The Patroons, Government and Indians of New York
(previous...First Settlements in New York)
Besides the Dutch West India company sending the families, the company further encouraged settlements by the
patroon system. They gave the right to any one who would establish a colony of fifty persons, to have and to hold
forever a tract of land fronting sixteen miles on the water and running back indefinitely, provided however that
the rights of the Indians were purchased. These large land owners were called patroons. One of the most famous of
these patroons was Kilian Van Rensselaer (kee-le-an van ren-sel-er) whose land , now in the counties of Albany,
Columbia and Rensselaer, was known as Rensselaerwick. The patroons brought many people to New Netherland; but as
they had almost boundless control over their settlements, they frequently quarreled with the West India company,
with the colonists and with the governors.
The first governor, or rather director-general, as he was called, was Peter Minuet, who was sent by the company
and who began his rule in 1626. Two years before, Captain May had charge of the colony; but there was no formal
government until the arrival of Minuet. He had a council of five to assist him and he appointed others to act as
secretaries, sheriffs, collectors, and the like; but in the choice of none of these officers did the people have a
part. Later on the colonists secured slight changes in the laws of the colony; but never did they obtain from the
Dutch rulers that the voice of the people should be heard in their own government.
During the thirty-eight years in which the Dutch had a formal government, four director-generals were in turn at
the head of the colony: Peter Minuet, Walter Van Twiller, William Kieft (Keeft), and Peter Stuyvesant. The acts of
these men were of little account; all of them did something for themselves and for the stockholders who sent them;
none of them accomplished much for the people. Says some one rather severely; "Minuet was a self-willed and
self-seeking adventurer, Van Twiller a drunken and indolent fool, Kieft a conceited and tyrannical bankrupt,
Stuyvesant a despotic and passionate autocrat."
The first twelve years of authority was equally divided between Minuet and Van Twiller. The first governor was
accused of favoring the patroons and was recalled. Van Twiller, who had been made so laughable by Washington
Irving, seemed to spend most of his small energy in personal quarrels. He wrangled with his officers, got into
disputes with the minister of a little church, and in turn was denounced from the pulpit. In his place William
Kieft was sent. Where Van Twiller was slow and inefficient, Kieft was hasty and rash. To this rashness he added
dishonesty and in the ten year that he was director-general he brought the colony to the verge of ruin.
The greater part of Kieft' violent energy was spent upon the Indians.
The decade in which he ruled was a time of Indian warfare. For the most part the colony had used the red men
well and in return had received less trouble from them than had the neighboring settlements. The great
industry of New Netherland was the fur trade; and for the success of this traffic peace with the Indians was
necessary. So the Dutch were ever on good terms with the Iroquois, while the farmers and fisherman of New
England were fighting King Philip, and the tobacco raisers of Virginia were suffering from the attacks of the
tribe of Powhatan.
The Dutch made it a rule to buy the land which they occupied from the Indian owners. One of the first acts of
Director Minuet was to purchase Manhattan Island for 24 dollars, at the rate of one cent for ten acres, paid in gay
clothing, beads and brass ornaments. So from the days of Henry Hudson for thirty years the savages did not trouble
the colony. Soon after Keift's arrival he found cause for dispute with the Raritan Indians on the New Jersey coast.
He sent murdering expeditions, offered prizes for their heads, and caused Staten Island to become a slaughter
The result of this was a gathering of the river Indians for the destruction of the settlement. Still war could
have been avoided by prudent means. It happened at this time that the Mohawks, of the Iroquois tribes, had bought
for a round price in furs a few muskets and were driving before them the Indians of the lower Hudson. The fugitives
gathered around the Dutch settlements and asked for protection. Some of them camped at Pavonia; and while they were
there a band of blood-thirsty colonists and soldiers easily got permission of Kieft, rowed across the river in a
cold winter night, and before sunrise foully butchered eighty men, women, children and babies. At Corlear's Hook,
the foot of the modern Grand Street, they murdered forty more. This was in 1643.
For two years the red men of Long Island and the Hudson valley, thus wantonly provoked and further incited by
the brandy sold them, kept up a bloody contest. They drove the whites from the farms and villages until they forced
them into Manhattan Island. Outside of this retreat only Gravesend, Rensselaerwick and Fort orange were secure from
attack. Many of the people returned to Holland; whose who were left feared the Indians and detested Kieft; the
settlements were in ruins and Manhattan could count but one hundred male citizens. Finally when a thousand Indians
had been slain, and the very life of the colony was in danger, peace was made with the aid of the friendly
Iroquois, and the colony began a new era of prosperity.
(continues...Growth of the Dutch Colony)