Return of the Wiechquaesgecks to Spuyten Duyvil

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    • #1969
      ndembowski
      Keymaster

      Previously, I posted a 1676 document that I found in which New York’s colonial governor, Edmund Andros, offered the local Lenape the right to live on Northern Manhattan with their wives and children.  In this document the local Lenape are referred to as the “Wickerscreek,” which is an Anglicized version of a Lenape place name, Wiechquaesgeck, referring to a location in Dobbs Ferry in Westchester.  To the English, the term “Wickerscreek” came to generally describe the band of Lenape living north of Manhattan in the modern day Bronx and Westchester.  The governor declared that “the Wickerscreek Indyans, if they desire it be admitted with their wives & children, to plant upon this Island . . . and that it be upon the North point of the Island neare Spiting Devill” or Spuyten Duyvil as it is spelled today.  This roughly describes the area of present day Inwood.

      Having looked into it more, I now see this offer as more than an interesting and isolated act of benevolence, but rather part of ongoing diplomacy between the colonial government and Native people in a time of war.  The governor’s offer of habitation on Manhattan, when viewed alongside contemporaneous meetings with local Lenape leadership, seems more like one of the terms of a treaty, if not an alliance, between the local Lenape and New York Colony.

      In 1676, the colonial government in New York was preoccupied with the ongoing conflict in New England known as King Philip’s War, one of the colonial period’s lesser known but bloodiest conflicts.  Local colonists, even those living in Van Cortlandt Park, were ordered to build defenses in the event that the conflict spread into lower New York.1  The governor feared that the “Wickerscreek” would join Metacom (a.k.a. King Philip) in his war against the colonists and their Native allies.2

      So how could Andros’ invitation to the Wiechquaesgecks to relocate to Manhattan be seen as more than just an attempt to keep potential enemies close and under watch?

      For one thing, Andros’ invitation to the Wiechquaesgecks included the provision that they would be “assured of protection,” a promise made again at follow up meetings in April that were held in response to Andros’ initial offer.  In addition, the governor would issue a certificate indicating that they were “at liberty” as they moved throughout the colony.3  To sweeten the pot, Governor Andros provided the Wiechquaesgecks with intelligence.  Specifically, the Wiechquaesgecks wished to know “how matters above at Albany are with the Indians” and the governor supplied that information.  At multiple meetings with Wiechquaesgeck sachems (or leaders) the governor concluded meetings by giving gifts (meetings on March 29th and April 27th).

      Taken as a whole, the Governor offered the Wiechquaegecks: a place to live; protection; right of passage; diplomatic and military intelligence; and gifts.  These are the hallmarks of a treaty if not an alliance.  And for his part, the governor sought assurances that the Wiechquaegecks would stay out of King Philip’s War.

      And that they did.  At their first meeting with the Governing Council, the Wiechquaesgecks denied “to have said or thought of joyning or treating with North Indians or others not friends of this Government.”  They expressed their desire “to live quietly” and to “have leave to come upon this Island & here about Oystering.”  In addition, they promised to deliver intelligence to the colonial government.  According to the minutes of the meeting, “They promise when they certainly know of any disturbance or like[ly] to bee, they will give notice to the Governor.”  At a follow up meeting, the Wiechquaesgeck, who approached the government alongside “Stamford Indians” declared themselves to be “good friends” and made promises of regular tribute payments to the government.4  Again, these are typical arrangements in a treaty if not an alliance.  If it was an alliance, it was a paternalistic one, where only one side promised to protect the other.  Additionally, the dominant English partner prohibited the Wiechquaesgecks to trade for firearms to protect themselves.

      But did the Wiechquaesgeck return to Manhattan as per the invitation?  As mentioned earlier, the Wiechquaesgeck expressed a desire to “come upon this island & here about Oystering” when the sachems Wissakane and Amone came to the governing council on March 29, 1676.  At a later meeting, there was some concern expressed that permanently relocating to Manhattan would cause friction with the colonists but after that statement, there is very little information about the topic in the historical record–with one fascinating exception.  On August 31, 1744, about 70 years later, a Bostonian named Dr. Alexander Hamilton spent the night in the neighborhood on his way to lower Manhattan.  The area changed a great deal since 1676.  The Spuyten Duyvil Creek still flowed between northern Manhattan and today’s Bronx but there was now a bridge–the King’s Bridge spanning the creek.  There were more colonists living in the area and at least one tavern.  Dr. Hamilton spent the night at a tavern on the banks of the Spuyten Duyvil Creek–the same area that Andros referred to in his offer to the Wichquaesgecks.  Dr. Hamilton wrote the following entry in his diary entry for the day:

      “I saw about 10 Indians fishing for oysters in the gutt before the door.  The wretches waded about stark naked and threw the oysters, as they picked them up with their hands, into baskets that hung upon their left shoulder.  They are a lazy, indolent generation and would rather starve than work att any time, but being unaquainted with our luxury, nature in them has few demands, which are easily satisfied.”

      If you can look past the ignorance and bigotry of the author, you can see that these “10 Indians” were doing what the Lenape sachems sought to do in 1676–to “live quietly” and to “come upon this island & here about Oystering.”  It is unknown how long they remained in the area.

      Keeping all of this in mind, I think Andros’ offer of living space on northern Manhattan carries significant weight.  It was a promise made in wartime by the governor of New York for the protection of its people in exchange for assurances from the Wiechquaesgecks.  It was a treaty whether or not a document exists expressly using that term.

      Notes:

      1 – Petition of Inhabitants of Yonkers

      2 – New York Council Minute. Examination of Westchester Indians as to their Intention to Join King Philip

      3 –  ibid.

      4 – Minute of a Meeting with Wayattanoc, Wickerscreek, and Stamford Indians

       

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