Kinderhook and

its Indians

From the book

A History of Old Kinderhook

By Edward A. Collier, D.D.

G. P. Putnam's Sons

New York and London



Pages 8 to 21


     The Indians who so kindly welcomed Henry Hudson were the Machicans, sometimes mistakenly identified with their cousins the Mohegans, whom Cooper immortalized.   Their domain included the whole eastern shore of the upper Hudson as far as the falls of the Mohawk and thence eastward indefinitely.  They were a tribe of the Lenni-Lenapes which means Original People.  The domain of the Lenapes extended along the Atlantic seaboard from the St. Lawrence to Florida, and as far inland as the valley of the Mississippi, and even to some tribes beyond.  But of this region a small portion near the Great Lakes, and that extending across New York and through the valley of the Mohawk and to the headwaters of the Delaware and Susquehanna, was occupied by the Mengwe, otherwise called Iroquois or Six Nations; and a small portion along the Gulf at the south was inhabited by the Creeks and Cherokees.  The Lenni-Lenapes, it is stated, had been reduce in numbers by 1600, to 90,000; about one half of the total number of Indians east of the Mississippi.


    The tradition of the Mahicans concerning their early history, which is essentially that of the Lenni-Lenapes, is given by Heckewelder in substance as follows: Their ancestral home was in the far West beside great waters that ebbed and flowed.  Moved by the Great Spirit to seek new hunting grounds in the East, they started upon their journey.  It was long and perilous and involved many bloody conflicts with hostile tribes through whose territory they must needs go.  Years of privation and suffering came and went without their finding a place of rest.  They came to many great waters but to none that ebbed and flowed until they reached the Hudson.  These water were like those of their ancestral river.  They named them Mahicanituck, the river of the Mahicans.  Here the Great Spirit would have them "kindle a fire and hang a kettle whereof they and their children might dip out their daily refreshment."


    Their Council fire and palisaded village or castle were in Schodack, meaning Fire Place or Place of Council.  The site was Castle hill within the present village of Castleton.  another place of rendezvous was in Valatie, the Indian name of which (Pachaquak) signifies Meeting Place.  Beeren Island was long known as the island of the Mahicans, and Smack's as Aepjen's Island.


    Eskuvius, alias Aepjen (Little Ape), was the Mahican head Sachem and Peace Chief.  The name Aepjen was probably the Dutch phonetic spelling of an Indian name of much more dignified meaning.  Kesieway (Kesse Waye) was another Peace Chief who was in later years a mail-carrier between Albany and New York.  The function of a Peach Chief was to maintain tribal covenants and also to negotiate treaties of peace for his own people and for others when invited thus to serve.  We find Aepjen thus serving with the sachems of five other tribes in New Amsterdam, in 1645, to terminate a desolating war of five years' continuance.  Their signatures, with those of William Kieft and other Dutch officials, were affixed to the treaty.  Aepjen's mark is charmingly like a child's picture of a giraffe with a long neck but very short legs and a straight tail of the same length.  It was meant doubtless for a wolf, the emblem of his tribe.  Again in 1660 he was one of three Mahican chiefs who went to Fort Amsterdam in the interests of peace with the Esopus Indians.  Laying down, we read, four belts of wampum before Governor Stuyvesant, "These," he said, "are a guarantee that the Kalebackers (possessors of guns) desire peace, and that we are authorized to treat in their behalf."


    Traditionally, Emikee, whose name occurs on an Indian deed and on the subsequent Baker and Flodder land-paten, was the owner of the present site of the village of Kinderhook and of a portion of the flats toward Valatie; and one Pompoen (whence Pompoenick) was the swarthy proprietor of Valatie or land to the east of it.  As late as 1812, when attorney Martin Van Buren was arguing one of the almost interminable land cases, he rather ungraciously referred to Emikee as "only an Indian."  The retort was that the attorney was born on Emikee's land.


    In our iconoclastic age some are disposed to regard Emikee as a myth, partly because Chancellor Kent, in one of our most important land cases, of which we shall have more to say, used the words, "the Emiquees land." suggesting possibly a tribe or family of the Mahicans.  That the word was a corruption of Maquas (Mohawks) is not credible.  The Mohawks, sometimes victors and at other times the vanquished even in their own fastnesses, in the frequent conflicts between the two tribes, never owned any of our territory.  That Emikee and Wattawit, our chief Indian landholder (for himself or his family), were one and the same is possible.  But for ourselves we have a profound respect for Emikee as a veritable person, and shall drop a quite tear over his grave when we find it.  He should have a monument in our village park, and we will receive subscriptions therefor.


    The principal trails of the Indians through the wilderness, unbroken save by patches here and there under crude tillage, were two: one near the river; and the other, following the lines of least resistance, nearly identical with the roadbed of the Boston and Albany Railroad and long known as the "New England Path."


    The friendliness of the Mahicans who welcomed Hudson was continued for many years.  With scarcely an exception their lands were bought, not stolen.  The price was often trifling indeed, but satisfactory to the owners.  Under the Dutch in 1629, and the English in 1664, the extinguishment of the Indian claim by purchase was a prerequisite to the granting of a land-patent.  The Indian owner or the Sachem of the tribe was required to appear in person before the Albany authorities and attest the satisfactory sale.


    On Manhattan, not here, occurred the alleged repetition of Queen Dido's exploit at Carthage.  A bit of land, only what a bullock's hide would cover, that they might "raise a few greens for their soup," was asked for and freely given.  But when the thrifty suppliants, layung aside their Virgil, proceeded to cut the hide into small strings which enclosed a considerable plot, the Indians said nothing, for they had several acres left, but they did considerable thinking, to the effect possibly that the verdants in the bouillon were already in evidence.


    In 1723 Mahican chiefs brought to commander Jorise at Fort Orange, large presents of beaver and other peltry, and asked for covenants of friendship and privileges of traffic.  They are reported as saying at that time that they made a wide distinction between the Dutch at Fort Orange and those at New Amsterdam.  We blushingly accept the tribute as undoubtedly merited.  And yet we will say that there was a decided distinction between the fierce warlike Delawares of Manhattan and our peaceful loving Mahicans.  Moreover, when we read in the narrative of the Swedish naturalist, Peter Kalm, of his visit to Albany, in 1749--"Nobody comes to this place without the most pressing necessity," and read his description of the inhabitants as a people whose "avarice and selfishness are known through all North America," we are humbled.  But Albany was not Kinderhook.


    The "merrie making" which followed Hudson's visit to the Mahicans was the beginning of a sorrowful story.  In later years their love for the white man's "fire-water" became an insatiable appetite most destructive as always in its results.  No wonder that some called it "devils' blood."  The record is painful and humiliating to the last degree, but the long story of impoverishment, demoralization, disease, and death requires no recital here.  Two hundred years later, Heckewelder writes of the traditions of that fateful merrymaking as still current among the Indians.  He gives the derivation of the name Manhattan from a long Indian word meaning "the island where we all became intoxicated."  Inasmuch as the earliest authorities refer to the locality as "Mana-hatta" we respectfully put an interrogation mark after Mr. Heckewelder's derivation, and are assured of a more pleasing pedigree for the name.


    The Indians were not wholly uncared for by the Colonial authorities: among the "Lawes establisht by the Authority of His Majestess Letters patent granted to his Royall Highnes James Duke of Yorke and Albany," we find the law regarding the purchase of lands from Indians already refered to; other laws for their protection from injuries; forbidding the sale of weapons, ammunition, intoxicating liquors without license, etc.; and then this for the safe-guarding of the morals of settlers: "No Indian whatsoever shall at any time be suffered to Powaw or perform outward worship to the Devil in any Towne within this Government."   There was also this charming protection of the sanctity of marriage: "Any person proven guilty of perjury, who has thereby attained a Double Marriage. . . . . shall bee boared through the tongue with a read hot iron."


    The devil-worship referred to was thus explained in Robert Livingston's letter to Bellomont in 1770: "God, they say, is good and lives above.  Him they love because He never do's them any harm.  The devil they fear and are forces to bribe by offerings, etc., that he do them no harme."


    How tenderly solicitous the Dutch fathers were for the health of the Indians we learn from Jed's Historical Fragments which tell us of the ordinance of 1653 against the selling of white bread or cake to the natives; and we are pleased to note that in 1655, Jochim, the baker, was tried for selling them sugar cakes and also for baking bread under weight.  This last was such a heinous offense that notice was affixed to the church door (1681) that the price of white bread was to be seven stivers (14 cents) wampum, for a loaf weighing one Dutch pound.


    Our Mahicans seem to have been numerous and strong at the time of Hudson's visit and for twenty years thereafter.


    In apparent confirmation of this, which is not the commonly accepted view, we find in what is known as Van Curler's but was probably (Mr. Van Laer thinks) Surgeon Vanden Bogaert's Journal of his expedition among the Iroquois (1634-35), a reference to an abandoned fortress of the Mohawks, from which (his Indian guide informed him) they had been driven not many years before by the Mahicans.  Indeed, so independent were they that the first settlers at Fort Orange found them entirely unwilling to part with any of their territory.  Even the West India Company was unable as late as 1625 to purchase from them the site of Fort Orange.  It was not until after their disastrous defeat by the Mohawks on Roger's Island, in 1629, that the Mahicans consented to sell any part of their ancestral domain.  Then, through the steady encroachment of the white man, as well as the triumph of their ancient foe, they soon became a comparatively small and feeble folk.


    Their treatment by the Dutch and English authorities, while not especially oppressive, tended to make and keep them "women" as the Indian phrase was.  The conciliation of the Mohawks, and the other nations of the famous Iroquois League, seemed and probably was essential to the progress and even the continued existence of Fort Orange and its dependencies.  The Mohawks, hoping to obtain arms with which they might more successfully than of late contend with the Indian allies of the French in Canada, were quite disposed to be conciliated.  Hence the summons to all to the notable conference of Norman's Kill in 1618.  In the treaty there concluded the Iroquois held one end of the Peace Belt, and the Dutch the other, while the middle of it rested on the shoulders of the Lenni-Lenapes and the Mahicans.  All the white man's power was pledged against the people who should first unbury the hatchet.


    The Mahicans appear to have remained true to the covenant of 1619 to the last.  We may be sure they were not of the marauding band of Indians who in 1664 burned the Staats house at Stockport and devastated to some extent the interior.  Nor were they of those allies of the French who in 1748 and 1755 made their sudden attacks with torch, tomahawk, and muskets.  On the contrary, they were ready to serve our people with their lives if need be.  When in 1691 Fort Orange was threatened with an attack by the French and their savage allies, the Mahicans were "the River Indians" who obeyed the summons to defend the imperiled fort.  And when in 1696, Captain Dubeau and his band from Montreal were marching from the vicinity of Fort Orange to attack Kinderhook, our faithful Mahicans surprised and defeated them.  Doubtless there were occasional lapses from virtue on the part of individuals, as there have been, it is reported, among the sachems and braves of the Great Wigwam of Manhattan.  But on the whole the Mahicans were faithful to their early covenant of friendship.  The characterization of the River Indians by Smith's History as "dastardly tribes to whom governors gave presents for promises never meant to be performed," is inaccurate and unjust.  They sealed their covenant of friendship with the English, as well as with the Dutch, with their own blood.


    In evidence of this we quote a portion of the address of the Mahicans to Governor Fletcher, when he came to Albany in 1693 to confer with them and other Indians.  It should be noted that the Mahicans had received considerable accessions after King Philip's war (1676), by the coming of their cousins from New England.


    We cite a fragment of the address: "Wee return you also our hearty thank's for renewing and makeing bright that covenant chain, wee will alway's Oyle and greeze it that it should never Rust.  Thereupon they presented half a belt of Wampum."  They did lubricate the covenant chain; for, when the same Governor visited Albany in 1696, passing through Kinderhook on his way, one of the very first things he did was to send for our Indians "who had knocked a party of seaven Frenchmen on the head," and "for their better encouragement" gave them six pounds for each one they had killed.


    Although involving a break in the continuity of our narrative, the frequent and manifold use of wampum (seawant), in Indian traffic treaties and common life, justifies a paragraph of explanation.  Wampum was made of bits of shell rounded , perforated, and usually strung on a sinew of an animal.  The strings varied in length according to circumstances and were sometimes measured by the fathom.  Several strings interwoven to about the width of a hand constituted a belt.  The beads, so-called, were usually like small pieces of broken pipestem, white, black, red, or purple in color, and were more valuable if polished.  Those of cylindrical shape, made from the red pipestone of the West, were more valuable still.  The beads were used for money, for personal adornment, and as symbolic tokens and pledges.  Their color, number, and arrangement were significant of ideas, intelligible to the Indian if not to the white-man.  At conferences and councils and in the making of treaties, the Indian orator was wont to punctuate the paragraphs of his oration by laying down strings, belts, or fathoms of wampum varying in length, value, and symbolic meaning according to the importance of the subject-matter of his address.


    These belts were also in a degree their historic annals and the records of the mutual obligations of giver and receiver.  We read of an Indian who in time of need claimed from a white man the fulfillment of a promise he had received forty years before, and of which he had a memorial belt.  A sachem or other dignitary was the official keeper of these memorial belts.  From time to time he would gather the younger members of the tribe about him and solemnly explain the significance of each belt, thus handing it down from father to son and from generation to generation.  The explanation was listened to with reverent silence until completed.  Then, only, some aged warrior might speak of any detail which the keeper of the belts had possibly forgotten.


    As money, wampum was an unstable currency, with a constant tendency to depreciation.  A well-polished black bead was worth two white ones.  In 1641, at the famous Seawant-Wampum Exchange, which stood (we assume) on Aepjen's Island, six unpolished, or four well-polished beads were worth one stiver (about two cents).  In 1658, eight white and four black beads were valued at one stiver, and four years later twenty-four white beads and twelve black were worth one stiver.  A fathom of wampum was valued at $1.66 1/2.  These market quotations are correct, whatever the unimaginative may allege concerning the precise location of the Seawant-Wampum Exchange.


    Resuming our proof of the fidelity and serviceableness of our Indians, we cite the testimony of Robert Livingston (1700) in a letter to Governor Bellomont, in which he says, "The River Indians have done signal service for this government in the late war."


    For yet another interesting item of evidence, we have the notable address of the River Indians to Lieutenant-Governor Nanfan (7101) in the presence of Peter Schuyler of "His Majesties Councill," the mayor, aldermen, and other dignitaries.  The Mahican sachem Sacquans was the speaker whom we quote in part:


    Father.  Wee became like a people in darkness soe soon as wee heard of the death of our father the late Earle of Bellomont our Governour and soe continued till the sun shined again upon us by your coming... wee esteem ourselves happy that there is such a person pitch'd upon to be our father and Governour who wee hope will take care of us--Doe give two beavers.

    Father.  Itt is by Gods permission wee meet here together and wee are heartily glad to see you, and since itt is requisite you should know our strength wee have made an exact calculation and wee are now two hundred fighting men...and hope to increase in a years time to three hundred. doe give a belt of Wampum.

    Father.  Itt is now ninety years agoe since the christians came first here, when there was a covenant chain made between them and the Mahikanders the first inhabitants of this River, and the chain has been kept inviolable ever since and we have observed that neither Bears grease nor the fatt of dear or Elks are soe proper to keep that chain bright, the only forraign (sovraign) remedy that wee have found by experience in all that time to keep the chain bright is Beavers grease.  doe give two Beavers.


 The fifth paragraph of Lanfan's reply is as follows:


    The great King of England my Master being made sencible of your steddy adherence to the Crown of England sufficiently demonstrated by your forward and frequent venturing your lives agains the Franch in the late warr has been graciously pleased to command me to assure you of his Royall protection and has sent you a present.


    This was the present, besides what was given to particular sachems privately: "30 Gunns.  5 kettles.  4 dozen knives.  5 looking glasses.  1 ps red  1 ps blew strouds, 1 ps blanketts, 8 keggs of Rum, 200 bars lead, 40 Bags powder, 3 Rolls tobacco, 10 Hatchets, 10 shirts, 24 pair stockings, gorss of pipes, 2 vatts beer, 50 loaves."


    In Barber's Historical American Scenes it is narrated, in substance, that a delegation from Massachusetts being in Albany to confer, in common with our authorities, with the Six Nations, it became necessary for Colonel Schuyler to send a letter to Niagara.  It was intrusted [sic] to an Indian who was to bring back the reply.  During his absence Colonel Schuyler was taken quite ill.  The messenger, on his return, went to the council chamber but finding Colonel Schuyler absent would give the letter to none other, notwithstanding all assurances and solicitations.  He was then offered fifty pounds for the letter and his service but scornfully refused the offer.  The perplexed commissioners then threatened to take the letter by force, whereupon, with his drawn knife in his right hand and the letter in the left, he said with indignation that he would plunge the knife into his own heart before he would be guilty of a breach of trust.  And he was "only an Indian."


    The Indian names of familiar localities are not without interest.  They are to be found on old maps, deeds, surveys, land-patents, and in the colonial records so voluminously on file among the archives of the State.  In many cases, however, their orthography is so variant in different documents, and even in the same document, that authorities are unable to decide as to the correct form and the precise significance.  Ruttenber makes note of forty-nine variations of one name.


    Like the early Hebrew Bible names they were all significant.  They were vivid word-pictures; and yet, eyes skilled in discerning them do not always see the same pictures.  For example, "Skenectadea,"  some have said, was the Indian name for the present site of Albany, and Ruttenber assembles this picture gallery of varying interpretations: "Beyond the opening (Morgan); "Beyond (or on the other side of) the door" (O'Callaghan), and "Beyond the Pines" (Horatio Allen).  Mr. Ruttenber deems Mr. Allen's interpretation exhaustive and correct from the standpoint of a Mohawk, but himself prefers a Dutch origin for the name and the meaning--"beautiful portion."


    Premising that where authorities differ we give but one orthography without claiming exactitude, we present the following details, nearly all of them from the older land-patents:


    The Hudson River, named by the Dutch Mauritius, was called by some Indians Shatemuc (Eel-fishing Place), and by others, as before stated, Mahicanituck, the river of the Mahicans.  The vicinity of Chittenden's Falls was termed Cicklekawick, a wild, dashing stream.  Two tracts, farther up the creek, were called Najokassick and Wachcanossoonsick.  One of the falls still beyond was named Casesiawack.  A portion of the site of Kinderhook village was Machackoosk and that of Valatie, Packaquak, the cleared or meeting-place.  In parenthesis, we respectfully suggest to our neighbor a return, as in the case of Sing Sing, to the sonorous Indian name, rather than the   perpetuation of the unmeaning nasality, Va-ly-she, for the good old Dutch pronunciation Vl-a-che, meaning Little Falls as distinguished from the greater falls below.  It is related of the late Hon. William H. Tobey that, hearing a lawyer in Court say Va-ly-she, he wrathfully exclaimed: "What does the fellow mean?  There is no such place."  Ruttenber to the contrary notwithstanding, French's Gazetteer is correct as to the meaning of Valatie, Little Falls.


    The hills to the east of Valatie toward Chatham Center were named Pennekoes.  The Kleine Kill was Kenagtiquak, a small stream or beginning place.  Kinderhook Lake (Great Fish) was Wogasheuachook, while the smaller Knickerbocker Lake had appropriately the less imposing name Heithoock (Tree).  the Eykebush (Oak Woods) Creak was called Pettancok.  Pompoenick may have meant playground.  The Indians had their places of sport.


    Our Mahicans, few in number compared with what they had been, rapidly faded away.  The official enumeration of 1689 revealed but 250, including women and children, in the entire county of Albany, of which Kinderhook was a district.  Seven years later they had dwindled to ninety.  Strong drink, "one of the fatal first gifts," says O'Callaghan, of the civilized Christian to the untutored heathen, was their greatest enemy.  Their wisest men at least understood this.  At their conference with Lord Cornbury in 1702 a sachem stood up and prayed that, "ye Rum (100 gallons) given in  ye present might be lodged somewhere till their Conference was over since they are now just begunn and if their people should fall a drinking they should be unfitt for businesse; upon which it was ordered to be lodged in Mr. Livingstones seller."  It was not long until all were gone; most of them to unknown graves; a few to their kinfolk beyond the Taghkanics and in Stockbridge, a remnant of them serving on the side of the Americans in the Revolutionary War, as their ancient foe, the Mohawks, served the British.  Later on, the very few survivors of the once powerful race of the Mahicans were removed, first to Madison County, N.Y., in 1785, and then to the Ohio country and to Canada.


    We are indebted to Mr. Heckewelder for the pathetic story the Lenni-Lenapes and Mahicans were wont to tell:


    We and our kindred tribes lived in peace and harmony with each other before the white man came into this country.  Our council-house extended far to the south and far to the north.  In the middle of it we would meet from all parts to smoke the pipe of peace together.  When the white men arrived in the south we received them as friends; we did the same when they arrived in the east.  It was we, it was our forefathers, who made them welcome and let them sit down by our side.  The land they settled on was ours.  We knew not but the Great Spirit had sent them to us for some good purpose, and therefore we thought they must be a good people.  We were mistaken; for no sooner had they obtained a footing on our lands than they began to pull our council-house down, first at one end and then at the other, and at last meeting each other at the centre, where the council-fire was yet burning bright, they put it out and extinguished it with our own blood, with the blood of those who had received them, who had welcomed them to our land.  The blood ran in streams into our fire and extinguished it so entirely that not one spark was left us whereby to kindle a new fire. . . .  The whites will not rest contented until they shall have destroyed the last of us, and made us disappear entirely from the fact of the earth.           


History of the Lenni Lenapes

Native Tribes of the Hudson River

The Lenapes: A Study of Hudson Valley Indians

The Lenni-Lenape: The "Original People" of the Schuylkill Watershed

The Lenni Lenapes at a Glance

The Lenni Lenapes Historical Society

The Delaware Tribe of Indians

Native American Resources

The Hudson River: An American Treasure: Native Americans by Joanna Longcore

Indians of the Lower Hudson River

Brief History of the Stockbridge Mohican Tribe

Native American Tribes of the Hudson River by Jose Acevedo

The Dutch Arrive on Manhattan Island: An Indian Perspective

Native Languages of the Americas

The Indians and their History by J. G. Beers

Mahican History


Early American Indian Documents: Treaties and Laws, 16071789

Books to Purchase

Native Americans of New England

Native Americans of United States

Native American Support Group of New York City

Cyndi's List: Native American

National Museum of the American Indian

Native American Genealogy


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