CONTACT: The Dutch Meet the Wappinger Confederacy at Hell Gate, 1645-1646We, Willem Kieft, etc… have given and granted to Sybolt Claesz a certain piece of land located on the island of Manhattan beginning at the point of the Hellegat (aka Hell Gate) where Hogs’ Island [Varckens Evlantl separates or ends; containing 50 morgens… Done at Fort Amsterdam in New Netherland, 5 June 1646.
Once the Dutch made a pact with the native people of Mannahatta (“island of many hills”), on August 30th, 1645[i], one of those seeking farmland was Sybolt Claessens (aka “Claesz”), a colonial carpenter. He was granted a tract of land where Gracie Mansion now stands. While the deed states that it was “given” to him by his friend Director-General Willem Kieft of the Dutch West India Company, it was instead a patent, and a patent must be paid for by the newcomer to the original occupants. Who were the original landlords and how much would they want for it?
That was left for Sybolt to sort out.
History tells us Claessens stayed put for quite a while, as he worked out an understanding with the local First People, keeping in mind that these Lenape tribe members had a different understanding of the stewardship and ownership of land.
The Council Minutes of New Netherland show he was financially strapped, struggling to build a clapboard house with a tile roof and running into constant legal problems, with at least seven court appearances in a short span of time. [ii]
Imagine for a moment confronting Sybolt on the slope facing the confluence of rivers called Hellegat,[iii] which he named “Horn’s Hook,”[iv] after his hometown of Hoorn, on the Zuyder Zee in Holland. In all likelihood, someone arrived to resolve matters while still time to do so.
Perhaps, for example, a local sachem came to Claessens to forge an understanding that might be strange by Dutch standards: he asked the new arrival to provide the native people with trade goods worth 200 guilders[v] for the right to hunt, farm, fish and build as long as he lived. In addition, there was a worthy presumption by the Lenape that care would be taken of the environment overall during this lifetime’s use (including access to eagle nests to gather their elegant feathers to indicate rank or ceremonial duty).[vi]
Sybolt in turn might have agreed to bring the trade goods at noon of the next full moon to enter into a treaty of peace or at least co-existence. The sachem would have accepted it as a token of friendship, or another way of saying, “Welcome to Horn’s Hook.”
This beautiful land is the southern end of the Rechawanis (retch-a-WAN-is) territory or “land of small sandy streams/tributaries,” and is the home of the Rechgawawank, (retch-ga-wa-wahnk) “people of the beautiful sandy streams/tributaries,” which flow eastward into the “East River.” It is not a river but a strait they called Muscoota,” (mus-KOO-tah) “marshy place of reeds and duck blinds.” It is fairly shallow (so treacherous to navigate), and flows in many directions at once with whirlpools resulting.
Hellegat might have been the place where, in 1609, an exploratory shallop dropped from the deck of the Half Moon and led by first mate Jon Colman, got delayed and turned around. A fog rolled in at twilight as Colman tried to enter the mouth of a tributary called Aquehung, (AK-we-hong; soon to be called the Bronx River[vii]), at a place called Snakapins (SNAK-a-pinz), which would soon be called Claessens Point.
Wherever this scenario took place, the unfortunate Colman was likely near the riverine “Fort Knox” of the mighty Siwony neighbors who ran a wampum “factory” with nature’s valued quahog shells, carved and strung together for trade, above all, with the Haudenasaunee (HO-din-o-SHON-ee, or Iroquois) upstate, by canoeing along an inland route to reach Snakapins. [viii] The first mate stood up in the rowboat, called out in greeting, yet then took an arrow in the neck, slowly succumbing to the wound on his return to Henry Hudson’s Halve Maen (the Dutch origin of the English translation better known today). While accidental and duly defensive, things stayed tense in the aftermath between the local Confederacy and the New Netherlandish arrivals.
The Canarsie people were cousins living on the Strait’s other side as boat-going defenders of the Muscoota and its many islands. They called the zone Minnehanonck, (min-ee-HAN-onk) meaning “place of tributaries where plums grow in abundance.” This is in reference to the Graves plum and other beach varieties which grow in the area.[ix] Another abundant food here were the oysters, which according to Henry Hudson, were among the finest in the world.[x]
The main tributary that meets the East River right here at Horn’s Hook is the Harlem River, called by the First People the “Elder River,” or “Kickeshika” (kik-eh-SHEE-ka). This was where some of the earliest ancestors settled thousands of winters before.
All those settling showed great respect for this sacred place, above all, living in harmony with it. The Dutch changed the waterway’s name to Harlem (along with the western shore’s land), as the homesick immigrants noticed that it was the same distance from New Amsterdam, as “old” Haarlem was back home to Amsterdam (plus a similar thoroughfare between them).[xi] But to the tribes already there, it remained the Kickeshika.[xii]
The waters of Long Island Sound, which the First People called Manunketesuk (man-nun-KET-ee-suhk, loosely “Where the Water Comes Out at the Great Island”), pour in from the east around a cluster of rocky islands. One of the smaller islands is called Tenkenas[xiii], after the Siwanoy sub-tribe living nearby.[xiv]
The channels on both sides of Hog Island come together at its point, which is also the point of reference for the Horn’s Hook southern boundary. The islands, like several others here, such as Randall’s and Ward’s, were collectively called “Minnehanonck” by the east-shore resident Canarsie.
One island was sold to the Dutch by Seyseys, Chief of the Marechkawik branch of the Canarsie in 1637; only in 1973 did it come to be known as “Roosevelt” in honor of the late namesake president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Horn’s Hook and surrounding land was under the supervision of Chief Willem, leader of the Rechgawawank, who answered to the Weeqaueskeck[xv] of the Wappingers Confederacy to the north. Because of his strong leadership skills, he shared chiefly duties at times with Oritami on behalf of the great “canton,” as the Dutch labeled it. Willem and Chief Oritami served as negotiators for the Lenape natives to forge the Peace Treaty of August 30th, 1645. Along with Minqua Sachemack, a Susquehannock, they formed the triumvirate of a great commonwealth, which came to govern the Hudson Valley from Staten Island north to Bear Mountain in association with the Mohicans. All share the Mohicanituck (mo-hee-KAN-i-tuck) or North River, soon to be called the Hudson, after the Dutch-sponsored Englishman.
There are several small plum bush-lined tributaries around Hell’s Gate most of which were later channeled through underground pipes. One was called Sunkisq, opposite today’s Roosevelt Island, that the Dutch transliterated as Sunswick, “Sunny Encampment.”[xvi] There it meets the East River just 2500 feet away from Horn’s Hook. Another waterway runs right by Gracie Mansion, while to the north (at 108th Street), is a large east-west stream where the Rechewanis lived on both sides with its source known now as Morningside Park at 125th. Just above is a village called Conykeekst (kon-ee-KEEKST).[xvii]
Nieuw Stad Creek is another tributary, which meets the East River at a Canarsie village just below Roosevelt Island, named ultimately after the “new town” of Elmhurst located in Queens. On the south it is fed by English Kill and Whale Creek, and on the north by Maspeth (MAS-peth, Bad Water) Creek and Dutch Kills.
There are also several nearby trails. Just behind Horn’s Hook is “the Path to the Wading Place,” a major trade route. The name derives from a shallow place in the Harlem River at a village called Shorrakin, where it was best to traverse, which one day will become Harlem River Park at 128th Street. The sandy territory between the East River and the Path to the Wading Place (roughly Third Avenue), is that of the Rechgawank sachemdom, part of the Wappingers Confederacy, including the land at Horn’s Hook.
There is a modest shoreside trail too which a grooved stone axe found at 77th Street at the FDR Drive serves to summon the memory of the original “New Yorkers.” Another path led across Manhattan ending at a shoreline landing on the Hudson soon known as Stryker Bay, while a hilly third wound up to today’s 94th Street to the village of Konaandekong village. This village was the home of another Sunkskwa or female sachem, as the Dutch village name means “The King’s Queen,” or perhaps “Queen, then King.”[xviii]
This historically transformational yet rarely explored dislocating contact endures in the place names themselves, offering a glimpse to visitors today, whether digital or live, of the lively and complex culture that thrived at this place for as many as 50,000 years before the Dutch West India Company arrived to colonize.
Descendant of the Mi’kmaq People of the northeastern woodlands
Director of the Center for Algonquian Culture since 1998
[i] On August 30th, 1645, Kieft celebrated the treaty he made with Oratami, leader of the Tappan Commonwealth and sachem of the Hackensack, with a three cannon salute, “in honor of the solemn peace.” The brass six pound cannon exploded and gunman Jacobsen Roy’s arm was permanently injured. Council Minutes, Vol IV, translation, p. 263. Volume_IV_-_Council_Minutes_1638-1649.pdf (newnetherlandinstitute.org)
[ii] Feb 4th, 1644 Sybolt as defendant versus Jochim Kersteede (p. 212); May 25th 1644 Sybolt as plaintiff (p. 218); Jan. 5th, 1645 Sybolt as defendant versus Isaac Allerton (p. 254); June 7th, 1645 Sybolt as defendant versus Nicholas Coorn, asks for more time to pay for tiles (p. 314) Sept. 13. 1646. Sybolt as plaintiff suing Rouloff Jansen, apparently in error (p. 340); Nov. 30th, 1646, Sybolt as plaintiff, suing Jan Haes for damage to clapboards, to pay immediately under threat of imprisonment. (p. 348); Jan. 16th, 1647 Sybolt versus Cornelius Tonissen over money (p.356), at least seven different legal disputes with his fellow Dutchmen over money, etc.
[iii] Various spellings, this one is from the Council Minutes of New Netherlands, vol. IV., translated into English. The Dutch sea captain Adriaen Block it called Helle Gadt, or clear opening, but then changed to Heil Gadt, Gates of Hell, after a few annoying encounters with it. The ship he sailed through Heil Gadt was the Onrust, or “Restless,” an obvious reference to the accursed “Flying Dutchman,” and the first seagoing ship built in North America, with Lenape labor.
[iv] A hook is a point of land; a hoorn is a horn such as played in a band. But there is an obvious bit of word play here; a claxon is another name for a horn in Dutch. (p.198 Berlitz Dutch-English dictionary, 1994 Oxford, UK,) and sounds almost exactly like Claessen, Sybolt’s last name. So that means he really named the point of land after himself, ie “my point of land.” (Not to be confused with Klaxon, a modern brand of electric horn.)
[v] In The Voyages of David Pietersen DeVries, p 176, Kieft is reprimanded for offering only 200 fathoms of wampum as blood money for local chiefs to murder their own people, in 1643. The value was estimated to be 800 guilders, or 4 guilders per fathom, which in this case is a strand of wampum six feet long. No one knows what Sybolt offered the natives for the land, or if he ever paid, but in this fictional account you offer 200 guilders, 50 fathoms of wampum, and it is accepted. A possibly similar tract of land, one with two waterfalls, was sold to a Herr Flodder along the Paponicuck Kill near Renssaelear by Aepjen, grand sachem of the Mohicans in 1648, for a total of 265 guilders in goods. This included ells of duffels at 4 guilders plus 2 pounds of musket powder at 3 guilders 40 guiders for food for the native guests, 40 guilders for beer, and 10 guilders in brandy. The Mohicans and their Land 1609-1730, Shirley W. Dunn Purple Mountain Press, Fleischmann’s NY 1994. P. 181.
[vi] Stiles, Henry Reed; The civil, political, professional and ecclesiastical history, and commercial and industrial record of the county of Kings and the city of Brooklyn, N. Y., from 1683 to 1884, by Henry R. Stiles … assisted by L. B. Proctor … and L. P. Brockett (New York. W.W. Munsell and Co. 1884) p. 22. Stiles describes such exceptions to white ownership as commonplace, at least in Brooklyn.
[vii] After Jonas Bronk who died in 1643.
[viii] Coming from the north, the Mohawk take the Croton (Kitchewan) east then take the Wampus River south, then portage to the Cisco (“muddy”) -or Kisco Creek then portage to the head of the Bronx (Aquehung) River, taking that waterway south to North Yonkers then east to Scarsdale and the west branch of the Hutchinson, now Lake Innisfree. The Hutchinson River (Aqueanounck) runs directly from Lake Innisfree to Pelham Neck or Rodham’s Neck near City Island. Portaging to the Bronx River gave them direct access to Claessens Point at its mouth, the site of the Snakapins village and the wampum factory there, which I wrote about in both Native New Yorkers (p 99) and Henry Hudson and the Algonquins of New York (pp 107-123) with over sixty long houses, and huge piles of shells being prepared for making wampum belts for “the Algonquin-Iroquois wampum trade.”
However, with one additional portage to what will become Lake Innisfree, the Mohawks travel quickly down the Hutchinson River to an even bigger Siwanoy-run (Algonquin) wampum factory at Pelham Neck, aka Rodman’s Neck at City island, and back. There they would find the Laaphawaching wampum factory, a Munsee word that means “place of stringing beads,” also mentioned in Native New Yorkers. (p.101) It is the women who actually string the beads; it is the men who carve out and drill the shells. (Mark Humpal)The Algonquin wampum factories at the mouth of the Mamaroneck (Manursing Island) are not as famous as the ones at the mouth of the Hutchinson (Aqueanounck) and the mouth of the Bronx River.
[ix] The entire area was known for its wild beach plums, a tasty treat one could just pluck from the bushes. The Dutch called them “Blue Plums,” (Voyages of David DeVries, p. 178) These amazing plants growing ten feet tall, required no tending and no real soil, and could grow right out of beach sand. In one Lenape story the birds were eating all the cherries that the people were planting before the farmers could get to them. In fact there was such a cherry orchard at Cherry Street just to the south of Horn’s Hook, which would have been included. The humans became hungry and made big medicine and prayed to Kiche la mookong (“the one who dreams us into being”) to help them find food. Kiche la mookong made the beach plum for them, which grow right out of the sand, especially on Long Island and especially along the East River. As the plum is too big for the birds to eat, they leave it as a gift for the humans. While most plum species prefer the warm southern climates, such as the Allegheny Plum, the Canadian plum likes the cold; however none have been seen here. The coastal plum is found from Maine to Delaware, but right on the Atlantic itself. So what kind of plum grew vigorously around Hell Gate? It had to have been the Graves Plum, the native species of Long Island and New York City that loves the beach.(source regarding prunis maritima: Henry W Moeller Collection at Stony Brook University cat. # SC432 also Richard Uva.) The Munsee called these fruits PWAH ka-MAASHK.
[x] See Henry Hudson and the Algonquins, entry for September 12th, the day Hudson was first offered oysters on Manhattan, p 139.
[xi] If you take a map of “old” Amsterdam and the pre-existing Netherlands and place it over a map of New Amsterdam (that’s Manhattan) and New Netherland (that’s the Hudson Valley and environs) at the same scale, and turn the Manhattan map so the south (Battery Park) is facing east by southeast, these compulsive cartographers’ geographical artistry will hit you in the face like a portrait by Rembrandt. Old Amsterdam corresponds with Wall Street to Fort Amsterdam, with New York Harbor covered by the Zuider Zee. Broadway heads toward Harlem. Fifth Avenue (some of which was a trail) corresponds with Amsterdam’s N200. Harlem is the same distance, about eleven miles, from New Amsterdam as Old Haarlem is from Old Amsterdam, hence the name. The East River correspond conceptually with the Noordzeekanaal River and the East River’s famous docks (just south of the UN) correspond with Amsterdam’s Eastern Docklands. Brooklyn corresponds with Zunderdorf and Queens with Havenbuurt. The financial district of Manhattan stands on the banks of the original “Canal Street” the Dutch called Here Gratch in which the Tamkill once ran. The reason Broad Street is so broad is that the Brits built it to cover a canal with streets on both sides. At that same corresponding spot in Amsterdam is Singel Kanaal with a similar financial district along its west banks, one that was placed there, some time before New Amsterdam was built. The Brooklyn Bridge was not built by the Dutch but it was originally a native American river crossing and aligns somewhat with the crossing of the Noordzeekanaal at what is now s 116. The corresponding spot in Holland to Gracie Mansion’s outdoor green and banquet tent area is therefore The Amsterdam Golf Club. The town of Hoorn (on the Zuyder Zee) is nowhere near any alignment with Horn Hook, closer I think to Staten Island, but it was all part of a game by which the homesick Dutchmen could be reminded of home.
[xii] These early settlements were probably on the Manhattan side, as most of the embankment on the Bronx side consists of high rocky cliffs. Archaeology in Manhattan is problematic due to early building, but the name suggests encampments 9000 years ago.
[xiii] The word has been spelled Tankitekes and Tanditekes but is pronounced tenk-TAH-gees and has been translated various ways, including “people of the deep woods.”
[xiv] After the colossal wreck of the Captain Slocum in 1904 at Hell’s Gate, that island will be made part of Randall’s Island, and rocks rising up from the bottom of Hell’s Gate will be removed.
[xv] The Weequaskeck are people of the western part of Westchester, especially at Yonkers and Dobbs Ferry, and play a strong leadership role in the affairs of what Daniel Nimham will call the Wappingers Confederacy, including the eastern and northern parts of Manhattan. Though spelled dozens of ways, this writer believes it means wee=head+quay=a shallow inlet+us=small+keck=at a prominent place. This perfectly describes Wickers creek at Dobbs Ferry.
[xvi] There is a sign or kiosk at Playground Thirty-five at Hallett’s Point which I helped to write which mentions that Sunswick Creek was named after a forgotten Sunkisq, or Sunkskwa, a female sachem. Sunswick is an example of “Double Dutch,” a common practice of turning an Algonquin word into a similar sounding Dutch phrase, in this case meaning a sunny encampment. Although probably not any more sunny than any other glen, it served as a mnemonic for Sunkisq. This creek is buried now but pours into the East River at Socrates Sculpture Park, in a straight line SE from Gracie Mansion and Roosevelt Island. Playground Thirty-five was named after 35th Avenue, which cuts through nearby Kaufman-Astoria studios, where in 1992 Paul Simon made his own definitive recording of his oft-covered song “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” on his Complete Unplugged CD, perhaps an unconscious reference to the troubled waters of Hell’s Gate, 2000 feet away from the mouth of the Sunkisq, where many sailors have drowned, and others rescued.
[xvii] Konikeestk has long ago disappeared, but it was near where Thomas Jefferson Pool now stands.
[xviii] Konaandekung was a village of 25 wigwams, approximately 90 people. (Manahatta, Sanderson, p. 107) In Algonquin culture, when the sachem (or “King”) passes away, his wife usually becomes sachem, or “sunkskwa,” with full powers, hence she is “the King’s Queen.” In a German dialect it means “Queen, then King.” (Konigin=queen+de=then +konig=king). Koningen is modern Dutch for Queen, and a similar interpretation could be made; (Berlitz Dutch-English Dictionary, p. 100 Berlitz, Oxford, UK.) The trail became Apthorpe Lane in English times, and is now mostly approximated by 94th street, however some foundations still are aligned with the ancient route. The shoreline cuts sharply inland above Horn’s Hook, so the distance to Konaandekung there is not so great, but it is a steep climb.