Old Bergen

Chapter XVI.

Daniel Van Winkle

Published 1902

Web version, edited by GET NJ
Copyright 2002

Up to about this time the Dutch carried on the traffic with New Netherlands without much rivalry. Although isolated attempts at competition were made by some English merchants, they never achieved much success. Natural business jealousies, however, excited frequent controversies between the settlers of New England and those of New Netherlands, and continual disputes arose as to ownership and boundary of territory. The increasing prosperity of the Dutch province, likewise, soon revived the interest of the English in what they claimed to be their possessions, and the fear of rivalry in the commercial world prompted the New Englanders to apply to the home government for relief and assistance. Charles II. determined to secure this extensive and growing trade. Basing his claim on the discovery of the Cabots, fortified by the fact that Henry Hudson was an Englishman, he granted a patent to the Duke of York (his brother) in 1664, giving him the entire territory of New Netherlands, and the power to govern the same.

Bergen had at this time become a place of considerable importance, and the settlement gradually assumed a condition of prosperity, so much so, that in a letter written at the time of the granting of the patent to the Duke of York, it is described as "well inhabited by a sober and industrious people, who have necessary provisions for themselves and families, and for the comfortable entertainment of travellers and strangers." They industriously cultivated the ground, and found an excellent market for their products in Manhatta. Their connection with this place was by row or sail boats, the latter called periaguas.

The currency in vogue at this time as a medium of exchange was made from shells, and called wampum or seawant. It was of two colors, black and white, the black being of double the value of the white; three black or six white equalled a stiver, and twenty stivers made a guilder, which was worth forty cents of United States money. But as its manufacture was practically free to all persons, everyone had his own mint, and the benefit (?) of free and unlimited coinage was fully enjoyed. It may be readily supposed that the shrewd business thrift of at least some of the early settlers, suggested opportunities for reaping great advantages. At least the actual effect produced may be estimated from the following proclamation issued in 1690.

The Director General and Counsellors of New Netherlands, to all persons who may see these Presents or hear them read, send greeting:

Whereas with great concern we have observed both now and for a long time past the depreciation and corruption of the loose seawant, etc., whereby occasion is given for repeated complaints from the inhabitants, that they cannot go with such seawant to the market, nor yet procure for themselves any commodity, not even a white loaf, we ordain that no loose seawant shall be a legal tender except the same be strung on one string; that six white or three black shall pass for one stiver, and of base seawant, shall pass eight white and four black for one stiver.

Manuscript Record of the Province, dated 1659, states as follows:
The N. E. People make use of it (wampum, author's note ) as a means of barter, not only to carry away the best cargoes which we send thither, but to accumulate a large quantity of beaver and other furs, by which the Company is defrauded of her revenues, and the merchants disappointed in making returns with that speed with which they might wish to meet their engagements, while their commissioners and the inhabitants remain overstocked with seawant, a sort of currency of no value except with the New Netherland savages.
Irving facetiously alludes to the effect produced as follows:
It (seawant, author's note) had an intrinsic value among the Indians, who used it to ornament their robes and moccasins, but among the honest burghers it had no more intrinsic value than those rags which form the paper currency of modern days. This consideration, however, had no weight with William Kieft. He began by paying all the servants of the Company, and all the debts of Government in strings of wampum. He sent emissaries to sweep the shores of Long Island, which was the Ophir of this modern Solomon, and abounded in shell fish. These were transported in loads to New Amsterdam, coined into Indian money, and launched into circulation.

And now, for a time, affairs went swimmingly; money became as plentiful as in the modern days of paper currency, and to use the popular phrase, 'a wonderful impulse was given to public prosperity.' Yankee trade poured into the province, buying everything they could lay their hands on, and paying the worthy Dutch men their own price-in Indian money. If the latter, however, attempted to pay the Yankees in the same coin for their tinware and wooden bowls, the case was altered; nothing could do but Dutch guilders, and such like metallic currency. What was more, the Yankees introduced an inferior kind of wampum, made of oyster shells, with which they deluged the province, carrying off in exchange all the silver and gold, Dutch herrings, and Dutch cheeses. Thus early did the knowing men of the East manifest their skill in bargaining the New Amsterdamers out of the oyster and leaving them the shell.

William the Testy found out that his grand project of finance was turned against him by his Eastern neighbors, when he found that the Yankees had established a kind of mint at Oyster Bay, where they were coining up all the oyster banks.

On the 25th of May, 1664, a fleet was sent from England under Col. Richard Nicolls, to enforce the claim of the English government against the New Netherlands. This fleet arrived in July and demanded the surrender of New Amsterdam. The people of Bergen determined to strengthen and increase the defences of the town. On the 21st of February, commissioners were appointed to erect block houses for its protection.

Whether they were ever completed, and where they were located, is not positively known, although tradition asserts that there was one erected at the southeast corner of the palisades (corner of Tuers Avenue and Vroom Street) when the village was founded, and if so, this was probably strengthened at this time. There was likewise a fort or redoubt thrown up at the brow of the hill, near Academy and Front Streets. The Dutch, however, surrendered in the face of the superior force of the English, having received favorable conditions; and on the 3rd of September, 1664, the government of the colony passed into the hands of the English. Col. Nicolls assumed the duties of Governor, New Amsterdam was changed to New York, and laws were enacted and courts established. Among the articles of capitulation agreed upon between Gov. Stuyvesant and Col. Nicolls, was the following, relating to the rights and privileges of the Dutch settlers:

All people shall continue free denizens, and shall enjoy their lands, houses and goods, wheresoever they are within this country, and dispose of them as they please. The Dutch here shall enjoy their own customs concerning their inheritances.
By deed dated March 20, 1664, a portion of this territory (now New Jersey) was conveyed to Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret. The same day, they signed a constitution, which vested the government of the province in a Governor, and Council of Advice and Consent, and on the same date Philip Carteret was appointed Governor. He arrived in July, 1665, and issued his Pronunciamento. He reorganized the court at Bergen shortly after, which was to be held and kept open as often as occasion required in the town of Bergen. The judges of this court were NICHOLAS VERLET, Pres., HARMAN SMEEMAN, CASPAR STEIMMETS, ILIAS MICHIELSEN, and IDE VAN VORTS.