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James Otis

Master Kieft's War

Master Kieft, taking no council save with his own evil thoughts, announced that he would declare war against every brown man in the country, and there is no question in my mind but that such might have been the case to our utter destruction, had not the chief men of New Amsterdam, and among them those who had been in the Council during Master Van Twiller's reign, risen up against the Director, so far as could be done without laying themselves open to a charge of mutiny.

Our sensible men claimed, and with good reason, that war ought not to be declared because of the crops being still unharvested, and because of our having to gather in the cattle, swine, and sheep still roaming the woods. They declared also, that the farmers who had settled some distance away, had a right to be given warning in time for them to save a portion of their property.

To this Master Kieft agreed; but only for a certain time. He took it upon himself to make preparations for war, and when winter was fully come did actually begin it, setting himself with no more than two hundred and fifty Dutchmen, against two thousand savages who, because of our greed for furs, as shown both by the people in their private trading, and by the West India Company, were armed with the same kind of guns we were using, as well as supplied with an ample store of powder and ball.


I would not, if I could, tell you all that followed. It is too cruel a story; it has more to do with murder and death by torture, and with keenest suffering, than would be well for you to hear while we have gathered to listen to my poor tale of how the town of New Amsterdam was built, and how it grew.

It was a time when the bravest man's cheeks might well grow pale; when women and children shrieked with fear, or trembled in silent terror at the slightest unusual sound; when it was as if all the country roundabout had been stained the color of blood; when we could no longer lie down at night, or rise up in the morning, without fear; when we ceased to live the lives of peaceful, honest traders, but were become the same as hunted beasts,—and all through the evil of one man.

Master Kieft was sent for by the West India Company none too soon, and the pity of it is that he ever came to New Amsterdam, with his hatchet-shaped face, to plunge us into a war with the savages, who had all the right on their side.

Hans Braun claimed because of Kieft's having built the great stone tavern, which was the largest and most beautiful in all America, that he had left behind him a monument which would ever keep his memory green. But I question if any one, after Director Stuyvesant turned the building into a town hall, ever cared to remember that it had been built by Wilhelm Kieft.