The Peach Tree War
My blogging has been sporadic during the past several months, and my attention has wandered far afield from my original subject of Jersey City. This post marks an intellectual return to the forgotten Dutch empire on the banks of the Hudson River.
Following the Pavonia Massacre, hostilities between Dutch colonists and the surrounding Native American tribes continued until a treaty was brokered in 1645. Two years’ later in 1647, Willem Kieft was recalled to the Netherlands to account for his troubled leadership and management of the colony. Peter Stuyvesant arrived in New Netherland in 1847 to replace Kieft as the Director-General. Kieft died in a shipwreck off the coast of Wales en route to Amsterdam to address the charges against him.
During Stuyvesant’s tenure as Director-General, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Sweden were vying for dominance in the Delaware River Valley. Sweden claimed this territory as their colony New Sweden. Today, this region includes swathes of the states of Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania and is anchored by Philadelphia.
In the summer of 1655, Stuyvesant sailed down the Delaware River with a force of six hundred armed men. His forces easily captured the Swedish forts along the Delaware. On September 15, 1655 New Sweden was absorbed by New Netherland.
Meanwhile, New Amsterdam was left undefended. On the same day as the surrender of the Swedes to Stuyvesant, several hundred Susquehannock attacked New Amsterdam and its surrounding outposts in Pavonia, Harlem, Staten Island, and the Bronx. The Susquehannock were trading partners and allies of the Swedes. They stormed the Dutch settlements for three days in retaliation for the Dutch assault on New Sweden, leaving approximately one hundred Dutch dead and taking one hundred fifty hostages. The prisoners were taken to Paulus Hook by their Native American captors.
When reports of the “war” reached Peter Stuyvesant, he immediately returned to New Amsterdam. Stuyvesant initiated negotiations with the Susquehannock and paid a ransom for the prisoners. Thus, the war effectively concluded.
The two parties signed a formal treaty on March 6, 1660. The Dutch repurchased the rights to settle in the land sandwiched between the Hackensack and Hudson Rivers (much of today’s Jersey City, Bayonne, and Hudson County). At the orders of Stuyvesant, the Dutch were encouraged to abandon their scattered farms in Pavonia and build the fortified town of Bergen. This is the present Bergen Square neighborhood of Jersey City.
Although scholars concur that the Peach Tree War began as a response to the Dutch conquest of New Sweden, residents of New Amsterdam and New Netherland subscribed to a more lurid and colorful telling of the war’s beginning. The contemporary legend attested that Henry Van Dyck spotted a young Native American girl climbing a peach tree on his orchard on Manhattan Island. While the girl sat relishing her freshly picked fruit, Van Dyck shot and killed her. Dutch settlers thought that Van Dyck’s wantonly violent act inflamed the already tense relations between the colony and Native Americans and precipitated the well-coordinated raids on New Netherland. Hence, the Peach Tree War.