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

Chapter XIIEdit

It was asserted by the wise men of ancient times who had a nearer opportunity of ascertaining the fact, that at the gate of Jupiter's palace lay two huge tuns, one filled with blessings, the other with misfortunes; and it would verily seem as if the latter had been completely overturned, and left to deluge the unlucky province of Nieuw Nederlandts; for about this time, while harassed and annoyed from the south and the north, incessant forays were made by the border chivalry of Connecticut upon the pig-sties and hen-roosts of the Nederlanders. Every day or two some broad-bottomed express rider, covered with mud and mire, would come floundering into the gate of New Amsterdam, freighted with some new tale of aggression from the frontier; whereupon Anthony Van Corlear, seizing his trumpet, the only substitute for a newspaper in those primitive days, would sound the tidings from the ramparts with such doleful notes and disastrous cadence, as to throw half the old women in the city into hysterics; all which tended greatly to increase his popularity, there being nothing for which the public are more grateful than being frequently treated to a panic--a secret well known to modern editors.

But oh, ye powers! into what a paroxysm of passion did each new outrage of the Yankees throw the choleric little governor! Letter after letter, protest after protest, bad Latin, worse English, and hideous Low Dutch, were incessantly fulminated upon them, and the four-and-twenty letters of the alphabet, which formed his standing army, were worn out by constant campaigning. All, however, was ineffectual; even the recent victory at Oyster Bay, which had shed such a gleam of sunshine between the clouds of his foul weather reign, was soon followed by a more fearful gathering up of those clouds and indications of more portentous tempests; for the Yankee tribe on the banks of the Connecticut, finding on this memorable occasion their incompetency to cope in fair fight with the sturdy chivalry of the Manhattoes, had called to their aid all the ten tribes of their brethren who inhabit the east country, which from them has derived the name of Yankee land. This call was promptly responded to. The consequence was a great confederacy of the tribes of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Plymouth, and New Haven, under the title of the "United Colonies of New England;" the pretended object of which was mutual defense against the savages, but the real object the subjugation of the Nieuw Nederlandts.

For, to let the reader into one of the greatest secrets of history, the Nieuw Nederlandts had long been regarded by the whole Yankee race as the modern land of promise, and themselves as the chosen and peculiar people destined, one day or other, by hook or by crook, to get possession of it. In truth, they are a wonderful and all-prevalent people; of that class who only require an inch to gain an ell; or a halter to gain a horse. From the time they first gained a foothold on Plymouth Rock, they began to migrate, progressing and progressing from place to place, and land to land, making a little here and a little there, and controverting the old proverb, that a rolling stone gathers no moss. Hence they have facetiously received the nickname of "The Pilgrims," that is to say, a people who are always seeking a better country than their own.

The tidings of this great Yankee league struck William Kieft with dismay, and for once in his life he forgot to bounce on receiving a disagreeable piece of intelligence. In fact, on turning over in his mind all that he had read at the Hague about leagues and combinations, he found that this was a counterpart of the Amphictyonic League, by which the states of Greece attained such power and supremacy; and the very idea made his heart quake for the safety of his empire at the Manhattoes.

The affairs of the confederacy were managed by an annual council of delegates held at Boston, which Kieft denominated the Delphos of this truly classic league. The very first meeting gave evidence of hostility to the New Nederlanders, who were charged, in their dealings with the Indians, with carrying on a traffic in "guns, powther, and shott--a trade damnable and injurious to the colonists." It is true the Connecticut traders were fain to dabble a little in this damnable traffic; but then they always dealt in what were termed Yankee guns, ingeniously calculated to burst in the pagan hands which used them.

The rise of this potent confederacy was a death-blow to the glory of William the Testy, for from that day forward he never held up his head, but appeared quite crestfallen. It is true, as the grand council augmented in power, and the league, rolling onward, gathered about the red hills of New Haven, threatening to overwhelm the Nieuw Nederlandts, he continued occasionally to fulminate proclamations and protests, as a shrewd sea captain fires his guns into a water spout, but, alas! they had no more effect than so many blank cartridges.

Thus end the authenticated chronicles of the reign of William the Testy, for henceforth, in the troubles, perplexities, and confusion of the times, he seems to have been totally overlooked, and to have slipped for ever through the fingers of scrupulous history. It is a matter of deep concern that such obscurity should hang over his latter days; for he was in truth a mighty and great little man, and worthy of being utterly renowned, seeing that he was the first potentate that introduced into this land the art of fighting by proclamation, and defending a country by trumpeters and windmills.

It is true that certain of the early provincial poets, of whom there were great numbers in the Nieuw Nederlandts, taking advantage of his mysterious exit, have fabled that, like Romulus, he was translated to the skies, and forms a very fiery little star, somewhere on the left claw of the crab; while others, equally fanciful, declare that he had experienced a fate similar to that of the good King Arthur, who, we are assured by ancient bards, was carried away to the delicious abodes of fairyland, where he still exists in pristine worth and vigor, and will one day or another return to restore the gallantry, the honor, and the immaculate probity, which prevailed in the glorious days of the Round Table.[37]

All these, however, are but pleasing fantasies, the cobweb visions of those dreaming varlets the poets, to which I would not have my judicious reader attach any credibility. Neither am I disposed to credit an ancient and rather apocryphal historian, who asserts that the ingenious Wilhelmus was annihilated by the blowing down of one of his windmills, nor a writer of later times, who affirms that he fell a victim to an experiment in natural history, having the misfortune to break his neck from a garret window of the stadthouse in attempting to catch swallows by sprinkling salt upon their tails. Still less do I put my faith in the tradition that he perished at sea in conveying home to Holland a treasure of golden ore, discovered somewhere among the haunted regions of the Catskill mountains.[38]

The most probable account declares, that what with the constant troubles on his frontiers--the incessant schemings and projects going on in his own pericranium--the memorials, petitions, remonstrances, and sage pieces of advice of respectable meetings of the sovereign people, and the refractory disposition of his councillors, who were sure to differ from him on every point, and uniformly to be in the wrong--his mind was kept in a furnace heat, until he became as completely burnt out as a Dutch family pipe which has passed through three generations of hard smokers. In this manner did he undergo a kind of animal combustion consuming away like a farthing rushlight, so that when grim Death finally snuffed him out, there was scarcely left enough of him to bury!

FOOTNOTES:

   [37] "The old Welsh bards believed that King Arthur was not dead,
        but carried awaie by the fairies into some pleasant place, where
        he sholde remaine for a time, and then returne againe and reigne
        in as great authority as ever."--Holinshed.

        "The Britons suppose that he shall come yet and conquere all
        Britaigne; for, certes, this is the prophicye of Merlyn--He say'd
        that his deth shall be doubteous; and said soth, for men thereof
        yet have doubte and shullen for evermore, for men wyt not whether
        that he lyveth or is dede."--De Leew Chron.

   [38] Diedrich Knickerbocker, in his scrupulous search after
        truth, is sometimes too fastidious in regard to facts which
        border a little on the marvelous. The story of the golden ore
        rests on something better than mere tradition. The venerable
        Adrian Van der Donck, Doctor of Laws, in his description of the
        New Netherlands, asserts it from his own observation as an
        eye-witness. He was present, he says, in 1645, at a treaty
        between Governor Kieft and the Mohawk Indians, in which one of
        the latter, in painting himself for the ceremony, used a pigment,
        the weight and shining appearance of which excited the curiosity
        of the governor and Mynheer Van der Donck. They obtained a lump
        and gave it to be proved by a skillful doctor of medicine,
        Johannes de la Montagne, one of the councillors of the New
        Netherlands. It was put into a crucible, and yielded two pieces
        of gold worth about three guilders. All this, continues Adrian
        Van der Donck, was kept secret. As soon as peace was made with
        the Mohawks, an officer and a few men were sent to the mountain,
        in the region of the Kaatskill, under the guidance of an Indian,
        to search for the precious mineral. They brought back a bucketful
        of ore, which, being submitted to the crucible, proved as
        productive as the first. William Kieft now thought the discovery
        certain. He sent a confidential person, Arent Corsen, with a
        bagful of the mineral to New Haven, to take passage in an English
        ship for England, thence to proceed to Holland. The vessel sailed
        at Christmas, but never reached her port. All on board
        perished.[A]

        In the year 1647, Wilhelmus Kieft himself embarked on board the
        Princess, taking with him specimens of the supposed mineral.
        The ship was never heard of more!

        Some have supposed that the mineral in question was not gold, but
        pyrites; but we have the assertion of Adrian Van der Donck, an
        eye-witness, and the experiment of Johannes de la Montagne, a
        learned doctor of medicine, on the golden side of the question.
        Cornelius Van Tienhooven, also, at that time secretary of the New
        Netherlands, declared, in Holland, that he had tested several
        specimens of the mineral, which proved satisfactory. It would
        appear, however, that these golden treasures of the Kaatskill
        always brought ill luck; as is evidenced in the fate of Arent
        Corsen and Wilhelmus Kieft, and the wreck of the ships in which
        they attempted to convey the treasure across the ocean. The
        golden mines have never since been explored, but remain among the
        mysteries of the Kaatskill mountains, and under the protection of
        the goblins which haunt them.

        [A] See Van der Donck's description of the New Netherlands,
            Collect. New York Hist. Society, vol. i., p. 161.