Few facts in history are more conspicuous than the pre-eminence of England in the work of founding colonies. The fact is often mentioned, and not unfrequently the question is asked, Why have the English been so much more successful than other people? Such questions never can be answered by a single sentence or paragraph, for there are too many factors concerned. A full discussion of the subject would involve a great many considerations. Some points, however, are so obvious as to need but brief mention. Of course the case of a colony in which a small group of invaders hold sway over a large subject population, as in Spanish Peru or British India, is very different from the case in which masses of civilized men move into the wilderness and organize themselves into new states, as with the English in North America and in Australasia. Properly speaking, it is only the latter that are really colonies; the former may be called dependencies, but only in a loose sense colonies. With regard to dependencies, like Peru and India, the advantage possessed by people accustomed to a free government is manifest enough. The sway of the English over India, which is one of the most wonderful and romantic things in the world, may or may not be permanent; but there can be no doubt that its moment of mortal peril, forty years ago, was brought on by carelessly shocking Hindu religious prejudices. Now in any Spanish dependency that has ever existed, such shocking of prejudices would not have been an instance of momentary carelessness, but part of a deliberate policy. The English approached the people of India with missionary preachers, but in Mexico and Peru the p113 Spanish Inquisition has been at work even since the nineteenth century came in. It is pretty clear that Spanish methods would never have won Hindustan or held it with increasing firmness for two centuries.
As regards real colonies, planted in a wilderness, it is obvious that success cannot be achieved unless large numbers of people go thither to stay. The successful colony must first become a home. Trading posts or fishing stations or gold diggings, where people flock together for temporary profit, expecting to go back to their old homes, are not likely to become self-supporting colonies unless aided by other circumstances. Creating a state involves creating new homes. Now we sometimes hear it said that France has had so little success as a colonizing nation because Frenchmen are such stay-at‑home people, never quite happy outside of their own beautiful country, whereas an Englishman can make himself at home anywhere. There is truth in this, but are we not in danger of inventing the relation between cause and effect? May it not be that Frenchmen are such stay-at‑home people because they have not been successful colonizers, and thus have not cultivated the habit of moving to foreign lands? In the seventeenth century no people took up the work of remote exploration with more zeal than Frenchmen, and for indomitable energy such leaders as Champlain and La Salle, Brébeuf and Frontenac have never been surpassed. These men could leave home behind and throw themselves into the work of carrying civilization into the wilderness with as much self-devotion as any Englishman ever showed. The suggested explanation will not fit their case. Again, the close of the seventeenth century witnessed an emigration from France incomparably greater than any that has ever gone out from England. In the course of twenty-five years nearly a million Huguenots, or about seven per cent of the whole population, left their native country. Compared with this colossal movement the migration of 20,000 Puritans to New England seems a small affair. It is true, these Frenchmen p114 were subjected to persecution more vexatious than any that England ever witnessed. But the event showed that in order to better their condition they could leave their country, just as the Puritans did. Suppose these Huguenots had poured in great masses into Canada and Louisiana, as many of them would have been glad to do, would not the history of North America have been seriously altered? Perhaps they might have taken New York and held the country west of the Alleghanies and ousted the Hudson Bay Company. At all events, I doubt if we should have heard much about the natural incapacity of Frenchmen for founding colonies.
Now the reason why the Huguenots did not come over to New France was simply that they were not allowed to do so. Although Louis XIV was sorely vexed and alarmed at the slowness of increase in the population of Canada, he would not allow a heretic to be received there on any terms. The Huguenots, therefore, were obliged to lose their nationality and their speech, as the Pilgrims would have done if they had stayed in Holland. They became absorbed in the populations of northern Germany, Holland, England, and the English colonies. Here, then, we come back to the advantage possessed by people with a free government. As between a Spanish colony, with its Inquisition and its arbitrary taxes, and an English colony, with its freedom of the press, its habeas corpus, and its popular assemblies, it is easy to see which is most likely to attract settlers.
The capacity for self-government, the kind of political training which combines civil liberty with respect for law, which enables every town or village to govern itself while at the same time national unity is not impaired, is doubtless the most important prerequisite for success in founding colonies. A village accustomed to manage its own affairs will continue to do so if transported into the wilderness, but this is far more difficult for a village which has always been governed by prefects p115 sent from a distant capital. Mr. Parkman has abundantly shown the weakness which this lack of training in self-government entailed upon New France. If we look at modern Germany, we see that its people easily overcome the disposition to stay at home. Thousands leave Germany every year, but they do not try to plant new colonies; they find their way to the United States or to Australia. If we ask why England has been preëminent as a colonizer, we may call attention to the fact that nearly all the free constitutions in the world have been consciously copied either from England or from the United States during the nineteenth century. Between these two facts the connection is far from accidental.
In the Dutch colony on the Hudson a most liberal policy was pursued with regard to the admission of immigrants. New Netherland never suffered from this source of weakness which afflicted New France. Nobody was excluded for heresy. But as regards the transfer of self-government to America, the Dutch were not wholly successful. In the course of this narrative we shall observe the difficulties which they encountered. At first, the government was simply that of the agent of a commercial company. Laws for the settlers were chiefly made in the Amsterdam Chamber of the West India Company. They were administered by Peter Minuit, the Director General, assisted by a council of five members appointed in Amsterdam. This council united executive with legislative and judicial powers. It could make local regulations, subject to approval or reversal at Amsterdam. It was a court for the trial of civil and criminal cases, and could inflict fine and imprisonment, but not the death penalty. Persons convicted of capital crimes must be sent to Holland. Two important officers were the Koopman, who was secretary and the Company's bookkeeper; and the Schout, who discharged the duties of sheriff and collector of customs. This was a very simple government, suited for an infant community, but the people took no part in it. It was not government of the p116 people, by the people, and for the people; but it was government of the people, by the Director and Council, for the West India Company. The 300 inhabitants of New Amsterdam, in 1628, lived compactly enough to hold town meetings, yet there was nothing of the sort. At that same time the 300 inhabitants of Plymouth made laws for themselves in a primary assembly and elected their governor; while the 4000 inhabitants of Virginia, distributed in a dozen communities, had their elected house of representatives, without whose consent the governor appointed by the crown could not raise so much as a penny by taxation. So far as it goes, the contrast seems hardly in keeping with the hypothesis that our free institutions were derived not from England but from Holland. It is true that the English government in Virginia began with an autocratic governor and council, agents of a commercial company in London, and thus it was like the Dutch government in New Netherland; but it took Virginia only eleven years to outgrow such a situation and secure a representative assembly. We shall hereafter see how differently it fared with New Netherland.
The years 1628‑30 mark the beginning of a new era in the colonization of North America. More than 1000 Englishmen came to Massachusetts Bay, and more kept coming until in a dozen years the population of New England was 26,000. Lord Baltimore was at the same time preparing to make a settlement in Maryland. But the colony at Manhattan grew very slowly. Traders came and went, but the number of new homes did not come up to the Company's expectations. The country was well fitted for agriculture, but farmers were too few. It required a very strong inducement to draw the Dutch farmer away from Holland. Since the Spaniards had been expelled, there was no country pleasanter to abide in. Complete security for person and property, full toleration of differences in religion, with general thrift and comfort, were things too good to run away from. Had there been more poverty and discontent p118 in the mother country, New Amsterdam would doubtless have grown more rapidly, and farmsteads would have sprung up on the banks of its noble river.
To encourage agriculture and to create permanent homes, the West India Company in 1629 issued its famous charter of "Privileges and Exemptions." This charter declared that any member of the Company who should within the next four years bring to New Netherland fifty grown-up persons and settle them in homes along the Hudson River should receive a liberal grant of land, to hold as "patroon" or lord of the manor. The estate was to be on the Hudson or some adjacent navigable river, and might have a frontage of •sixteen miles if all on one shore, or of •eight miles on both shores. As to the depth of these lots, they might run as far back into the country as circumstances should make feasible. The patroon was full proprietor of the estate, and could devise it by will. He had the exclusive right of hunting and fishing within the boundaries, but could of course grant to others a share in these privileges on such terms as suited him. The patroon was chief magistrate on his estate, and could hold manorial courts, from which, if the matter in dispute involved more than the value of 50 guilders, an appeal could be taken to the Director and his council at New Amsterdam. In practice, the patroons evaded this provision by exacting from their colonists at the outset a promise not to make any such appeal. The colonists were to be exempted from all public taxation for the term of ten years, but during that period they were not at liberty to leave one estate and become tenants of another or to change their abode from country to town. This was not serfdom, inasmuch as it was regulated by a purely voluntary contract, but it reminds one of serfdom enough to seem a curious provision when we remember that the last vestiges of that institution had disappeared from the Netherlands three centuries before this charter was written. It shows how strongly the Company was bent upon obtaining a population of farmers. Restlessness must be discouraged. In return for the p119 exemption from taxes, the settler must bind himself to stay in one place and develop its resources. Of capital with which to start he had no need, for the patroon bore the expense of clearing the land, building the farmhouses and barns, and providing the tools and cattle. In return for these extensive outlays, the patroon received a fixed rent, usually payable in stock or produce, as in the old manors of Maryland. Besides p120 this fixed rent, the patroon was entitled to a part of the increase of cattle and a part of the crop. He could also buy all the remainder, or as much as the farmer could spare; in other words, the farmer must not sell any stock or produce to other parties without first offering to sell it to the patroon. Furthermore, the farmer must grind all his grain at the patroon's mill, and he could hunt and fish only with a license from the patroon. If a farmer died intestate the patroon was his legal heir.1
As for trade, the patroons had full liberty to buy whatever goods they wanted (except furs) in New Netherland or in the French and English colonies. But before such goods could be sent to Europe they must stop at New Amsterdam and pay an export duty of five per cent to the Company. The fur trade was expressly reserved from this permission. Nobody but the Company, through its appointed agents or factors, could deal in furs. As for the weaving of any kind of cloth, whether woollen or linen or cotton, that was absolutely prohibited; the market for the products of the looms in Holland must not be curtailed. The use of slaves in tilling the soil or in household service was sanctioned, and the Company somewhat vaguely promised to supply the colonists "with as many blacks as they conveniently could," but not "for a longer time than they should think proper." No land within New Netherland could be appropriated for settlement without paying the Indian possessors such a price as they would deem satisfactory. We sometimes hear this scrupulousness in paying the Indians cited as peculiar to the Dutch and Quaker colonies, but there could not be a greater mistake. It was the general custom of the English. Not a rood of ground was taken by the settlers of New England without paying for it, except in the single instance where the Pequots rashly began a war and were exterminated. Between the moral attitude of the Dutch and English in such matters there was really no difference.
p121 Finally having thus carefully prescribed the relations of patroons and their tenants to each other and to the Company, the charter promised that Fort Amsterdam should speedily be strengthened and the settlers defended against all invaders. It was further recommended that prompt provision should be made for the support of a parson and a schoolmaster, "that thus the service of God and zeal for religion may not grow cool and be neglected among them." Such a recommendation was most certainly called for. Twenty years had elapsed since Henry Hudson sailed up the river, fifteen since settlements began at Manhattan, six since the West India company had taken possession, and still in a population of 300 souls there was neither a minister nor a schoolmaster. Nothing could show more forcibly how little the thought of making permanent homes had entered into the minds of the traders who had come hither for furs.
This famous charter of 1629 was clearly the outcome of careful study, but it fell far short of producing the effect that was intended. The feudal system had never acquired more than a slight hold upon Holland, yet this charter, drawn up by Dutchmen, introduced some characteristic features of the feudal system into the New World. Its provisions were not oppressive, like those which tormented the peasantry in France, but they certainly did not hold out strong inducements to the prosperous farmer in Holland to cross the ocean and begin life anew on the banks of an American river. His position as tenant of a patroon was to be less free and less dignified than his position before leaving home. It seems rather strange that the makers of the charter failed to see this.
With regard to the patroons the aim was more accurate. In a community of merchants there is always a fair chance of finding some who are willing to exchange their avocation for the lordship of great landed estates. In Amsterdam and other cities of Holland there were wealthy burghers to whom the change seemed like a rise in the social scale. No doubt there were some to whom the vague prospects of adventure p122 were attractive. At first men showed more readiness to come as patroons than as tenants.
The first manor that was granted under the charter lay beyond Delaware Bay, west of Cape Henlopen, within the present state of Delaware. It was taken by Samuel Godyn and Samuel Blommaert, two of the Company's board of directors, and next year they took a district •sixteen miles square on the opposite shore, including Cape May. Then five other directors were taken into partnership to increase the capital, and Captain David Pieters De Vries for the sake of his ability as a man of business. Two ships were sent out in December, 1630, with colonists, tools, and cattle. One was captured by pirates; the other reached Delaware Bay in April, 1631, and landed its people — 32 in number — a few miles above Cape Henlopen. A house surrounded with a stockade was built, and the place was called Zwaanendal, that is, Swandale. De Vries followed with reinforcements, but before his arrival the Indians burned the house and massacred all the colonists, so that he found nothing but charred timbers and p123 bleaching skeletons. De Vries had the rare gift of knowing just how to deal with barbarians. He had not force enough with him to attack the Indians, and besides he preferred other methods. He persuaded them that it would be for their advantage to have his men as neighbours. But famine was a more pitiless foe than the red men. De Vries had been more intent upon catching whales than upon planting corn, but whales were scarce on that coast and bread gave out, so that it was necessary to return to Holland. The partners had already begun to quarrel, and on his return the partnership was dissolved, the land titles were sold back to the Company, and such was the somewhat ignominious end of Swandale, the first of the patroonships.
The career of the next was different but not successful. In the summer of 1630, Michael Pauw, one of the directors, secured for himself Hoboken, with the region now covered by Jersey City, and the whole of Staten Island, so called in honour of the Staaten, or States General. To this noble manor Pauw gave his own name with a latinizing twist, making it Pavonia. His small colony maintained itself on the site of Jersey City for about seven years, but the neighbouring Indians were very troublesome, and the enterprise did not pay expenses. So Pauw sold out to the Company, but his name remains to‑day in Pavonia Ferry.
More prosperous fortunes waited upon Kilian Van Rensselaer, a jeweller or lapidary who was one of the members of the Amsterdam Chamber. By purchase from the Mohawks he secured the greater portion of the land now contained in Albany and Rensselaer counties, excepting Fort Orange itself, which remained the property of the Company. Rensselaer's party of colonists, consisting mostly of farmers, were carefully selected and instructed, and very completely equipped. Industry throve at Rensselaerwyck, and the value of the property came to be enormous.
In such wise a few great estates came to be planted on the Hudson River, while the attempts on the Delaware were unsuccessful and on the Connecticut none were as yet made. p124 Very soon the patroons began to incur the censure of the Company by engaging on their own private account in the fur trade. They justified themselves in this by what would be called in modern phrase a "loose construction" of the charter. This led to fresh regulations on the part of the Company and to renewed evasions on the part of the patroons. In truth, the trade in furs was so lucrative that it was not in human nature to let it alone. The Company had some reason to feel that in creating the patroonships it had let loose an unruly elephant. Not only did their private Indian trade interfere with the monopoly expressly reserved to the Company, but it tended to defeat the very object for which the patroonships had been created, for it prevented the growth of a healthy interest in agriculture. The Company charged the patroons with failure to keep their engagements; but the patroons retorted in kind. Had not the charter promised to defend the settlers against all invaders and yet failed to prevent the destruction of Swandale by the Indians? Amid such recriminations the dispute was referred to the States General, and one of the incidental results was the recall of the Director General, Peter Minuit, who was accused of showing too great partiality for the patroons. There were probably motives working below the surface to which we have no adequate clue. Minuit, who was an eminently just and honourable man, always felt that his treatment on this occasion was harsh and unfair.
One of the last achievements of Director Minuit's administration was the launching of the great ship New Netherland, built at Manhattan in 1631. She was a merchantman of 800 tons burthen, armed with 30 guns, with which she might stoutly defend herself against pirates or privateers. She was for some time famous as one of the largest ships afloat, and her building at Manhattan proves that at least some of the mechanic arts were well represented there.
On hearing of his dismissal, Minuit left the government in the hands of the council, and sailed for the Old World in p125 March, 1632, in the good ship Eendragt, or "Union." A fierce gale in the English channel compelled the Eendragt to take refuge in Plymouth harbour, where Captain John Mason, member of the Council for New England, at once put her under arrest on the charge of illegally trading within King Charles's dominion in America. Instantly there came a protest from the Dutch embassy in London, messages were sent to Amsterdam and the Hague, the king and his attorney-general were interviewed, and a very pretty dispute was begun, in the course of which the States General drew up an able statement of the Dutch claim to New Netherland, and challenged the English government for an answer.
The argument was a difficult one for England to refute, inasmuch as it was Queen Elizabeth who had announced the doctrine that mere discovery of a wild country is not enough to give a title to it; discovery must be followed by occupation. Now while England claimed the coast of North America on the strength of Cabot's discovery in 1497, she did not effectively occupy any part of it until the settlement of Jamestown in 1607. The Dutch maintained that they discovered the North River in 1609, a claim which might have been successfully disputed by France, but not by England. They alleged, with truth, that Dutchmen had been present in that region, which they found unoccupied, ever since 1610; that they had kept up forts and garrisons there since 1614; and that since 1623 their colony had been steadily growing.
Against this strong argument Englishmen sometimes urged in conversation, that Hudson's discovery of the North River should be counted to the credit of England rather than of Holland, because of his nationality and without regard to the service in which he was sailing. But this could not seriously be urged, because by the same logic it would follow that John Cabot, a native of Genoa, had discovered North America for the Republic of Genoa, and not for England. A more plausible argument hung upon the question p126 as to what constituted occupation of territory. In 1606 James I had defined Virginia as extending from the 34th to the 45th parallel, and had granted it by charter to two joint-stock companies. If such an act of sovereignty as granting the land was to be reckoned as equivalent to taking possession of it, then the Dutch might be regarded as intruders. This theory was set forth by the English. They flatly denied the jurisdiction of the States General, or of the West India Company, over New Netherland; as for individual Dutchmen or families of Dutchmen, there was no objection to their settling there, only by so doing they abandoned their nationality and became subjects of Charles I. Such was the English view of the case.
King Charles, however, had so many embarrassing questions on hand that he was not disposed to press this one to an issue. So after a detention of nearly two months the Eendragt was allowed to proceed on her way, "saving any prejudice to his Majesty's rights." No attempt was made to meddle with the cargo of 5000 beaver skins which she was carrying to Amsterdam. The action of the English government was merely an emphatic protest, intended to justify a policy which might hereafter be carried out should circumstances prove favourable.
The Company's choice of a successor to Minuit was not a happy one. Wouter (or Walter) van Twiller was one of the clerks in the Company's warehouse at Amsterdam. He had married a niece of Kilian van Rensselaer, and one of the Rensselaers had married his sister. To this family Twiller seems to have owed his appointment. His qualifications were slender. He had little knowledge of anything beyond the routine which he had learned in the counting-room, and his character seemed often strangely irresolute. This peculiarity did not escape the notice of that veracious chronicler, Diedrich Knickerbocker, who indulges himself in a smile over it. "With all his reflective habits, he never made up his mind on a subject. . . . p127 To this has been attributed his surname of Twiller; which is said to be a corruption of the original Twijfler, or, in plain English, Doubter." The description of the personal appearance of this Walter the Doubter is almost too well known to need citation: "He was exactly five feet six inches in height, and six feet five inches in circumference. His head was a perfect sphere, and of such stupendous dimensions, that Dame Nature, with all her sex's ingenuity, would have been puzzled to construct a neck capable of supporting it; wherefore she wisely declined the attempt, and settled it firmly on the top of his backbone, just between the shoulders. . . . His legs were short, but sturdy in proportion to the weight which they had to sustain; so that when erect he had not a little the appearance of a beer-barrel on skids. His face, that infallible index of the mind, presented a vast expanse, unfurrowed by any of those lines which disfigure the human countenance with what is termed expression. . . . His habits were regular. He daily took his four stated meals, appropriating exactly an hour to each; he smoked and doubted eight hours, and he slept the remaining twelve of the four-and‑twenty. Such was the renowned Wouter van Twiller, — a true philosopher, for his mind was either elevated above, or tranquilly settled below, the cares and perplexities of this world."
The worthy Knickerbocker goes on to inform us that it is "with infinite difficulty" that he has collected these personal details, which is his pleasant way of confessing that they are drawn from the depths of his own imagination. The picture is suggested by certain incidents in Twiller's p128 career, but there were some features of strength and sense in the man that are lost in this broad caricature.
When the new Director arrived at Manhattan in April, 1633, in the warship Soutberg, or Salt Mountain, bringing with him a force of 104 soldiers, he was accompanied by Dominie Everardus Bogardus, the second clergyman, and Adam Roelandson, the first schoolmaster, of New Netherland. Van Twiller had been ashore but a few days when he received a visit from Captain De Vries, returning from the ruined colony at Swandale, and there occurred an incident which may have first suggested to Irving his grotesque description. At noontide, while De Vries and Van Twiller were sitting at dinner, a ship bearing on her foremast the red cross of St. George,2 came blithely up the bay, and presently dropped anchor before Fort Amsterdam and sent a boat ashore. In the boat came our old friend Jacob Eelkens, the same who made the treaty with the Iroquois chiefs in the vale of Tawasentha fifteen years ago. Eelkens had incurred the displeasure of the Company in 1623, and had been dismissed from its service. He was now in the employ of Clobery & Co., merchants, of London,3 and had come in the ship William to buy furs on the shores of Henry Hudson's river. That English sailor had discovered the country, and it belonged to King Charles. "Don't talk to me about Henry Hudson's river," retorted Van Twiller, "it is the River Mauritius!" and he swore that no English ship would be permitted to go up; so he hoisted the blue, white, and orange flag over the fort and fired a salute of three guns in honour of Prince Frederick. But Eelkens coolly went on board the William and fired a salute for King Charles. After this exchange of defiances the English ship waited a few days, and then without further ado weighed anchor and stood up-stream. At this saucy behaviour Van Twiller was for a moment speechless with rage. The citizens of New Amsterdam were already gathering in groups p129 about the fort; Van Twiller sent the crier to summon everybody. Then he broached a mighty cask of Rhenish wine, and generous bumpers were drunk to the confusion of the renegade skipper and his English ship. De Vries was vexed at such frivolity. "Why did you let him sail out of range? A shower of iron beans would have brought him to his senses. We did not put up with such things in the East Indies, I can tell you; these English think they own the earth, but we taught them how to behave." Walter appears to have spent several days in doubting. Then he sent a pinnace and a caravel up the river with part of his troops. They found Eelkens near Fort Orange, collecting a rich cargo of beaver skins, all of which they confiscated. The ship William was then escorted down to the Narrows and sent on her way with no cargo save ballast. This affair started up a fresh discussion between the English and Dutch governments, in which the old arguments were once more beaten threadbare.
De Vries enjoys a high reputation for veracity, and his picture of the plethoric governor taking deep draughts of Dutch courage on the Bowling Green is surely quite comical. But when we remember that the English and Dutch governments were anxious to avoid a quarrel, the situation loses much of its absurdity. Perhaps if De Vries had been the responsible magistrate, instead of a mere friendly adviser, he would have been less ready to fire upon the unwelcome vessel. And after all, when it came to deeds, the action of doubting Walter, though tardy, was quite to the point.
However it might fare with the law and logic of such cases, one fact was growing painfully evident. The English were coming over to America much faster than the Dutch. On Chesapeake Bay it was understood that Lord Baltimore's colony was just coming upon the scene. Preparations were accordingly made for renovating Fort Nassau, and Arendt Corssen, crossing the Delaware River, bought of the Indians a tract p130 of land on the Schuylkill, where a fort was afterwards erected, called Bevers reede, or "Beaver Road Fort." Thus we see the Dutch leaving a landmark upon Pennsylvania, as well as upon Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut.
In 1633 the last-named quarter was the one which excited most interest. The outlook in the direction of Massachusetts Bay was truly portentous. For some time after the coming of Peter Minuit, the little colonies at Manhattan and at Plymouth had kept about evenly balanced, each with about 300 inhabitants; but now within five years Winthrop's new colony had grown from nothing to 4000 souls, and was already rivalling Virginia. Englishmen were coming to Boston at the rate of 1000 a year and were beginning to push inland. Plainly no time was to be lost in securing the river which Adrian Block, its discoverer, had called the Fresh River of New Netherland, in contrast to the salt Hudson, but which was known to all the Algonquin tribes as Long River, or Connecticut.
It will be remembered that in 1623, under Director May, the Dutch had begun to build Fort Good Hope, on the present site of Hartford, but had soon desisted. Their numbers were too small for the territory they wished to cover. But in 1628 Indian affairs drew their attention eastward. The Mohegans of the upper Housatonic valley were driven from that region by the Mohawks; in the central hill country of Massachusetts their progress was blocked by the Nipmucks; so they moved down into the lower Connecticut valley, among their own kinsmen, whose chief sachem dwelt at Mattabeseck, on what is now known as Indian Hill, in the city of Middletown. The newcomers, under their sagamore, Sequeen, occupied the site of Wethersfield. Their coming led to complications with the Pequots of the Thames valley, the most powerful tribe in New England. After three defeats the Mohegans submitted to pay annual tribute to the Pequots, but at the same time they appealed to the Dutch for protection. Now the p131 Dutch, as allies of the Mohawks, could hardly strike a blow on behalf of the Mohegans or furnish them with firearms, though they were otherwise ready to trade with them on most friendly terms. So in 1631 the Mohegans sent an envoy to Boston to seek English aid, but none was granted. In the summer of 1632 Dutch agents bought of the Mohegans large tracts of land on both sides of the river, and at its mouth, at a point which they named Kievit's Hook, after the little bird which we call Pewit, they nailed to a large tree the arms of the States General. In the next summer Van Twiller sent Jacob van Curler, who built Fort Good Hope with yellow brick from Holland and armed it with two cannon. The fort was finished early in June, 1633.
While Captain De Vries was carrying the news of these proceedings to Holland, there was some excitement along the shores between Cape Cod and Cape Ann. The Plymouth people talked of taking up arms, and Winthrop sent an envoy for Boston to North America, by way of Long Island Sound, to notify van Twiller that the Connecticut River was within the dominions of the king of England. The envoy and his friends were treated with the greatest cordiality, and after five weeks returned to Boston with a polite note from Van Twiller to Winthrop, suggesting that the English should defer their "pretence or claim" to Connecticut until the States General and the king of England should come to some agreement with regard to such matters. "In this part of the world," said Van Twiller, "are divers heathen lands that are empty of inhabitants, so that of a little part or portion thereof, there needs not any question." He therefore hoped that Christians might dwell there, like good neighbours, without bickering. He did not withdraw his garrison from Fort Good Hope, however; and the government of Plymouth decided to interfere, while Massachusetts remained quiescent. The action of Plymouth had unforeseen consequences.
It seems that a small band of Indians, probably a sept of p132 Mohegans, had been expelled by the Pequots from their home at the present site of Windsor, a few miles above Fort Good Hope. The Plymouth government bought this land from the banished Indians and proposed to reinstate them. The frame of a blockhouse, all ready for raising, was packed on a barge, and in this craft Lieutenant William Holmes, with a party of Plymouth men and their cinnamon-skinned comrades, on a bright September day sailed up the Connecticut River. As they passed Fort Good Hope, the Dutch commander shouted to them to turn and go back, under penalty of a volley from the two cannon. Holmes replied that he was under orders from the governor of Plymouth, and should go on, volley or no volley. "So they passed along," says our chronicler, "and though the Dutch threatened them hard, yet they shot not." On reaching the site of Windsor they quickly put up their frame house and built a strong stockade around it. They were not long in hearing that their dealings with the banished Indians had given mortal offence to the Pequots. Yet the blow, when it came, did not fall upon these men of Plymouth, but upon another party of Englishmen; and the whole story affords a good illustration of the difficulty of keeping clear from Indian complications.
Early in the following January, as Captain Stone, a skipper from Virginia, was sailing up the Connecticut River with seven companions, on an errand to Fort Good Hope, he imprudently allowed a dozen Pequots to come on board his little vessel. At night, when Stone and his men, or most of them, were asleep, these Indians murdered them all. Shortly afterward they surprised and slew several of Sequeen's Indians at Wethersfield. Van Curler, the commander at Fort Good Hope, felt that it would not do to allow such things within his jurisdiction; so, catching some Pequots who were known to have had a hand in these murders, he had them hanged. The wrath of the powerful tribe was thus turned against the Dutch, but they deemed it wise to get the assistance of white men. So they p133 sent emissaries to Boston, offering to cede more land on the Connecticut, to surrender the surviving Indians concerned in the Stone massacre, and to pay a handsome tribute in wampum beside, in exchange for English protection. This overtures led to the intervention of the Boston government to keep peace between the Pequots and Narragansetts, but otherwise nothing came of them, and the murderers of Stone were not surrendered.
While these things were going on, Van Twiller sent a party of 70 men, in December, 1634, to drive the Plymouth men from their blockhouse at Windsor, but on reconnoitring the situation and finding that the little garrison refused to budge, these humane and philosophic troopers returned to New Amsterdam, where doubtless a fresh cask was tapped for them, for such was the Doubter's way. The next year witnessed a further trial of his temper. Two English noblemen, Lord Saye and Lord Brooke, had in 1632 obtained a grant of the Connecticut River and lands adjacent. Now in November, 1635, the younger John Winthrop, acting under their orders, brought a party to Kievit's Hook, the name of which he changed to Point Saye-Brooke, after his two patrons. These Englishmen tore down the arms of the States General from the tree to which the Dutchman had fastened them, and nailed up in the place a board with a ludicrous and insulting picture. A Dutch sloop, sent from Manhattan to interrupt the proceedings, arrived upon the scene; but finding a couple of English cannon in possession, she quietly turned and retired up the Sound. Then Winthrop built a fort at Saybrook, by the hands of Lyon Gardiner, an accomplished engineer, who had formerly served in Holland under the Prince of Orange. The narratives of the time abound in p134 such instances, which show the closeness and frequency of the intercourse between the two nations. Gardiner remained in command of Fort Saybrook, which practically cut off Fort Good Hope and isolated it from New Amsterdam, for overland communication through the primeval forest was full of difficulty and danger.
But now this forlorn hope of eastern New Netherland was about to be not merely isolated, but in a measure overwhelmed in a new tide of English migration. The majority of the people in Cambridge, Watertown, and Dorchester disapproved of some theocratic features in the government of Massachusetts, and in particular of the restriction of the suffrage to church members. In 1636, under their great leader, Thomas Hooker, the Cambridge congregation came in a body through the wilderness to the fields which Fort Good Hope vainly aspired to command, and began building Hartford. So wholesale was the move that only eleven families were left in Cambridge, which, but for a new arrival from England, would have presented the appearance of a deserted village. In similar wise, the Dorchester congregation came to Windsor and quite swallowed up the little Plymouth settlement; and the Watertown congregation came to Wethersfield. The English population of 800 souls, thus suddenly brought into Connecticut, far outnumbered all the Dutch in New Netherland. Against such odds there was small hope of success, but the Dutch remained for some years unmolested at their Hartford fortress, for the English could well afford to disregard them.
The ferocious Indian war that followed this migration hardly belongs to the history of New Netherland, except for an incident which reflects great honour upon the Dutch governor and has been too little noticed. We may briefly recall to mind how certain Narragansetts murdered an English trader at Block Island, whereupon p135 John Endicott came with three vessels and slew Indians and burned wigwams at Block Island, and then, coming over to the mainland, peremptorily demanded of the Pequots that they surrender to justice the Stone murderers, and getting only an evasive answer went on to shed Pequot blood and set fire to Pequot wigwams. How this grim Puritan thus came near uniting against the English the two most powerful tribes of New England, each numbering more than 1000 warriors; how the diplomacy of Roger Williams averted this serious danger and won over the Narragansetts; how the Pequots butchered English settlers until human nature could no longer bear it, and one terrific blow, such as Cromwell might have struck, removed that tribe from the face of the earth; — all this is a familiar story. But what Van Twiller did is seldom mentioned. In the spring of 1637, shortly before the final catastrophe, a band of Pequots rushed into Wethersfield, killed nine men, and carried two young women into captivity. On hearing the news, Van Twiller, without wasting a moment in doubting, sent a sloop to the Thames, with orders "to redeem the two English maids by what means soever," even though it should involve war with the Pequots. The sloop was stopped by the English at Fort Saybrook, but was allowed to go on when her captain made a written statement of his friendly purpose. On arriving in the Thames River, a large ransom was offered and rejected. Then the Dutch skipper succeeded in capturing half a dozen Pequot warriors for hostages. With these he effected an exchange, and with the two girls safe in his cabin went on his way rejoicing and delivered them to their mourning friends.
Surely this rescue was a most neighbourly and Christian act on the part of Director Van Twiller. It lights up the commonplace figure of the puzzled Amsterdam clerk with a gleam of true chivalry; and when one thinks of it one is inclined to forgive him for many shortcomings. Though he had more than once sent home to Holland for permission to attack the English, though the latter indeed were dreading p136 an assault from him in the midst of their troubles, yet when it came to leaving Christian women in the power of the barbarians, all quarrels of Dutch and English were for the moment set aside, and in the promptness with which he acted there was little to remind one of Walter the Doubter.
With regard to his alleged pusillanimity in not attacking the English at Windsor and at Saybrook, as also in not firing upon the ship William at Manhattan, there has been much unjust criticism. The scenes are so funny that they fail to get serious attention. The spectacle of a band of armed men marching up to a fortress and demanding its surrender, and then, when the demand is refused, marching meekly away, reminds one irresistibly of Dogberry:—
Dogb. You shall comprehend all vagrom men: you are to bid any man stand, in the Prince's name.
2 Watch. How, if a will not stand?
Dogb. Why then, take no note of him, but let him go; and presently call the rest of the Watch together, and thank God you are rid of a knave.
It is scenes like this that have aroused the humour of Irving and the contempt of many writers who have not paused to consider the very peculiar situation in which Van Twiller was placed. He was expected to assert the Dutch territorial claims as loudly as possible, but if he were to fire upon an English ship or an English fort, he would certainly incur the censure of the States General for such belligerent conduct. He asked for permission to use his own discretion as to bringing on a fight, but he never received such permission, and thus was always confronted with a dilemma; which was a state of things well calculated to encourage the habit of doubting. The truth is that the Dutch and English people were quite friendly inclined to one another, and their governments were determined not to quarrel; sentiment and policy alike forbade it. At the same time their antagonism and rivalry in America was a geographical necessity, from which they could not escape. Under such circumstances p137 the only available resource was a game of bluff, and such games are apt to have their ludicrous side.
In making these remarks I am not at all concerned to defend Van Twiller, but only to do justice. Even small facts in history are worth the effort required to see them in their true light, for the habit thus fostered is helpful when we come to deal with great facts. As for the Dutch governor, no literary legerdemain can ever make him a hero, or anything but a commonplace character, with some grave faults; as we shall see in the next chapter when we shall have done with his career and can see how it fared with New Netherland under his successor.
1 J. H. U. Studies, IV.16.
2 Preble, History of the United States Flag, p176.
3 O'Callaghan, History of New Netherland, I.143.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
on Dutch History
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 1 Feb 16