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

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Chapter III[edit]

In the last two chapters I have regaled the reader with a delectable picture of the good Peter and his metropolis during an interval of peace. It was, however, but a bit of blue sky in a stormy day; the clouds are again gathering up from all points of the compass, and, if I am not mistaken in my forebodings, we shall have rattling weather in the ensuing chapters.

It is with some communities, as it is with certain meddlesome individuals--they have a wonderful facility at getting into scrapes; and I have always remarked that those are most prone to get in who have the least talent at getting out again. This is doubtless owing to the excessive valor of those states; for I have likewise noticed that this rampant quality is always most frothy and fussy where most confined; which accounts for its vaporing so amazingly in little states, little men and ugly little women more especially.

Such is the case with this little province of the Nieuw Nederlands; which, by its exceeding valor, has already drawn upon itself a host of enemies; has had fighting enough to satisfy a province twice its size, and is in a fair way of becoming an exceedingly forlorn, well-belabored, and woebegone little province. All which was providentially ordered to give interest and sublimity to this pathetic history.

The first interruption to the halcyon quiet of Peter Stuyvesant was caused by hostile intelligence from the old belligerent nest of Rensellaersteen. Killian, the lordly patroon of Rensellaerwick, was again in the field, at the head of his myrmidons of the Helderberg seeking to annex the whole of the Catskill mountains to his domains. The Indian tribes of these mountains had likewise taken up the hatchet, and menaced the venerable Dutch settlements of Esopus.

Fain would I entertain the reader with the triumphant campaign of Peter Stuyvesant in the haunted regions of those mountains, but that I hold all Indian conflicts to be mere barbaric brawls, unworthy of the pen which has recorded the classic war of Fort Christina; and as to these Helderberg commotions, they are among the flatulencies which from time to time afflict the bowels of this ancient province, as with a wind-colic, and which I deem it seemly and decent to pass over in silence.

The next storm of trouble was from the south. Scarcely had the worthy Mynheer Beekman got warm in the seat of authority on the South River, than enemies began to spring up all around him. Hard by was a formidable race of savages inhabiting the gentle region watered by the Susquehanna, of whom the following mention is made by Master Hariot in his excellent history:----

"The Susquesahanocks are a giantly people, strange in proportion, behavior, and attire--their voice sounding from them as out of a cave. Their tobacco-pipes were three-quarters of a yard long; carved at the great end with a bird, beare, or other device, sufficient to beat out the brains of a horse. The calfe of one of their legges measured three-quarters of a yard about; the rest of the limbs proportionable."[57]

These gigantic savages and smokers caused no little disquiet in the mind of Mynheer Beekman, threatening to cause a famine of tobacco in the land; but his most formidable enemy was the roaring, roistering English colony of Maryland, or, as it was anciently written, Merryland; so called because the inhabitants, not having the fear of the Lord before their eyes, were prone to make merry and get fuddled with mint-julep and apple-toddy. They were, moreover, great horse-racers and cock-fighters, mighty wrestlers and jumpers, and enormous consumers of hoe-cake and bacon. They lay claim to be the first inventors of those recondite beverages, cock-tail, stone-fence, and sherry-cobbler, and to have discovered the gastronomical merits of terrapins, soft crabs, and canvas-back ducks.

This rantipole colony, founded by Lord Baltimore, a British nobleman, was managed by his agent, a swaggering Englishman, commonly called Fendall, that is to say, "offend all," a name given him for his bullying propensities. These were seen in a message to Mynheer Beekman, threatening him, unless he immediately swore allegiance to Lord Baltimore as the rightful lord of the soil, to come at the head of the roaring boys of Merryland and the giants of the Susquehanna, and sweep him and his Nederlanders out of the country.

The trusty sword of Peter Stuyvesant almost leaped from its scabbard, when he received missives from Mynheer Beekman, informing him of the swaggering menaces of the bully Fendall; and as to the giantly warriors of the Susquehanna, nothing would have more delighted him than a bout, hand to hand, with half a score of them, having never encountered a giant in the whole course of his campaigns, unless we may consider the stout Risingh as such, and he was but a little one.

Nothing prevented his marching instantly to the South River, and enacting scenes still more glorious than those of Fort Christina, but the necessity of first putting a stop to the increasing aggressions and inroads of the Yankees, so as not to leave an enemy in his rear; but he wrote to Mynheer Beekman to keep up a bold front and a stout heart, promising, as soon as he had settled affairs in the east, that he would hasten to the south with his burly warriors of the Hudson, to lower the crests of the giants, and mar the merriment of the Merrylanders.


   [57] Hariot's Journal, Purch. Pilgrims.