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Esopus War

Where the Dutch had succeeded in gaining and in keeping the good-will of the Indians, the French, with a far higher purpose to the same end, had signally failed. For years the and the missionaries of the French, sometimes singly, sometimes in companionship, had sought the Iroquois in their remotest villages in friendly contest for their friendship with the Dutch. The desire to bring these benighted heathen within the pale of the church took precedence of any political or commercial aim with the government of Canada. It was not that trade and territorial acquisitions were esteemed by them as of little value; that treaties were not made to secure both ; that well-appointed expeditions were not sent out to gain a foot-hold within the territory of the present State of New York ; but that it was above all and before all made almost a reason of state that the cross should mark every advancing step of the white man, and that the subjugation of the savages should be the triumph of the Church.

But the trader was received as the missionary of peace and good will where the servant of religion provoked only strife. The Five Nations, whose domain was south of the St. Lawrence, extending from the Hudson to Lake Erie, and whose most powerful tribe was the Mohawk, were in almost perpetual hostility with the French of Canada through all the years that New Netherland was a Dutch province. More than one of the gentle and devoted Jesuits died deaths of torture or privation in return for their zeal for the salvation of the souls of their unrelenting enemies.

Rensselaerswyck escaped the calamity which fell upon other parts of New Netherland. When the tidings of the atrocities committed by the Indians in the neighborhood of New Amsterdam reached the Patroon, his people looked at once to their own safety. By timely gifts and promises they induced the Mohawks to renew the old treaty of amity and peace which for many years had been advantageous to the whole province of New Netherland and profitable especially to themselves. It may have been because theirs was the frontier settlement that the people of Van Rensselaer's manor had always aimed to maintain friendly relations with the powerful tribes who occupied that vast region on the west as yet almost unknown to the white men. But whether the policy was one of choice or of necessity, they determined to keep on good terms with the savages for the sake of trade, and the result justified at least their worldly wisdom.

As governor of New Amsterdam, Peter Stuyvesant always had reason to be grateful to the authorities at Rensselaerwyck for their steady adherence to that policy which preserved friendly relations with the Five Nations in the payment of a fixed subsidy in wheat by the Patroons. In 1658 trouble again broke out with the river Indians, which might have been far more disastrous had not the Mohawks remained Totem neutral.

The tribe of Indians bearing the name of the Katskill Indians refused to share in the attacks upon the white men that their relatives,the Esopus Indians, entered upon. Even after the beginning of the Esopus War they refused to be parties. Hudson found them “very loving folk." They never violated that name. They had a palisaded village near the junction of the Katskill and Kaaterskill streams. They had been engaged in war with their hereditary enemies, the Iroquois, before the whites settled among them. But with the white men they lived in peace.

There had been a massacre by the Indians of Dutch settlers at Esopus (now Kingston, NY) in 1655. The war known as “The First Esopus War" began in the summer of 1658 after a drunken celebration at the Esopus of the finishing of the husking of the corn of Thomas Chambers by the Katskill Indians, and an attack upon the noisy and drunken savages by hotheaded people from the Esopus stockade. This led to assault, murder and revenge by the Indians at the Esopus. This caused outrage caused fearful retaliation. In an instant, Indians desolated the farms, and murdered the people in isolated houses. It was a complete surprise. The Dutch put forth their strength to oppose the barbarians, and were so panic-stricken that the conflict continued until 1664 intermittingly.

Director Stuyvesant persuaded the people of Esopus, when they returned to their farms, after the massacre of three years before, to find mutual protection in a compact village surrounded with defences. The confidence that very precaution gave may, perhaps, have made them careless of provoking the hostility of the savages. A band of these, who had been engaged to assist in the harvest, were fired upon by the villagers, for no greater offence than being noisy and offensive in a drunken revel for which the Dutch themselves had supplied the means. Retaliation followed, and the whites, as usual, suffered in the devastation of their farms and in loss of life.

This Esopus war, as it was called, continued intermittently till 1664, and might have been ruinous to the settlements along the banks of the Hudson had not the Mohawks been persuaded to continue faithful to the peaceful and friendly relations which had been so long maintained. Even without the aid of that tribe the Esopus Indians were a formidable enemy. In the course of the war some of those who had been taken prisoners by the Dutch were sent to the plantations of Curaçoa as slaves. The wrong was one not to be forgotten nor forgiven. In June, 1663, the village of Wiltwyck or Wildwyck — as Esopus was then named — was almost totally destroyed. Although the ostensible cause of this particular attack was the building of a new Ronduit, a little fort, at the neighboring village, — thence known ever since as Rondout, — in every blow that fell from the tomahawks of the savages was the memory of the slaves, their brothers, across the sea.

Some Indians, taken prisoners, were sent to Curaçoa and sold as slaves. The anger of the Esopus Indians was aroused, and Esopus village was called, was almost totally destroyed. Stuyvesant was there at the time, holding a conference with Indians in the open fields, when the destructive blow fell. It was at high noon, while Stuyvesant was conferring, in the open fields outside the town, with the chiefs who had agreed to meet him on pretence of making a treaty, that the warriors, scattering themselves through the village apparently in friendly mood, suddenly fell upon the unsuspecting people. The houses were plundered and set on fire; some were killed, and some were seized and carried off as prisoners; men at work in the fields, hurrying in at the sight of the burning houses, to protect their wives and children, were shot down from within their own doorways. When, after a fierce and desperate fight, the savages were driven off, they left behind them a heap of ruins in which were the charred bodies of twenty-one of the murdered villagers, but they carried away more than twice that number of women and children as prisoners.

It was, however, the last event of the war; the Indians were vigorously pursued and punished; and in the course of the next few months a treaty was concluded, the last ever made between the Dutch and the Indians. But notwithstanding these Indian wars and massacres, from which no colony was altogether free, New Netherland slowly grew and prospered.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 18:29:41 ZULU