Arent van Curler & the Flatts

History, Archaeology & Art Illuminate a Life on the Hudson

Making "Seawan"

Known as seawan or sewant to the Dutch, wampum to the English, the tubular beads the Dutch gave the Mohawks as a token of thankfulness were highly valued by the Indians and served as a principal medium of exchange for the Dutch. Artist Arthur Kirmss crafts sewant today using the old techniques. Pictured are the mollusc shells from which he starts his work; the broken bits are then formed into tubes and drilled through the center; the finished sewant is strung for storage and transport.

Photo by Dietrich Gehring.

Trading with the Mohawks

 
“Brothers, it is now sixteen years ago that we made our first treaty of friendship and brotherhood between you and all the Dutch, which we then joined together with an iron chain and which until now has not been broken either by us or our brothers and we have no fear that it will be broken by either side, so that we shall not speak of that any more, but shall all be and remain as if we had lain under one heart. We therefore give you now as a token of thankfulness that we are brothers two bunches of seawan.”

- Propositions a Dutch embassy made to the Mohawks, September 24, 1659

The embassy that visited “the first castle of the Mohawks called Kaghnuwage” that autumn day included Jeremias van Rensselaer and Arent van Curler.  With his knowledge of the Mohawks, Arent most likely devised and proclaimed that ritual language of Iroquoian diplomacy.  Perhaps he handed over the gift of two bunches of sewant that protocol demanded.

In his painting “Curiosity of the Maqua,” Len Tantillo visualized a less formal meeting between Van Curler and the Mohawks, one more emblematic of the everyday trade centered on the Flatts.  Van Curler’s bark lies in the river, reconstructed based on plans for a bark Len discovered in the Scheepvaart Museum, the maritime museum in Amsterdam.  On deck are the renowned horses bred at the Flatts.

Mohawks approach in two canoes.  In his Description of New Netherland, Adriaen van der Donck described Indians coming to trade in “canoes made of the bark of trees, which they know how to construct.”  From a Canadian historian, Len learned the tree from which the Mohawks peeled bark.  His canoes are sheathed in elm.  The Indians have painted the sides with red symbols.  The butt of a gun rises from one canoe’s stern, a sign of the trade Van Curler conducted with his native friends.

 

"Curiosity of the Maqua" by Len Tantillo


Read Related Documents in Translation:
Propositions Made to the Mohawks by delegation including Jeremias van Rensselaer and Arent van Curler, September 24, 1659


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For over three decades, NNI has helped cast light on America's Dutch roots. In 2010, it partnered with the New York State Office of Cultural Education to establish the New Netherland Research Center, with matching funds from the State of the Netherlands. NNI is registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Contributions are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. More

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