Algonquian-Dutch War (1641–1645)
PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Dutch New Amsterdam vs.
Algonquian (Mahican, Raritan, Wappinger) Indians of
the northern Atlantic seacoast
PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Vicinity of present-day New York,
Staten Island, and Hackensack, New Jersey
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: The Dutch sought to tax,
that is, demand tribute, from the Indian tribes living in the
vicinity of their growing settlement of New Amsterdam,
which the Indians refused to pay.
OUTCOME: An atrocity-filled four years ended with a
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS: In
1644 Indian strength was estimated at 1,500; Dutch
CASUALTIES: In 1645 Indian casualties reached approximately
1,600 killed; Dutch losses were fewer than 100.
TREATIES: Treaty of August 1645
The Indian policy of Dutch colonists in America vacillated
between aggression and cruelty on the one hand and timid
defensiveness on the other. Henry Hudson (c. 1565–
1611), an Englishman sailing for the Dutch, discovered the
river that bears his name in 1609. Five years later Fort Nassau,
a trading post, was built on Castle Island near Albany,
the country of the Mahican Indians, with whom the Dutch
struck a trade agreement in 1618. Fort Nassau was flooded
out and abandoned in 1617, but the Dutch West Indies
Company, formed in 1621, built Fort Orange on the site of
Albany in 1624. From here the Dutch conducted trade
with the various Indian tribes in the region for decades,
encouraging rivalries that spawned intertribal warfare,
often made one-sided by the possession of Dutch firearms
(see BEAVER WARS; MOHAWK-MAHICAN WAR). Despite the
mutually profitable relations between them, the Dutch did
not treat any of the Indian tribes well. In 1660, for example,
Mohawk chiefs petitioned Fort Orange magistrates “to
forbid the Dutch to molest the Indians as heretofore by
kicking, beating, and assaulting them, in order that we may
not break the old friendship which we have enjoyed for
more than thirty years.” Even so, Indian relations with the
Dutch were generally more peaceful than were those with
the Spanish and English.
More serious crises developed whenever greater numbers
of Dutch colonists began to turn from trade to farming
as the stock of beaver, the Indians’ principal trade
commodity, became depleted along the coast. Farming
required the acquisition of Indian land, and by 1639,
when Willem Kieft (1597–1647) replaced Wouter Van
Twiller (fl. 1632–40) as governor of New Netherland,
annexing territory became a high priority for the colony.
Kieft imposed heavy taxes, which amounted to tribute, on
the Algonquian tribes in the vicinity of New Amsterdam
(Manhattan) and Long Island. Indian resentment was
already high by 1641, when Dutch livestock destroyed Raritan
Indian cornfields on Staten Island. The Raritans retaliated
with raids, and Governor Kieft, in turn, offered a
bounty on Raritan scalps.
The next year a wheelwright named Claes Rademaker
was murdered by an Indian in revenge for the killing of
the Indian’s uncle, who settlers had robbed of his pelts.
Reacting to the killing, Kieft marched a small army
through the villages near New Amsterdam, hoping that
the show of force would intimidate the Indians. This mission
failed because, marching at night, the small force
soon lost its way.
Kieft, however, remained eager for action. His own
council of patroons advised against engaging in hostilities
because the colony was not large enough to carry on a war.
Ignoring the council’s advice, Kieft determined to teach the
Indians a lesson. In February 1643 the Mohawks—armed
by their still active trading partners, the Dutch—terrorized
the Wappinger Indians in an effort to extort tribute from
them. The Wappingers fled to Pavonia (present-day Jersey
City, New Jersey) and New Amsterdam. They pleaded with
Kieft to grant them protection. Not only did the governor
refuse to protect the Wappingers, he deliberately turned
the Mohawks loose on them. Warriors killed some 70
Wappingers and enslaved others.
There was more to come. On February 24 Kieft
announced that he intended “to wipe the mouths of the
Indians.” During the night of February 25–26 the governor
dispatched Dutch soldiers to Pavonia to finish off the Wappinger
refugees, mostly women and children, who even the
legendarily fierce Mohawks had refused to harm. The night
of murder and atrocity that ensued would become infamous
as the “Slaughter of the Innocents.” Troops returned
to New Amsterdam bearing the severed heads of 80 Indians,
which soldiers and citizens kicked, football-fashion,
through the village streets. Also, 30 prisoners who were
taken alive were publicly tortured to death.
The massive Indian retaliations that followed the massacre
came as no surprise to anyone except Kieft. Outlying
farms were hardest hit, but New Amsterdam was attacked
as well, prompting Kieft to order the town’s northern
boundary fortified with the wall from which Wall Street
takes its name. In March 1643 a panic-stricken Kieft
parleyed with the Indians, offering them presents, which
were indignantly refused. On October 1, 1643, nine Indians
came to a small fort at Pavonia, where three or four
soldiers were stationed to protect a local farmer. Pretending
to be friendly, the Indians gained entry into the fort,
then killed the soldiers and the farmer, taking the farmer’s
stepson as a captive. They next burned all the houses of
As the fires spread through Pavonia, so the general
uprising spread to Indian tribes from Delaware Bay to the
Connecticut River. Settlers fled from the outlying settlements
of New Netherland to New Amsterdam, which
effectively lay under siege for more than a year. Only the
Mohawks, still hoping to enjoy trade, refrained from participating
in the war.
Dutch authorities hired the English soldier John
Underhill (d. 1672), who had distinguished himself in
New England’s PEQUOT WAR, to lead retaliatory raids
against Indian villages. The combat degenerated into a
war of attrition, and by 1644 the Indians had had enough.
The siege of New Amsterdam was lifted, and the Dutch
imposed a peace in August 1645.
Further reading: Alan Axelrod, Chronicle of the Indian
Wars: From Colonial Times to Wounded Knee (New York:
Prentice Hall General Reference, 1993); Alan Gallay, ed.,
Colonial; Wars of North America 1512–1763 (New York: Garland,
1996); David J. Weber, The Spanish Frontier in North
American (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992).