Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Why Did Native Americans Sell Lands Including Today's Pelham First to the Dutch and then to the English?

I have puzzled profusely regarding why Native Americans would sell lands that included today's Pelham at least twice:  first to the Dutch in 1649 and then to English settler Thomas Pell in 1654.  The possibilities, of course, seem endless.  

Perhaps local Native Americans, feeling the pressure of Dutch encroachment from the southwest and English encroachment from the northeast schemed to prompt a land war between the Dutch and the English.  Perhaps different groups of Native Americans (or, perhaps, the same group) sold the land twice, each time purely for personal gain.  Perhaps two entirely unrelated groups of Native Americans sold the land on two occasions, each unaware of the other's sale.  Perhaps two competing groups of Native Americans, both claiming title to the lands, sold those lands in the good faith belief that each was the rightful owner.  Perhaps two such groups of Native Americans, neither believing it held title to the lands, sold them anyway.  Nearly infinite speculation can run rampant.  

Perhaps, however, the historical context and 17th century colonial records can shed light on why there seems to have been two successive sales of the land.  Of course, we can only infer Native American intent based on available, incomplete, and admittedly ambiguous evidence.  Typically, in such circumstances, the end result is a hypothesis that may never be capable of being proved. But, evidence to support such a hypothesis should be documented.  

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog is an effort to hypothesize how the Pelham sale could have happened twice in fairly quick succession (and to begin the process of documenting such a hypothesis, hopefully to prompt debate).

On July 14, 1649, local Native Americans sold lands including today's Pelham to Dutch authorities.  To learn more, see Wed., Aug. 12, 2015:  Significant Research on the First "Indian Deed" Reflecting the Dutch Purchase of Lands that Included Today's Pelham.  Only six years later, on June 27, 1654, different local Native Americans sold lands that also included today's Pelham to an English settler named Thomas Pell.  For a copy of the Pell deed and a transcription of its text, see Bell, Blake A., THOMAS PELL AND THE LEGEND OF THE PELL TREATY OAK, Appendix A, pp. 59 et seq. (Lincoln, NE: iUniverse 2004).  For an online image of the Pell Deed and a transcription of its text, click here.  There was no overlap among the Native Americans who signed the 1649 deed and those who signed the Pell Deed in 1654.  

The land sold to the Dutch in 1649, which included the eastern half of today's Bronx and Westchester County, was designated as "Wiequaes Keck" in the deed.  The name for the region at the time was "Wiechquaeskeck," a term that came to be associated with the Native Americans who lived in that region.  See Grumet, Robert S., The Munsee Indians:  A History, p. 309 n.6 (Norman, OK:  University of Oklahoma Press, 2009) ("Like Manhattan, Wiechquaesgeck is an example of a local place name that became a general term for a larger community.").

Kieft's War, named after New Amsterdam Director-General Willem Kieft, was a conflict between the Dutch and Native Americans in the region surrounding Fort Amsterdam (today's New York metropolitan region).  Kieft's War raged between 1643 and 1645.  Shortly after the beginning of the War, local Native Americans slaughtered Anne Hutchinson and most of her family in an area that later became part of the Manor of Pelham.  

The Dutch response to Native American attacks and harassment of Dutch and English settlers throughout the region was brutal.  As a consequence, the Wiechquaesgecks fled the region.  This documented fact is important to any understanding of one possible theory for why Native Americans made two successive sales of lands including today's Pelham.

A treaty formally ending hostilities between the Dutch and many of the Native American communities in the region was not signed until July 19, 1649.  The "treaty," reflected in Dutch records and transcribed at the end of today's article, indicated that Wiechquaesgecks had fled the region and, according to one of the Native American signers, they "had no chief" in attendance at the treaty parley and, thus, had to be spoken for by a representative.  Specialists who have analyzed the treaty terms have noted that the Wiechquaesgecks had fled to an area inhabited by the Raritans and that they did not return to the Wiechquaesgeck lands until after the treaty was signed and the 1649 deed selling "Wiequaes Keck" to the Dutch had been executed (only five days before the treaty was reached).  See, e.g.Grumet, Robert S., THE MUNSEE INDIANS:  A HISTORY, p. 310 n.6:  Notes to Page 47 (Norman, OK:  University of Oklahoma Press, 2009) (hereinafter “Grumet, THE MUNSEE INDIANS”).

According to Grumet, it was not precisely correct that the Wiechquaesgecks "had no chief" at the time of the 1649 treaty ending Kieft's War and the 1649 deed coveying Wiechquaesgeck to the Dutch.  Rather:  

"[T}he Wiechquaesgecks did, in fact, still have chiefs at this time.  Most of these, however, turned out to be dispossessed Marechkawicks and other Long Islanders who had also moved to Raritan country after the war [i.e., Kieft's War that essentially ended in 1645].  One of these, the Nayack sachem Mattano, signed the July 14 deed as Megtegickhama and was noted as 'Meijterma, the Chief of Neyick' at the July 19, 1649, treaty; former Marechkawick sachem Seyseychkimus witnessed the latter agreement as a chief sachem.  Although neither man signed the July 19, 1649, treaty as a Wiechquaesgeck, Seyseychkimus in particular continued to represent their communities for many years thereafter."

Source:  Id.  

The foregoing suggests at least the following possibility.  As the response of Director General Kieft and the Dutch to Native American hostilities grew increasingly brutal during Kieft's War, the Wiechquaesgecks fled the region.  In 1649, as relations between the Dutch and local Native Americans warmed sufficiently to permit both a treaty parley and a sale of the lands on the eastern shore of the mainland adjacent to Manhattan known as "Wiequaes Keck," the Wiechquaesgecks "had no chief" to participate in either the treaty parley or the sale of the ancestral homelands.  Instead, "dispossessed Marechkawicks and other Long Islanders" including Seyseychkimus and Megtegickhama purported to represent the Wiechquaesgecks in both instances; this purported "representation" included not only the treaty ending hostilities, but also the sale of the ancestral homelands of the Wiechquaesgecks to the Dutch with no evidence (at present) that any Wiechquaesgeck signed the 1649 deed or even consented in any way to the sale.  

It is only a short leap of logic to suggest that six years later, when English settler Thomas Pell sought to acquire lands from local Native Americans, actual Wiechquaesgecks were willing to ignore any previous sale by non-Wiechquaesgecks who purported to represent them and, instead, sold the lands "on their own" so to speak.  

What is the evidence that those who sold the lands to Thomas Pell were Wiechquaesgecks?  For some of the evidence, see Wed., Apr. 02, 2014:  17th Century Record Identifies One of the Native Americans Who Signed Pell's 1654 Deed as a Wiechquaeskeck, NOT a Siwanoy.  See also  Wed., January 29, 2014:  There Were No Native Americans Known as Siwanoys.  

In other words, one hypothesis, yet to be proved or disproven, is that the 1649 sale of lands including today's Pelham to the Dutch was made by Native Americans who did not have a true claim to those lands and had no consent from its Wiechquaesgeck owners to sell those lands.  Only six years later, true Wiechquaesgecks sold the same lands to Thomas Pell.  

Munsee Family Like Wiechquaesgecks Who Once
Inhabited the Region Including Today's Pelham.

*          *          *          *          *



Pennekeck, the chief 'behind the Col' made a speech in the Indian tongue, which was translated and said, the Southern Miquas had asked them to live in friendship with the Dutch, which they were willing to do and for that purpose they had brought a present to the Hon ble Director.

2.  An Indian of Mechgachkamic had involuntarily or unknowingly lately done mischief at Paulus Hook, which they requested us to excuse.

3.  Pennekeck said the tribe called Raritanoos, formerly living at Wiquaeskeck had no chief, therefore he spoke for them, who would also like to be our friends and sent through him their greetings to the Hon ble General.  Throws 3 beavers to the ground as a present.

4.  Meijterma, the Chief of Neyick, was included with his people into this agreement and would be, like them, our friends.  They throw 3 beavers down.

5.  He speaks for the tribe of Remahenonc as for the above with a like present.

6.  Pennekeck threw down 2 beavers declaring in the name of all, that their heart was sincere and that they desire to live in friendship with us, forgetting on either side, what was past.

7.  Pennekeck said:  'I wish you could see my heart, then you would be sure, that my words are sincere and true.'  He threw down two beavers, saying That is my confirmation.

8.  The Hon ble Director had in former times desired to speak with them; it was done now and they had shown their good intentions; they are now waiting to see, what he would do, laying down two beavers.

9.  Pennekeck said, although the Hon ble General could not understand them, they did not doubt his good intentions.

10.  In conclusion Pennekeck said:  It is the wish of the Minquas, that we and you should be and remain friends, we are ready for it.

The Hon ble Director-General first expressed his thanks to the chiefs, that they had come to visit him with offers of neighborly friendship, and he then told them that he was pleased to hear such a request.  He promised, that nothing whatever should be wanting on our part and that he was willing to live with them in mutual friendship and intercourse.  No cause for complaints should be given and if somebody injured them, they should themselves report it to the Director, in order that they should receive justice in accordance with the case.  In token of his good will he accepted their presents on the foregoing propositions with thanks and in due time he would return the compliment.

A small present worth about 20 guilders was then given to the common savages and some tobacco and a gun to the chief Oratamin, and so the savages departed well please.

(July 19th 1649.)"

Source:  Fernow, B., "Documents Relating to the History and Settlements of the Towns Along the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers (With the Exception of Albany), From 1630 to 1684 and Also Illustrating the Relations of the Settlers with the Indians" in DOCUMENTS RELATING TO THE COLONIAL HISTORY OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, Vol. XIII, p. 25 (Albany, NY:  Weed, Parsons and Company, 1881).

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