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Dutch-Indian Relations Deteriorate

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 "The Algonquin War in New Netherland," pp. 296–98.]

Peter Minuit was fired as director general by the Dutch West India Company in 1632, on charges of being too soft on the patroons, the landholders in company territory who were violating the company's legal monopoly of the highly lucrative fur trade. Succeeding him was Wouter Van Twiller, a clerk in the company’s Amsterdam warehouse, chosen because he had married into the powerful Van Rensselaer family. Conflicts with the patroons over fur trading continued in the Van Twiller regime. Externally, New England began the process of overrunning Fort Good Hope on the Connecticut River. However, the English occupation of the abandoned Fort Nassau, on the east bank of the Delaware, was ended as Van Twiller reoccupied the fort and drove out the settlers. Further Dutch expansion took place during the Van Twiller administration: Arendt Corssen erected Beaver Road Fort on what is now the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware.

A good part of the expansion of land was accomplished for the benefit of Governor Van Twiller himself. He and his friends were given land grants and purchased large speculative tracts of land from the Indians. The tracts were concentrated on western Long Island, notably in the present Flatlands of Brooklyn. Van Twiller himself purchased Governors Island. None of these purchases was approved, as was legally required, by the Amsterdam Chamber of the Company. What is more, the director saw to it that his own farms received the best services from the government.

In addition to the conflicts over land irregularities and fur trading, the Schout-Fiscal opposed the director’s methods. When Van Twiller fired the Schout-Fiscal, Lubbertus Van Dincklagen, the latter complained to the States-General. Furthermore, although some tobacco was now growing on Manhattan Island, the emphasis on the fur trade was helping to discourage agriculture and permanent settlement. The States-General, perturbed that emphasis on fur was discouraging permanent settlement in New Netherland, ordered the dismissal of Wouter Van Twiller in 1637.

But if the Dutch colonists had been chastised with whips, they were now to be chastised with scorpions. Arriving in 1638, the new director, Amsterdam merchant Willem Kiefft, proceeded to impose an absolute despotism upon the colony. First, he reduced his council of advisers from five to one, and on this rump council of his adviser and himself, he had two votes. To appeal his decisions to the Netherlands was now made a high crime. Assured of absolute power to issue his decrees, Kiefft outlawed virtually everything in sight. All trade, of any commodity whatsoever, was outlawed, except by special license issued by Kiefft. Any trader doing business without a license had his goods confiscated, and was subject to further punishment. To guard against possible trade, all sailors were prohibited from being on shore at night, under penalty of forfeit of wages and of instant dismissal on second offense. All sales of guns or ammunition to the Indians were prohibited on pain of death. All sorts of “immoralities” were prohibited. Heavy restrictions were placed on the sale of liquor; any tavern keeper selling liquor to tipsy customers was subject to a heavy fine and to confiscation of his stock. A tax was placed on tobacco. It is no wonder that De Vries, who had strongly opposed the tyranny of Van Twiller, had far more to resent now.

At the very time that Kiefft was imposing his despotism on New Netherland, however, overall company policy for the colony was changing drastically for the better. It was becoming increasingly evident to all that something needed to be done to obtain permanent settlers for this very thinly peopled territory. Characteristically, the patroons suggested a stronger dose of the medicine on which they were prospering: feudalism. The patroons, in their proposed “New Project,” suggested that the Netherlands take the path by which England was insuring the profitability of Virginia’s large plantations: furnishing them with white indentured servants—paupers, convicts, and vagabonds. Instead, the West India Company made the vital decision in the fall of 1638 to liquidate and abolish all of its monopolies in the New World, including fur, manufacturing, and the right to own land. Even foreigners were to have the same liberties as Dutchmen. The only monopoly retained by the company was that of transporting the migrating settlers to America. Furthermore, the new freedom to own land was made effective by granting every new farmer the right to a farm he could cultivate, although the company did insist that the farmer pay it rent for a half-dozen years, as well as the more reasonable provision that the farmer repay it the capital it had borrowed. And in 1640 the company liberalized the patroon system further, in a new Charter of Privileges and Exemptions. The size of patroon grants was greatly reduced—two hundred acres being awarded to anyone bringing over five settlers—and freedom of commerce was strengthened.

This liberalization led to an immediate and pronounced influx of settlers into New Netherland. In one year the number of farms on Manhattan Island more than quadrupled. De Vries arrived with organized parties of settlers who went to Staten Island. Jonas Bronck made a settlement on the Bronx River. Englishmen, taking advantage of the full rights for foreigners, also poured in to settle on the vast land available: some came from Virginia and raised tobacco, others fled from Massachusetts Bay. The only requirement was that they take an oath of allegiance to the Dutch Netherlands.

But while relations between individual settlers of the two countries were harmonious and naturally so, the relations between the two governments, each rapaciously claiming sovereignty, were equally naturally, quite troublesome. An individual settler of whatever nationality can clearly and evidently demarcate for himself a tract of land by transforming it by his labor, but there is no such clear-cut criterion for imposing governmental sovereignty. Therefore, while individuals of different nationalities can peacefully coexist within any given geographic area, governmental territorial conflicts are perpetual.

Thus, Director Kiefft, alarmed at the growth of Connecticut, seized the English town of Greenwich and forced the citizens to acknowledge Dutch jurisdiction. Angered also by New Haven and Connecticut settlements on eastern Long Island, Kiefft laid claim to all of what now are Kings and Queens counties, in another convenient purchase from the Indians. When in 1639 a group of settlers from Lynn, Massachusetts, landed in Cow Bay, Queens, they tore down the arms of the Dutch States-General from a tree and carved on it a fool’s head. But Kiefft drove the New England settlers away, and they went east to found the town of Southampton.

Long Island was particularly important as a source of wampum, beads from sea shells which had long served the Indians as their monetary medium of exchange. Wampum was particularly important to the white man as the best commodity to trade with the Indians for furs.

Until the advent of the Kiefft administration, relations with the Indians had been cordial. But now they began to deteriorate. For one thing, oft-times the cattle of the many new agricultural settlers strayed onto Indian property and ruined Indian corn fields. When the Indians very properly protected their corn by killing the white man’s invading cattle, the white settlers, instead of curbing their cows, exacted reprisals upon the Indians.

Moreover, the Indians of the lower Hudson, Connecticut, and what is now New Jersey were all members of the Algonquin Confederacy. The Algonquins’ traditional enemies were the powerful and aggressive Iroquois, of upstate New York. Now the new Kiefft ruling that no arms may be sold to any Indians on pain of death was vigorously enforced in the neighborhood of Manhattan, but not against the valuable fur-supplying Iroquois to the north. The Algonquins were naturally embittered to find the Dutch eagerly supplying their worst enemies with arms while they were rudely cut off. To meet the Algonquins’ problems, Director Kiefft did not take the sensible course of repealing the prohibition against selling them arms. Instead, he had what seemed to him a brilliant idea: Fort Amsterdam was really a protection for the Algonquins as much as for the Dutch; therefore, they should also be taxed to pay for its upkeep. Therewith, Kiefft’s despotism reached out to the Indians as well, except that they were not so helpless to resist as were his hapless Dutch subjects.

For sheer gall, Kiefft’s demand upon the Indians for taxes in corn, furs, and wampum was hard to surpass. The Tappan tribe of Algonquins was properly sarcastic, and denied that the fort was any protection to it. The Tappans had never asked the Dutch to build their fort, and they were therefore not obliged to help maintain it.

At this point of growing tension, some employees of the West India company, retraveling to the Delaware River in 1641, landed on Staten Island and stole some pigs belonging to David De Vries. As often happened in the colonies, the hapless Indians were blamed a priori for the theft. In this case, Kiefft, without bothering to investigate, decided that the Raritan Algonquins were to blame. He promptly sent out an armed troop that murdered several Raritans and burned their crops. The Raritans, having no recourse in Dutch courts, had only one means of redress: violence. In reprisal, they destroyed De Vries’ plantation and massacred his settlers. Kiefft, always ready to escalate a conflict, proclaimed a bounty of ten fathoms of wampum for anyone who brought in the head of a Raritan Indian.

At this juncture, an Indian from Yonkers who as a little boy had seen his uncle murdered in Manhattan by a gang of white servants of Peter Minuit, now murdered a Dutch tradesman in revenge. When Kiefft demanded the murderer, the Indian sachem refused to surrender him, reasoning that the balances of justice were now even.

Kiefft was now building up to an Indian war on two fronts, but the people were refusing to bear arms or to pay for a looming, dangerous, and costly conflict. To raise funds and support for a war, Kiefft in 1641 called together the first representative group of any kind in New Netherland: an assembly of heads of families, who chose a board of twelve men, headed by De Vries, to speak for them.

Although De Vries had more personal reasons to be anti-Indian than the director, he advised caution: the surrender of the murderer must be insisted upon, but the colony was not ready for a war. Moreover, De Vries adopted the great English tradition of redress of grievances before supply: when a despotic king was finally forced to call an assembly in order to raise expenses for a foreign war, the assembly would drive a hard bargain and insist first on liberalization of the tyranny. This is what the Twelve Men did before consenting to war in 1642. They demanded that Kiefft restore the council to five members, of whom four would be chosen by popular vote. They also demanded popular representation in the courts, no taxes to be levied without their consent, and greater freedom of trade. One of their demands, however, was the reverse of liberal: that importation of English cattle be excluded—clearly a desire for further privilege by the patroons. Kiefft finally responded in characteristic fashion, by dissolving the Twelve Men and proclaiming that no further public meetings might be held in New Amsterdam without his express permission.

Although the Dutch had failed to obtain the murderer from the Westchester Indians, a year’s truce had been arranged by Jonas Bronck. Then, in 1643 an Indian was made drunk and robbed by some Dutch at the Hackensack settlement. In revenge, the Indian killed a Hackensack settler. The chiefs of the Indian’s tribe hastily told De Vries, the patroon of Hackensack, that they would pay two hundred fathoms of wampum to the victim’s widow, which they felt was reasonable compensation. De Vries advised acceptance of the offer, but Kiefft insisted on surrender of the murderer. The murderer, however, had fled up river to the Haverstraw Indians. Kiefft immediately demanded that the Haverstraws surrender him.

At this point a new factor intervened; a force of aggressive Mohawks of the Iroquois confederacy, each armed with Dutch muskets, descended upon the Hudson River tribes to terrorize and exact tribute. Although the Dutch would not break their treaty with the Iroquois by fighting them, De Vries did agree to give shelter to the Algonquin refugees at his main patroonship of Vriesendael at Tappan, and other refugees took shelter at Pavonia and on Manhattan Island./p>

Counsel was now divided among the Dutch. De Vries, backed by councilman Dr. La Montague and Rev. Everardus Bogardus, advised peaceful mediation in the Indian conflict. But Kiefft, over their passionate protests, saw only a Heaven-sent chance to pursue his grand design of liquidating the Indians. In this he was supported by Van Tenhoven, the secretary of the colony, and especially by Maryn Adriaensen, a member of the Twelve Men and a former freebooter in the West Indies. In an extraordinarily vicious sneak attack, Dutch soldiers, at midnight of February 25, 1643, rushed into the camps of sleeping refugees at Pavonia and Corlears Hook on Manhattan Island and slaughtered them all. In all, well over a hundred Indians were massacred, including the hacking to pieces of Indian babies. Led by Adriaensen, the soldiers exultantly marched back to Fort Amsterdam in the morning, bringing back many Indian heads. Director Kiefft rather aptly called it a truly Roman achievement. Taking their cue from this treacherous official massacre of peaceful and friendly Indians, some settlers at Flatlands fell suddenly on a group of completely friendly Marechkawieck Indians, murdered several, and stole a large amount of their corn.

The Algonquins could give but one answer to this outrage—all-out war on the Dutch.


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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