Old Bergen

Chapter III.

Daniel Van Winkle

Published 1902

Web version, edited by GET NJ
Copyright 2002

ALTHOUGH various discoveries had from time to time brought into notice different parts of the New World, we have no positive proof of any discovery of the Hudson River and the region in its immediate vicinity, before this memorable voyage of Hudson in 1609. Claims of prior discoveries have been made, but the fact remains that none resulted in any practical benefit, previous to the discovery of Hudson.

Some assert that the Cabots, in their earlier voyages, discovered this territory, yet although they sailed along the coast from Labrador to Virginia, they do not mention any particular bay or river, which they probably would have done had they entered and explored our own magnificent bay and harbor. Verrazano, in his account of his voyage in 1524, gives a general description which might be applied to this territory, but the details are not given with sufficient exactness to verify any such claim. Tradition states that some Dutch in the employ of the Greenland Whale Company came into the bay for winter quarters, and built a fort for temporary protection, in 1598. Notwithstanding these claims, Adrien Vander Donk, who wrote in 1650, states as follows:

That this country was first found and discovered by the Netherlanders, is evident and clear from the fact that the Indians, or natives of the land, many of whom are still living, and with whom I have conversed, declared freely that before the arrival of the Lowland ship, the Half-Moon, in the year 1609, they (the natives) did not know that there were any other people in the world than those who were like themselves, much less any people who differed so much in appearance from them as we did. Some of them supposed the ship to be a strange fish or monster.
Lambrechtsen says that "John and Sebastian Cabot, while seeking a passage through the Northwest, probably did see the shores of America, although they did not visit them;" and Robertson asserts that "The Hollanders, having discovered the island of Manhattan with the districts along its shores, acquired all the rights to these which can be given by first possession." Hudson's Report of his voyage, and his description of country discovered by him, justify the claim that the territory of the Hudson was first opened up by him under the auspices of the Netherlanders.

As an item of interest the following legend, bearing somewhat on the discovery of the Hudson, is here inserted. It is interesting because it alludes to events that occurred at different times, which are mingled without any regard to chronological happenings, having been handed down through the traditions and legends of the different tribes. Rev. John Hecke-welder, for many years a Moravian missionary to the Indians in Pennsylvania, states in a letter dated January 26, 1801 as follows:

I received my information from Indians in their language and style. I return it in the same way. A long time ago when there was no such thing known to the Indians, as people with white skin, some Indians who had been out a-fishing, and where the sea widens, espied at a great distance something remarkably large, swimming, or floating on the water, and such as they had never seen before. They, immediately returning to the shore, apprised their countrymen of what they had seen, and pressed them to go out with them, and discover what it might be. These together hurried out, and saw to their great surprise the phenomenon, but could not agree what it might be; some concluding it either to be an uncommon large fish, or other animal, while others were of the opinion, it must be some very large house.

It was at length agreed among those who were spectators, that this phenomenon moved toward the land; whether or not it was an animal, or anything that had life in it, it would be well to inform all the Indians on the inhabited islands of what they had seen, and put them on their guard. Accordingly, they sent runners and watermen off, to carry the news to their scattered chiefs, that these might send off in every direction, for the warriors to come in. These arriving in numbers, and themselves viewing the strange appearance, and that it was actually moving towards them (the entrance of the River or Bay), concluded it to be a large canoe, or house, in which the great Manitou (Supreme Being) himself was, and that he probably was coming to visit them.

By this time the chiefs of the different tribes were assembled on York Island, and were counselling on the manner they should receive their Manitou on his arrival-fresh runners arrive, declaring it a house of many colors, and crowded with living creatures-other runners soon after arriving, declare it a large house of various colors, full of people, yet of quite a different color than they (the Indians) -- many are for running off to the woods, but are pressed by others to stay, in order not to give offense to their visitors, who could find them out and might destroy them.

The house (or large canoe as some will have it) stops, and a smaller canoe comes ashore. Some stay by this canoe to guard it. The chiefs and wise men had composed a circle, unto which the red-clothed man, with two others approach. He salutes them with friendly countenance, and they return the salute after their manner. They think he must be the great Manitou, but why should he have a white skin?

A large hock hack (bottle) is brought forward by one of his servants, and from this a substance is poured out, in a small cup, and handed to the Manitou. He drinks, and has the glass filled again, and hands it to the chief next to him to drink. He only smelleth at it, and passes it on to the next chief, who does likewise. The glass thus passes through the circle, with-out the contents being tasted by anyone, and is on the point of being returned . . . when one of their number said it was given to them to be drank, and if no one was willing to drink it, he would. He then took the glass and drank it off. He soon began staggering about, and dropping to the ground, fell into a deep sleep. He awakes again, jumps up, and declares that he never felt himself before so happy. He wishes for more, and the whole assembly soon join, and become intoxicated.

After this general intoxication had ceased, the man with the red clothes came again to them (from the vessel), and distributed presents of beads, axes, hoes, stockings, etc. They say they had become familiar to each other and were made to understand by signs. . . . The white men said they now would return home, but would visit them next year again, when they would bring them more presents, and stay with them awhile, but that they could not live without eating, and would want a little land to plant.

That the vessel arrived the season following, and they were much rejoiced at seeing each other, but the whites laughed at them, as they used the axes and hoes hanging to their breasts as ornaments, and the stockings for tobacco pouches. The whites now showed them the use of these, and a great laughter ensued because they, the Indians, had remained so long ignorant of such valuable implements. . . . Familiarity increasing between them and the whites, the latter now propose to stay with them, asking them for only so much land as the hide of a bullock would cover, which hide was brought forward and spread on the ground before them.

That they readily granted this request; whereupon the whites took a knife and beginning at one place on this hide, cut it up into a rope not thicker than the finger of a little child, so that by the time this hide was cut up, there was a great heap. That this rope was drawn out to a great distance, and then brought round again, so that both ends might meet. That they carefully encompassed a large piece of ground. . . , That they and the whites lived for a long time contentedly together, although they asked from time to time, for more land of them; and proceeding higher up the Mahicanituck (Hudson) River, they believed they would want all their country, which was at this time, already the case.