Tuesday, October 19, 2021

NEW NARRATIVE #10 The Mohicans, Henry Hudson, and New Netherlands

Around the turn of the millennial, 1600, the 'Muh-he-ka-neew' people (Or 'Mohican', which translates "people of the continually flowing waters"), had been living and thriving for centuries along the long river valley flowing into the Atlantic. They had a string of small settlements, comprised of small-to-medium-sized longhouses, each with gardens of corn, beans, and squash. Game and fish were plentiful, as were a wide variety of nuts and berries. They also knew how to tap the sap from Maple trees and render it into syrup and maple sugar. They traveled and traded along the river with canoes, which could hold up to 14 people, along with a cargo of goods.
They named the river 'Mahicanituck' after themselves, although it would soon become known as 'the Hudson' after Henry Hudson, an English navigator with a mixed crew working for the Dutch Republic and their Dutch West India Company. Living on the west side of the river were the Munsee, their close cousins and a subset of the Lepape, whose territory stretched down into what is now called the Delaware Valley. The Mohicans stretched northward to their main concentration, 'Pempotowwuthut-Muhhcanneuw,' or what is now called the Albany area. It was also a border zone where the Mohican bumped into the domains of the Mohawk to the West and the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) to the North.
The Mohicans were a matrilineal society, with each village run by a council of female elders. The councils chose a male Sachem, both a spiritual and military leader, but whose position could be revoked if he didn't work out well. There had been conflicts with both the Mohawks and the Iroquois, but at this time, relations were peaceful.
The Mohicans knew about the 'Great Canoes' and bearded men from across the Ocean, men who were willing to trade goods with near-magical qualities--metal axes, knives and pots, fine cloth of bright colors--for provisions and animal skins they considered rather commonplace. They heard about one version, the French, from the Iroquois, and another, the English, from the peoples around Cape Cod. The French may even have had a small trading post near Albany, deserted at 1590.
In 1609 Henry Hudson encountered the Mohicans all along the river he was exploring. In his ship's log are numerous accounts of the natives paddling out to his ship, the Half Moon, eager to trade. They mainly brought Maize, called 'Indian Wheat' by Hudson, along with furs and other foods. Hudson gave them what he called 'trifles' and 'trinkets' for the food and provisions, but the harder goods of metal for the furs. Most of the exchanges went well, but Hudson noted that one armed boat he sent out came back with one dead Englishman with an arrow through his neck. They buried him ashore and had a few more clashes with canoes of Mohicans letting their arrows fly at the Half Moon. Hudson returned with gunfire and won those rounds. With a load of furs, he made his way back to Europe, landed in England, and immediately reported to his Dutch sponsors, the Dutch West India Company (DWI).
The DWI had been active in the New World for some time as slavers and traders in and around the Caribbean and had resources at hand. In 1614, they sent several ships back up the Hudson, and created Fort Nassau near present-day Albany, staking out the entire Hudson Valley, along with Long Island to the north and what is now New Jersey to the south, as 'New Netherland.' Thus the Dutch, too, took a slice of 'Turtle Island.'
Where the Hudson opened to the sea, the Dutch set up a fort on 'Nut Island,' what is today's Governor's Island. In 1625, however, Peter Minuit, the third governor, decided Manhattan (also the Lenape name for the island) was a better spot, and 'bought' it for the legendary $24 worth of trinkets. (Actually, it was 80 guilders, and worth several thousands of dollars in today's money).
The Dutch tried their hand at setting up feudal estates along the Hudson. As well as Hollanders, They dropped off shiploads of Walloons and French Huguenots to be the farmers and lower classes for wealthy landed 'patroons.' They also brought African slaves to Manhattan, both to sell them and put them to work building a walled encampment (where its northern edge, Wall Street, got its name). It's also how what is now New York City got a polyglot, mixed population from the beginning.
As the Dutch expanded, they pushed the Mohicans eastward into Connecticut, and some westward, to be killed or absorbed into the Mohawks, who then became the main fur traders. The battles and defeats are sketchily and romantically depicted in 'The Last of the Mohicans,' both the novel and ensuing films. The remnants of the tribe wound up in a reservation in Wisconsin, although new claims are being made in New York state in current times. In the end, the British took over and 'New Netherland' became New York. But that gets us ahead of the story. More to come.

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