The Dutch in Hartford

The following essay was taken from HARTFORD IN HISTORY: A SERIES OF PAPERS  BY RESIDENT AUTHORS, Ed. Willis I. Twitchell, Hartford: Plimpton, 1899.

The Dutch in Hartford

By CHARLES F. JOHNSON.

In the fifteenth century, and indeed down to our own time, the discovery of lands “unoccupied by Christian people” was held to entitle the sovereign of the discoverer to the right of occupation without any reference to the claims of the original inhabitants. Savages had no rights that civilized people were bound to respect. So when in 1497 John Cabot and his son Sebastian sailed along the main land of North America from the Bay of the St. Lawrence down to the Chesapeake Bay, possibly as far as Florida, King Henry VII at once asserted sovereignty over the main continent of North America, although the Cabots had made no landing except in the northern part of what is now the State of Maine. On this rather uncertain foundation King James I early in the seventeenth century issued patents for the unexplored territory between the thirty-fourth and forty-fifth parallels of latitude. One of these was given to the Plymouth Company, and under this the settlements in Massachusetts were made. As the country was unexplored, it can readily be understood that the boundaries of the territory granted in the patents were badly defined. Frequently the grants overlapped each other and the lines ran indefinitely west into the unknown wilderness, and disputes arose about the right to certain tracts.

In 1609 Hendrick Hudson, an Englishman in the service of Holland, entered the Bay of Manhattan in search of a passage westward through the continent, by which he might reach Asia or the East Indies. The North River he took to be an arm of the sea and sailed up the great channel till the increasing freshness of the water convinced him that it was really a river. He gave it the name of the Hudson and asserted that his discovery gave Holland a right of sovereignty superior to the shadowy claim of England. A trading post was established at the lower end of Manhattan Island, where the Indians could exchange skins for beads and knives. This was the foundation of the city of New York. In 1614 Adrian Block and Cornelius Hendricksen built a small sloop at New Amsterdam, as the station was called, and sailed into Long Island Sound and went up the Connecticut at least as far as the present site of Hartford. Block gave names to the rivers and bays, calling the site of New Haven “Rodenburgh” or the Red Hills, and the great river, the “Fresh River.” To Block Island he gave his own name. On his report to the States General, or Congress of Holland, a company was formed for trading in the New Netherlands, as the newly discovered territory was called. This company was subsequently absorbed by the Dutch East India Company. The object of the enterprise was primarily the purchase and exportation of the skins of bears, otter, mink and wildcat. As no considerable portion of the Dutch people were persecuted on account of their religious organization, there was no reason why well-to-do people should leave their homes and settle permanently in the wilderness, as many Englishmen were forced to do. However, by degrees the Hollanders settled on the Hudson as far as Albany and in the western part of Long Island.

In 1623 these Hollanders founded a trading post at what is still known as Dutch Point, in the city of Hartford, on the north side of Little River, now known as the Park River. The original site has been largely washed away by the floods. The first establishment was no doubt a stockade or fence of stakes enclosing a rudely-built “block house” or log house. By 1633 it had grown into a small fort with earthen walls (probably) enclosing several buildings and provided with a small cannon. A ship-load of bricks brought from Holland was used in the construction, and it has been suggested that the “fort” was an earthwork with brick or stone corners. On the other hand the bricks may have been use6 for chimneys in the buildings within the enclosure. One of these Dutch bricks was found near the spot by Mr. Charles J. Hoadley, the antiquarian. Others are doubtless covered by the mud in the Connecticut River.

For the purpose of satisfying the aboriginal tribes and gaining their good will, and perhaps with the idea of getting a color of title, the settlers, both English and Dutch, were in the habit of buying for a nominal consideration land from the Indians. In 1633 Jacob Van Curler, commissary of the post, acting under the command of Wouter Van Twiner, director or governor of the New Netherlands, bought of the Pequot Indians certain lands described as a “flat called Suckiage (or black earth) one league down from the river a third of a league wide to the Highland and beyond the Hill upwards extending to a little stream.” The price paid was “one piece of duffell[1] 27 ells long, 6 axes, 6 kettles, 18 knives, 1 sword-blade, 1 pair of shears, some toys and a musket.” The land must have covered most of the present city of Hartford. It will be noticed that the title of the Dutch by discovery and purchase was as good as that of the English. Their weakness was that they did not occupy and cultivate more than a small portion of the land, their primary object being not colonization but the purchase of furs.

This fort was called the “House of Hope.” In translations it is variously called “Fort Good Hope,” and the “Dutch House, the Hope.” In 1633 it sheltered quite a number of people, including women and children, in all possibly thirty souls. It was surrounded by a “bouwerie” or cultivated farm and garden of about twenty-five acres. After the arrival of the English colony, claiming under the English king and later under a deed from the River Indians, disputes arose as a matter of course, and the Dutch seem, as the weaker party, to have been restricted to the ” bouwerie ” and perhaps interfered with even within its limits. The land records of the town of Hartford preserve the record of the property finally appropriated when the Dutch left. The records mention “36 acres in the South Meadows,” including without doubt the present site of the Colt works, three acres on the north side of Little River and an island in the great river. We may fairly conclude that this was the Dutch “bouwerie” or “plantation.”

The English colony under the leadership of their pastor, the Rev. Thomas Hooker, arrived overland from Cambridge in 1636. They came to make homes in the Connecticut Valley, and acquired an Indian title from Sequassen, chief of the River Indians, for the territory bounded by the river from Windsor to Wethersfield and running six miles back. In the midst of this, lay the Dutch fort and “bouwerie.” The Dutch claimed that the Pequots were the masters of the River Indians and that the River Indians had acquiesced in the transfer of the land to them. It was of course impossible that friction should not result. Each considered the other as encroaching and petty collisions over disputed lands ensued, resulting in broken heads and bad feelings. Both parties seem to have acted with forbearance, however, and as the English were much the more numerous credit must be given them that bloodshed did not follow. They worried along as well as they could till 1649, when the commissioners of the united colonies decreed that foreigners should be prohibited from trading with the Indians. The reason for this decree was doubtless the fear that the Indians might acquire muskets and ammunition. Next year both parties petitioned that the boundaries of their jurisdiction might be settled. In consequence commissioners from the English colonies met Peter Stuyvesant, governor of New Amsterdam, at Hartford. The conference was courteously conducted and resulted in making the Little River the boundary between the contending parties. But in 1653 war was being waged between Holland and England and the American colonies were authorized by Parliament to open hostilities against the Dutch. Captain John Underhill, bearing a commission from the Providence Plantation, came to Hartford and pasted the following notice on the doors of the “House of Hope”:

“I, John Underhill, do seize this house and land for the State of England, by virtue of the commission granted by the Providence Plantation.”

Soon after, the General Court of Connecticut sequestered the Dutch property in Hartford by its own authority. In a few months after this peace was declared; the Dutch, or nearly all of them, moved to New York. Underhill conveyed the real estate to two citizens of Hartford and the name “Dutch Point” was about all that remained to testify to the former occupation of land in the city of Hartford by citizens of Holland.

Some of the Hollanders living at the “House of Hope” were men of superior education. Casper Varleth, Gysbert Opdyck, Govert Lockerman and David Provoost were all men of substance and became prominent citizens of New Amsterdam. The Hollandish race is closely allied to the Anglo-Saxons and its members possess many of the sturdy virtues of their kindred on the other side of the channel. The common idea of the Dutch as phlegmatic, corpulent boors, stupefied and stultified by tobacco, is absurd. It resulted from Washington Irving’s amusing caricature in “Knickerbocker’s History of New York.” The Dutch settlers would have added a very valuable element could they have been incorporated into the Hartford Colony. Less energetic and determined than the English Puritans, they were no less courageous and capable, and more courteous and social. But such a mixture could not well result at that time. The Puritans, even the liberal Puritans of Hartford, wanted no citizens not of their own church and blood. They persistently crowded the Dutch out, and we must give them great credit that they did not resort to more violent and arbitrary means than they used. Without great self-control and a strong sense of justice, two rival colonies in the wilderness, far from all the restraints of civilization or the fear of being called to account, would have come at once into armed conflict. That they did not do so at Hartford speaks well for both Dutch and English, but especially well for the stronger party. Holland had long been a refuge for the persecuted Puritans of England, and it is possible that some of the leading men of the Hooker Colony cherished grateful feelings towards that country, but even that would detract little from the honor chic them for treating Dutchmen whom they regarded as intruding on their heritage with substantial justice while they were alone with them the wilderness for twenty years.

The following books are recommended to those who desire to give additional study to the subject, The Dutch in Hartford:

MEMORIAL HISTORY of HARTFORD COUNTY, Vol. I., chap. II.

Trumbull, B., HISTORY OF CONNECTICUT. VOL I. (edition of 1898 is the best.)

COLONIAL RECORDS OF CONNECTICUT. Vols. I- III.

Brodhead, J. R., HISTORY OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK. Vol. I.

O’Callaghan, E. B., HISTORY of NEW NETHERLAND. Vol. I.

Palfrey, J. G., HISTORY OF NEW ENGLAND. VOL III.

DOCUMENTS RELATIVE TO THE COLONIAL HISTORY Or NEW YORK, passim.

MEMORIAL HISTORY OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK. VOl. I,

Winsor, J., NARRATIVE AND CRITICAL HISTORY OF AMERICA, Vol. I

New York Historical Society: COLLECTIONS, second series, Vol. 1. (translations of several Dutch tracts.)

Smith, W., HISTORY OF THE PROVINCE OF NEW YORK.

Johnson, Ellen F., THE HOUSE of Hope, OR THE FIRST OF CONNECTICUT’S SETTLERS.

 



[1]  Duffell is a heavy woolen fabric. “Good duffel gray and flannel fine.”—Wordsworth, “Goody Blake and Harry Gill.”