The Story of New Netherland/Chapter 8

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The Story of New Netherland by William Elliot Griffis
Chapter VIII: The Rensselaerwijk Colony

VAN RENSSELAER'S colony was planted on ground that was sacred and classic in Iroquois tradition. Here was the Eastern Door of the Long House. Naturally one expects to find the gateway into the Iroquois country where two valleys and streams join, at the confluence of the Mohawk with the Hudson. Eastbound travelers in moccasin and canoe, however, made detour at Schenectady. By turning to the right into the valley of Norman's Kill, and following the stream southwardly, they avoided the shallow windings of the lower Mohawk, the sandhills of Niskayuna, and the great falls at Cohoes. This trail from Niagara and the Far West formed the great Indian highway of America.

At Tawasentha on the Hudson was one of the most sacred places in Iroquois tradition. Besides being "the place of many dead," it was the home of Hiawatha, the great culture-hero, and the reputed founder of the league of the Five Nations. Here, with burial of the tomahawk and smoking of the calumet, councils were held and treaties compacted between various tribes. Here they first met the white man, exchanging furs for fire-water and the firearms with which they humbled their vassals.

On their westward route, they avoided the hills, sands, and cataracts northward, and through the valley of Norman's Kill rejoined the Mohawk trail. The "kill" took its name from Andries Bradt, who was a Norman, Northman, or Norseman, that is, a Dane, or of Danish extraction, who settled on its banks in 1630. This pretty stream, with its flower-lined cliffs and alluring rock crannies, meandering through daisy-clothed meadows, recalls in its name the home of the Vikings.

The first covenant of friendship between the Iroquois and the Hollanders was here entered into by Jacob Eelkins in 1617. Adrian Joris, a wise and energetic superintendent, confirmed the compact in 1623.

Daniel van Kriekenbeek, the successor of Joris, was less wary and more susceptible to Indian eloquence. Opposite, on the east side of the river, at Green Bush, rose the palisaded castle of the Mohicans. In 1626 they asked the Dutch commandant to aid them in a raid against the Mohawks. Kriekenbeek foolishly consented, and set out with six of his men towards Schenectady, but the Western red men were alert, and the whole party was driven back by a volley of arrows. Among the many slain were four Dutchmen, including the commandant. Then the white people learned to their horror that the Iroquois were, on some occasions at least, cannibals. They first roasted and ate one Hollander, probably an unusually brave fighter. Then the victors tools back a leg and an arm to hang up in their council house to show that Europeans were not invincible. Other similar instances proved that cannibalism, though not usual, was neither excessively rare nor practiced in mere bravado. Hunger was sufficient to fill the kettle with human flesh, when other food was not at hand or was difficult to procure.

When Peter Barentsen, the new commandant for Fort Orange, arrived on the scene from Manhattan, the Iroquois hastened to explain the recent unpleasant affair. They justified themselves, and declared that they had no enmity with the Dutch. Barentsen accepted the explanation. Packs of furs were brought in, and peaceful traffic was resumed.

Barentsen was relieved by Captain Sebastian Krol, or Crol (pronounced Crull), a church elder, a comforter of the sick, and one of the shining characters of New Netherland. To him is ascribed the cruller, or Krol-yer, a toothsome delicacy of high repute. The word is unknown in Holland, and the makers of dictionaries have vainly endeavored to derive the word from the Dutch, or German krullen, to curl. When provisions were short, or the bill of fare at Fort Orange was monotonous, Captain Krol supplied a new sort of oliekoek, that is, "fried cake," "doughnut," or compound of flour, eggs, butter, and sugar. Krol, with his “erollers,” added a new delicacy to the frontier table.

Krol was a church officer, and occasionally went down the river to Manhattan to sit in the Consistory Meeting of the First Reformed Church in North America. With Domine Michaelius he grieved at the loose morals of a new community, and at “the speech of Ashdod” heard from the half-breeds. However, unlike that other colonial governor, Nehemiah, Krol did not smite or pluck off the hair of the fathers. Rather, like Malachi, he palliated the situation, for many of the Dutch pioneers had left home before being married. "Let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth" — even if she were a squaw — was good advice.

The lonely Dutch bachelors were soon to have brides from home. In 1630 Krol was delighted to receive an order from Kilian van Rensselaer to purchase for him, from the Iroquois proprietors, a great estate. The commissary, the overseer of farms, and a company of farmers furnished with tools, implements, and cattle would shortly arrive. A church and school, with a domine and master, were also promised to complete the new manor.

The Patroon of Nijkerk fitted up a comfortable ship, named the Eendracht, or Unity, from the motto of the Republic, Eendracht maaght macht, which means "Unity makes strength," and put her under the charge of Captain John Brouwer. The colonists could not feel safe until they were well out on the ocean, because of the Dunkirkers, or Belgian-Spanish pirates. The admiralty, or naval station at Dunkirk, for privateers and war vessels flying the Spanish flag, had been organized by the Duke of Parma in 1583. In four years these pirates had become so dangerous that the States-General ordered that when captured no mercy be shown to either masters or men. In many a Dutch port the gallows stood ready, and the hangman began his work at once. Dutch vessels could go out only in convoy or heavily armed. Even then, the Dunkirkers could sometimes by numbers overcome four or five state ships, even men-of-war, saving themselves and their booty behind the dangerous Flemish sandbanks. Many a ship bound for America was thus caught and plundered, and its passengers were held to ransom. For sixty years this war on the waters between the Dutch sailors and the Dunkirkers continued. It was to root the pirates out of their lairs that the States-General sent Maurice, their young commander-in-chief, into the enemy's country. Though the supreme object was not then attained, the decisive victory of Newport was gained in June, 1600, and incidentally fresh honor came to the van Rensselaers from this campaign, as we shall now see.

Descendants of the Crusaders, this family bore on the shield of their arms a cross of the Knights of St. John, silver on a red ground, with the motto, Niemand Zonder, or "No man without" (a cross). Now, at their city home in Amsterdam, they were to receive a special honor from Prince Maurice. Heer van Rensselaer was one of the cavalcade of mounted gentlemen who constituted the prince’s escort of honor when, after his victory, he entered that city in triumphant array. He hung cressets, or iron baskets of fire, around the walls and on the roof of his mansion, and the effect was so striking that Maurice, summoning the householder, congratulated him on his artistic triumph, and told him to take as his family motto Omnibus effulgeo, "I outshine all." The flaming torch in an iron basket henceforth became part of the wapen, or arms, of the head of the van Rensselaer house.

Title page showing ship bearing Dutch colonists
The passenger list of the ship Unity was made up of mechanics, farmers, and capable men with families, people who had grown up together from childhood. The women were especially well fitted to be the ancestresses of families that should attain renown. In Holland girls were as well educated in the public schools as were boys. After a maidenhood spent in mastery of household science and art, they became real partners with their husbands in their business or enterprises. We shall hear further about several of these typical Dutch women, whose Bibles, silver-clasped and held in hand or at belt, chatelaines holding keys, tablets, needle-cases, etc., cake-moulds, dresses, linen chests, and what-not, are still in the possession of their descendants. There was Maryje (that is, little Mary or Maria) Jonas, who was the midwife, or "trained nurse," of the period. With her came two young and handsome daughters who quickly learned the language of the Indians, and were always friends of the red men. It was her daughter Annetje, better known as "Anneke" Janse, with whom the young fellow Roelof Janse, in the employ of the Patroon, fell desperately in love. They were married, and four children were born to them, and these became more famous than even their ambitious mother, perhaps, dreamed they would be.

Of Annetje, or little Ann, tradition says that she was lively, energetic, smart, frugal, with rosy cheeks and snapping black eyes, and that she kept her good looks until she died of a good old age. By her thrift and wifely help, her husband was able in a few years to leave the service of the Patroon, and bidding good-by to feudalism, to live on Manhattan. He bought a farm of sixty acres overlooking the Hudson River, but died soon after his arrival, leaving a buxom and pretty widow. "Anneke Janse" married Domine Bogardus, to her social advantage, and is the ancestress of many thousands of people. Her sister Maryje excelled even Anneke, for she married three times, and had a child by each husband, thus having much to do with the founding of three families. These were typical women of New Netherland.

Why Kilian van Rensselaer's proved to be the host colony will be seen when we glance at the old home of his agents and colonists in Guelderland. "Like fathers like sons." Nor is it any accident that near Fort Orange and Rensselaerwijk are Guilderland and Guilderland Center, of sweet personal or ancestral memory to thousands of Americans. To see these people at home is to know them as they were, for better or worse, and to understand what they would bring with them. We shall later cross the ocean, view the monuments, read the documents, and survey the scene.