When New York Was New: Chapter 7
Christopher Baldwin

As the 17th century was coming to its last years, New York’s people had gone through many changes.

The Dutch government was gone, but Dutch settlers were still farming here and trading for furs.

The English were running things for the settlers along the Hudson River, down near the Delaware River and into the eastern part of the Mohawk Valley, and quite a few English settlers had come, too, though not as many as came to New England.

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When New York Was New

An eight-part serial story for the Newspapers in Education program exploring the roots of New York state, funded by New York State United Teachers, New York News Publishers Association and New York Newspapers Foundation.

People from other nations were also coming to New York, most because they wanted to, and a smaller number because they were English, Scottish or Irish who had been captured in England’s civil wars and sentenced to come here as workers. Others were slaves kidnapped from Africa.

The greatest changes of all had come to the People of the Longhouse.

In the years since Hudson and Champlain, the daily lives of the Iroquois had become very different.

They were now used to iron kettles, woven cloth, metal fish hooks and knives and other new technologies. Only a few very old people remembered the days before they had these things, and many of the younger people did not even know how to make and use the tools of olden days.

And there weren’t as many Iroquois as there had been at the start of the century.

Many had died of the new diseases brought by the Europeans, especially among the Mohawk, since the Eastern Door of the Longhouse was so close to where many Europeans now lived.

Other Iroquois had moved to the villages the French had built near Montreal, and no longer returned to the towns in the Longhouse or thought of it as home.

France still claimed the northern part of what is now New York and New England, but had not been settling those lands except on the coast that is now Maine. However, they still wanted the Iroquois to change their religion and move closer to Montreal.

Especially, they wanted the Iroquois to stop interfering with their fur trade.

The Beaver Wars had ended and most of the Mahicans had moved to New England. Most of the tribes who had lived in the land between the Western Door of the Longhouse and the Niagara River had also been driven out.

But the beaver and other fur-bearing animals had been hunted so much that they were nearly gone, too, and raiding the hunters and trappers who traveled from further up towards the Great Lakes was one of the only ways to get furs to trade for the things the Iroquois needed.

A more peaceful way was to persuade those trappers and hunters not to go through Lake Ontario and down the St. Lawrence to Montreal, but to come through the Longhouse to Albany. The Iroquois would guide them there, and help make good deals with the traders for a share of the profits.

To the French, it didn’t matter whether the Iroquois were taking furs from those other Indians or making partnerships with them: What mattered was that the furs were ending up in Albany instead of Montreal.

The French and Iroquois had often traded together, but they had never liked each other. There had often been raids and small battles between them, mostly in the north.

But now the French were furious and ready for real war with the Iroquois.

As for the English, they were happy to have the furs coming to Albany, and still called themselves friends of the Iroquois.

But their promises of help against the French were never more than promises, and it was becoming difficult for the Iroquois to remain patient with these friends who left them to fight alone.

They also did not appreciate being spoken to as if they were children.

“You say that you are our father and I am your son,” an Iroquois leader said at a Covenant Chain meeting. “We say, we will not be like father and son, but like brothers.”

Yet their English brothers did not want to make war on the French.

Before the English even came to New Netherland, their country had changed governments twice.

First, a civil war ended with the execution of their king. Then, after a period of rule by a dictator, a new king was put on the throne. It was under his government that New Netherland became New York.

But England was still a difficult, divided nation, and had enough problems without getting involved in any quarrels they could avoid.

In 1688, however, another European war broke out, with France on one side and England on the other, and part of the conflict was a quarrel over who should be King of England.

This new, major war spilled over across the Atlantic, in nine years of violence called “King William’s War.”

As in the past, the Algonquins took the side of the French while the Iroquois were prepared to fight alongside the English.

Even then, however, they were disappointed. Most of England’s actions came from Boston, not Albany or New York City.

Meanwhile, French and Algonquin forces swept into New York and attacked the European settlements, including Schenectady, as well as towns in the Onondaga country at the center of the Longhouse.

Without support from the English, the Iroquois had to retreat, abandoning their towns to be destroyed by their enemies.

And so New York’s first century ended. But the conflicts among its three nations would continue.

Text copyright 2015, Mike Peterson; illustration copyright 2015, Christopher Baldwin.

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