By the winter of 1643, relations between the Dutch and their Indian neighbors had gone bad. Suddenly, there were killings on both sides and calls for war.
Several months earlier, the Dutch living on Manhattan Island went into panic when reports reached them that an elderly wheelwright, who lived on a farm north of their settlementin modern-day Westchester County, had been murdered by an Indian. Dutch records said the Indian “pretending a desire to buy something and whilst the old man was taking from the chest the cloth the Indian wanted, took up an ax and cut his head off...”
Soon, reports filtered up and down the Hudson River of attacks on Dutch settlements by Indians, and rumors of war spread quickly to the remote farming settlements on Long Island.
Willem Kieft, the Dutch official in charge at New Amsterdam, demanded that the Indians living near where the murder took place hand over the killer. They refused. Kieft was told the Indian who killed the old man “had only avenged the death of his Uncle, who had been slain over one and twenty years by the Dutch,” according to the records.
Meeting with an official council called the Twelve Men, Kieft decided on war if the murderer was not soon in Dutch custody. Specifically, Kieft decided that an attack on the Indian villages should come when the men were off hunting.
“Thereupon, spies looked up the Indians who lay in their Village suspecting nothing, and eighty men were detailed under the command if Ensign Hendrick Van Dyck and sent thither,” Dutch records say. But the guide leading the troops got lost in the darkness and could not find the village, and the men turned back.
Several weeks later, large groups of Indians from the north began to move south toward New Amsterdam, most likely to attack traditional Indian enemies in the south and to collect wampum. From the Dutch point of view, the Indians’ purpose was to forment war against both the Dutch and the English along the southern New England coastline and the East End of Long Island. Kieft also claimed the Indians wanted to poison him. As with much of Indian history in New York, it is not known today what motivated them. Their point of view does not exist in New York’s recorded history.
The movement south of the northern Indians caused Indian groups near Manhattan Island to seek the protection of the Dutch. But Kieft was not in a charitable frame of mind. These may have been refugees, but they also were Indians. The Twelve Men met and presented Kieft with a plan to attack the refugee Indians across the Hudson River in modern-day New Jersey. The “design” - as the attack plan was called - was executed the same night as the meeting, Feb. 25, 1643, with Dutch soldiers attacking an encampment less than a mile from New Amsterdam. Eighty Indians were killed and 30 taken prisoner.
Of the attack by the Dutch, a book titled “A History of the City of Brooklyn,” published in 1867, said the Indians were “remorselessly butchered... The story of that nightis one of the saddest and foulest upon the pages of New Netherland’s history.” A Dutch account published in the mid-17th Century said “... young children were cut in pieces before the eyes of their parents, and the pieces were thrown into the fire or into the water; other babes were bound on planks and then cut through, stabbed and miserably massacred, so that it would break a heart of stone...”
This slaughter by the Dutch seems to have inspired other attacks. The Dutch living at the western end of Long Island asked for permission to attack their Indian neighbors. Kieft refused, fearing they might be “hard to conquer,” according to the records.
But attacks on Long Island did occur, and panicked Dutch farmers on Long Island fled west, toward the protective shelter of New Amsterdam. To quell unrest, the Dutch invited a group of Long Island Indians to travel to New Amsterdam to conduct a peace treaty. The Indians paddled to New Amsterdam in their great dugout canoes and agreed to end hostilities.
It was not to last more than a few months.