A Catskill Catalog: February 1, 2012
Wiltwyck, Beaverwyck, and New Amsterdam were the three Hudson River settlements of New Netherland, listed from smallest to largest: today’s Kingston, Albany, and New York City.
Settled in 1651, Wiltwyck quickly became a vital agricultural outpost, site of the best wheat-growing land in the colony. The creek-washed flatlands of the Esopus Valley had long been the cleared, productive cropland of the Lenni Lenape, the Algonquin-speaking “common people,” native to the place. To the colonists, it was perfect for wheat, the European staple.
For a while, Dutch settlers were able to bargain with the natives, gaining flat lands along the creek, oftentimes farming on fields adjacent to their native neighbors. Wheat fields waved next to Indian hills of corn, beans, and squash.
That didn’t end well. On September 20, 1659, a group of native men hired by a Dutch farmer were paid in brandy, never a real good idea. We’ve all read how native people, unaccustomed to alcohol, were ravaged by the stuff, and, this, perhaps, is an example. That night, the native guys got tanked-up, a bunch of them gathered around the Dutch fort, hooting and hollering in the wee hours, somebody shot off a musket blast, and the white folks freaked.
A squad of soldiers from the military garrison went out to investigate. Tensions between the Esopus and Dutch people had been running high for years. The Europeans kept livestock, cattle and pigs that often rooted through the native people’s fields, upsetting the women who tended the crops. Sometimes a pig would turn up dead, an Indian arrow through its side.
An 1887 historical account picks up the story. “The records say when the Dutch came to the place they fired a volley among the Indians as they lay around a fire. One was knocked in the head with an axe, and was left for dead, but he presently made off. Another, while lying on the ground stupidly drunk, was hewn on the head with a cutlass, which roused him so that he fled; after which the Dutch retreated to the fort with great speed.”
So now the Dutch are back at the fort and the Esopus have escaped. An isolated, ugly incident, for the time being. But the next day the Indians returned in numbers, armed and ready. They killed livestock, burned crops, set Dutch barns and buildings ablaze. War was on.
The First Esopus War lasted 10 months. The colonists recognized they could not defeat the natives by force. They were outnumbered. But they could play defense by hunkering down in their fortifications, and offense by executing raids on the Indian food supply, burning their crops.
It worked. On July 15, 1660, the natives agreed to settle with the Dutch, exchanging land for food and peace.
The Dutch got additional fields, the natives withdrew into the hills, everybody ate. Indian resentment simmered. They did not feel defeated in battle, as much as cheated out of the battle by Dutch attacks on their food supply. Time would come.
It came in June 1663. One side or the other requested further negotiations. The gates of the Wiltwyck stockade were kept open in invitation to peace. On June 7th, 200 natives converged on the village carrying produce to sell, dispersing throughout the little settlement, going door-to-door, secretly measuring the strength of defense.
About 15 minutes after the Indians’ arrival, a colonial messenger on horseback barreled into town, “The Indians have destroyed the new village!” As if at a signal, the natives drew hatchets, pistols, rifles, and knives from beneath their blankets, out of their vegetable-laden baskets. They attacked the Dutch, seized women and children, plundered houses, set the village ablaze.
The new village, New Dorp in Dutch, was Hurley, the settlement on the Esopus flats. While their brothers were scouting through Wiltwyck, native warriors had attacked and burned New Dorp, destroying it completely.
The massacre at Wiltwyck and New Dorp took the lives of 15 men, four women and two children. Thirteen women, 30 children, and one man were taken prisoners by the Esopus. In Wiltwyck, today’s Kingston, 12 houses were burned to the ground. No buildings were left in New Dorp, Hurley today.
We know the rest of the story. Superior numbers, superior arms were colonial advantages. An army marched north from New Amsterdam. They attacked Wappinger villages as well as the offending Esopus.
Three hundred men scouted the hills west of Wiltwyk, flushing out Indians. Many natives took shelter in the caves above Woodstock, on the side of Overlook Mountain.
A year later, the Dutch surrendered their colony to the English. The Esopus people had effectively been moved west, leaving their ancestral farm fields, the still-productive-today Hurley flats, seeking arable lands in the mountains to the west.
“By 1712 the center of Esopus Indian life had moved westward to the East Branch of the Delaware River at Papakunk, now Margaretville.” the Catskill Mountain historian Alf Evers wrote.
One Esopus man, Kackaweerimin, called Hendrick Hekan by the Dutch, farmed here on the East Branch flats, keeping orchards and fields. His mark appears on a 1746 deed to Upper Delaware lands, and in 1751, a written record names him as father to two natives living in this place.
Half a century before the first Europeans settled our town, Hendrick Hekan, an indigenous Esopus-American, a Lenni Lenape, farmed our valley.