A Catskill Catalog: February 8, 2012
His name, in his native language, means ebb-tide. Fitting for a man of “the people of ever-moving waters,” the Mohicans. He carried a Christian name, Hendrick, fitting for someone who had been dealing with Dutch and English neighbors his entire life.
Among his own people, he carried a Mohican name, rendered variously in English as Kackaweeriman or Cockalalaman. Known to history as Hendrick Hekan, he was a Sachem of the Esopus people, the Mohican river-Indians who had long made a home of the lands washed by the Hudson River and Esopus Creek.
He was the first farmer of the upper Delaware Valley, our first settler, farming the flats west of the Highmount divide in the early 1700s, decades before the first European settlers.
Frankly, I am surprised by Hendrick Hekan. I happened upon him by accident. But there he is, his name on a deed to lands now in the Town of Middletown, his name, as a signing Sachem, on treaty renewals, both his local residence and native prominence amply documented.
I don’t know where his farm was, though I’d bet he settled somewhere on the big Pakatakan Flat, just below the confluence of the Dry Brook stream and the East Branch. If you’re looking for flat land, that seems like the spot.
And Hendrick Hekan would certainly have been looking for flat land. His people were the Esopus band of Mohican river people, Algonquin-speaking Munsees of the Lenni Lenape who had been pushed out of the Hudson River Valley in the last years of the 17th century.
When the English conquered New Netherland in 1664, they brought with them an Indian policy they considered enlightened: “Land could only be taken by purchase. Prior consent of the Governor, Indian Sachem or rightful owner, and satisfactory payment was mandatory.”
Treaties and contracts would govern relations between “Christian and Indyan.” That’s the way the words were spelled in “An agreement made between Richard Nicolls, Esqre, Governor under his Royal Highnesse, the Duke of Yorke, and the Sachems and People called the Sopes Indyans,” the treaty signed on October 7, 1665.
In that treaty, Governor Richard Nichols put to rest the Esopus Wars that had just recently plagued his Dutch colonial predecessors. In five articles, the two sides agreed to cease all hostility, and provide for swift justice against any individual on either side who might upset the peace. The treaty gave the natives a market-house and hostelry in newly-named Kingston, so they could trade, and transferred to the English all the land along the Hudson, from Saugerties to the Rondout Creek.
Boundaries were always vague in those early days when little land had actually been surveyed. Since we live to the west of all this, it’s the western boundary of this land purchase that interests us: “the Great Hill, lying and being to the West, or South West, which Great Hill is to bee the true west, or Southwest Bounds of the said Lands.”
What is that “Great Hill”? The treaty never says. Might it be Highmount, the great divide between the waters running east and the waters running west?
If so, then Hendrick Hekan’s settling arable lands on the Upper Delaware makes complete sense. Here was still native land, unsullied by treaty or colonial claim.
Hendrick Hekan was born in 1699 and died in 1758. He remained an important leader of his people throughout his life, a Sachem. On May 7, 1745 he appeared with other Indian leaders in Ulster County Court to renew the 1665 treaty. Here is how that meeting is recorded in a nearly 300-year-old record of the county clerk:
“Sandor Chief Sachim of the Esopus Indians, Hendrick Hekan Sachims and several other Indians, by Abell their interpreter brings in court, a beaver and four strings of wampon, and they said they gave that to confirm the peace formerly made by our ancestors and theirs. They gave also a deer skin and five minks to shake hands in friend- ship.”
“The Justices take it very well of them to renew the peace made by both the ancesters, and that the same be kept in friendship on both sides as long as the sun and moon shines.”
I think the next time I return home from Kingston, I’ll think of Hendrick Hekan, traveling (on foot, I’ll bet) home by that same route, feeling pretty good, I imagine, having just shaken hands in friendship with his neighbors, and agreed to peace and friendship “as long as the sun and moon shines.”