Kieft’s War

Kieft’s War of 1643 to 1645 substantially weakened the Dutch position in the New World. It began as an attempt by Willem Kieft, director general of the
Dutch settlement of New Netherland, to remove the Native Americans who threatened the economy of the young colony. It ended with one of the
bloodiest massacres of Native Americans in colonial history and the flight of many settlers back to Europe.

In the 1630s, the Dutch West India Company struggled to maintain its colony, which had been formed to conduct trade on the eastern shoreline of
America. The United Provinces States General placed pressure upon the company to populate the settlement or lose it, while smugglers within the colony
threatened the company’s profits. To save the settlement, company directors choose a new representative with a reputation for discipline, merchant
Willem Kieft. Upon his arrival in 1638, Kieft tightened company control of the government and imposed measures to curtail smuggling.

Over the next four years, the stability that Kieft created led to a fourfold increase in the European population of New Netherland. To prosper and avoid
being overwhelmed by the rapidly expanding English colonies to the northeast and southwest, the Dutch needed to expand. However, tensions with Native
Americans rose as the Dutch moved into closer proximity to the various tribes in the region. Kieft worsened matters in 1639 by forcing Native Americans
to pay a tribute, ostensibly for Dutch protection against external tribal enemies.

In 1640, Dutch settlers seeking retribution for stolen swine killed several Raritans. In the following year, the Raritan attacked the Staten Island settlement
and killed four settlers while destroying two homes. The Dutch refrained from a retaliatory attack but offered bounties for dead Raritans. To formulate
Native American policy, Kieft formed an advisory Council of Twelve, and after the murder of another settler by a native, he sought advice on whether war
should be declared. The council recommended that no action be taken against the native peoples since the Dutch settlements were widely spread and the
colony still numerically weak.

The few surviving accounts of the war differ as to Kieft’s conduct. One colonist declared that the confrontational Kieft was committed to the belief that
nearby tribes needed to be removed and exterminated. After meeting individually with Kieft, the council members were persuaded to agree to immediate
retaliation. Another colonist suggests that extremists may have intimidated Kieft into ordering attacks. This account is given some credence by the fact that
one extremist, Maryn Adriaessen, who led the attack on Corlear’s Hook, subsequently tried to assassinate Kieft on March 21, 1643. There is no
disagreement about the fact that settlers frightened for their safety began to push Kieft to attack.

Conflicts among Native Americans also set off the war. In the winter of 16421643, Mohicans demanded tribute from Wickquasgecks and Tappans, who
then sought refuge within the Dutch encampment. About 500 of these Native Americans moved to the presumed safety of the Dutch settlement at Pavonia
with members of the Hackensack tribe, while another group went to Corlear’s Hook.

Meanwhile, Kieft received a petition from three members of the council, who demanded an immediate attack upon the Native Americans to avenge the
earlier attacks upon the Dutch. Soldiers under the command of Jeuriaen Rodolff attacked Pavonia, while Adriaessen led his forces to Corlear’s Hook on
the night of February 25, 1643. Records disagree about the brutality of the assaults and the numbers of Native Americans killed. About eighty Native
Americans are generally believed to have died at Pavonia. One Dutch witness reported that adult Native Americans were thrown into the river and
prevented from returning to land, while children were torn away from their mothers and hacked to death before their parents. Perhaps forty Native
Americans died at Corlear’s Hook in a similar orgy of violence. Kieft’s orders apparently directed the commanders of the expedition to take prisoners while
sparing women and children, but these orders were not obeyed. According to one colonist, Kieft later thanked and rewarded the troops for their conduct,
but another Dutch account has him apologizing for the attack.

Kieft achieved a truce in April, but this did not last. Outnumbered by the Native Americans, the New Netherland colony barely managed to survive, with
many colonists fleeing back to Europe. Kieft became a scapegoat for the colony’s troubles, and in 1647, the Dutch West India Company recalled him. He
died in a shipwreck en route to the Netherlands, and his papers sank with him.

Kieft’s legacy is mixed. While conflict may have been inevitable in light of European expansion, the brutality of Kieft’s War nearly toppled the colony of
New Netherland and forever tarnished the Dutch image.
Caryn E. Neumann
See also: Dutch; Dutch West India Company; Military and Diplomatic Affairs (Chronology); Military and Diplomatic Affairs
(Essay); New York; War.
Rink, Oliver A. Holland on the Hudson: An Economic and Social History of Dutch New York. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986.
Winkler, David F. “Revising the Attack on Pavonia.” New Jersey History 116:34 (1998): 215.
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