Knickerbocker's History of New York/Book IV/Chapter III

Chapter IIIEdit

Never was a more comprehensive, a more expeditious, or, what is still better, a more economical measure devised than this of defeating the Yankees by proclamation--an expedient, likewise, so gentle and humane, there were ten chances to one in favor of its succeeding; but then, there was one chance to ten that it would not succeed. As the ill-natured Fates would have it, that single chance carried the day! The proclamation was perfect in all its parts, well constructed, well written, well sealed, and well published; all that was wanting to insure its effect was, that the Yankees should stand in awe of it; but, provoking to relate, they treated it with the most absolute contempt, applied it to an unseemly purpose, and thus did the first warlike proclamation come to a shameful end--a fate which I am credibly informed has befallen but too many of its successors.

So far from abandoning the country, those varlets continued their encroachments, squatting along the green banks of the Varsche river, and founding Hartford, Stamford, New Haven, and other border towns. I have already shown how the onion patches of Pyquag were an eyesore to Jacobus Van Curlet and his garrison, but now these moss troopers increased in their atrocities, kidnaping hogs, impounding horses, and sometimes grievously rib-roasting their owners. Our worthy forefathers could scarcely stir abroad without danger of being outjockeyed in horseflesh, or taken in in bargaining; while, in their absence, some daring Yankee pedlar would penetrate to their household, and nearly ruin the good housewives with tinware and wooden bowls.[34]

I am well aware of the perils which environ me in this part of my history. While raking, with curious hand but pious heart, among the mouldering remains of former days, anxious to draw therefrom the honey of wisdom, I may fare somewhat like that valiant worthy, Samson, who, in meddling with the carcase of a dead lion, drew a swarm of bees about his ears. Thus, while narrating the many misdeeds of the Yanokie or Yankee race, it is ten chances to one but I offend the morbid sensibilities of certain of their unreasonable descendants, who may fly out and raise such a buzzing about this unlucky head of mine, that I shall need the tough hide of an Achilles, or an Orlando Furioso, to protect me from their stings.

Should such be the case, I should deeply and sincerely lament--not my misfortune in giving offence--but the wrong-headed perverseness of an ill-natured generation, in taking offence at anything I say. That their ancestors did use my ancestors ill is true, and I am very sorry for it. I would, with all my heart, the fact were otherwise; but as I am recording the sacred events of history, I'd not bate one nail's breadth of the honest truth, though I were sure the whole edition of my work would be bought up and burnt by the common hangman of Connecticut. And in sooth, now that these testy gentlemen have drawn me out, I will make bold to go farther, and observe that this is one of the grand purposes for which we impartial historians are sent into the world--to redress wrongs, and render justice on the heads of the guilty. So that, though a powerful nation may wrong its neighbors with temporary impunity, yet sooner or later an historian springs up, who wreaks ample chastisement on it in return.

Thus these moss-troopers of the east little thought, I'll warrant it, while they were harassing the inoffensive province of Nieuw Nederlandts, and driving its unhappy governor to his wits' end, that an historian would ever arise, and give them their own with interest. Since, then, I am but performing my bounden duty as a historian in avenging the wrongs of our reverend ancestors, I shall make no further apology; and, indeed, when it is considered that I have all these ancient borderers of the east in my power, and at the mercy of my pen, I trust that it will be admitted I conduct myself with great humanity and moderation.

It was long before William the Testy could be persuaded that his much-vaunted war measure was ineffectual; on the contrary, he flew in a passion whenever it was doubted, swearing that though slow in operating, yet when it once began to work it would soon purge the land of those invaders. When convinced at length of the truth, like a shrewd physician, he attributed the failure to the quantity, not the quality of the medicine, and resolved to double the dose. He fulminated, therefore, a second proclamation more vehement than the first, forbidding all intercourse with these Yankee intruders; ordering the Dutch burghers on the frontiers to buy none of their pacing horses, measly pork, apple sweetmeats, Weathersfield onions, or wooden bowls, and to furnish them with no supplies of gin, gingerbread, or sourkrout.

Another interval elapsed, during which the last proclamation was as little regarded as the first, and the non-intercourse was especially set at nought by the young folks of both sexes.

At length one day inhabitants of New Amsterdam were aroused by a furious barking of dogs, great and small, and beheld to their surprise the whole garrison of Fort Good Hope straggling into town all tattered and way-worn, with Jacobus Van Curlet at their head, bringing the melancholy intelligence of the capture of Fort Good Hope by the Yankees.

The fate of this important fortress is an impressive warning to all military commanders. It was neither carried by storm nor famine; nor was it undermined, nor bombarded, nor set on fire by red-hot shot, but was taken by a stratagem no less singular than effectual, and which can never fail of success whenever an opportunity occurs of putting it in practice.

It seems that the Yankees had received intelligence that the garrison of Jacobus Van Curlet had been reduced nearly one-eighth by the death of two of his most corpulent soldiers, who had over-eaten themselves on fat salmon caught in the Varsche river. A secret expedition was immediately set on foot to surprise the fortress. The crafty enemy, knowing the habits of the garrison to sleep soundly after they had eaten their dinners and smoked their pipes, stole upon them at the noonstide of a sultry summer's day, and surprised them in the midst of their slumbers.

In an instant the flag of their High Mightinesses was lowered, and the Yankee standard elevated in its stead, being a dried codfish, by way of a spread eagle. A strong garrison was appointed of long-sided, hard-fisted Yankees, with Weathersfield onions for cockades and feathers. As to Jacobus Van Curlet and his men, they were seized by the nape of the neck, conducted to the gate, and one by one dismissed with a kick in the crupper, as Charles XII dismissed the heavy-bottomed Russians at the battle of Narva; Jacobus Van Curlet receiving two kicks in consideration of his official dignity.


   [34] The following cases in point appear in Hazard's "Collection
        of State Papers:"--"In the meantime, they of Hartford have not
        onely usurped and taken in the lands of Connecticott, although
        uprighteously and against the lawes of nations, but have hindered
        our nation in sowing theire own purchased broken-up lands, but
        have also sowed them with corne in the night, which the
        Nederlanders had broken up and intended to sowe; and have beaten
        the servants of the high and mighty the honored companie, which
        were labouring upon theire masters' lands, from theire lands,
        with sticks and plow staves in hostile manner laming, and, among
        the rest, struck Ever Duckings [Evert Duyckink] a hole in his
        head with a stick, so that the bloode ran downe very strongly
        downe upon his body."

        "Those of Hartford sold a hogg, that belonged to the honored
        companie, under pretence that it had eaten of theire grounde
        grass, when they had not any foot of inheritance. They proffered
        the hogg for 5s. if the commissioners would have given 5s. for
        damage; which the commissioners denied, because noe man's own
        hogg (as men used to say), can trespass upon his owne master's