Myths & Legends


New Holland: Account of Manhattan by Father Isaac Jogues 1646

An account of New Holland that in part touches on the situation in Manhattan: ‘On the island of Manhate, and in its environs, there may well be four or five hundred men of different sects and nations: the Director General told me that there were men of eighteen different languages; they are scattered here and there on the river, above and below, as the beauty and convenience of the spot invited each to settle: some mechanics however, who ply their trade, are ranged under the fort; all the others were exposed to the incursions of the natives, who in the year 1643, while I was there, actually killed some two score Hollanders, and burnt many houses and barns full of wheat.’

From such beginnings arose Gotham.
— Orly.

At some time before his death in 1800, Father Jean Joseph Casot, the last of the old race of Jesuits in Canada, seeing his order about to expire under the restrictions then imposed by the British government, and determined that all the materials for its history should not perish by reason of his death, made a selection from among its papers, and placed the portion thus preserved in the custody of the Augustinian nuns of the Hotel Dieu of Quebec. There they remained safe till in 1843 they were restored to the Society, then revived and under the charge of Father Martin, as superior of the Jesuits in Canada. Among these papers was the following, in which Father Jogues, at the time of his last sojourn in New France, described New Netherland as he had seen it three years before.

Father Martin presented a transcript of the document, accompanied with an English translation, to the regents of the University of the State of New York. The translation was then published, in 1851, in volume IV. of O'Callaghan's Documentary History of the State of New York (pp. 21-24 of the octavo edition, pp. 15-17 of the edition in quarto). The French original was printed for the first time in 1852 in an appendix to Father Martin's translation of Bressani's Breve Relatione. In 1857, Dr. John Gilmary Shea printed in the Collections of the New York Historical Society, second series, III. 215-219, a translation which, after revision by the present editor, is printed in the following pages. Dr. Shea made separate publication of the French text in his Cramoisy series in 1862, and in the same year published another edition of original and translation. Both likewise appear in Thwaites's Jesuit Relations, XXVIII. 105-115. Dr. Thwaites also gives a facsimile of the first page of the original manuscript which Father Jogues wrote at Three Rivers, with hands crippled by the cruel usage of the Mohawks.


NEW HOLLAND, which the Dutch call in Latin Novum Belgium,—in their own language, Nieuw Nederland, that is to say, New Low Countries—is situated between Virginia and New England. The mouth of the river, which some people call Nassau, or the Great North River, to distinguish it from another which they call the South River, and which I think is called Maurice River on some maps that I have recently seen, is at 40 deg. 30 min. The channel is deep, fit for the largest ships, which ascend to Manhattes Island, which is seven leagues in circuit, and on which there is a fort to serve as the commencement of a town to be built here, and to be called New Amsterdam.

This fort, which is at the point of the island, about five or six leagues from the [river's] mouth, is called Fort Amsterdam; it has four regular bastions, mounted with several pieces or artillery. All these bastions and the curtains were, in 1643, but mounds, most of which had crumbled away, so that one entered the fort on all sides. There were no ditches. For the garrison of the said fort, and another which they had built still further up against the incursions of the savages, their enemies, there were sixty soldiers. They were beginning to face the gates and bastions with stone. Within the fort there was a pretty large stone church,(1) the house of the Governor, whom they called Director General, quite neatly built of brick, the storehouses and barracks.

(1) See De Vries, p. 212, supra, and the Representation of New Netherland.

On the island of Manhate, and in its environs, there may well be four or five hundred men of different sects and nations: the Director General told me that there were men of eighteen different languages; they are scattered here and there on the river, above and below, as the beauty and convenience of the spot invited each to settle: some mechanics however, who ply their trade, are ranged under the fort; all the others were exposed to the incursions of the natives, who in the year 1643, while I was there, actually killed some two score Hollanders, and burnt many houses and barns full of wheat.

The river, which is very straight, and runs due north and south, is at least a league broad before the fort. Ships lie at anchor in a bay which forms the other side of the island, and can be defended by the fort.

Shortly before I arrived there, three large ships of 300 tons each had come to load wheat; two found cargoes, the third could not be loaded, because the savages had burnt a part of the grain. These ships had come from the West Indies, where the West India Company usually keeps up seventeen ships of war.

No religion is publicly exercised but the Calvinist, and orders are to admit none but Calvinists, but this is not observed; for besides the Calvinists there are in the colony Catholics, English Puritans, Lutherans, Anabaptists, here called Mnistes,(1) etc.

(1) Mennonistes, Mennonites.

When any one comes to settle in the country, they lend him horses, cows, etc.; they give him provisions, all which he returns as soon as he is at ease; and as to the land, after ten years he pays in to the West India Company the tenth of the produce which he reaps.

This country is bounded on the New England side by a river they call the Fresche River,(1) which serves as a boundary between them and the English. The English, however, come very near to them, choosing to hold lands under the Hollanders, who ask nothing, rather than depend on the English Milords, who exact rents, and would fain be absolute. On the other side, southward, towards Virginia, its limits are the river which they call the South River, on which there is also a Dutch settlement,(2) but the Swedes have one at its mouth extremely well supplied with cannons and men.(3) It is believed that these Swedes are maintained by some Amsterdam merchants, who are not satisfied that the West India Company should alone enjoy all the commerce of these parts.(4) It is near this river that a gold mine is reported to have been found.

(1) Connecticut.

(2) Fort Nassau, at the mouth of Timber Creek.

(3) He probably means Fort Nya Elfsborg, on the Jersey side of Delaware Bay, below Salem.

(4) The reference is to aid rendered by Samuel Blommaert, an Amsterdam merchant, formerly a director of the Dutch West India Company, in fitting out the first Swedish expedition in 1637, and in engaging Peter Minuit to command it. Blommaert's letters to the Swedish chancellor, Count Axel Oxenstjerna, thirty-eight in number, 1635-1641, letters of great importance to the history of New Sweden, have just been published in the Bijdragen en Mededeelingen of the Utrecht Historical Society, vol. XXIX.

See in the work of the Sieur de Laet of Antwerp, the table and chapter on New Belgium, as he sometimes calls it, or the map "Nova Anglia, Novu Belgium et Virginia."(1)

(1) De Laet, Histoire du Nouveau Monde, table of contents, bk. III. ch. XII., and map.

It is about fifty years since the Hollanders came to these parts.(1) The fort was begun in the year 1615; they began to settle about twenty years ago, and there is already some little commerce with Virginia and New England.

(1) An exaggeration.There is no evidence of Dutch visits before Hudson's.

The first comers found lands fit for use, deserted by the savages, who formerly had fields here. Those who came later have cleared the woods, which are mostly oak. The soil is good. Deer hunting is abundant in the fall. There are some houses built of stone; lime they make of oyster shells, great heaps of which are found here, made formerly by the savages, who subsist in part by that fishery.

The climate is very mild. Lying at 40 2/3 degrees there are many European fruits, as apples, pears, cherries. I reached there in October, and found even then a considerable quantity of peaches.

Ascending the river to the 43d degree, you meet the second [Dutch] settlement, which the tide reaches but does not pass. Ships of a hundred and a hundred and twenty tons can come up to it.

There are two things in this settlement (which is called Renselaerswick, as if to say, settlement of Renselaers, who is a rich Amsterdam merchant)—first, a miserable little fort called Fort Orenge, built of logs, with four or five pieces of Breteuil cannon, and as many pedereros. This has been reserved and is maintained by the West India Company. This fort was formerly on an island in the river; it is now on the mainland, towards the Hiroquois, a little above the said island.

Secondly, a colony sent here by this Renselaers, who is the patron. This colony is composed of about a hundred persons, who reside in some twenty-five or thirty houses built along the river, as each found most convenient. In the principal house resides the patron's agent; the minister has his apart, in which service is performed. There is also a kind of bailiff here, whom they call the seneschal,(1) who administers justice. All their houses are merely of boards and thatched, with no mason work except the chimneys. The forest furnishing many large pines, they make boards by means of their mills, which they have here for the purpose.

(1) The schout.

They found some pieces of ground all ready, which the savages had formerly cleared, and in which they sow wheat and oats for beer, and for their horses, of which they have great numbers. There is little land fit for tillage, being hemmed in by hills, which are poor soil. This obliges them to separate, and they already occupy two or three leagues of country.

Trade is free to all; this gives the Indians all things cheap, each of the Hollanders outbidding his neighbor, and being satisfied provided he can gain some little profit.

This settlement is not more than twenty leagues from the Agniehronons,(1) who can be reached by land or water, as the river on which the Iroquois lie,(2) falls into that which passes by the Dutch; but there are many low rapids, and a fall of a short half league, where the canoe must be carried.

(1) The Mohawks.

(2) Mohawk River.

There are many nations between the two Dutch settlements, which are about thirty German leagues apart, that is, about fifty or sixty French leagues.(1) The Wolves, whom the Iroquois call Agotsaganens,(2) are the nearest to the settlement of Renselaerswick and to Fort Orange. War breaking out some years ago between the Iroquois and the Wolves, the Dutch joined the latter against the former; but four men having been taken and burnt, they made peace. Since then some nations near the sea having killed some Hollanders of the most distant settlement, the Hollanders killed one hundred and fifty Indians, men, women and children, they having, at divers times, killed forty Hollanders, burnt many houses, and committed ravages, estimated at the time that I was there at 200,000 l. (two hundred thousand livres).(3) Troops were raised in New England. Accordingly, in the beginning of winter, the grass being trampled down and some snow on the ground, they gave them chase with six hundred men, keeping two hundred always on the move and constantly relieving one another; so that the Indians, shut up in a large island, and unable to flee easily, on account of their women and children, were cut to pieces to the number of sixteen hundred, including women and children. This obliged the rest of the Indians to make peace, which still continues. This occurred in 1643 and 1644.(4)

(1) One hundred and fifty English miles.

(2) The Mohicans.

(3) Livres tournois or francs, worth two or three times as much as francs at the time.

(4) See The Journal of New Netherland. From Three Rivers in New France, August 3, 1646.


Source:  Narrative New Netherland, edited by J. F. Jameson


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