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

Chapter IVEdit

To explain the apparently sudden movement of Peter Stuyvesant against the crafty men of the East Country, I would observe that, during his campaigns on the South River, and in the enchanted regions of the Catskill Mountains, the twelve tribes of the East had been more than usually active in prosecuting their subtle scheme for the subjugation of the Nieuw Nederlands.

Independent of the incessant maraudings among hen-roosts and squattings along the border, invading armies would penetrate, from time to time, into the very heart of the country. As their prototypes of yore went forth into the land of Canaan, with their wives and their children, their men-servants and their maid-servants, their flocks and herds, to settle themselves down in the land and possess it; so these chosen people of modern days would progress through the country in patriarchal style, conducting carts and waggons laden with household furniture, with women and children piled on top, and pots and kettles dangling beneath. At the tail of these vehicles would stalk a crew of long-limbed, lank-sided varlets with axes on their shoulders, and packs on their backs, resolutely bent upon "locating" themselves, as they termed it, and improving the country. These were the most dangerous kind of invaders. It is true they were guilty of no overt acts of hostility; but it was notorious that, wherever they got a footing, the honest Dutchmen gradually disappeared, retiring slowly as do the Indians before the white men; being in some way or other talked and chaffered, and bargained and swapped, and, in plain English, elbowed out of all those rich bottoms and fertile nooks in which our Dutch yeomanry are prone to nestle themselves.

Peter Stuyvesant was at length roused to this kind of war in disguise, by which the Yankees were craftily aiming to subjugate his dominions.

He was a man easily taken in, it is true, as all great-hearted men are apt to be; but if he once found it out, his wrath was terrible. He now threw diplomacy to the dogs, determined to appear no more by ambassadors, but to repair in person to the great council of the Amphictyons, bearing the sword in one hand and the olive-branch in the other, and giving them their choice of sincere and honest peace, or open and iron war.

His privy council were astonished and dismayed when he announced his determination. For once they ventured to remonstrate, setting forth the rashness of venturing his sacred person in the midst of a strange and barbarous people. They might as well have tried to turn a rusty weathercock with a broken-winded bellows. In the fiery heart of the iron-headed Peter sat enthroned the five kinds of courage described by Aristotle, and had the philosopher enumerated five hundred more, I verily believed he would have possessed them all. As to that better part of valor called discretion, it was too cold-blooded a virtue for his tropical temperament.

Summoning, therefore, to his presence his trusty follower, Antony Van Corlear, he commanded him to hold himself in readiness to accompany him the following morning on this his hazardous enterprise.

Now Antony the Trumpeter was by this time a little stricken in years, yet by dint of keeping up a good heart, and having never known care or sorrow (having never been married), he was still a hearty, jocund, rubicund, gamesome wag, and of great capacity in the doublet. This last was ascribed to his living a jolly life on those domains at the Hook, which Peter Stuyvesant had granted to him for his gallantry at Fort Casimir.

Be this as it may, there was nothing that more delighted Antony than this command of the great Peter, for he could have followed the stout-hearted old governor to the world's end, with love and loyalty--and he moreover still remembered the frolicing, and dancing, and bundling, and other disports of the east country, and entertained dainty recollections of numerous kind and buxom lasses, whom he longed exceedingly again to encounter.

Thus then did this mirror of hardihood set forth, with no other attendant but his trumpeter, upon one of the most perilous enterprises ever recorded in the annals of knight-errantry. For a single warrior to venture openly among a whole nation of foes--but, above all, for a plain, downright Dutchman to think of negotiating with the whole council of New England!--never was there known a more desperate undertaking! Ever since I have entered upon the chronicles of this peerless, but hitherto uncelebrated, chieftain, has he kept me in a state of incessant action and anxiety with the toils and dangers he is constantly encountering. Oh, for a chapter of the tranquil reign of Wouter Van Twiller, that I might repose on it as on a feather-bed!

Is it not enough, Peter Stuyvesant, that I have once already rescued thee from the machinations of these terrible Amphictyons, by bringing the powers of witchcraft to thine aid? Is it not enough that I have followed thee undaunted, like a guardian spirit, into the midst of the horrid battle of Fort Christina? That I have been put incessantly to my trumps to keep them safe and sound--now warding off with my single pen the shower of dastard blows that fell upon thy rear--now narrowly shielding thee from a deadly thrust by a mere tobacco-box--now casing thy dauntless skull with adamant, when even thy stubborn ram beaver failed to resist the sword of the stout Risingh--and now, not merely bringing thee off alive, but triumphant, from the clutches of the gigantic Swede, by the desperate means of a paltry stone pottle? Is not all this enough, but must thou still be plunging into new difficulties, and hazarding in headlong enterprises thyself, thy trumpeter, and thy historian?

And now the ruddy-faced Aurora, like a buxom chambermaid, draws aside the sable curtains of the night, and out bounces from his bed the jolly red-haired Phoebus, startled at being caught so late in the embraces of Dame Thetis. With many a stable-boy oath he harnesses his brazen-footed steeds, and whips, and lashes, and splashes up the firmament, like a loitering coachman, half-an-hour behind his time. And now behold that imp of fame and prowess, the headstrong Peter, bestriding a raw-boned, switch-tailed charger, gallantly arrayed in full regimentals, and bracing on his thigh that trusty, brass-hilted sword, which had wrought such fearful deeds on the banks of the Delaware.

Behold hard after him his doughty trumpeter, Van Corlear, mounted on a broken-winded, walleyed, calico mare; his stone pottle, which had laid low the mighty Risingh, slung under his arm; and his trumpet displayed vauntingly in his right hand, decorated with a gorgeous banner, on which is emblazoned the great beaver of the Manhattoes. See them proudly issuing out of the city gate, like an iron clad hero of yore, with his faithful squire at his heels; the populace following with their eyes, and shouting many a parting wish and hearty cheering, Farewell, Hardkoppig Piet! Farewell, honest Antony! pleasant be your wayfaring, prosperous your return!--the stoutest hero that ever drew a sword, and the worthiest trumpeter that ever trod shoe-leather!

Legends are lamentably silent about the events that befell our adventurers in this their adventurous travel, excepting the Stuyvesant manuscript, which gives the substance of a pleasant little heroic poem, written on the occasion by Dominie ∆gidius Luyck,[58] who appears to have been the poet laureate of New Amsterdam. This inestimable manuscript assures us that it was a rare spectacle to behold the great Peter and his loyal follower hailing the morning sun, and rejoicing in the clear countenance of Nature, as they pranced it through the pastoral scenes of Bloemen Dael; which in those days was a sweet and rural valley, beautiful with many a bright wild flower, refreshed by many a pure streamlet, and enlivened here and there by a delectable little Dutch cottage, sheltered under some sloping hill, and almost buried in embowering trees.

Now did they enter upon the confines of Connecticut, where they encountered many grievous difficulties and perils. At one place they were assailed by a troop of country squires and militia colonels, who, mounted on goodly steeds, hung upon their rear for several miles, harassing them exceedingly with guesses and questions, more especially the worthy Peter, whose silver-chased leg excited not a little marvel. At another place, hard by the renowned town of Stamford, they were set upon by a great and mighty legion of church deacons, who imperiously demanded of them five shillings for traveling on Sunday, and threatened to carry them captive to a neighboring church, whose steeple peered above the trees; but these the valiant Peter put to rout with little difficulty, insomuch that they bestrode their canes and galloped off in horrible confusion, leaving their cocked hats behind in the hurry of their flight. But not so easily did he escape from the hands of a crafty man of Pyquag; who, with undaunted perseverance and repeated onsets, fairly bargained him out of his goodly switch-tailed charger, leaving in place thereof a villainous, foundered Narraganset pacer.

But, maugre all these hardships, they pursued their journey cheerily along the course of the soft flowing Connecticut, whose gentle waves, says the song, roll through many a fertile vale and sunny plain; now reflecting the lofty spires of the bustling city, and now the rural beauties of the humble hamlet; now echoing with the busy hum of commerce, and now with the cheerful song of the peasant.

At every town would Peter Stuyvesant, who was noted for warlike punctilio, order the sturdy Antony to sound a courteous salutation; though the manuscript observes that the inhabitants were thrown into great dismay when they heard of his approach. For the fame of his incomparable achievements on the Delaware had spread throughout the east country, and they dreaded lest he had come to take vengeance on their manifold transgressions.

But the good Peter rode through these towns with a smiling aspect, waving his hand with inexpressible majesty and condescension; for he verily believed that the old clothes which these ingenious people had thrust into their broken windows, and the festoons of dried apples and peaches which ornamented the fronts of their houses, were so many decorations in honor of his approach, as it was the custom in the days of chivalry to compliment renowned heroes by sumptuous displays of tapestry and gorgeous furniture. The women crowded to the doors to gaze upon him as he passed, so much does prowess in arms delight the gentler sex. The little children, too, ran after him in troops, staring with wonder at his regimentals, his brimstone breeches, and the silver garniture of his wooden leg. Nor must I omit to mention the joy which many strapping wenches betrayed at beholding the jovial Van Corlear, who had whilom delighted them so much with his trumpet, when he bore the great Peter's challenge to the Amphictyons. The kind-hearted Antony alighted from his calico mare, and kissed them all with infinite loving kindness, and was right pleased to see a crew of little trumpeters crowding round him for his blessing, each of whom he patted on the head, bade him be a good boy, and gave him a penny to buy molasses candy.

FOOTNOTES:

   [58] This Luyck was, moreover, rector of the Latin School in
        Nieuw Nederlands, 1663. There are two pieces addressed to ∆gidius
        Luyck in D. Selyn's MSS. of poesies, upon his marriage with
        Judith Isendoorn. (Old MSS.)