Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Munsee Massacre of 1644 by Missy Wolfe

The Dutch launched a number of forays against the Indians in 1643 and 1644 from Tomac Cove in Old Greenwich, Connecticut, which were described in unique documents that the New York State Secretary John Brodhead retrieved from The Hague in the early 1800s.One of these actions resulted in what might have been the largest massacre of Native Americans in the Northeast, surpassing some of the estimates given for the hundreds that were killed in Mystic by John Underhill and John Mason some seven years before.

New Netherland's legacy is that every aspect of the Dutch experience in America provides a useful lesson in the perils of nation-building. When it became clear that New Amsterdam no longer functioned as a simplistic trading outpost- dealing principally in furs- , and that it had morphed into a full-fledged colony in need of serious infrastructure, funding, and community controls, the West India Company could have made a more timely transition to English control, cut its losses quickly, and recalled or relocated its many employees to more profitable and less problematic regions when it saw no game-changing revenue support in its immediate future.  That Manhattan's decreasing profitability and increasing community problems were reasons to stop further finding resulted in stagnation. The decision not to nation-build  any further after a significant, yet unstable, European presence had been established   left New Netherland without clear objectives and increased its corruption and instability.

The West India Company was for its time a racially and religiously tolerant as a corporation for purely pragmatic reasons. The needed to work with many races, nations and religions in the Caribbean, Africa, East Asia Manhattan, although their "work" with other people extended to buying and selling them as well , for the company was an active slave trader, and the enslaved at this time were a class entirely left out of compassionate consideration. Never-the-less, if one could possibly set aside this corporate abuse of the enslaved, as difficult as that is for us today, the company can be credited for readily soliciting sales and supply-side workers from all over the world to cooperate, and near New York it needed diverse Indian groups. Seventeen languages were spoken and any faith was welcome.

"The consciences of men ought to be free and unshackled," wrote the company directors when they scolded  Peter Stuyvesant for attempting to banish the newly minted Quakers William Hallett and John Bowne, "so long as they continue moderate, peaceful, inoffensive  and not hostile to the government; such have been the maxims of prudence and toleration by which the magistrates of this city (Amsterdam) have been governed and the consequences have been that the oppressed and persecuted from every country have fund among us an asylum from distress. Follow in the same steps and you will be blessed." But that was in 1663, long after their previous governor - William Kieft- had sailed for home and been drowned, along with his 400,000 guilders in a shipwreck near Swansea.

The Dutch experience is also a cautionary tale of long-distance oversight that is unable to address the dangerous actions of an errant individual who uses his authority to mutilate a corporate mission, dismiss credible complaint, and establish a pattern of autocratic action. Like Warren Hastings in India more than one hundred years later, Kieft rejected and evaded all means of control and trampled egregiously on the common good.

By 1643 Kieft's mismanaged use of force and diplomacy had worsened the Indian situation for Manhattan-area Europeans who were clamoring ever more loudly and relentlessly for a resolution to what had become and endless cycle of European-Indian murder and revenge.  Governor Kieft's notion of what to do, however,  did not meet the expectations of his subjects. While some Dutch farmers, traders and soldiers had killed small numbers of Indians and the Indians avenged themselves with small-scale though shocking murders in return, few settlers of West India Company soldiers felt comfortable with the idea of a large-scale Indian slaughter as a solution to their problems. To discourage this idea, the Council of Eight Men tried to make Kieft personally lead any expeditionary force against large Indian massings, such that he would fully assume responsibility for such offensive ideas.  Kieft begged John Winthrop, for troops, offering 25,000 guilders and Fort Amsterdam  itself as collateral, but the governor of MA Bay Colony  "wholly declined, doubting the wisdom of his cause."

Kieft found the man for the job in John Underhill, an experienced man in such matters. Receiving information of a large gathering of Munsee people to celebrate the new moon of February:

One hundred and thirty men were accordingly dispatched under General Underhill and Ensign Hendrick van Dyke. They embarked in three yachts, landed at Greenwich, where they were obliged to pass the night by reason of the great snow and storm. In the morning they marched northwest up over stony hills, over which some were obliged to creep. In the evening, about eight o'clock, they came within aleague of the Indians, and inasmuch as they should have arrived too early and had to cross two rivers, one of two hundred feet wide and three feet deep, and that the men could not afterwards rest inconsequence of the cold, it was determined to remain there until about ten o'clock. Orders having been given as to the mode to be observed in attacking the Indians, the men marched forward towards the huts, which were set up in three rows, street fashion, each eighty paces in length, in a low recess of the mountain, affording complete shelter from the northwest wind.

The moon was ten at the full and threw a strong light against the mountain, so that many winter's days were not clearer than it was then.  On arriving, the enemy was found on alert and on their guard, so that our people determined to charge and surround the huts, sword in hand. The Indians behaved like soldiers, deployed in small bands, so we had in a short time one dead and twelve wounded. They were likewise so hard pressed that it was impossible for one to escape. Ina brief period of time, one hundred and eighty were counted dead outside their houses. Presently none durst come forth, keeping themselves within the houses, discharging arrows through the holes. The General, seeing that nothing else was to be done, resolved with Sergeant Major Underhill, to set fire to the huts. Whereupon  the Indians tried every way to escape, not succeeding in which they returned back to the flames, preferring to perish by fire than to die by our hands.

What was most wonderful is, that among the vast collection of men, women and children, not one was heard to cry or scream. According to the report of the Indians themselves, the number then destroyed exceeding five hundred. Some say, full 700, among whom were also 25 Wappingers, our God having collected together there the greater number of our enemies, to celebrate one of their festivals. No more than eight men in all escaped, of whom even three were severely wounded.

The fight ended, several fires were built in consequence of the great cold. The wounded, fifteen in number were dressed and sentinels were posted by the General. The troops bivouacked there for the remainder of the night. On the next day, the party set out much refreshed in good order, so as to arrive at Stamford in the evening. They marched with great courage over that wearisome mountain, God affording extraordinary strength to the wounded, some of whom were badly hurt and came in the afternoon to Stamford after a march of two days and one night, with little rest. The English received our people in a very friendly manner, affording them every comfort. In two days they reached here. A thanksgiving was proclaimed on their arrival.

The Europeans who participated in the massacre did not boast or write of it in  personal documentation yet discovered. Killings on both sides continued.

In April 1644, seven savages were arrested at Hempstead on Long Island for killing two or three pigs, although later found that some Englishmen had done it. Kieft sent John Underhill and fifteen or sixteen soldiers to Hempstead, who killed three of the seven in a cellar. He then put the four remaining Indians in a boat, two of whom were towed behind in the water by a string round their necks. The soldiers drowned these two men and the two unfortunate survivors were detained as prisoners at Fort Amsterdam where they were brutally tortured. A critic of the events, perhaps David DeVries, wrote of Kieft's brutality in the most inflammatory manner possible to drive home his point that Kieft must be recalled:

When (the Indian prisoners) had been kept a long time in the corps de garde, the Director became tired of giving them food any longer and they were delivered to the soldiers to do with as they pleased. The poor unfortunate prisoners were immediately dragged out of the guard house and soon dispatched with knives of from 18 to20 inches long which Director Kieft had made for his soldiers for such purposes, saying that swords were for use in the huts of the savages, when they went to surprise them; but that these knives were much handier for bowelling them.

The first of these savages having received a frightful wound, desired them to permit him to dance what is called the Kinte Kayce, a religious use observed among them before death; he received however so many wounds that he dropped down dead. The soldiers then cut strips from the other's body, beginning at the calves, up the back, over the shoulders and down to the knees. While this was going on, Governor Kieft, with his comrade Jan de la Montaigne, a Frenchman, (and Fort physician) stood laughing heartily at the fun and rubbing his right arm, so much delight the took in such scenes. He then ordered hit to be taken out of the fort, and the soldiers bringing him to the Beaver's Path, he dancing the Kinte Kayce the entire time, threw him down, cut off his genetales, thrust them in his mouth while still alive, and at last placing him on a mill stone cut off his head . . . What I tell you is true, for by the same token there stood at the same time 24 0r 25 female savages who had been taken prisoner at the N.. point of the fort; and when they saw this bloody spectacle they held up their arms, struck their mouth, and, in their language exclaimed: "For shame! For shame! Such unheard of cruelty was never known, or even thought among us!" The savages have often called out to us from a distance: "what scoundrels you Swanneken are, you do not war upon us, but upon our wives and children who you treacherously murder; whereas we do no harm either to your wives or your children, but feed and take care of them, till we send them back to you again.

And further, Director Kieft, not content with this causing the hunted savages to be surprised, engaged some English spies to accompany his soldiers as guides, into places unknown to our people, by which many poor inoffensive savages were cruelly and traitorously massacred.

In 1908, the extended descendents of John Underhill erected a monument over his grave. Buoyed by generation of gratitude and reverence to the man, including John Greenleaf Whittier's ode to his many exploits, the family invited President Theodore Roosevelt and the editor of the Brooklyn Daily Times to speak at the large granite monument's unveiling ceremonies. The  newspaper editor, to his credit, felt somewhat squeamish at extolling the virtues of a man who had slain close to a thousand Indians personally, noted that Underhill, "judged by today, would have been called a butcher." He also appropriately reminded his audience to "judge him as of his own time, and not as our time, to which he did not belong." It is undeniable, however, that the man had a mental construct that allowed him to kill hundreds of men, women and children when others in his time would not .

Nor were those times so different from our own.

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