Old Bergen

Chapter IX.

Daniel Van Winkle

Published 1902

Web version, edited by GET NJ
Copyright 2002

THE native tribes found here by the early settlers were originally of very simple habits, but dominated greatly by their animal instincts. They were faithful to their friends, but vindictive and treacherous to any whom they regarded as enemies, and quick to resent any real or fancied injustice. They were a roving people, and their chief support came from hunting and fishing. They quickly perceived the advantage of trading with the whites, and had their treatment been more in accord with the requirements of civilization, much of the subsequent bloodshed might have been avoided. Free as the air they breathed, and accustomed to look upon the forests and rivers as means of furnishing themselves with food and traffic, they felt an ownership in them that would not brook outside interference. So when they saw the intruders gradually absorbing their territory and restricting their accustomed freedom, they felt a natural resentment, which was increased, not only by the unreasonableness of Governor Kieft's demands, but also by their unjust treatment in the matter of traffic. It is said that in bargaining with the Indians, a Dutchman's hand weighed one pound and his foot two, so that in some mysterious way it was made to appear that, no matter what the size of the Indian's bundle of peltry, its weight never exceeded the latter figure.

In the main, the desire of the early settlers seems to have been to treat the Indians with fairness and consideration, recompensing them for their property, and treating with them on an honorable footing. But unfortunately, as is always the case when new enterprises of the kind are attempted, unscrupulous men and adventurers were among the number, who, actuated and controlled simply by the desire of gain, disregarded the rights of the Indians, and by their unjust dealing awakened within them all their savage instincts. The unscrupulous treatment of them by Governor Kieft was for the greater part, if not entirely, the cause of the general outbreaks. Individual instances of injustice no doubt there were, that deserved summary treatment ; but that whole tribes should unite in a war of extermination, was doubtless directly traceable to his unjust demands and double dealing.

Thus Kieft, by his injudicious treatment of the Indians, soon incurred their hostility. Although their savage nature and close proximity should have suggested constant watchfulness on the part of the settlers, Kieft, blinded by an undue sense of his own importance, treated them as if in fact they were his own subjects. He demanded of them a tribute of maize, furs and wampum, and when they demurred, threatened to employ all the force at his command to enforce his demands. This harsh treatment exasperated them, and henceforth the whole region was the scene of frequent outbreaks and difficulties. We find in the "Breeden Raet," printed in 1649, at Antwerp, as a result of the investigation instituted on account of the complaints against Kieft, the following:

They (the natives, author's note) asked why they should supply us with maize for nothing, since they paid as much as we asked, for everything they came to purchase of us.

If, they said, we have ceded to you the country you are living in, we yet remain masters of what we have retained for ourselves. Have we not supplied you, Swannakens (or Dutchmen), on your first arrival here, and when you had no Mochols (or ships), with provisions for two whole winters? And had we not, you would have died of hunger. The delegates from all the savage tribes, such as the Raritans, the Hacquinnas, the Tappanders, and others had got as many objections to make as there were points to discuss.

They however separated peaceably, contenting themselves with giving us no contributions, nor asking any from us. Director Kieft, seeing himself deprived of this contribution, which he was very greedy of by so many reasons, and also because it would disgrace him in the eyes of his countrymen, invented other means to satisfy his insatiable, avaricious soul.

The Indians positively refused to supply "maize for nothing," and showed their resentment by harassing the settlers in every possible way. Their hostility assumed an active form, and as opportunity offered, they carried off and killed the cattle found wandering through the woods. They secured fire-arms from some of the unscrupulous traders, who, incited by greed of gain, disregarded the positive commands of the West India Company, not to barter fire-arms, and "traded enough guns, bullets, and fire-arms, to furnish four hundred warriors." The Indians soon became proficient in the use of these, and consequently more to be dreaded.