The Patroons, Government and Indians of New York

(previous...First Settlements in New York)

The Patroons

Besides the Dutch West India company sending the families, the company further encouraged settlements by the patroon system. They gave the right to any one who would establish a colony of fifty persons, to have and to hold forever a tract of land fronting sixteen miles on the water and running back indefinitely, provided however that the rights of the Indians were purchased. These large land owners were called patroons. One of the most famous of these patroons was Kilian Van Rensselaer (kee-le-an van ren-sel-er) whose land , now in the counties of Albany, Columbia and Rensselaer, was known as Rensselaerwick. The patroons brought many people to New Netherland; but as they had almost boundless control over their settlements, they frequently quarreled with the West India company, with the colonists and with the governors.

The Government

The first governor, or rather director-general, as he was called, was Peter Minuet, who was sent by the company and who began his rule in 1626. Two years before, Captain May had charge of the colony; but there was no formal government until the arrival of Minuet. He had a council of five to assist him and he appointed others to act as secretaries, sheriffs, collectors, and the like; but in the choice of none of these officers did the people have a part. Later on the colonists secured slight changes in the laws of the colony; but never did they obtain from the Dutch rulers that the voice of the people should be heard in their own government.

During the thirty-eight years in which the Dutch had a formal government, four director-generals were in turn at the head of the colony: Peter Minuet, Walter Van Twiller, William Kieft (Keeft), and Peter Stuyvesant. The acts of these men were of little account; all of them did something for themselves and for the stockholders who sent them; none of them accomplished much for the people. Says some one rather severely; "Minuet was a self-willed and self-seeking adventurer, Van Twiller a drunken and indolent fool, Kieft a conceited and tyrannical bankrupt, Stuyvesant a despotic and passionate autocrat."

The first twelve years of authority was equally divided between Minuet and Van Twiller. The first governor was accused of favoring the patroons and was recalled. Van Twiller, who had been made so laughable by Washington Irving, seemed to spend most of his small energy in personal quarrels. He wrangled with his officers, got into disputes with the minister of a little church, and in turn was denounced from the pulpit. In his place William Kieft was sent. Where Van Twiller was slow and inefficient, Kieft was hasty and rash. To this rashness he added dishonesty and in the ten year that he was director-general he brought the colony to the verge of ruin.

The Indians

the Patroons, The Government and the Indians, Purchase of ManhattanThe greater part of Kieft' violent energy was spent upon the Indians. The decade in which he ruled was a time of Indian warfare. For the most part the colony had used the red men well and in return had received less trouble from them than had the neighboring settlements. The great industry of New Netherland was the fur trade; and for the success of this traffic peace with the Indians was necessary. So the Dutch were ever on good terms with the Iroquois, while the farmers and fisherman of New England were fighting King Philip, and the tobacco raisers of Virginia were suffering from the attacks of the tribe of Powhatan.

The Dutch made it a rule to buy the land which they occupied from the Indian owners. One of the first acts of Director Minuet was to purchase Manhattan Island for 24 dollars, at the rate of one cent for ten acres, paid in gay clothing, beads and brass ornaments. So from the days of Henry Hudson for thirty years the savages did not trouble the colony. Soon after Keift's arrival he found cause for dispute with the Raritan Indians on the New Jersey coast. He sent murdering expeditions, offered prizes for their heads, and caused Staten Island to become a slaughter ground.

The result of this was a gathering of the river Indians for the destruction of the settlement. Still war could have been avoided by prudent means. It happened at this time that the Mohawks, of the Iroquois tribes, had bought for a round price in furs a few muskets and were driving before them the Indians of the lower Hudson. The fugitives gathered around the Dutch settlements and asked for protection. Some of them camped at Pavonia; and while they were there a band of blood-thirsty colonists and soldiers easily got permission of Kieft, rowed across the river in a cold winter night, and before sunrise foully butchered eighty men, women, children and babies. At Corlear's Hook, the foot of the modern Grand Street, they murdered forty more. This was in 1643.

For two years the red men of Long Island and the Hudson valley, thus wantonly provoked and further incited by the brandy sold them, kept up a bloody contest. They drove the whites from the farms and villages until they forced them into Manhattan Island. Outside of this retreat only Gravesend, Rensselaerwick and Fort orange were secure from attack. Many of the people returned to Holland; whose who were left feared the Indians and detested Kieft; the settlements were in ruins and Manhattan could count but one hundred male citizens. Finally when a thousand Indians had been slain, and the very life of the colony was in danger, peace was made with the aid of the friendly Iroquois, and the colony began a new era of prosperity.

(continues...Growth of the Dutch Colony)