Knickerbocker's History of New York/Book V/Chapter V

Chapter VEdit

That the reader may be aware of the peril at this moment menacing Peter Stuyvesant and his capital, I must remind him of the old charge advanced in the council of the league in the time of William the Testy, that the Nederlanders were carrying on a trade "damnable and injurious to the colonists," in furnishing the savages with "guns, powther, and shott." This, as I then suggested, was a crafty device of the Yankee confederacy to have a snug cause of war in petto, in case any favorable opportunity should present of attempting the conquest of the New Nederlands, the great object of Yankee ambition.

Accordingly, we now find, when every other ground of complaint had apparently been removed by treaty, this nefarious charge revived with tenfold virulence, and hurled like a thunderbolt at the very head of Peter Stuyvesant; happily his head, like that of the great bull of the Wabash, was proof against such missiles.

To be explicit, we are told that, in the years 1651, the great confederacy of the east accused the immaculate Peter, the soul of honor and heart of steel, of secretly endeavoring, by gifts and promises, to instigate the Narroheganset, Mohaque, and Pequot Indians to surprise and massacre the Yankee settlements. "For," as the grand council observed, "the Indians round about for divers hundred miles cercute seeme to have drunk deepe of an intoxicating cupp, att or from the Manhattoes against the English, whoe have sought their good, both in bodily and spirituall respects."

This charge they pretended to support by the evidence of divers Indians, who were probably moved by that spirit of truth which is said to reside in the bottle, and who swore to the fact as sturdily as though they had been so many Christian troopers.

Though descended from a family which suffered much injury from the losel Yankees of those times, my great-grandfather having had a yoke of oxen and his best pacer stolen, and having received a pair of black eyes and a bloody nose in one of these border wars; and my grandfather, when a very little boy tending pigs, having been kidnaped and severely flogged by a long-sided Connecticut schoolmaster--yet I should have passed over all these wrongs with forgiveness and oblivion--I could even have suffered them to have broken Everett Ducking's head; to have kicked the doughty Jacobus Van Curlet and his ragged regiment out of doors; to have carried every hog into captivity, and depopulated every hen-roost on the face of the earth with perfect impunity--but this wanton attack upon one of the most gallant and irreproachable heroes of modern times is too much even for me to digest, and has overset, with a single puff, the patience of the historian and the forbearance of the Dutchman.

Oh, reader, it was false! I swear to thee, it was false! If thou hast any respect to my word, if the undeviating character for veracity, which I have endeavored to maintain throughout this work, has its due weight with thee, thou wilt not give thy faith to this tale of slander; for I pledge my honor and my immortal fame to thee, that the gallant Peter Stuyvesant was not only innocent of this foul conspiracy, but would have suffered his right arm, or even his wooden leg, to consume with slow and everlasting flames, rather than attempt to destroy his enemies in any other way than open, generous warfare. Beshrew those caitiff scouts that conspired to sully his honest name by such an imputation!

Peter Stuyvesant, though haply he may never have heard of a knight errant, had as true a heart of chivalry as ever beat at the round table of King Arthur. In the honest bosom of this heroic Dutchman dwelt the seven noble virtues of knighthood, flourishing among his hardy qualities like wild flowers among rocks. He was, in truth, a hero of chivalry struck off by Nature at a single heat, and though little care may have been taken to refine her workmanship, he stood forth a miracle of her skill. In all his dealings he was headstrong perhaps, but open and above board; if there was anything in the whole world he most loathed and despised, it was cunning and secret wile; "straight forward" was his motto, and he at any time rather run his hard head against a stone wall than attempt to get round it.

Such was Peter Stuyvesant, and if my admiration of him has on this occasion transported my style beyond the sober gravity which becomes the philosophic recorder of historic events, I must plead as an apology that though a little grey-headed Dutchman, arrived almost at the down-hill of life, I still retain a lingering spark of that fire which kindles in the eye of youth when contemplating the virtues of ancient worthies. Blessed thrice, and nine times blessed be the good St. Nicholas, if I have indeed escaped that apathy which chills the sympathies of age and paralyses every glow of enthusiasm.

The first measure of Peter Stuyvesant, on hearing of this slanderous charge, would have been worthy of a man who had studied for years in the chivalrous library of Don Quixote. Drawing his sword and laying it across the table to put him in proper tune, he took pen in hand and indited a proud and lofty letter to the council of the league, reproaching them with giving ear to the slanders of heathen savages against a Christian, a soldier, and a cavalier; declaring that whoever charged him with the plot in question lied in his throat; to prove which he offered to meet the president of the council, or any of his compeers; or their champion, Captain Alexander Partridge, that mighty man of Rhodes, in single combat; wherein he trusted to vindicate his honor by the prowess of his arm.

This missive was intrusted to his trumpeter and squire, Anthony Van Corlear, that man of emergencies, with orders to travel night and day, sparing neither whip nor spur, seeing that he carried the vindication of his patron's fame in his saddle-bags. The loyal Anthony accomplished his mission with great speed and considerable loss of leather. He delivered his missive with becoming ceremony, accompanying it with a flourish of defiance on his trumpet to the whole council, ending with a significant and nasal twang full in the face of Captain Partridge, who nearly jumped out of his skin in an ecstasy of astonishment.

The grand council was composed of men too cool and practical to be put readily in a heat, or to indulge in knight-errantry, and above all to run a tilt with such a fiery hero as Peter the Headstrong. They knew the advantage, however, to have always a snug, justifiable cause of war in reserve with a neighbor who had territories worth invading; so they devised a reply to Peter Stuyvesant, calculated to keep up the "raw" which they had established.

On receiving this answer, Anthony Van Corlear remounted the Flanders mare which he always rode, and trotted merrily back to the Manhattoes, solacing himself by the way according to his wont; twanging his trumpet like a very devil, so that the sweet valleys and banks of the Connecticut, resounded with the warlike melody; bringing all the folks to the windows as he passed through Hartford and Pyquag and Middletown, and all the other border towns; ogling and winking at the women, and making aerial windmills from the end of his nose at their husbands; and stopping occasionally in the villages to eat pumpkin-pies, dance at country frolics, and bundle with the Yankee lasses, whom he rejoiced exceedingly with his soul-stirring instrument.