William the Testy Not a Myth

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From the papers of the late Diedrich Knickerbocker obscure facts about the early city of the Manhattoes were pieced together by Washington Irving. The isle of Manna-hata (land of milk and honey) had once seen a brave city, New Amsterdam, arise. Even the late Diedrich Knickerbocker had had difficulty sorting through the facts of the case. As the Dutch Esquire grew to more mature years, he made diligent research into the truth of various strange traditions from folklore. “I found infinite difficulty,” he wrote, “in arriving at any precise information. In seeking to dig up one fact it is incredible the number of fables which I unearthed.” [1]

Vessels of Oloffe Van Kortlandt, also known as Oloffe the Dreamer, while searching for a good spot to found the city of the Manhattoes, became stranded upon rocks and reefs. This happened in a strait of great danger to Dutch navigators, where their tub-built barks got whirled about. Oloffe and his men, “from sheer spleen”, named the place of their misfortune Hellegat (now known as Hell’s Gate). [1]

A nearby group of rocks, for some reason, was called “the Hen and Chickens.” [1]

The various administrations of New Amsterdam were thoroughly corrupt and, as if mirroring the situation at the top, some of the people below became also a shifty bunch. The place became an abode for smugglers and pirates partly because of this, and partly because the isle of Manna-hata had a harbor with easy access, along with good hiding places about its waters. The pirates became welcome visitors to the merchants of Manhattoes. “Crews of these desperadoes, therefore, the runagates of every country and every clime, might be seen swaggering, in open day, about the streets of the little burgh; elbowing its quiet Mynheers…” [1]

However one Thomas A. Janvier, writing in the early 1900s, while delighted by Washington Irving’s folkloric tales, nonetheless took issue with the overall impression they had left. “Artful fiction being more convincing than artless fact,” wrote Janvier, “it is not likely that the highly untruthful impression of the Dutch colonists of Manhattan given by Washington Irving ever will be effaced. Very subtly mendacious is Irving’s delightful History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty. Bearing in mind the time when he wrote, before Mr. Brodhead had performed the great work of collecting in Europe the documents relating to our colonial history, and while the records of the city and of the State still were in confusion, his general truth to the letter is surprising. But precisely because of his truth to the letter are his readers misled by his untruth to the spirit. Over the facts which he was at such pains to gather and to assemble, he has cast everywhere the glamour of a belittling farcical romance: with the result that his humorous conception of our ancestral Dutch colony peopled by a sleepy tobacco loving and schnapps loving race stands in the place of the real colony peopled by hard headed and hard hitting men.” [2]

Washington Irving had written about, among other things, Wilhelmus Kieft, jeeringly called William the Testy, one of the New Amsterdam governors installed by the Dutch West India Company. Kieft had decided that smoking was “an incredible consumer of time, a hideous encourager of idleness, and of course a deadly bane to the morals of the people.” Kieft enacted a law to prohibit smoking, but the Dutch Mynheers reacted by surrounding the mansion of William the Testy and puffing steadily on their pipes until the mansion was enveloped in murky clouds. (Background: How the Little Dutch Boy Came to America, Ersjdamoo’s Blog, November 3, 2014.)

Thomas A. Janvier admits that Washington Irving’s “general truth to the letter is surprising”, even while criticizing the “spirit” of Irving’s text. There was indeed a Wilhelmus Kieft, records Janvier, and this Kieft (“William the Testy”) is found to have been a most unworthy person. Kieft ruled over New Amsterdam between 1638 and 1646. Allegedly, Kieft had earlier, back in Europe, embezzled ransom money entrusted to him to rescue Christian captives held by the Islamists. In New Netherlands, Kieft’s “evil work” had “culminated in his provocation, by a horrid and utterly inexcusable massacre of savages, of the terrible Indian war of 1643: which brought the colony to the very verge of ruin, and which aroused so violent an outcry against him on the part of the colonists that he was recalled.” [2]

“But while Kieft holds the record for worse than incapacity, protests were made by the colonists against the doings of every one of the [Dutch West India Company] Directors and always for cause. Each of them played first for his own hand. After caring for himself, his care was for what remained of the interests of the Company and those he either muddled or marred. Caring for the interests of the colonists, in every case, was the last consideration of all.” [2]

——- Sources ——-
[1] Tales of a Traveller, by Washington Irving
[2] The Dutch Founding of New York, by Thomas A. Janvier. Available as a Kindle e-book

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About ersjdamoo

Editor of Conspiracy Nation, later renamed Melchizedek Communique. Close associate of the late Sherman H. Skolnick. Jack of all trades, master of none. Sagittarius, with Sagittarius rising. I'm not a bum, I'm a philosopher.
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One Response to William the Testy Not a Myth

  1. Pingback: Return of the Dutch West India Company | Ersjdamoo's Blog

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