First Colonies of the Dutch

The Dutch who founded New Netherland and the city of New Amsterdam (now New York) extended their explorations and traffic east, west, north, and south. They even went as far as Narraganset and Cape Cod bays in search of the beaver and otter. As Captain Block had discovered the Connecticut River and named it the Fresh-Water, and had looked into Narraganset Bay, the Dutch felt that they had a legal claim upon those regions according to the English doctrine concerning the right of discovery. So early as 1623, the agent of the Dutch West India Company seems to have taken possession of the Connecticut River and the lands drained by its tributaries, in the name of the Company and of the States-General of Holland.

A peaceful and profitable trade might have been carried on with the natives of the Connecticut Valley, by the Dutch, had not the latter exasperated the Indians by the seizure of one of their chiefs and demanding a heavy ransom for his release. The Indians threatened the intruders with violence, and the Dutch began to build a stockade fort for their own protection, at what is yet known as Dutch Point, near the City of Hartford. Wrath prevailed a long time. At length the Indians were pacified, and at their request the Dutch abandoned the fort.

A friendly intercourse was now opened between the Dutch on Manhattan and the English at New Plymouth. In the spring of 1627, Isaac de Rasieres, secretary of the colony of New Netherland, by order of Governor Minuit, wrote a letter to Governor Bradford, of Plymouth, officially informing him of the founding of a settlement and province on the Mauritius or Hudson's River, and assuring him that the Hollanders wished to cultivate friendly and commercial relations with the Pilgrims. Bradford reciprocated these friendly professions, but in his reply he warned the Dutch not to occupy or to trade in the country north of the fortieth degree of latitude, as that region was claimed by the Council of New England. He wished to maintain friendly relations with New Netherland, and proposed not to molest the Dutch provided they would refrain from trading with the natives on the waters at the very doors of the English. Minuit replied courteously, but firmly, that the Dutch had a right to traffic with the Narragansets as they had done for years. "As the English claim authority under the king of England," said Minuit, "so we derive ours from the States-General in Holland." Bradford was not disposed to contend, for obvious reasons. "For strength of men and fortification," he wrote to the Council for New England, "they [the Dutch] far excel us and all in this land."

Bradford made no reply to Minuit's letter. The latter finally sent a messenger to New Plymouth to invite the governor to send a deputy to Manhattan to confer orally with the authorities there. The messenger took with him a "rundlet of sugar and two Holland cheeses" as a present for Bradford, who entertained him generously in return. It was agreed that a commission should be sent to New Plymouth from Manhattan to confer upon all matters of intercourse. With De Rasieres at their head, such commissioners sailed in a bark laden with wampum and other things for traffic, and when they landed near one of the outposts of the Plymouth colony, the echoes of the forest and the attention of the Pilgrims were awakened by the braying of trumpets at the lips of sturdy Dutchmen. With the same noise the commissioners entered New Plymouth. They were hospitably entertained for several days at the table of the governor, whereat probably sat Elder Brewster, Miles Standish, Edward Winslow, Dr. Fuller and other passengers of the May-Flower. There the commissioners attended public worship on the Sabbath, of which De Rasieres gave a vivid account in a letter. "They assemble," he said, "by beat of drum, each with his musket or fire-lock in front of the captain's door. They have their cloaks on, and place themselves in order, three abreast, and are led by a sergeant without beat of drum. Behind comes the governor in a long robe. Beside him, on the right hand, comes the preacher, with his cloak on; on the left hand the captain, with his side-arms and his cloak on, and with a small cane in his hand. And so they march in good order, and each sets his arms down near him. Thus they are constantly on their guard, night and day," for they had excited the anger of the Indians.

The secretary also graphically described New Plymouth. "It lies on a slope," he said. "The houses are constructed of hewn planks, with gardens also inclosed behind and at the sides with hewn timber; so that their houses and court-yards are arranged in very good order, with a stockade against a sudden attack. At the ends of the streets are three wooden gates. In the centre, on the cross street, stands the governor's house, before which is a square inclosure, upon which four swivels are mounted, so as to flank along the streets. Upon the hill they have a large square house with a flat roof, made of thick sawn plank, stayed with oak beams; upon the tops of which they have six cannon, which shoot iron balls of four and five pounds weight, and command the surrounding country. The lower part they use for their church, where they preach on Sundays and the usual holidays." Such was the capital of the English colony six years after they had landed from the May-Flower, and at the time of the embassy of Secretary Rasieres. That mission opened a profitable trade between the two settlements, and led to the speedy planting of an English colony in the Valley of the Connecticut.

With a keen eye to self-interest, the Dutch advised the Pilgrims to leave their more sterile soil and make their home in the beautiful and fertile country on the banks of the Fresh-Water River, under the jurisdiction of New Netherland. The fertility of that region was set forth in glowing terms; and the stories of the Dutch were confirmed by native chiefs. One of these, of the Mohegan tribe, whose council fire was on the eastern bank of the Hudson, visited Governor Winthrop, of Massachusetts, in 1631, and with self-interest as strong as that of the Dutch, but rather more artfully concealed, he urged them to settle in the Connecticut Valley. He offered to give them lands, and an annual tribute of corn and beaver skins, if they would do so. The Mohegan chief's prime object was to so plant a barrier between his people and the powerful and warlike Pequods, whose seat was on the hills that stretch between New London and Stonington. The Puritans saw the selfish policy of both parties under the thin disguise of friendship, and declined to move in a body. They would not consent to become subjects of the Dutch nor to be made shields for the Indians.

The stories of the "pleasant meadows" along the Connecticut River excited the attention of the English, and in 1632 Edward Winslow visited that region. He was delighted with the country, and confirmed all that Dutch embassadors and traders and Indian chieftains had said about it. The fame of it had already reached Old England, and two years before Winslow's visit, the Council for New England had granted the soil of that region to the Earl of Warwick. That nobleman conveyed his chartered rights to the domain to other parties (Lords Say and Seal, Lord Brook, Mr. Saltonstall and others,) in 1632. In that conveyance the territory was defined as extending, "in a certain width throughout the main lands there, from the Western [Atlantic] Ocean to the South Sea" or the Pacific Ocean. These parties did not take immediate steps for colonizing the Connecticut Valley, and the ever-vigilant Dutch got there before them. The Dutch purchased the territory of the Indians, the rightful owners, and Commissioner Van Curler completed the redoubt already begun on Dutch Point, named it Fort Good Hope, and armed it with cannon.

Governor Bradford and Edward Winslow visited Governor Winthrop at Boston, and proposed an alliance for the purpose of taking immediate possession of the valley. Winthrop refused to join them in such an enterprise, but thought it necessary, in some formal way, to assert, promptly and firmly, the jurisdiction of the English over that now coveted region. He sent his bark the Blessing of the Bay on a trading voyage along Long Island Sound, her captain bearing a message to Manhattan, declaring that the "King of England had granted the river and country of Connecticut to his own subjects," and that the Dutch must "forbear to build there." The messenger and his companions were kindly treated by Governor Van Twiller, Minuit's successor, who, in a courteous letter to Winthrop, requested him to defer the "pretense or claim" to the Connecticut until their respective governments should agree upon the limit of the colonies. At the same time Van Twiller informed Winthrop that the Dutch had already purchased the soil and "set up a house with intent to plant."

These Dutchmen and initial "Yankees" were now playing a sharp game in diplomacy, with soft words. The Yankees outwitted the Dutchmen, and the Plymouth people outgeneraled those at Boston at first. At Plymouth was a company of "banished Indians"--families driven from the Connecticut Valley, with their chief, by the Pequods. From these the Plymouth settlers purchased a tract of land above Fort Good Hope. They prepared a house of wood, which they stowed in pieces on board of a bark commanded by Captain William Holmes. In this bark sailed the fugitive Indians and some Englishmen, and went up the Connecticut River. When they approached Fort Good Hope, the commander of the fort hailed the little craft and demanded of Captain Holmes whither he was going, and for what purpose. "Up the river to trade!" answered the skipper. This little fib did not satisfy the suspicious Dutchmen, who rightly supposed that the intruders had orders to settle rather than to trade. "Heave to!" shouted the commander of the garrison standing by the side of a heavy gun, "or I'll shoot." "I must obey my commands," said the intrepid Holmes, and sailed by. The Dutchmen blustered, but did not shoot. The English landed above; hastily erected the house they had brought with them, and took possession of the country. They sent the bark back, palisaded their house, and prepared to maintain their position. This house was built on the site of Windsor, in Connecticut. So was begun the first English settlement in that region in the autumn of 1633.

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