Historic Pelham

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Dutch Authorities Remove the Settlers At West Chester in March, 1656

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Not long after Thomas Pell planted a tiny settlement of Englishmen at the head of Westchester Creek in late 1654, the Dutch in New Amsterdam decided to remove the settlers by force.  Early Dutch records reflect efforts to remove the English settlers.  One such account appears below, followed by a citation to its source.

"Book V. ~ 1656. . . .

Feb. 2. . . .

The Directors having received, by this time, information of the encroachments of the English at Oyster bay and Westchester, sent out orders to erect a fort at the former place, and to repel, even by force, all attempts to settle on the Company's lands in voilation of the treaty of 1650,

Feb. 22.

which the States General formally approved this spring. 2  [Footnote 2 reads:  "Hol. Doc. viii., 122, 134; Alb. Rec. iv., 207; De Witt, iii., 192; Thurloe, iv., 526; Hazard's State Papers, ii 549."]  Pursuant to these instructions the Director-general took the necessary steps to vindicate the Company's rights to Vreedlant.  The English of that settlement ('which they called Westchester,') were not only in the habit of entertaining fugitives from justice, but had kept up, during the recent Indian excesses, a constant correspondence with the savages.  To put an end to these irregularities, Captains

Mar. 6.

De Koninck, Newton, and the Attorney-general were sent secretly to that quarter with a suitable force to arrest the leaders and destroy all the buildings, except three or four, permitting the other settlers to remove their furniture within three days.  Those of the expedition who should be guilty of plunder were to be most vigorously punished.  this party set out immediately, and on reaching the place, were met by Lieut. Wheeler and other settlers, prepared for resistance, 'as the land was their own.'  They were forthwith disarmed, and removed, twenty-three in number, to the Manhattans, where they were placed on board the Ballance.  Those among them who were runaways were

Mar. 14.

Chap. VL ~ 1656.

afterwards sent to prison.  The others, who had been inno- [Page 312 / Page 313] cently lured to settle on the Company's lands, were placed under civil arrest and lodged in the City Hall.  'On the remonstrance of their wives,' and in consideration of the inclement season of the year, the Director and Council ordered that they should be set at liberty, on promising,

Mar. 15.

under oath, to depart with their goods and chattels within six weeks from the district, not to return again without permission.  On the followind day the arrested parties

Mar. 16.

addressed a petition to the Director-general and Council expressing their willingness to submit to their government 'so long as we continue within your jurisdiction,' provided they should be allowed the liberty of choosing their officers for the administration of such laws as may be enacted for the good of the township, and have their arms restored.  They likewise asked the privilege to make laws for the regulation of their town affairs not repugnant to the general laws of the province; and to divide the lands among the townsmen, none being admitted except according to the agreement which had been made among themselves, on commencing the settlement. 1 [Footnote 1 reads as follows:  "Signed, Thomas Newman, Thomas Wheeler, Robert Bassett, Isaiah Gilbert, John Rose, Robert Rose, Therwod Caniff, [in another entry, Davis,] Uncles Bill, William Benfall, John Jenner, Robert Meaker, [Bartholomew Meares,] Obadiah Gilbert, Roderick Osbert, John Broundith, [Landish,] Edward Waters, Samuel Morris, Samuel Hart, William Ward.]  They were told, in reply, that they should be allowed the same privileges 'as the freemen of the villages of Middleborough, Breukelen, Midwout, and Amersfoort were enjoying.'  They should be permitted to nominate a double number of persons to fill the offices of magistrates, from which the Executive would make a proper selection.  Capt. Raith. Paxton, William Elliott, Black Marchand, John Gray, Roger Wheeler, 'all Englishmen,' who had taken up arms against the authorities, were discharged and ordered to quit the province,

Mar. 25.

unless some of the other towns were willing to receive them and remain security for their good behavior.  Westchester sent in its first nomination of magistrates shortly

Mar. 28.

after the date of the above agreement. 2 [Footnote 2 reads as follows:  "These persons were Lieut. Thomas Wheeler, Thomas Newman, John Lord, Josiah Gilbert, William Ward, and Nicholas Bayley.  The application [Page 313 / Page 314] was signed Richard Bassett, Robert Rose, John Jenner, William Benfall, John Smith, Joseph Laugton, and John Richardson."]  The settlers

Book V. ~ 1656

petitioned at the same time that no farms nor villages should be granted or established within two Dutch miles of the centre of their settlement; that such as had land granted them may select it where they considered most convenient; that they may have power to admit or reject new settlers for just cause; that such lands as were not entered on within six months should be forfeit; that actual settlers be obliged to contribute to the common expenses in proportion to the extent of their farms; that they be permitted to choose, within themselves, officers to execute justice according to law, and to maintain peace and manage town affairs; also officers to discipline the settlers 'in a military way.'  They requested a copy of the laws of the country 'drawn out in English,' that they may know how to conduct themselves, when they transgress the same, and how to punish evil-doers, with power to make orders for town matters 'not repugnant to the fundamentals of your laws.'  They finally craved arms and ammunition for self-defence, on paying therefor, and that whatever wriings may pass between themselves and the government be in English, so that they 'may fully and perfectly understand them.'  Thomas Wheeler, Thomas Newman, and John Lord were

Mar. 28.

selected as magistrates, but the conclusions on the other demands were postponed until the Director and Council should have an opportunity to consult the petitioners.  Thus happily terminated a misunderstanding which threatened, at first, a different issue.  This settlement was henceforth called 'Oostdorp' by the Dutch, and East-town by the English. 1  [Footnote 1 reads as follows:  "Alb. Rec. iv., 187; x., 38, 39, 250, 315, 316, 321, 322, 328-331, 335-337, 340, 343-346; xi., 283-285, 291, 300-303, 308-313, 318-321; xvi., 303.  When the English appeared before New Amsterdam, (August, 1664,) the inhabitants of Westchester addressed a petition 'to his Majesty's Commissioners for the affairs of New England,' in which, after setting forth the purchase of this tract by Pell, they refer to the arrest of the twenty-three settlers by Capt. De Koninck, who they say 'were committed prisoners to the hould of a vessel, where they continued in restraint from all friends, for the space of thirteen days, fed with rotten provision, creeping with worms, whereby some of them remained diseased to this day, after which they were carried away in chaines and laid in their dungeon at Manhatoes; that they had perished with famine in the said impris- [Page 314 / Page 315] onment but for the relief obtained at other hands,' and 'that when the said pretended powers had freed the said prisoners and introduced their own government over the said plantation, they drove away such as would not submit to their pretended authority, to their great endamagement, and the enslaving of such as remained.'  Book of General Entries, i., II.  This statement has been copied by some English writers, without, however, any reference to the real statement of the facts.  By comparison with the text, it will now be seen how blinded these men have been by their own passions.  Capt. De Koninck set out from New Amsterdam on the 7th, and returned about the 10th or 11th of March.  The prisoners were landed on the 14th, and conveyed, those who had been fugitives from justice, to prison; the others to the City Hall.  They were, therefore, only about three or four (instead of thirteen) days aboard the Ballance.  The story of 'the rotten provision,' &c., is, it is to be presumed, of the same character as this representation.  On the 15th, the day after they landed, all were liberated except five, who, having taken up arms against the authorities, were allowed to settle in the other towns of the province, on giving security for keeping the peace.  The privileges granted to the town, show that the settlers were placed on a par with the other settlements in New Netherland, and do not in any way substantiate the representations made to his Majesty's commissioners."] 

[Page 314 / Page 315]

Chap. VI. ~ 1656

At the close of the year, another nomination, in conformity to their patent, was sent in, and Messrs. Newman, Lord, and John Smith were appointed magistrates.  Capt. Brian Newton, Secretary Van Ruyven, and Commissary Van Brugge, were sent thither to administer the oath of office to these men, and that of allegiance to the other inhabitants.  The latter, however, objected to taking the oath in the absolute sense in which it was drawn, and would promise obedience only to the law provided it was conformable to that of God; their allegiance was to continue only 'so long as they remained in the province.'

1657.  Jan. 1.

This form having been agreed to, was signed by fifteen of the settlers.  The whole population at this time amounted to twenty-five men, and ten to twelve women.  Six of the former were absent when the commissioners visited the place, and Anthony Gill refused to sign the declaration. 1  [Footnote 1 reads as follows:  "This first day of January, Anno 1657:  In East towne in the New Netherlands:  Wee hose hands are onder writen do promise to owne the Gouernor of the Manatas as our Gouernor and obey all his magistrates and lawes that are made accordin to God so long as we liue in his jurisdiction.  (Signed) Robbert Bassett, George x Reith, John Finch, John Wilson, Richard x Horton, Thomas x Taylor, Hendrick x Cornelysen, Thomas x Marsin, Nick Loobey, John Quimbee, Josiah Cibber, Obadiah Cibbord, Jonathan Llockwood, Robert x Meacker, Jeffery x Fferris.  The meeting to sign the above paper was called by beat of drum.  The commissioners were desirous, for dispatch sake, to have the people assembled on Sunday, but they would not consent:  'It was their [Page 315 / Page 316] Sabbath.'  Of their mode of worship the commissioners give in the journal of their expeditioin the following account:  '31 Dec.  After dinner Cornelis van Ruyven went to the house where they held their Sunday meeting, to see their mode of worship, as they had, as yet, no preacher.  There I gound a gathering of about fifteen men, and ten or twelve women.  Mr. Baly said the prayer, after which one Robbert Bassett read from a printed book a sermon, composed by an English clergyman in England.  After the reading, Mr. Baly gave out another prayer and sung a psalm, and they all separated.']

[Page 315 / Page 316] 
Book V. ~ 1657.

The people complained seriously of annoyance they experienced from the Indians, who, having guarantied the quiet possession of the land to Mr. Pell, were now displeased that the settlers had submitted to the Dutch, especially as Mr. Pell insisted on having either his money returned, or the conditions of the sale honestly fulfilled.  On this account they insisted on the restoration of their arms, which, they said, were not all returned according to promise.  In their present condition they were exposed to great danger, should the Indians attack them, and therefore they demanded means to protect themselves. 1  [Footnote 1 reads as follows:  "'Honored Sir, wee humbly desire and requestthat you would be pleased to send us a count book and those twelve muskets which you spak of, with the rest of the ammunition for the use and safeguard of our plantations with the orders and lawes which we are to walk by that wee may know how to act.   From Este towne the 1st of January, 1657, Thomas Newman.'"]

Source:  O'Callaghan, E.B., History of New Netherland; or, New York Under the Dutch, Vol. II, pp. 312-16 (NY, NY:  Bartlett and Welford, 7 Astor House, D. Appleton and Company, No. 200 Broadway 1848).

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