William Kieft

The province of New Netherland lacked a prime element of permanent prosperity. There were no independent farmers in New Netherland cultivating their own land. The wealthy monopolists owned the land; the tiller might own the house he lived in--no more. A great incentive to industry was wanting. Large tracts of land, accessible and fertile, were left uncultivated. There were continued disputes between the grasping patroons and the agents of the Company concerning the monopoly of the fur-trade, which each was seeking to secure. The governor had lost the respect of all parties, and was simply a clog to progress. Parson Bogardus, who came over with him from Holland, called him a "child of the devil" to his face; and he also told him, on one occasion, that if he did not behave himself he would give him such a "shake from the pulpit" the next Sabbath as would make him tremble like a bowl of jelly. Lubbertus Van Dincklagen, his sheriff, and one of the most learned men in the colony, spoke contemptuously of him to his face, when the governor, unfortunately for himself, summoned courage sufficient to resent it, and sent the offender to Holland in disgrace, without paying him three years' salary which was due him. Dincklagen was expert with his tongue and pen, and he made such representations of the character of Van Twiller in a memorial to the States-General of Holland, that he was finally recalled. It was a sad interruption of Van Twiller's sweet dream of peace. He had brought Nutten and other islands near Manhattan, with the expectation of vegetating in riches and dying there. He has left no memorial of his name upon anything. There is a simple reminder of him in the present Nutten Island, lying nearest the "Battery" in New York Bay, which is known as the Governor's Island.

In 1637, Van Twiller was succeeded by William Kieft, whose portrait had been hanged on a gallows at Rochelle at one time. De Vries recorded him among the great rogues. Spiteful, rapacious, energetic; fond of quarrels and never happy excepting when in trouble with some one; unscrupulous in the use of means of promote his own interest, and a petty tyrant, he was, nevertheless, a better man for the Company than Van Twiller. He was an agitator, and agitation is healthier than stagnation.

Kieft's administration was stormy, and therefore a delightful one for him. He had regarded Minuit as a model governor, and Minuit, for a long time, was the bane of Kieft's official peace and quiet. The next governor had hardly become seated in the executive chair, when tidings reached him that Minuit had led a colony of Swedes to the Delaware. Then news came that the impertinent Swedes, having built a house between two trees, claimed the whole country west of the Delaware from its falls at Trenton to Cape Henlopen and as far inland as they pleased. Kieft stormed at first, and then issued a proclamation, as we have observed, protesting against this invasion of the territory of New Netherlands.

Kieft began his administration by concentrating all executive power in his own hands; and he and his council had such dignity, in their own estimation, that it became a high crime to appeal from their decision. While shaking his official fist at the Swedes and threatening war, he was not unmindful of the wants of the growing capital of the colony. He found public affairs in a wretched condition, and needing the strong hand of an autocrat to bring order out of confusion. Abuses everywhere abounded, and he set about reforming them with a vigor that very soon almost stripped the citizen of privileges. He caused Fort Amsterdam to be repaired, and new warehouses to be erected. By example and command he made fruit-trees to bud and blossom in gardens where brambles had flourished. Police ordinances were framed and thoroughly enforced. Religion and morality were fostered for a time, and ordained ministers conducted public worship. A spacious stone church was built within the fort; and it was a gala way in New Amsterdam when the Connecticut architect hung the Spanish bells captured at Puerto Rico in the little tower, and the governor gave a supper to the builders and the city magistrates. It was a proud day for Parson Bogardus when he ascended the new pulpit and preached in the presence of Englishmen from Puritan New England and Cavalier Virginia. When, after long absence, De Vries returned to Manhattan, he saw much to praise in the management of the new governor. These are some of the brighter tints in the picture of Kieft's career.

A change for the better was wrought by the States-General in 1638. The Company had pursued the unwise policy of peopling the province with its own dependants. The States-General and some of the wise directors saw that this was a capital error. A proposition was made to the Company to place the control of New Netherlands in the care of the States-General, making it a colony of Holland instead of the possession of a commercial monopoly. It would have been a salutary measure for the colony, but the Company were not disposed to surrender their control. Meanwhile the grasping patroons had asked to States-General to enlarge their privileges and exemptions, by allowing them to monopolize more territory; have a longer time to settle colonists; enjoy free trade throughout and around New Netherlands; be invested with greater feudal powers so as to be independent of the Company in their control of the government of their respective manors; have a vote in the council of the governor and to be supplied with convicts from Holland as servile laborers, and with negro slaves. They actually asked that all "private persons" and poor emigrants should be required to settle themselves within the manors and under the jurisdiction of the great manorial lords.

This scheme for monopolizing all the lands of the province by a few wealthy men, making the "common people" mere serfs on the manorial estates, was no offensive to the States-General that they were disposed to abridge the privileges enjoyed by the patroons. They compelled the Company to throw open the internal trade of the province to free competition for all inhabitants of Holland, under restrictions; and the governor of New Netherlands was instructed to accommodate every emigrant with as much land as he and his family might properly cultivate, such grantee paying a quit-rent to the Company of one-tenth of all produce.

This more liberal policy stimulated emigration from Holland and gave a powerful impulse to the prosperity of the colony. Private enterprise and industry were left free for development and expansion. Emigrants pressed into Amsterdam to seek opportunities to go to New Netherlands. The Company, enamored of the new policy, wisely offered a free passage and other inducements to respectable farmers. A good class of citizens soon sought homes in New Netherlands--men of culture and fortune. Among them came De Vries, with emigrants, and planted a colony on Staten Island. Strangers came from New England and Virginia, for there was freedom of conscience in the Dutch dominions. The only obligation required from strangers was an oath of fidelity and allegiance to their High Mightinesses the States-General of Holland.

In view of the increasing demand for homesteads, Governor Kieft purchased from the Indians nearly the whole of the present Queens county on Long Island, and the lower part of Westchester county. Meanwhile the New Englanders and become as troublesome in their territorial encroachments, as the Swedes on the Delaware. Like busy ants they were spreading over the fertile country westward of the Housatonic River. At the mouth of that stream they had planted the flourishing village of Stratford and they had made settlements at Norwalk and Greenwich. It being evident that the New Englanders intended to push their settlements to the Hudson River, Kieft, in 1640, purchased of the Indians all the islands near Norwalk and the domain westward, which comprised nearly the whole of Westchester county, and raised thereon, at Cow Bay, the arms of the States-General. For awhile the New Englanders disregarded Indian title-deeds and Dutch proclamations; and fillibusters from Connecticut cut down the arms of Holland and mocked the officials at New Amsterdam. But they soon learned that Kieft was a more energetic man than Van Twiller, who had excited their contempt. The new governor soon put a stop to these encroachments, and compelled the settlers on the newly-purchased domain to take an oath of allegiance to the States-General.

Had Kieft' policy and conduct been as wise and just as it was firm and energetic, his administration might have been marked by peace and great prosperity. But he pursued a policy toward the Indians which inflamed whole tribes with resentment against the Dutch. His partiality for the Mohawks, with whom the Dutch came in immediate contact at Fort Orange, excited the jealously of the River Indians. Their anger was also kindled by the bad conduct of dishonest traders, who sold them rum and cheated them in traffic while they were intoxicated. Kieft's avarice having obtained the mastery of his justice, he winked at these offences and shared in the plunder. He also exacted tribute of furs, corn and wampum from the tribes around Manhattan; but when they came with the costly offerings and cast them at the feet of the oppressor, they turned away with a bitter curse against the Hollanders.

Kieft saw that a cloud of vengeance was gathering, and his fears awakened his cruelty. With the instinct of a bad nature, he sought to further injure those whom he had wronged. Some swine had been stolen by white people from De Vries's plantation on Staten Island. The governor charged the innocent Raritans of New Jersey with the crime and sent an armed force to chastise them, with a belief that a show of power would disarm the vengeance of the Indians. Several Indians were killed. The event was the foreshadowing of the fate of others; and all the neighboring tribes were aroused, and prepared for war. The River Indians refused to pay tribute any longer. The Raritans murdered Hollanders whenever they met them in the forests of New Jersey, and the innocent settlement on Staten Island was ruined by them. The Raritans were outlawed, and a bounty was offered for the head of every member of the tribe.

Fifteen or twenty years before, some of Minuit's men had murdered an Indian belonging to a tribe seated beyond the Harlem River. His nephew, then a boy, who saw the outrage and made a vow of vengeance, had now grown to be a lusty man. He proceeded to execute his vow by murdering an unoffending Dutchman in his wheelwright shop high upon Manhattan Island. While the mechanic was stooping over his chest of tools, the young Indian seized an axe and almost severed his head from his body. With his scalp and the plunder of his dwelling, the Indian returned in triumph to his tribe. Kieft demanded the murderer, but his chief would not give him up, saying he had been revenged according to the customs of his race.

The governor determined to chastise that tribe as he had the Raritans. He called upon the people to shoulder their muskets for the fray. They saw the danger to which the rashness of Kieft was leading them, and refused. They had been witnesses of his rapacity and greed, and they now charged him with seeking war that he might "make a wrong reckoning with the Company." They also reproached him with a selfish cowardice. "It is all well for you," they said, "who have not slept out of the fort a single night since you came, to endanger our lives and our homes in undefended places."

This bold attitude of the people transformed the autocrat. He invited all the heads of families in New Amsterdam to meet him in convention to consult upon public affairs. They assembled at Fort Amsterdam, and promptly chose twelve select men to act as their representatives. So appeared the first popular assembly, and so was chosen the first representative congress for political purposes, in New Netherland. So were planted the seeds of a representative democracy, in the year 1641, almost on the very spot where, a century and a half later, our Republic, founded upon similar principles, was inaugurated, when Washington took the oath of office as first President of the United States.

De Vries was chosen president of the Twelve. To that body Kieft submitted the question whether the murderer of the wheelwright ought to be demanded of his chief, and whether, in case of the chief's refusal, the Dutch ought to make war upon his tribe and burn the village wherein he dwelt. The Twelve counselled peace, and proceeded to consider the propriety of establishing in New Netherland a government similar to that of the Fatherland. The governor was alarmed by this proposed blow at his absolute rule in the colony, and he cunningly offered a compromise. He agreed to make popular concessions if the Twelve would authorize him to make war on the offending tribe at a proper time. They foolishly trusted his honor and agreed to his proposition. Then the wily governor dissolved them, saying he had no further use for them, and forbade any popular assemblage thereafter.

Kieft sent an expedition against the offending tribe early in the spring of 1642. His thirst for blood was disappointed by a treaty. It was soon gratified, however. The River Indians were tributary to the Mohawks, and in midwinter, 1643, a large party of these Iroquois came down to collect, by force of arms, tribute which had not been paid. The native dwellers along the lower Hudson, five hundred in number, fled before the invaders. They took refuge with the Hackensacks at Hoboken, and craved the protection of the Dutch. At the same time many of the offending Westchester tribe and others fled to Manhattan and took refuge with the Hollanders. The humane De Vries proposed to make this an occasion for establishing a permanent peace with the Indians, but the wicked governor and some leading citizens, who pretended to speak for the people, overruled his wisdom and mercy, and it was made the occasion for treacherously spilling innocent blood.

On a cold night late in February, 1643, the fugitives at Hoboken, and those at "Corlaer's Hook," Manhattan, were slumbering in fancied security. Without provocation--without the shadow of an excuse, Kieft sent eighty Hollanders to murder those at Hoboken, and a less number to slay those at Corlaer's Hook. Forty of those at the Hook were massacred, while the Hollanders, who had stealthily crossed the river among floating ice, were making the snows at Hoboken crimson with the blood of confiding Indians, and lighting up the heavens with the blaze of their wigwams. They spared neither age nor sex. "Warrior and squaw, sachem and child, mother and babe," says Brodhead, "were alike massacred. Daybreak scarcely ended the furious slaughter. Mangled victims, seeking safety in the thickets, were driven into the river; and parents rushing to save their children, whom the soldiery had thrown into the stream, were driven back into the waters and drowned before the eyes of their unrelenting murderers." Almost a hundred of the dusky people perished there.

De Vries watched the butchery by the light of the burning wigwams from the ramparts of Fort Amsterdam. He told the blood-thirsty and cowardly governor, who was careful to remain within the walls of the fortress, that he had now commenced the ruin of the colony. Kieft ridiculed the clemency of De Vries; and when the soldiers returned to the fort next morning, with thirty prisoners and the heads of several Indians upon pikes, the governor shook their blood-smeared hands with delight, praised them for their bravery, and made each of them a present.

This treachery aroused the fiery hatred of the Indians far and near, and a fierce war was kindled. The mutual animosities of tribes disappeared, and zeal for a common cause everywhere prevailed. Farms, hamlets, and villages were swept away by the broom of devastation. The white people were butchered wherever they were found by the incensed Indians. The Long Island tribes, hitherto friendly, joined their kindred in race, and, for awhile, the very existence of the Dutch settlements was in jeopardy. For two years the war continued, and the colony was on the verge of ruin.

Kieft was frightened by the fury of the tempest which his wickedness and folly had raised, and he humbly asked the people to choose a few men, again, to act as his counsellors. Eight were chosen. The colonists had lost all confidence in the governor, and relied wholly upon these eight citizens to relieve them from the fearful web of difficulties in which they were involved. The Council of Eight possessed no legal executive power, and their plans for a pacification of the Indians were often frustrated by the faithless Kieft. Disorder everywhere prevailed, and there appeared no hope of relief so long as Kieft was governor. In obedience to the wishes of the people, the Eight sent an energetic and respectful letter to the States-General, setting forth the critical condition of the province, and asking them to recall Kieft. Their prayer was granted; and there was much rejoicing throughout New Netherland when the despised governor sailed for Europe in the spring of 1647. The vessel in which Kieft departed was richly laden, and bore much of his ill-gotten wealth. It was wrecked on the coast of Wales, and there the governor and his treasure perished.

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