A Dutch Massacre of Our Lenape Ancestors on Manhattan

Steven Newcomb
August 24, 2013

On August 9, a Haudenosaunee delegation commemorated the 400th year of the Two Row Wampum. The commemoration took place in Lenape territory in Manhattan, New York, on August 11, 2013, and the event was the culmination of a remarkable 145-mile canoe trip from Haudenosaunee territory down the Hudson River to Lenape territory in Manhattan.

The Two-Row Wampum was made in 1613 between the Haudenosaunee and the Dutch government of Holland. Dutch Consul-General Rob de Vos was in attendance. When I read that Mr. de Vos attended the event, I immediately thought of our own Lenape Nation and our bloody experience at the hands of the Dutch government in our traditional territory on Manhattan Island.

In the early 1640’s, Dutch Governor William Kieft was trying to impose a tax on our ancestors, who were refusing to pay foreigners for the ‘privilege’ of living in our own territory. According to a Dutchman named David Pietersz de Vries, Governor Kieft judged the “relatively nonbeligerant Hackensack Indians at Pavonia to be in a weakened position.” Kieft vowed to force them into submission. (Herbert C. Kraft, The Lenape: Archaeology, History, and Ethnography, Newark, 1986, p. 223).

De Vries was unsuccessful in his effort to talk Kieft out of slaughtering our non-Christian Lenape ancestors. The governor would not be dissuaded. De Vries gave the following first-hand account of the atrocity which occurred in February, 25, 1643. The account makes for very difficult reading:

I remained that night at the Governor's, sitting up, and I went and sat by the kitchen fire, when about midnight I heard a great shrieking, and I ran to the ramparts of the fort, and looked over to Pavonia. Saw nothing but firing, and heard the shrieks of the savages murdered in their sleep. . . When it was day the soldiers returned to the fort, having massacred or murdered eighty Indians, and considering they had done a deed of Roman valor, in murdering so many in their sleep; where infants were torn from their mother's breasts, and hacked to pieces in the presence of their parents, and the 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--children from five to six years of age, and also some old and decrepit persons. Those who fled from this onslaught, and concealed themselves in the neighboring sedge, and when it was morning, came out to beg a piece of bread, and to be permitted to warm themselves, were murdered in cold blood and tossed into the fire or the water. Some came to our people in the country with their hands, and some with their legs cut off, and some holding their entrails in their arms, and others had such horrible cuts and gashes, that worse than they were could never happen. (Kraft, pp. 223-224)

Thirty more of our ancestors were also massacred that same night on Corlaer’s Hook, elsewhere on Manhattan. The Dutch raiders “returned to Fort Amsterdam with thirty prisoners and the heads of several Indians.” (Ibid., p. 224) I wonder, What does Dutch Consul-General Rob de Vos have to say about this Dutch massacre of our ancestors at the direction and instigation of the Dutch Governor?

A few years ago, I received a map from some Aboriginal men in Australia while attending the “Parliament of the World’s Religions.” It’s a map of massacre sites, each massacre being indicated by a black spot. Large areas of Tasmania are black and there are black dots in regions throughout the continent of Australia. The black dots are marks of genocide. What would such a map look like if we were to do the same with North America in the geographical area claimed by Canada and the United States, or throughout the hemisphere for that matter?

The centuries-long perpetration of genocide against our nations and peoples by Christian European colonizing powers, in the name of Christian theology, illustrates a key point. There has been no foundation of conciliatory or friendly relationships that existed between our nations and peoples and the dominating societies, which fell apart as a result irreconcilable differences. Thus, it is a misuse of the English language to talk about the need for re-conciliation as if there is a need to repair what was once a positive relationship. That underlying falsehood is perpetuated every time the word “reconciliation” is used to talk about what needs to be done in terms of the “relations” between our nations and peoples with the dominating societies.

It makes no sense to talk about a need to reconcile ourselves to a system of domination that has used genocide and false talk of “legality” as its means of achieving its claims of political domination over our originally free nations. We have no need to “reconcile” ourselves to an imposed system of domination because that is nonsense.

To propose that we ought to work at “reconciliation” is tantamount to telling a woman snared in a dominating and violent relationship with her spouse that she needs to “just get over it” and “reconcile” herself to her predicament. It is equivalent to telling her that she needs to “learn to accept things as they are” and “quit harping on the negative” (acts of her dominator). Any such woman needs liberation from her tormenter, not to reconcile herself to the destructive domination and abuse being imposed on her.

Given the massacres and other genocidal efforts to destroy our nations and peoples through evangelism, boarding or residential schools, and political assimilation, we need to liberate ourselves from the resulting domination, not reconcile ourselves to it. Healing for our nations and peoples involves meticulously sorting out how we got into the predicament we’re in, while working diligently to liberate ourselves from systems of dominance through the revitalizing our languages, cultures, and spiritual traditions, as well as our political identity of original independence.

Steven Newcomb (Shawnee-Lenape) is co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute, and author of Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery (Fulcrum, 2008).