David Pieterszen de Vries was born in 1593 to Dutch parents in La Rochelle, France. He was a mariner, and captained voyages to the Arctic Circle, Newfoundland, the Horn of Africa and the East Indies. In 1629, he was a member of a group of prominent Amsterdam investors who set up the Zwaanendael colony near the south cape of the Delaware Bay with an initial population of 28 people. It was the first Dutch patroonship in New Netherland, but when de Vries arrived back at Zwaanendael in 1632 with a further 50 colonists, he found that the 28 settlers had been massacred and their fort burned to the ground. De Vries established peace with the local Native Americans and negotiated the sale of the patroonship back to the Dutch West India Company. He went on to establish two other patroonships, one in Vriessendaell, a 500-acre patroonship on the Hudson River in New Netherland not far from Pavonia, and the other on Staten Island. In 1640, some swine were stolen by settlers on the De Vries’ plantation on Staten Island, and Director Willem Kieft used the incident to charge the (innocent) Raritans with the theft. He sent a force of 100 armed men to exact punishment on the tribe, and several Raritans, including a sachem, were killed. In revenge, the Raritans destroyed De Vries’s plantation and massacred his people.
De Vries continued to advocate for peaceful relations with the Native Americans and was chosen as chairman of the Twelve Men. He tried to prevent Director Kieft from launching the Pavonia Massacre in February 1643, at the beginning of Kieft’s Indian War. De Vries stayed up on the night of the attack and observed the Dutch forces. He reported: Infants were torn from their mother’s breasts, and hacked to pieces in the presence of their parents, and pieces thrown into the fire and in the water, and other sucklings, being bound to small boards, were cut, stuck, and pierced, and miserably massacred in a manner to move a heart of stone. Some were thrown into the river, and when the fathers and mothers endeavored to save them, the soldiers would not let them come on land but made both parents and children drown.
In the 1643 Native American reprisals that followed the Dutch massacre of the tribes-people sheltering at Pavonia, most of Vriessendael was destroyed. Because De Vries was well liked by the local Lenape, the plantation’s residents were able to seek sanctuary in the main house, and later flee to New Amsterdam.
Disenchanted by the Dutch administration’s treatment of the indigenous population, De Vries returned to Holland in October 1643. Based on the logs and journal entries he made during his maritime career, he published a book in 1655 entitled Korte HistoriaelEnde Journaels Aenteyeckeninge (Historical and Journal Notes of Several Voyages), an important historical source on New Netherland. Portions of his book are translated in Narratives of New Netherland (J. F. Jameson, ed. ).
David Pieterszen de Vries died about 1662 in Hoorn, Holland. A statue of De Vries adorns the exterior of the former Hall of Records (now the Surrogate’s Court) at 31 Chambers Street in Manhattan, an impressive Beaux-Arts building. The statue was sculpted by Philip Martiny (1858-1927).