[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

[image ALT: link to previous section]
Chapter 6

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Dutch and Quaker Colonies
in America

John Fiske

published by
Houghton, Mifflin and Company
Boston and New York, 1903

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next section]
Chapter 8
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Vol. I
Chapter VII
A Soldier's Paternal Rule

The terrible Indian war of 1641‑45, which threatened to terminate the existence of New Netherland, was complicated with sundry political questions. We have seen how at the outset Director Kieft was obliged to call a meeting of the people, and how this primary assembly elected a representative board of Twelve Men, to consider the Director's policy and proposals. We have seen how this board authorized the raising of money for war expenses, and was dissolved, after having wrung from the Director certain promises that were never kept. In the summer of 1643, after the renewal of hostilities by the Haverstraws, the desperate nature of the crisis compelled Kieft again to call a meeting of the people. This time a board of Eight Men was chosen. Five were Dutchmen, of whose names that of Cornelius Melyn, the patroon of Staten Island, is best remembered; one was a German — Joachim Kuyter, from Darmstadt; and two were Englishmen, one of whom, Isaac Allerton, was one of the Mayflower Pilgrims; in 1638 he had removed to New Amsterdam, and was one of the most prosperous merchants in the town. The other Englishman, Thomas Hall, was from Virginia. In the spring of 1644, soon after Underhill's wholesale slaughter of Indians near Stamford, this board of Eight Men was confronted with the problem of raising money under difficulties. The provincial treasury was empty, all business was at a standstill, and most of the farms were destroyed,  p165 so that voluntary contributions were not forthcoming. The stone church, begun in 1642, was not yet finished, for part of the money subscribed had to be used for war purposes. Nor could any help be had from the West India Company, for recent operations in Brazil had made it well-nigh bankrupt. A bill of exchange, which Kieft had drawn upon the Amsterdam Chamber, actually came back protested for want of funds. Some money could be had from time to time by cruising in the West Indies and capturing Spanish ships, but this was too irregular to be relied on, and necessities were pressing. There was a strong stockade to be built across the Island at the place where it afterwards gave its name to Wall Street. There were also soldiers to be hired and maintained. A company of 130, withdrawn from Brazil, had landed at Curaçoa,º and were promptly sent by Peter Stuyvesant, the governor of that island, to New Amsterdam. These soldiers were quartered on the citizens of Manhattan; it was understood that the cost of their board would be defrayed by the Company when its fortunes should be mended; meanwhile it had neither suitable clothes for them nor money to pay their wages.

Kieft therefore proclaimed that brewers should make an exact return of the quantity of beer they might brew, and should pay an excise of three guilders on every tun. In modern money this would be equivalent to rather less than four fifths of a cent per gallon.​a Besides this an excise was imposed upon wines and spirits at the rate of four stivers or forty cents per quart; and likewise upon every beaver skin one guilder, or two dollars. Such were war taxes in 1644.1

Now in issuing this proclamation Kieft acted in flat opposition to the Eight Men who had been chosen as his advisers. They argued that imposing taxes was an attribute of sovereignty which the West India Company had never delegated  p166 to its agent, the Director of New Netherland; moreover, it was the business of the Company, not of the settlers, to hire and equip soldiers, since the Company had expressly guaranteed military protection to the colony; besides, the settlers were ruined and could not pay taxes. If ready money must be had, why not clap a heavy tax upon sundry traders and speculators who somehow contrived always to amass wealth even while everybody else was on the road to the poorhouse. We can seem to see the wicked smile which puckered the Director's weazened face as he exclaimed, "In this country I am my own master and may do as I please; for I have my commission, not from the Company, but from the States General."

A specimen of Kieft's official courtesy lights up the sober pages of the Dutch colonial documents. His arbitrary proclamation was received by the people with murmurs and growls, whereupon he sent for three of his board — Kuyter, Melyn, and Hall — to come next morning at eight o'clock and confer with him as to the best means of allaying the popular discontent. Apparently, however, he had not the matter very closely at heart, for he was up with the dawn and off somewhere on other business, while the three gentlemen duly arrived at his office at eight and sat there unheeded till past noon, when they went off to their dinners "as wise as they came." Then the brewers refused to pay their tax of three guilders, and the question was carried into court, or, in other words, before Kieft himself and his subservient council, who speedily gave judgment against the men of malt, and punished their contumacy by confiscating sundry casks of beer and handing them over to the thirsty soldiers.

After six months of such wrangling, while the embers of the Indian war still smouldered, the Eight Men could bear it no longer, and they addressed an eloquent letter to the States General: "Our fields lie fallow and waste; our dwellings and other buildings are burned; not a handful can be either planted or sown this autumn  p167 on the deserted places; the crops which God permitted to come forth during the past summer remain on the fields standing and rotting; . . . we have no means to provide necessaries for wives or children; and we sit here amid thousands of barbarians, from whom we find neither peace nor mercy. . . . There are among us those who . . . for many long years have endeavoured at great expense to improve their lands and villages; others, with their private capital, have equipped with all necessaries their own ships; some, again, have come hither with ships independent of the Company, freighted with a large quantity of cattle, and with a number of families; who have erected handsome buildings on the spots selected for their people, cleared away the forest, enclosed their plantations and brought them under the plough, so as to be an ornament to the country and a profit to the proprietors, after their long laborious toil. 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, unless the Lord, who bends all men's hearts to his will, should propitiate them." The memorial goes on to give an account of the origin and progress of the war, and of the Director's methods of government; and it warns the States General against putting their trust in an elaborate report which Kieft had himself sent over to the Hague. "If we are correctly informed by those who have seen it," says the memorial, "it contains as many lies as lines." Then the Eight Men conclude their petition as follows: "Honoured Lords, this is what we have, in the sorrow of our hearts, to complain of: that one man who has been sent out, sworn and instructed by his lords and masters, to whom he is responsible, 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 shall end here, and  p168 commit the matter wholly to our God, who, we pray and heartily trust, will move your Lordships' minds and bless your Lordships' deliberations, so that one of these two things may happen — either that a Governor may be speedily sent with a beloved peace to us, or that their Honours [i.e. the Company] will be pleased to 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 with more people, who shall settle themselves in suitable places, one near the other, in form of villages and hamlets, and elect from among themselves a bailiff, or schout, and schepens, who shall be empowered to send deputies to vote on public affairs with the Director and Council; so that hereafter the Country may not be again brought into similar danger."

This petition thus asked for a new governor and for some limitation of his power by representatives of the people. The first part of the request was promptly granted. It was decided that the government of New Netherland should be vested in a Supreme Council of three persons, — the Director General, a Vice Director, and a Fiscal, or Treasurer. After some changes of plan, the person selected for Director General was Peter Stuyvesant, lately governor of the island of Curaçoa. Having lost a leg in a fight with the Portuguese at San Martin, he returned to Holland in the autumn of 1644, and was appointed in May, 1645, to replace Kieft in the government of New Netherland. Various causes, however, delayed the Company in completing its preparations and instructions, so that it was only after the lapse of two years, in May, 1647, that Stuyvesant arrived at Manhattan.

Meanwhile, in the summer of 1645, a solid peace was made with the Algonquin tribes. The terrific blow struck by Underhill in the preceding year had put an end to anything like concerted action among the tribes, and some had hastened to make terms for themselves, while others had kept up a  p169 vexatious desultory warfare. By this time all had come to realize that, since every white man's scalp cost several Indian lives, fighting was too expensive a luxury. On the 30th of August there was a concourse of citizens in front of Fort Amsterdam, their sober doublets and dark peaked hats contrasting strongly with the parti-coloured blankets, the scarlet feathers, and shining beadwork of the cinnamon-hued sachems of Weckquaesgecks and Sing Sings, Tappans and Haverstraws, Hackensacks and Marechkawiecks, Wappinecks and Raritans, with other Algonquins who had come to smoke the pipe of peace. In a group by themselves sat the Mohawk envoys, who represented the great Iroquois league, the friends of the Dutch and over­lords of the Algonquins, upon whom their small eyes glowered in a Satanic ecstasy of contempt. Pipes were smoked and belts of wampum passed. The articles of the treaty were read and received with acquiescent grunts. One of them prescribed that in case of any injury done to an Indian by a white man, the proper remedy was not to murder white men, but to make complaint to the Director at New Amsterdam; and similarly, in case of damage done by Indians, the Dutch were to complain to his sachem. Various provisions were made for avoiding quarrels, and by a special article the Indians bound themselves to restore the captive granddaughter of Anne Hutchinson. This promise was fulfilled, and it is said that the little girl, now eleven years old, could speak Algonquin much better than English and was unwilling to come back to civilized life.

The return of peace did not regain for Kieft whatever popularity he may once have had. The news that he had been superseded was hailed with general rejoicing. It is  p170 said that more than one citizen threatened to give him a flogging as soon as he should have taken off the livery with which his masters had bedecked him. Such allusions to Kieft as a public servant were sure to throw him into a rage; he called it seditious talk, and punished it with fine and imprisonment. He would allow no appeal from his own decisions to Holland, and on this point many sturdy citizens assailed him. Dominie Bogardus thundered at him from the pulpit: "What are the great men of this country but vessels of wrath and fountains of woe and trouble? They think of nothing but to plunder the property of others, to dismiss, to banish, to transport to Holland!" When it came to this pass, the wrathful Director tried to out-thunder the man of God. He kept a squad of soldiers waiting just outside the church, and when the parson ventured upon any such invective, a deafening roll of drums would respond; then the voice of Bogardus would wax louder and his words more defiant, and the roar of cannon from the fort would reinforce the rattle, but in vain; the stentorian Dominie could neither be silenced nor browbeaten. Kieft therefore had recourse to legal proceedings, and summoned Bogardus before the court to answer a list of accusations, with a preamble, of which the following extract is a specimen: "You have no less indulged in scattering abuse during our administration. Scarcely a person in the entire land have you spared, not even your own wife and your sister; especially when you were in good company and tipsy. Still mixing up your human passion with the chain of truth, you associated with the greatest criminals of the country, taking their part and defending them," and so on. This last allusion is explained by a clause of the indictment, which charges the Dominie with upholding Adriansen after his attempt to assassinate the Director. The arraignment is a long one, but reduces itself to this, that Bogardus is an ill-mannered drunkard, who stirs up the people to sedition. When this document was served upon the fiery parson, he refused to appear and plead to it, declaring that the Director had no legal  p171 right to summon him, and here the matter stayed. In spite of endless discussion the Dominie held his ground. He was not only a much stronger character than Kieft, but he likewise had the people on his side; so he naturally prevailed, and the mortified director had to submit. Of the marriage of Bogardus to the pretty and wealthy widow, Anneke Jans, and the century of litigation over the title to her farm, we shall have occasion to speak hereafter.2

At length, in May, 1647, Peter Stuyvesant arrived, and the glee of the people sought expression in such profuse military salutes that nearly all the powder in the fort was used up. Stuyvesant's speech was brief and to the point, but it was not exactly that of a ruler who meant to be guided by public opinion rather than his own. "I shall govern you as a father his children, for the advantage of the chartered West India Company, and these burghers, and this land;" in these words he summed up his view of the situation, and he summed it up correctly. In his mind the contrast between bad and good government was not the contrast between paternal and popular government, for the latter would have ruled out as mere idiocy; it was the contrast between selfish and unselfish paternal government. If his rule was to be better than Van Twiller's and Kieft's, it was because God had given him more honesty or more sense, or both. But he had no notion of resigning any of a ruler's prerogatives. He was first and always a man of masterful personality.

There is something curious about this man's family name. When Diedrich Knickerbocker tells us that Twiller is a corruption of Twijfler, or "Doubter," he is of course simply laughing with us. But in all seriousness the name Stuyvesant is a compound of stuyven, to stir up, with sand. It seems to have been originally the name of a breezy locality on the shore of the Zuyder Zee, where the sand blew about pretty freely; and nothing is more common than the adoption of a place-name for a family-name, as Bolton, Greenfield,  p172 or Frothingham. But if we were inclined, like Knickerbocker, to a little harmless jesting, we might interpret Stuyvesant, not without some show of propriety, as he who kicks up a dust. Peter Stuyvesant, son of Rev. Balthazar Stuyvesant, was born in 1592. He had a college education, and always prided himself on his attainments in Latin. After leaving college he entered the army, but very few details of his life are known until we find him, as governor of Curaçoa, losing a leg in battle. He married Judith Bayard, granddaughter of Nicholas Bayard, a French Protestant clergyman who fled to the Netherlands in 1572, after the massacre of St. Bartholomew. Tradition connects him with the family of Bayard, the knight without fear and without reproach. Judith Bayard's brother Samuel married Peter Stuyvesant's sister, and their sons, Nicholas, Balthazar, and Peter, were the progenitors of the Bayards in America. The ship which brought Director Stuyvesant to Manhattan brought also his wife and sister and these three nephews.

We are not obliged to draw upon the worshipful Knickerbocker's imagination for a picture of Peter, for among the collections of the New York Historical Society there is a fine portrait of him painted from life, and probably in Holland shortly before his coming to New Netherland, for the face is that of a man rather than more than fifty years old. It is a strong face, such as might have belonged to one of Cromwell's sturdiest Ironsides. "A valiant, weather-beaten, mettlesome, obstinate, leathern-sided, lion-hearted, generous-spirited old governor," — such are the epithets applied to him by the admiring but judicious Knickerbocker. Years of military service had made him a rigid disciplinarian, and in public places there was much less of the suaviter in modo to be seen about him than of the fortiter in re. Interference and meddling, or what he chose to call so, had short shrift at his hands. On the voyage to New Netherland, his little squadron captured a Spanish ship, and he invited his Vice Director, Van Dincklagen, to a consultation as to  p173 how the party had best be disposed of. The Treasurer, Van Dyck, also came into the cabin to give advice, whereupon Stuyvesant gave him a push and exclaimed, "Get out of here! when I want you I'll call you!" When he formally assumed command at Fort Amsterdam, he sat with his hat on, as our informant tells us, "quite like the Czar of Muscovy," while a group of the principal inhabitants stood before him bareheaded and waited quite long enough before he condescended to take personal notice of them. He soon began issuing proclamations with  p174 as much zeal as Kieft had shown. The usual provisions were made against drunkenness, brawling, and selling liquor to the Indians, and the time-honoured anathemas were hurled at smugglers. The export duties on all furs were increased, and a new excise was laid upon wines and spirits, much to the disgust of a good many people. Some said the new governor was not so much of a father, after all; some asked, with a sigh, if this was not just the sort of thing they had complained of in Director Kieft.

Now the affairs of ex-director Kieft were about to give some kind of an answer to this question, and to show on which side Stuyvesant's natural sympathies were enlisted. On the day when Kieft handed over his office to his successor, it was proposed that the conventional vote of thanks should be given him for his official conduct; whereupon two of the ablest of the Eight Men, Kuyter and Melyn, spoke out boldly, saying they had no reason to thank him, and would not. Presently these two gentlemen came forward with a petition for a judicial inquiry into Kieft's policy and behaviour from the time, in 1639, when he first tried to impose taxes upon the Indians. They wished to propound a series of interrogatories, and they intended to base upon the answers a report to be carried over to Holland and used as a weapon against the late Director.

Stuyvesant was not so dull as to overlook the bearings of this bold proposal. If such a weapon could be forged against Kieft, another of like metal might some day be sharpened against himself. The sacredness of the Directorship must be sustained. Stuyvesant felt as in later days the Emperor Joseph II felt when he warned his sister Marie Antoinette that the French government was burning its fingers in helping the American rebels. I, too, like your Americans well enough, said he, but I do not forget that my trade is that of king, — c'est mon métier d'être roi! So it was Stuyvesant's trade to be a colonial governor, and the business must be respected. He at once took Kieft's part. He declared that the officers of the government must  p175 not be obliged to disclose government secrets simply on the demand of two private citizens. Moreover, to petition against one's rulers was flat treason, no matter how much cause there might be for it. This was practically equivalent to the abominable doctrine set forth a few years later by Sir Robert Filmer, that "a thing may by the king be commanded contrary to law, and yet obedience to such a command is necessary." But there was no standing up great Stuyvesant in the council, and the petition of Melyn and Kuyter was rejected.

This refusal, however, was not enough to soothe the ruffled dignity of the Director. It was now his turn to assume the aggressive; the two "malignants," as he called them, must be made to smart. He ordered that Kuyter and Melyn should be interrogated concerning the origin and conduct of the Indian war. Here Kieft, finding Stuyvesant so ready to take his part, came forward and accused them of being the real authors of the memorial which the Eight Men had sent to the West India Company, and which had led to his removal. That memorial, said Kieft,º was a false libel which those two malignants had contrived to send to Holland without the knowledge of their colleagues. Kieft urged that they should be compelled to produce all their correspondence with the Company, and to show cause why they should not be summarily banished as "pestilent and seditious persons." When Stuyvesant granted this request and summoned the two gentlemen to answer, they soon began to show such superabundant evidence in support of their accusations against Kieft that it became necessary to drop this line of proceeding and find some other. Indictments were accordingly brought against Kuyter and Melyn, on sundry trumped-up charges, chiefly alleging treacherous dealings with the Indians, and attempts to stir up rebellion. With shameless disregard of evidence a prearranged verdict of guilty was rendered; Melyn was sentenced to seven years' banishment and a fine of 300 guilders, Kuyter to three years' banishment and a fine of 150 guilders. Stuyvesant wished to have Melyn sentenced to death, but it was felt that this  p176 would be going too far.​3 Melyn and Kuyter were to be sent to Holland, but they must beware of telling their tale of woe to the authorities. "If I thought there were any danger of your trying an appeal," quoth Stuyvesant to Melyn with a baleful frown, "I would hang you this minute to the tallest tree on the island!" On another occasion he observed, "If any man tries to appeal from me to the States General, I will make him a foot shorter, pack the pieces off to Holland, and let him appeal in that fashion. This was brave talk, but if hard-headed Peter supposed his victims were going back to Holland without using their tongues, he did not show his wonted good sense. On the 16th of August, 1647, Kieft set sail for Holland, with his fortune, which his enemies said was ill gotten, while they rated it at 400,000 guilders. He took with him Kuyter and Melyn as prisoners, and in the same ship Dominie Bogardus.

And now there happened one of those singular incidents which we sometimes hear called "special providences." By some error of reckoning the ship which carried this discordant company got into the Bristol Channel, struck on a rock, and was beaten to pieces. In the presence of death Kieft confessed to Kuyter and Melyn that he had grievously wronged them, and he begged their forgiveness. At daybreak the ship went down in the presence of hundreds of Englishmen on the strand, who did what they could to rescue the passengers. Eighty-one persons, including Kieft and Bogardus, were drowned; twenty reached the shore in safety, and among these were Kuyter and Melyn. No sooner were they landed than these canny men,  p177 caring even more for reputation than for life, had the shallow waters dragged for three days, until they brought up a box which contained their most important papers unharmed. Armed with these documents they were enabled completely to justify themselves before the States General, and in the course of this story we shall again encounter them.

In spite of Stuyvesant's hot and arbitrary temper he soon showed that he had more sense than Kieft. He found the military defences of New Amsterdam in a shocking state of dilapidation, and his instructions required him to use all possible dispatch in putting everything into excellent repair. Much money was required for this, and the only way to get it was to yield in some degree to the popular demand for representation. The excise on beer and wines was universally detested and partially evaded, and more revenue was indispensable. It was necessary to give New Amsterdam at least some semblance of a free town government; and naturally the framework of government introduced was that with which the Dutch people were already familiar. In the Netherlands, since the thirteenth century, every town below the grade of a city was governed by what old writers call "A Tribunal of Well-born Men," elected by all the inhabitants entitled to vote. This tribunal was not only an executive body, but also sat as a court in criminal and civil cases. The number of the Well-born Men varied, but was usually nine. The analogy of this board was commonly followed in the case of representative bodies chosen by a group of constituencies. In such cases the local lord sometimes participated; the people would choose twice the number of representatives required, and out of these the lord would select half. On this principle Stuyvesant ordered an election, in September, 1647, in which the people of Manhattan, Breuckelen, Amersfoort, and Pavonia chose eighteen of their "most notable, reasonable, honest, and respectable" persons, from whom the Director and his council were to select the board of Nine Men, to assist, when called upon (for, mind you, Director Stuyvesant had no notion of  p178 letting them assemble without permission), — to assist, when called upon, in providing for the general welfare. It was only at first that these dangerous Nine Men were to be obtained through the incendiary expedient of a popular election. There was to be an annual meeting of the board in December, at which six members were to go out and nominate twelve candidates to succeed themselves, and out of these twelve the Director and council would select six. Thus the Nine Men formed a self-perpetuating body, calculated to fall more and more under the Director's influence. Nevertheless, as we shall see, the Nine Men contrived to maintain a more or less independent attitude and to represent with some efficiency the interests of the people. The beginnings of constitutional government were somewhat more visible than under Kieft.

But before we go on to recount some of Stuyvesant's adventures with his Nine Men, affairs at the north of New Netherland call for a moment's mention. The position of the Director of this New World province had some curious points of resemblance, albeit on a petty scale, with the position of a feudal king in the Middle Ages. He had to be perpetually alert to meet the invasion of barbarians on the encroachments of civilized neighbours; he had to pay some heed to the distant States General, which interfered very little with him, as the Emperor meddled but little with remote vassals; he had to pay much more heed to the distant Company, which interfered a good deal, as the popes meddled much with kings; at his own doors he had to consider how to make both ends meet without surrendering his sovereignty to a parliamentary body; and finally he had to assert over neighbouring feudal chiefs an authority which they refused to acknowledge. Of this insubordination there was a curious instance in New Netherland.

In sketching the administration of Peter Minuit I observed that of all the early patroon­ships there were none that flourished like that which was founded by Kilian van Rensselaer  p179 far up the river. This greater prosperity was due partly to Van Rensselaer's more intelligent policy, and partly to geographical situation. Among the colonists were many thrifty farmers who took pains in cultivating their estates, and for general education and respectability the standard was much higher than down at Manhattan. The advantage of situation lay in the proximity of the Mohawks. It will be remembered that in the early days of Fort Orange there were Mohegans in the neighbourhood, between the Hudson and Housatonic valleys, and the Dutch here came into the intertribal quarrels of Algonquin and Iroquois. But in 1628 the Mohawks drove the Mohegans into the lower valley of the Connecticut; on the Berkshire Hills they made a solitude and called it peace. Fort Orange and its neighbourhood thereafter were secure in Mohawk protection. In the terrible war of 1641‑45 Rensselaerwyck and Fort Orange were unmolested. In after times the relations of the great manorial lords to the Indians of the Long House — especially of the Dutch Schuylers at Albany and the Irish Johnsons in the Mohawk valley — made Albany until after the Revolutionary War one of the most important places in North America.

This situation also made Van Rensselaer's feudal domain comparatively independent. All the patroons, as we have seen, were inclined to assert for themselves a freedom of action, especially in buying and shipping furs, which the government at New Amsterdam was not at all disposed to allow. The exercise of such freedom was of course much easier at a distance of 150 miles than in Staten Island or Pavonia. It was also easier in a manor that was large enough to be sufficient  p180 unto itself. Already at his first coming the Amsterdam jeweller, Kilian van Rensselaer, had held his hand somewhat high, asseverating that he held his patroon­ship directly from the States General and was not amenable to the authorities at Manhattan. The venerable Knickerbocker's humorous description comes near to the letter of history and is entirely true to its spirit. As despatches came now and then to Van Twiller and his council, narrating sundry usurpations of authority on the part of the lordly Kilian, "at each new report," says Knickerbocker, "the governor and his chancellors looked at each other, raised their eyebrows, gave an extra puff or two of smoke, and then relapsed into their usual tranquillity. At length tidings came that the patroon of Rensselaerwyck had extended his usurpations along the river, beyond the limits granted him by their High Mightinesses; and that he had even seized upon a rocky island in the Hudson, commonly known by the name of Bearn or Bear's Island, where he was erecting a fortress, to be called by the lordly name of Rensselaerstein. Wouter van Twiller was aroused by this intelligence . . . and despatched a letter to the patroon of Rensselaerwyck, demanding by what right he had seized upon this island, which lay beyond the bounds of his patroon­ship. The answer of Kilian van Rensselaer was in his own lordly style, By wapen regt [= By weapon right], that is to say, by the right of arms, or in common parlance by club-law. This answer plunged the worthy Wouter in one of the deepest doubts he had in the whole course of his administration."

Now there was nowhere a livelier trade in beaver skins  p181 than on Van Rensselaer's manor, insomuch that the tiny hamlet hard by Fort Orange, which was its commercial centre, and which in course of time developed into the city of Albany, was significantly baptized Beverwyck. Van Rensselaer as patroon claimed and exercised the right of engaging in this trade for his own private behoof, a claim which the Company and the government at New Amsterdam steadfastly denied. He also undertook to forbid all other persons from trading in furs, within the limits of his manor, for their own private benefit. But his attempts to restrain such traders, though more successful than the Company's attempts to restrain him, were far from satisfactory. In 1644 it was estimated that between three and four thousand furs had been carried away during the past twelvemonth by unlicensed traders. The patroon then bethought him of his fortress of Rensselaerstein which he had erected on Bear Island by "weapon right." He now proceeded to invest that place with another kind of right, also familiar to most people in the Middle Ages. At Dordrecht it was called "staple right," by which name it came to be well known throughout Europe. The word "staple," which is common to English and Dutch, means originally a pile or heap; and staple right, conferred upon a town, was the right to compel any passing vessel either to pay a duty for the privilege of passing by, or else to unload its cargo to be sold to customers in the town. The heaps of unloaded cargo piled up on the docks or in the market-place were the staples, whence in modern times the word has acquired a wider application to merchandise bought or sold in great quantities.

Now Van Rensselaer in 1644 invested Bear Island with staple right, and appointed Nicholas Koorn as his "wachtmeester" (watchmaster) or guard in command of the fort. Koorn's instructions were to collect a toll of five guilders from every vessel passing up or down the river, except the Company's own ships. Every skipper, too, must strike his colours in homage to the patroon. So it happened that on  p182 a summer day, as Govert Loockermans, on his way from Fort Orange to New Amsterdam in his yacht Good Hope, was passing Bear Island, a charge of powder was fired from the fort and a figure on the rampart shouted, "Strike thy colours!" "For whom shall I strike?" asked Loockermans. "For the Lord Kilian and the staple right of Rensselaerstein," cried the watchmaster; to whom quoth the sturdy Loockermans, "I strike for nobody but the Prince of Orange and their High Mightinesses the States General." Koorn then fired three shots, the first of which tore a sail and cut a rope, while the second passed overhead, and the third made a hole in the flag. For this arrogant behaviour Koorn was summoned to New Amsterdam and mulcted in damages, against which he made a formal protest, asserting the right of his master, the patroon, to keep out free traders and to exact homage from all persons entering or leaving his domains.

Early in 1646 the death of Kilian van Rensselaer left his youthful son Johannes as representative of his vast estates, and for a moment the boy's uncle, Van Twiller the ex-Director, emerges from obscurity as one of his guardians. Brandt van Slechtenhorst was appointed commissary to govern Rensselaerwyck, and Nicholas Koorn was promoted from his fort on Bear Island to be schout-fiscal or collector and treasurer of the patroon­ship. The person whom he replaced was a man of erudition, an interesting character, Adrian van der Donck, of Breda. He had been schout-fiscal of Rensselaerwyck for five years, but had lately married a daughter of Rev. Francis Doughty, and now moved to New Amsterdam. It was Van der Donck's wish to become a patroon, and he bought from the Weckquaesgeck tribe a tract of land north of Spuyten Duyvel Creek. The people used to call him Jonkheer ("young lord") Van der  p183 Donck, which indicates that his father was either a nobleman or a personage of some consequence; his manor was commonly known as "de Jonkheer's Landt," and the name to us is now familiar as Yonkers. We shall presently meet with this "young lord" as one of the Nine Men.

Director Stuyvesant was not long in getting into trouble with Rensselaerwyck. One effect of the late war was to make him particularly determined to suppress the practice of selling firearms to the Indians. The people of Manhattan and its neighbourhood, surrounded by unfriendly Algonquins, cordially supported him in this policy, but in Rensselaerwyck, where there were none but friendly Iroquois within reach, the feeling was different. It was not felt to be necessary to obey the Director General, and Van Slechtenhorst seized the first opportunity of showing his insubordination. Stuyvesant appointed the 26th of April, 1648, to be a day of fasting and prayer, and when the proclamation was received in Beverwyck, Van Slechtenhorst refused to have it read, and made a formal protest against it as trespassing upon the authority of his lordship the patroon. On hearing of this, the director went up to Fort Orange with a small military guard, and exchanged defiances with Van Slechtenhorst. It was Greek against Greek; the commissary was as blunt and obstinate as the Director. Stuyvesant handed over a list of peremptory orders; Slechtenhorst declared he would not obey this one any way, nor this, nor that, nor the other, and he asked with a sneer if the Director supposed himself to be patroon of Rensselaerwyck. The quarrel had its comical side, as most quarrels have. The hamlet of Beverwyck snuggled so close to Fort Orange that Stuyvesant thought it wise to forbid the building of houses within range of its guns, lest they might interfere with firing. He also ordered that the wall of palisades should be replaced by a wall of stone masonry. As soon as Stuyvesant had departed, Slechtenhorst began putting up some houses within pistol-shot of the fort, and  p184 he issued an order forbidding any servants of the Company to quarry stone or cut timber upon the patroon's estates.

We can imagine Stuyvesant's wrath on hearing of this contumacious conduct. He sent up a squad of soldiers to Fort Orange, with orders to Van Brugge, the commandant, to pull down the houses that were just begun, and to arrest Van Slechtenhorst and serve upon him a summons to appear at Fort Amsterdam. At the same time notice was sent that no more firearms should be supplied to the manor of Rensselaerwyck except upon express orders from the Company.

Van Brugge was a courteous officer, and refrained from meddling with the houses or trying to arrest the patroon's commissary. But he served the summons, which Slechtenhorst answered by a letter to Stuyvesant, in which he told him he should not obey it. As for his houses, they were going to stay just where he had put them, and as for Stuyvesant's taking stone or timber from the manor, he would like to see him try it! The Director replied by ordering Van Brugge to take the stone and timber by force if necessary, and to pull down every house within musket range of the fort. He also sent a peremptory notice to Slechtenhorst to appear at a court to be held at New Amsterdam in April.

This controversy caused much excitement in the quiet hamlet of Beverwyck, and mightily astonished a party of Mohawks who happened to be tarrying there. The question of jurisdiction was too complicated for their understandings, but one of its practical aspects especially struck them. "Is n't old Wooden Leg a queer fellow," they said, "to wish to pull down houses that would shelter you in winter!" But the government in Holland approved what Wooden Leg was doing. Early in 1650 the dispute was settled, the Director was sustained at every point, and the hopes of Rensselaerwyck for independence were forever dashed.

Meanwhile the troubles which had been growing between  p186 the Director and the Nine Men came at length to a crisis. Debts due to the Company to the amount of 30,000 guilders, which Kieft had left uncollected, were now called in by Stuyvesant, and distress was thus occasioned. Moreover, trade suffered from an unwise commercial policy. The experiment of high custom-house duties was being tried with a thoroughness which aroused much discontent, and the Director's favourite punishment for attempts at evasion was a wholesale confiscation of goods. Thus Manhattan began to get a bad name among seaports, and ships from the West Indies were afraid to come in there. There was so much complaint that the Nine Men proposed that a delegation should be sent to Holland, to set forth the present condition of the colony and to ask for divers reforms. At first the Director strongly approved of this suggestion, but presently it appeared that he intended to have the delegation sent in his name. On the other hand, the Nine Men insisted that it should go in the name of the people, and should give their own statement of the case. They were willing to promise not to send anything to Holland without giving the Director a copy, so that he might answer it if he wished, but they were not willing to entrust to him the statement of their case. Adrian van der Donck, the "young lord" already mentioned, had lately become a member of the board of Nine Men, and was at once recognized as a natural leader. He was a full match for Stuyvesant, who had now made up his mind that no formal representation of facts should be allowed to go to Holland which did not emanate from himself. Thus the issue was drawn. The case is peculiarly interesting, since there were no atrocities or instances of gross oppression to be complained of, nor even any grievous mismanagement such as Kieft's Indian War. Stuyvesant was not a vulgar tyrant, but an honest and conscientious man, who was governing New Netherland as well as he knew how. The purpose of the Nine Men, as expressed by their spokesman Van der Donck, was equally honourable. It was simply one theory of government contending against another.

 p188  Thus there came about a deadlock, which the Nine Men proposed to undo by calling a great council or assembly of citizens to consider the points at issue. But Stuyvesant would not call together such an assembly. New Amsterdam, however, was a small town, so that Van der Donck and his friends could go from house to house in a neighbourly way and learn the sentiments of every family. Van der Donck made a note of such things in a journal, whereat Stuyvesant threw him into jail and seized all his papers. Then he summoned a council of his own choosing, and charged Van der Donck with bringing allegations calculated to throw the government into contempt; let him either prove these allegations or retract them; and meanwhile let him be unseated from the board of Nine Men.

This decree, to call it by its right name, was received with tame acquiescence, and the outlook for the popular party seemed gloomy, when all at once came a thunderbolt. A ship arrived from Holland, bringing Cornelius Melyn. He and Kuyter, saved from shipwreck, had made their complaint to the States General, and Stuyvesant's harsh treatment of them had been condemned. Melyn now returned to Manhattan with a safe-conduct from their High Mightinesses, and he brought with him also a writ of mandamus, citing the Director to appear at the Hague and defend himself. When Melyn landed at Fort Amsterdam the people were assembled in church, and he had the keen satisfaction of reading the judgment and the mandamus to the entire company.

This was a staggering blow for Stuyvesant. He declared that he should at once obey the mandamus by sending this attorney to speak for him at the Hague. He was so far sobered as to refrain from further annoyance of Van der Donck, with whom the sympathy of the people was freely expressed. Thus the Nine Men had their way and prepared a memorial to the States General, asking for three things: First, that their High Mightinesses should oust the Company and assume the direct government  p189 of New Netherland; Secondly, that they should give New Amsterdam a suitable municipal government; Thirdly, that they should establish the boundaries of New Netherland beyond question by treaty with friendly powers.

In the course of this memorial the Nine Men invite the attention of the States General to the golden example set by their neighbours of New England, where, as they say with emphasis, "neither patroons, nor lords, nor princes are known, but only the people." Such is the kind of government they wish to imitate in New Netherland.

Apparently the thesis of the late Mr. Douglas Campbell, that American free institutions are derived not from England but from Holland, had not occurred to the Nine Men.

Attached to this memorial was an eloquent Vertoogh, or Remonstrance, full of rich historical meat. Both papers were written by Van der Donck, who was chosen, with two colleagues, to go to the Hague and lay them before the States General; and so we will leave them in mid-summer, 1649, speeding with a fair wind across the Atlantic, while the good wishes of the people go with them.

The Author's Notes:

1 It will be remembered that the value of gold was then five times as great as now, so that in reading of a pound sterling in the days of Charles I we must think not of $5 but of $25.

Thayer's Note: The above was written in 1899 when gold was $20.67 an ounce (according to one source, although other sources have slightly different figures), and very stable; as of writing — Jun 2017 — the price of gold, fluctuating wildly, is at roughly $1270 an ounce: so that Fiske's conversion for his contemporary readers works out to about $1500 in modern money.

[decorative delimiter]

2 See below, vol. II pp250, 251.

[decorative delimiter]

3 As for Kuyter, he was, in Stuyvesant's opinion, little better. He had shaken his finger at Kieft, and that great jurisconsult, Josse De Damhouder, maintained that he who threatens a magistrate or clergyman, even by a frown, is guilty of assaulting him; how much more guilty, then, if he shakes his finger at him? Kuyter had also spoken ill of the ex-Director, and, according to the learned Bernardinus de Muscatellus, "he who slanders God, the magistrate, or his parents, must be stoned to death." O'Callaghan, Hist. New Netherland, II.33.

Thayer's Note:

a In 1899 of course, when this book was written; in 2008, a bit less than 20 cents a gallon: about 5¢ a liter.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 1 Jun 17