions at home. Naturally, their grumbling opposition to Kiefft redoubled, and it was hardly allayed when Kiefft made an appointment with some of the Eight and then failed to keep it. The brewers refused to pay the tax. The matter was taken into court, but in essence Kiefft was the court and speedy judgment was rendered against the brewers, whose product was confiscated and given to the soldiers. Hostility to Kiefft now filled the colony and he was generally reviled as a villain, a liar, and a tyrant.

Finally, the long-suffering colonists could bear Kiefft no longer. Speaking for the colonists, the Eight Men in October 1644 directly petitioned the States-General in the Netherlands to remove Kiefft forthwith. The Eight Men wrote eloquently of their plight under Kiefft:

Our fields lie fallow and waste; our dwellings and other buildings are burned; not a handful can be either planted or sown ... we have no means to provide necessaries for wives or children. ... The whole of these now lie in ashes through a foolish hankering after war. For all right-thinking men here know that these Indians have lived as lambs among us until a few years ago. ... These hath the Director, by various uncalled-for proceedings, so embittered against the Netherlands nation, that we do not believe that anything will bring them and peace back. ...

This is what we have, in the sorrow of our hearts, to complain of; that one man ... should dispose here of our lives and property according to his will and pleasure, in a manner so arbitrary that a king would not be suffered legally to do. ... We pray ... that one of these two things may happen—either that a governor may be speedily sent with a beloved peace to us, or that [the company] will... permit us to return with wives and children to our dear Fatherland. For it is impossible ever to settle this country until a different system be introduced here, and a new governor be sent out. ...

The petitioners also asked for greater freedom and more representative institutions to check the executive power.

This cri de coeur of the oppressed people of New Netherland was heeded by the West India Company and Kiefft was removed in May 1645. It was perhaps not coincidental that the Algonquins and the Dutch were able to conclude a peace treaty soon afterward, in August, under pressure, to be sure, of the pro-Dutch Mohawk tribe. The parties sensibly agreed that whenever a white man or an Indian should injure the other, the victim would apply for redress to the juridical agencies of the accused. An ironical part of this peace treaty was the Algonquin agreement to return the kidnapped granddaughter of Anne Hutchinson, who now liked Algonquin life and who was returned against her will. Even a peace treaty could not be carried out, it seems, without someone being coerced.


Murray N. Rothbard

Murray N. Rothbard made major contributions to economics, history, political philosophy, and legal theory. He combined Austrian economics with a fervent commitment to individual liberty.

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