- The Flemish Bastard and the Former IndiansMétis and Identity in Seventeenth-Century New York
In 1709 the English Board of Trade recommended the settlement of three thousand Palatine migrants on the Hudson and Mohawk rivers in New York. The officials expressed confidence that these colonists would not only produce naval stores for the fleet but also intermarry with the Indians "as the French do" and lay the foundation for an expanding fur trade. They knew well that French Canadians had long mingled with Indians and produced children of mixed ancestry, or métis. What they perhaps did not know was that New York had long had métis of its own.1
Compared to Canada, New York never had a large métis population, and some historians have commented upon the social distance between Dutch and Indians. Nevertheless, intimacy resulting in métis children does not seem to have been uncommon in this colony. Dutch observers charged Indians with lack of sexual restraint, and liaisons between Dutch men and Native women sometimes worried the authorities. In 1638 the Dutch council prohibited adultery with blacks and Indians and at least occasionally took legal action. Manor lord and patroon Kiliaen van Rensselaer warned his nephew Arent van Curler and forbade his tenants from sleeping with Indian females. Sexual promiscuity with Indian women was among the charges levied against provincial secretary Cornelis van Tiehnoven by his political enemies in the 1640s. Prosecutions of colonists impregnating Indian women are known from the early English period.2
Native people probably thought these relations should involve a degree of reciprocity and mutual obligation. Historians have stressed that many Native peoples saw marriage and other intimate relations as means [End Page 83] of incorporating outsiders, and an early Dutch observer alluded to the existence of this practice among Native traders in New Netherland. Such intimacy created a bond between strangers, and in 1643 a Long Island chief deplored Dutch violence by recalling how his people had let early Dutch visitors sleep with their daughters. In 1659 Mohawk envoys complained that Dutchmen involved with Native women who had passed away did not honor obligations to the relatives of the deceased. In some cases colonists may have married Native women according to local custom, and in 1683 a Long Island Englishman married a Native woman according to English law.3
To most métis born from these relationships, European ancestry was probably just a relatively minor biological fact. They followed their mothers—normally in charge of children—and became for all practical purposes fully Indian. In 1680 a Dutch visitor to New York alluded to these people when he wrote of the fruits of Dutch immorality, and the Long Island chief mentioned above charged the Dutch with killing their own blood, since "there roved many an Indian begotten by a Swanneken [Dutchman]." While in Mohawk captivity in 1653 Frenchman Pierre Radisson found that his adoptive brother was courting a light-haired young woman "who, by report of many, was bastard to a Flemish." Radisson's observation seems to indicate some interest in this woman's Dutch father, but it also suggests that her biologically mixed background did not set her much apart from the rest of her community. This is, of course, not to suggest that most métis people were oblivious of the fact that they had European fathers, only that their mixed ancestry did not have much of an impact on their social standing. How much a distant European father shaped a person's self-perception is now impossible to determine, but perhaps many European fathers gave their Indian children no more than slightly light features and possibly made them the topic of occasional conversation in Native settlements.4
But some métis maintained ties to European relatives, and these were perhaps the only ones who were métis in any socially or culturally meaningful sense of the word. Scattered evidence indicates ongoing contact between métis persons and the society of their fathers. When a French force in January 1666 captured a métis boy in Mohawk country, local Dutch officials persuaded the French commander to hand him over...