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77 Six The Mahicans and the Dutch The Trade in Furs Dutch ships began appearing on the Hudson River soon after Henry Hudson’s explorations in September and early October 1609. Although the record is meager, the first vessel known to be dispatched to engage in the fur trade in what would be called New Netherland was the St. Pieter out of Amsterdam in 1611. Its voyage had been commissioned by a group of investors calling itself the Van Tweenhuysen Company. Others quickly followed. In 1613–14 the company sent out the Fortuyn, whose crew would build a small fortified trading house on an island in the Hudson River behind which flowed the Normans Kill, a large tributary that today marks the southern limit of the city of Albany. The trading house was named Fort Nassau. The island became best known as Castle Island.1 There is no reason to doubt that the Mahicans were the first to bring their furs to the handful of Dutch traders manning Fort Nassau, very quickly to be joined by Mohawks, Munsees, and western New England Algonquians. None of these Native people , however, was unmindful of the appearance of Europeans in the region much before the arrival of the Dutch, especially those who had made their way into the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Valleys by the early decades of the sixteenth century.2 Even so, little is known of the first years of the fur trade in the Hudson Valley, which was overseen between 1614 and 1618 by the New Netherland Company. Once its letters patent expired, with no renewal forthcoming, the trade fell into the hands of independent trad- 78 The Mahicans and the Dutch ers, some of whom were nonetheless connected to merchants formerly with the company. Their dealings with the Indians on the upper river are, for the most part, unreported, except for two violent episodes, one involving the Mohawks and the other involving unidentified Indians.3 Nothing is known of Mahican -Dutch interactions for this early period. In 1621 the Dutch West India Company was chartered to carry on the war with Spain after the expiration of the Twelve Years’ Truce (1609–1621). In New Netherland, however, the company’s charge was confined to manage, and to reap profits from, fur trade operations in the colony. In the meantime, Fort Nassau, whose builders had not taken into sufficient consideration its low elevation on the Hudson River, was abandoned about 1618 due to floods. It was replaced in 1624 by a small redoubt situated on the west bank a short distance north, christened Fort Orange, erected to house a handful of Walloons from the thirty families that had sailed aboard the Nieu Nederlandt to begin the colonizing effort in the upper valley.4 For a period of time shortly before and following the building of Fort Orange, the fur trade and the future of New Netherland were in doubt. Authorities there faced a cascade of difficulties, among which were Indian complaints of mistreatment by West India Company employees; Indian-Indian conflicts that would escalate into the Mohawk-Mahican war; the grumblings of getrich -quick colonists unhappy with the less than auspicious circumstances in which they instead found themselves; and the overall bad management, alleged malfeasance, and high-handedness on the part of director Willem Verhulst. In early 1626 Verhulst was arrested and deported. He was replaced by his assistant , Pieter Minuit.5 The documents surrounding the establishment of Fort Orange and the fur trade in the upper Hudson Valley offer little in the way of information on the Mahicans. What did catch the attention of the Dutch and, subsequently, historians of the pe- The Mahicans and the Dutch 79 riod was the war that embroiled the Mahicans, the Mohawks, and also the Dutch, beginning about 1626. The Mohawk-Mahican War Circumstances surrounding the often written about MohawkMahican war are presented in some detail and for several reasons : to provide the full geographic and cultural context of Indian -Indian conflict present at the time that the United Provinces, France, and England had first established their colonies in the Americas, information useful in understanding subsequent violent encounters; to offer the necessary comparative framework for Dutch/French/English-Indian and, importantly, Indian-Indian economic endeavors and the competition that followed; and, finally, to permit a more comprehensive assessment of changing Native strategies and adaptations in the face of the European presence.6 For many years, historians considered the Mohawk-Mahican war of the mid...

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