Dutch relations with the Native Americans began well and the Company’s Instructions to Director Willem Verhulst mandated that the indigenous population be treated with “honesty, faithfulness and sincerity.” Indian rights to and possession of the land were to be respected. Two years later, the Dutch soldiers in Fort Orange (Albany) joined a group of Mahicans in a raid on the Mohawks, but the Mohawks ambushed the posse along the way and killed four of the Dutch, including Commissar (Commander) Daniel van Crieckenbeeck. Director Pieter Minuit immediately recalled the settlers in all the outlying trading posts to the relative safety of New Amsterdam, leaving the soldiers to protect the posts. Because there were so few colonists in New Amsterdam, the Manhattan tribes continued to live on the north end of the island, and relations between the Dutch and the Native Americans were generally good.
Director Willem Kieft arrived in New Amsterdam on March 28, 1638. The following year, the Company relinquished its monopoly on fur and other trade, and immigrants from New England, Virginia and Europe flooded into New Amsterdam. The colony’s relations with the tribes inhabiting the lands around New Amsterdam deteriorated when the new settlers set up farms in areas inhabited by the Native Americans. Director Kieft’s open support for the Mohawk tribe, his imposition of a “protection” tax on the local tribes and the colonial traders’ widespread practice of swindling the native people exacerbated the tension.
In 1640, some swine were stolen by settlers on the De Vries’ plantation on Staten Island, and Director Kieft used the incident to charge the (innocent) Raritans with the theft. He sent a force of one hundred armed men to exact punishment on the tribe and several Raritans, including a sachem, were killed. Anger at this injustice led the neighboring tribes to withhold the corn tax and to attack local European settlers. Matters got worse when a young Wecquaesgeek man, who as a child had vowed to revenge the murder of his uncle by the colonists, came of age. In 1641, he attacked an innocent Dutch wheelwright with an axe, and killed him. Honor vindicated, the young man returned to his tribe, bringing with him the wheelwright’s scalp.
In those tense days, Director Kieft resolved to wage war on the native people but was reluctant to take sole responsibility for such a major decision. On August 28, 1641, he summoned the heads of the settler families to Fort Amsterdam and instructed them to select twelve of their number to advise him on relations with the Native American people. The event is of historical significance because the men selected constituted the first representative assembly in New Netherland.
To Kieft’s dismay, the Twelve Men advised patience and negotiation as a means of resolving the differences with the tribes, and then turned their attention to the government of New Netherland. Although the subject was beyond their remit, they petitioned for popular representation on the Governor’s Council, suggesting that four of their number, chosen by popular vote, should be members of the Council. The Twelve Men also sought the removal of restrictions on trade.
In January 1642, after months of wrangling, Director Kieft announced that he would agree to the terms of the petition if the Twelve Men would authorize his proposed war against the Native American people. Reluctantly, the Twelve Men agreed, but once Kieft obtained their endorsement of his plan, he issued an order abrogating the Twelve Men, and forbidding, on pain of corporal punishment, public meetings of the people without his order. Kieft’s duplicity outraged the population and opposition to war continued.
A few of the Twelve Men supported Kieft’s war plan and, in February 1643, Jan Jansen Damen reputedly hosted a Shrovetide dinner at his house to discuss the matter. Among the guests were Maryn Adriaensen and Damen’s step-sons-in-law Abraham Ver Planck and Cornelis Van Tienhoven. Van Tienhoven, who was the Secretary of New Netherland, drew up a petition requesting the Director to order an immediate attack upon two groups of a local tribe who had sought refuge from Mohawk attacks in the Dutch settlements in Pavonia and Corlear’s Hook. Damen, Adriaensen and Ver Plank signed the petition and presented it to the Director on February 24, 1643. Kieft readily endorsed the petition, and ordered Van Tienhoven to lead the soldiers stationed at Fort Amsterdam in an attack on the tribal people sheltering at Pavonia. The raid took place on the of night on February 25, and eighty Native Americans were brutally massacred. Kieft ordered Maryn Adriaensen and a band of volunteers to go to Corlear’s Hook to attack the refugees assembled there. A further forty Indian men, women and children were slaughtered there.
In the Summer of 1643, there were about 400 adult men in New Amsterdam, insufficient to defend the settlement in time of war. The majority of the Twelve Men, the nine who had not known of or signed the petition advocating the attacks, strenuously objected to the action taken in their names. Kieft, seeking to deflect criticism, focused blame on Maryn Adriaensen, who had led the attack at Corlear’s Hook. Goaded by the recollections of all that he had risked and lost, Adriaensen armed himself with a loaded pistol and cutlass, went to Fort Amsterdam and attacked Kieft. The Director escaped injury, but Adriaensen was bound in chains and put on board a ship to Holland to stand trial in Amsterdam.
In September 1643, circumstances again forced Director Kieft to authorize a gathering of the families of New Netherland and from their number, to select eight men to consult with the Director and his Council.
The Twelve Men
David Pietersen de Vries (Chairman)
Jacques Bentyn (Schout)
Jan Jansen Damen
Jochem Pietersen Kuyter
Abraham Pietersen van Deusen (Abram Molenaar)
Joris Jansen de Rapelje
Abraham Isaacse Ver Planck