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

Chapter IXEdit

If we could but get a peep at the tally of Dame Fortune, where like a vigilant landlady she chalks up the debtor and creditor accounts of thoughtless mortals, we should find that every good is checked off by an evil; and that however we may apparently revel scot-free for a season, the time will come when we must ruefully pay off the reckoning. Fortune, in fact, is a pestilent shrew, and, withal, an inexorable creditor; and though for a time she may be all smiles and courtesies, and indulge us in long credits, yet sooner or later she brings up her arrears with a vengeance, and washes out her scores with our tears. "Since," says good old Boethius, "no man can retain her at his pleasure, what are her favors but sure prognostications of approaching trouble and calamity?"

This is the fundamental maxim of that sage school of philosophers, the Croakers, who esteem it true wisdom to doubt and despond when other men rejoice, well knowing that happiness is at best but transient; that the higher one is elevated on the see-saw balance of fortune, the lower must be his subsequent depression; that he who is on the uppermost round of a ladder has most to suffer from a fall, while he who is at the bottom runs very little risk of breaking his neck by tumbling to the top.

Philosophical readers of this stamp must have doubtless indulged in dismal forebodings all through the tranquil reign of Walter the Doubter, and considered it what Dutch seamen call a weather-breeder. They will not be surprised, therefore, that the foul weather which gathered during his days should now be rattling from all quarters on the head of William the Testy.

The origin of some of these troubles may be traced quite back to the discoveries and annexations of Hans Reinier Oothout, the explorer, and Wynant Ten Breeches, the land-measurer, made in the twilight days of Oloffe the Dreamer, by which the territories of the Nieuw Nederlandts were carried far to the south, to Delaware River and parts beyond. The consequence was many disputes and brawls with the Indians, which now and then reached the drowsy ears of Walter the Doubter and his council, like the muttering of distant thunder from behind the mountains, without, however, disturbing their repose. It was not till the time of William the Testy that the thunderbolt reached the Manhattoes. While the little governor was diligently protecting his eastern boundaries from the Yankees, word was brought him of the irruption of a vagrant colony of Swedes in the South, who had landed on the banks of the Delaware, and displayed the banner of that redoubtable virago Queen Christina, and taken possession of the country in her name. These had been guided in their expedition by one Peter Minuits or Minnewits, a renegade Dutchman, formerly in the service of their High Mightinesses; but who now declared himself governor of all the surrounding country, to which was given the name of the province of New Sweden.

It is an old saying, that "a little pot is soon hot," which was the case with William the Testy. Being a little man, he was soon in a passion, and once in a passion he soon boiled over. Summoning his council on the receipt of this news, he belabored the Swedes in the longest speech that had been heard in the colony since the wordy warfare of Ten Breeches and Tough Breeches. Having thus taken off the fire-edge of his valor, he resorted to his favorite measure of proclamation, and despatched a document of the kind, ordering the renegade Minnewits and his gang of Swedish vagabonds to leave the country immediately, under pain of vengeance of their High Mightinesses the Lords States General, and of the potentates of the Manhattoes.

This strong measure was not a whit more effectual than its predecessors which had been thundered against the Yankees, and William Kieft was preparing to follow it up with something still more formidable, when he received intelligence of other invaders on his southern frontier, who had taken possession of the banks of the Schuylkill, and built a fort there. They were represented as a gigantic, gunpowder race of men, exceedingly expert at boxing, biting, gouging, and other branches of the rough-and-tumble mode of warfare, which they had learned from their prototypes and cousins-german the Virginians, to whom they have ever borne considerable resemblance. Like them, too, they were great roisterers, much given to revel on hoe-cake and bacon, mint-julep and apple toddy; whence their newly formed colony had already acquired the name of Merryland, which, with a slight modification, it retains to the present day.

In fact, the Merrylanders and their cousins, the Virginians, were represented to William Kieft as offsets from the same original stock as his bitter enemies the Yanokie, or Yankee, tribes of the east; having both come over to this country for the liberty of conscience, or, in other words, to live as they pleased; the Yankees taking to praying and money-making and converting Quakers, and the Southerners to horse-racing and cock-fighting and breeding negroes.

Against these new invaders Wilhelmus Kieft immediately despatched a naval armament of two sloops and thirty men, under Jan Jansen Alpendam, who was armed to the very teeth with one of the little governor's most powerful speeches, written in vigorous Low Dutch.

Admiral Alpendam arrived without accident in the Schuylkill, and came upon the enemy just as they were engaged in a great "barbecue," a king of festivity or carouse much practised in Merryland. Opening upon them with the speech of William the Testy, he denounced them as a pack of lazy, canting, julep-tippling, cock-fighting, horse-racing, slave-driving, tavern-haunting, Sabbath-breaking, mulatto-breeding upstarts: and concluded by ordering them to evacuate the country immediately; to which they laconically replied in plain English, "They'd see him d----d first!"

Now this was a reply on which neither Jan Jansen Alpendam nor Wilhelmus Kieft had made any calculation. Finding himself, therefore, totally unprepared to answer so terrible a rebuff with suitable hostility, the admiral concluded his wisest course would be to return home and report progress. He accordingly steered his course back to New Amsterdam, where he arrived safe, having accomplished this hazardous enterprise at small expense of treasure, and no loss of life. His saving policy gained him the universal appellation of the Savior of his Country, and his services were suitably rewarded by a shingle monument, erected by subscription on the top of Flattenbarrack Hill, where it immortalized his name for three whole years, when it fell to pieces and was burnt for firewood.