Let’s Talk about a Border Wall Again (continued)

 In 1638, William Kieft came to govern New Amsterdam. He quickly angered many of the inhabitants by closing taverns, but his handling of Indian affairs was even more atrocious. While the Europeans had been living without Indian conflicts, Kieft’s Indian policies soon led to regular bloody skirmishes, and within a few years, Kieft ordered the Company’s militia to massacre 120 Indians. Because the Indians retaliated, New Amsterdam now had to think about defending itself in ways it had not before and it started fortifying the northern reaches of the settlement. First Lesson. The Europeans under Kieft had taken unnecessary, hostile actions against Indians. The actions had not made New Amsterdam safer but the opposite, and the result was that the Europeans now had to defend themselves from threats of their own making that had not previously existed.

The inhabitants of New Amsterdam were not pleased with Kieft’s governance. The West Indies Company realized that the settlement functioned better and more profitably if there were reasonably good relations between the governor and the inhabitants. They sent Kieft packing.

(A pattern seen in Kieft’s New Amsterdam has continued to this day. Kieft may have imposed restrictions on taverns to bring increased morality and order to the settlement, but morality and order seldom win out in New York. Money does. As many others have done after him, Kieft soon sought money more than morality. He built his own distillery and, not surprisingly, relaxed the tavern restrictions. A quarter of the buildings in New Amsterdam soon housed a tavern of some sorts. No one had far to go for a drink. That pattern continues in New York. My local is two short blocks away, and I pass two bars on the way there, and if I strolled a few more feet, I would find several more drinking establishments. Of course, this means that in New York there is often no need for a designated driver–yet another good thing about this place.)

William Kieft, once director-general of New Amsterdam, may no longer be remembered in New York, but reminders of his successor can be found in many places. Peter Stuyvesant’s name has been given to a high school, a street, a square, a housing complex, and city neighborhoods. A statue of him has been erected, and his remains are buried in a New York City church graveyard. But even if Stuyvesant had never made it to New Amsterdam, he would have had a memorable career.

Son of a minister in the Netherlands, he joined the West Indies Company and was sent to Dutch possessions off the cost of Brazil. After a half dozen years there, he was transferred to Curaçao, and shortly after he turned thirty, he became acting governor of that island, Aruba, and Bonaire. A few years later, he led an attack on St. Martin, an island the Spanish had captured from the Dutch. Hit by a cannonball, Stuyvesant had his right leg amputated below the knee. He returned to the Netherlands where he was fitted with a wooden leg, leading to his nickname–no surprise here–Peg Leg Pete. When he regained his strength, he was sent to New Amsterdam to replace William Kieft.

For several years he went about improving the ragged condition of New Amsterdam, and in 1653 he built The Wall. Although there are no records enunciating the reasons why it was built, fear of Indians could have been a cause. New Amsterdam was situated among tribes that were ancient enemies with each other, and that led to a restiveness that may have concerned the Europeans. And, of course, not long before, under Kieft, the Europeans had massacred Indians.

Other forces from the wider world came into play. England and the Netherlands were commercial rivals, and the mid-seventeenth century saw Anglo-Dutch wars in various parts of the globe. (I don’t remember my education ever covering these wars. Why is that?) The leaders of the sparsely settled New Amsterdam were concerned about being attacked by the English. These concerns were heightened by the Dutch colony’s precarious perch in North America. Although the Dutch claimed what is now Delaware, Swedes had been settling there, and to the northeast, New England seemed to be expanding–and warlike.

The Dutch had overlapping claims to land with the English New Haven colony, and it seemed to the Dutch in America that New Haven was trying to expand into Dutch territory. (New Haven was a Puritan settlement, and as far as my reading goes, the least joyful and the pettiest and meanest of the Puritan settlements. This says a lot about New Haven. We can be glad that the New Haven colony did not expand. I will concede that later New Haven did produce good, even if over-hyped, pizza. But, of course, New Haven also subsequently gave us Yale.) Furthermore, rumors flew that a former resident of New Amsterdam was raising an army in Rhode Island to attack his one-time settlement.

(continued December 10)