Knickerbocker's History of New York/Book V/Chapter III

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Chapter III[edit]

Now it came to pass, that while Peter Stuyvesant was busy regulating the internal affairs of his domain, the great Yankee league, which had caused such tribulation to William the Testy, continued to increase in extent and power. The grand Amphictyonic council of the league was held at Boston, where it spun a web which threatened to link within it all the mighty principalities and powers of the east. The object proposed by this formidable combination was mutual protection and defence against their savage neighbors; but all the world knows the real aim was to form a grand crusade against the Nieuw Nederlandts and to get possession of the city of the Manhattoes--as devout an object of enterprise and ambition to the Yankees as was ever the capture of Jerusalem to ancient Crusaders.

In the very year following the inauguration of Governor Stuyvesant, a grand deputation departed from the city of Providence (famous for its dusty streets and beauteous women) in behalf of the plantation of Rhode Island, praying to be admitted into the league.

The following minute of this deputation appears in the ancient records of the council.[40]

"Mr. Will. Cottington and Captain Partridg of Rhoode Island presented this insewing request to the commissioners in wrighting----

    "Our request and motion is in behalfe of Rhoode Iland, that wee
    the ilanders of Rhoode Iland may be rescauied into combination
    with all the united colonyes of New England in a firme and
    perpetual league of friendship and amity of ofence and defence,
    mutuall advice and succor upon all just occasions for our mutuall
    safety and wellfaire, etc.


There was certainly something in the very physiognomy of this document that might well inspire apprehension. The name of Alexander, however mis-spelt, has been warlike in every age, and though its fierceness is in some measure softened by being coupled with the gentle cognomen of Partridge, still, like the color of scarlet, it bears an exceeding great resemblance to the sound of a trumpet. From the style of the letter, moreover, and the soldier-like ignorance of orthography displayed by the noble Captain Alicxsander Partridg in spelling his own name, we may picture to ourselves this mighty man of Rhodes, strong in arms, potent in the field, and as great a scholar as though he had been educated among that learned people of Thrace, who, Aristotle assures us, could not count beyond the number four.

The result of this great Yankee league was augmented audacity on the part of the moss-troopers of Connecticut, pushing their encroachments farther and farther into the territories of their High Mightinesses, so that even the inhabitants of New Amsterdam began to draw short breath, and to find themselves exceedingly cramped for elbow-room.

Peter Stuyvesant was not a man to submit quietly to such intrusions; his first impulse was to march at once to the frontier, and kick these squatting Yankees out of the country; but, bethinking himself in time that he was now a governor and legislator, the policy of the statesman for once cooled the fire of the old soldier, and he determined to try his hand at negotiation. A correspondence accordingly ensued between him and the great council of the league, and it was agreed that commissioners from either side should meet at Hartford, to settle boundaries, adjust grievances, and establish a "perpetual and happy peace."

The commissioners on the part of the Manhattoes were chosen, according to immemorial usage of that venerable metropolis, from among the "wisest and weightiest" men of the community; that is to say, men with the oldest heads and heaviest pockets. Among these sages the veteran navigator, Hans Reinier Oothout, who had made such extensive discoveries during the time of Oloffe the Dreamer, was looked up to as an oracle in all matters of the kind; and he was ready to produce the very spy-glass with which he first spied the mouth of the Connecticut river from his masthead, and all the world knows that the discovery of the mouth of the river gives prior right to all the lands drained by its waters.

It was with feelings of pride and exultation that the good people of the Manhattoes saw two of the richest and most ponderous burghers departing on this embassy; men whose word on 'Change was oracular, and in whose presence no poor man ventured to appear without taking off his hat: when it was seen, too, that the veteran Reinier Oothout accompanied them with his spy-glass under his arm, all the old men and old women predicted that men of such weight, with such evidence, would leave the Yankees no alternative but to pack up their tin kettles and wooden wares, put wife and children in a cart, and abandon all the lands of their High Mightinesses on which they had squatted.

In truth, the commissioners sent to Hartford by the league seemed in no wise calculated to compete with men of such capacity. They were two lean Yankee lawyers, litigious-looking varlets, and evidently men of no substance, since they had no rotundity in the belt, and there was no jingling of money in their pockets; it is true they had longer heads than the Dutchmen; but if the heads of the latter were flat at top, they were broad at bottom, and what was wanting in height of forehead was made up by a double chin.

The negotiation turned as usual upon the good old corner-stone of original discovery; according to the principle that he who first sees a new country has an unquestionable right to it. This being admitted, the veteran Oothout, at a concerted signal, stepped forth in the assembly with the identical tarpaulin spy-glass in his hand with which he had discovered the mouth of the Connecticut, while the worthy Dutch commissioners lolled back in their chairs, secretly chuckling at the idea of having for once got the weather-gauge of the Yankees, but what was their dismay when the latter produced a Nantucket whaler with a spy-glass, twice as long, with which he discovered the whole coast, quite down to the Manhattoes: and so crooked that he had spied with it up the whole course of the Connecticut river. This principle pushed home, therefore, the Yankees had a right to the whole country bordering on the Sound; nay, the city of New Amsterdam was a mere Dutch squatting-place on their territories.

I forbear to dwell upon the confusion of the worthy Dutch commissioners at finding their main pillar of proof thus knocked from under them; neither will I pretend to describe the consternation of the wise men at the Manhattoes when they learnt how their commissioner, had been out-trumped by the Yankees, and how the latter pretended to claim to the very gates of New Amsterdam.

Long was the negotiation protracted, and long was the public mind kept in a state of anxiety. There are two modes of settling boundary questions, when the claims of the opposite parties are irreconcilable. One is by an appeal to arms, in which case the weakest party is apt to lose its right, and get a broken head into the bargain; the other mode is by compromise, or mutual concession--that is to say, one party cedes half of its claims, and the other party half of its rights; he who grasps most gets most, and the whole is pronounced an equitable division, "perfectly honorable to both parties."

The latter mode was adopted in the present instance. The Yankees gave up claims to vast tracts of the Nieuw Nederlandts which they had never seen, and all right to the island of Manna-hata and the city of New Amsterdam, to which they had no right at all; while the Dutch, in return, agreed that the Yankees should retain possession of the frontier places where they had squatted, and of both sides of the Connecticut river.

When the news of this treaty arrived at New Amsterdam, the whole city was in an uproar of exultation. The old women rejoiced that there was to be no war, the old men that their cabbage-gardens were safe from invasion; while the political sages pronounced the treaty a great triumph over the Yankees, considering how much they had claimed, and how little they had been "fobbed off with."

And now my worthy reader is, doubtless, like the great and good Peter, congratulating himself with the idea that his feelings will no longer be harassed by afflicting details of stolen horses, broken heads, impounded hogs, and all the other catalogue of heart-rending cruelties that disgraced these border wars. But if he should indulge in such expectations, it is a proof that he is but little versed in the paradoxical ways of cabinets; to convince him of which I solicit his serious attention to my next chapter, wherein I will show that Peter Stuyvesant has already committed a great error in politics, and, by effecting a peace, has materially hazarded the tranquillity of the province.


   [40] Haz. Coll. Stat. Pap.