The Dutch Among the Natives

American Indian-Dutch Relations, 1609–1664


"Their clothing consists of the skins of foxes and other animals...their canoes ... are made of a single piece of wood ... Their weapons are bows and arrows, pointed with sharp stones." Henry Hudson, 1609.

"As to the natives of this country, I find them entirely savage and wild, strangers to all decency ... proficient in all wickedness and godlessness." Rev. Jonas Michaëlius, 1628.

"The Indians ... are also tolerably stout, have black hair, with a long lock, which they braid and let hang on one side of the head .... Some of the women are very well-featured and of tall stature. Their hair hangs loose from their head." David de Vries, 1642.

"Generally speaking, nature has not endowed them with surpassing wisdom, and they must develop their best judgement without formal training, yet one finds no fools." Adriaen van der Donck on the Indians, 1655.

The meetings of Natives and arriving Europeans began a long period of mutual stocktaking. Now, clouded by time and inclination, tales of the first encounters nonetheless furnish assessments from both sides, real and fanciful, usually in the midst of misunderstandings and sometimes violence.

Still, there are few first hand reports by the interlopers that offer less than frank, if sometimes distorted accounts of Indians as clearly different peoples, yet to their eyes, eminently human. For their part, few Indians were left awestruck or bewildered for very long after bearded, white-skinned visitors came ashore. In summer 1524, shortly after his ship sailed past what would become New York Harbor and around Long Island, Giovanni da Verrazzano and his crew found themselves on the coast of Maine and targeted by the Indians with whom they had traded. In the midst of hoisting anchor, Verrazzano groused, the Indians had "made all the signs of scorn and shame that any brute creature would make, such as showing their buttocks and laughing." Hudson does not seem to have been the brunt of such "humor," but one of his encounters had its own intimacy. Going ashore he met with Indians who, he reported, "are a very good people; for, when they saw that I would not remain, they supposed that I was afraid of their bows, and taking the arrows, they broke them in pieces, and threw them into the fire."

Rev. Johannes Megapolensis Jr's  "A Short Account of the Mohawk Indians," 1644

"The people and Indians here in this country are like us Dutchmen in body and stature; some of them have well formed features, bodies and limbs; they all have black hair and eyes, but their skin is yellow. In summer they go naked, having only their private parts covered with a patch. The children and young folks to ten, twelve and fourteen years of age go stark naked. In winter, they hang about them simply an undresed deer or bear or panther skin; or they take some beaver and otter skins, wild cat, racoon, martin, otter, mink, squirrel, or such like skins, which are plenty in this country, and sew some of them to others, until it is a square piece, and that is then a garment for them."

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