The earliest contact between Dutch VOC traders and Onkwehon:we in the upper Hudson Valley is shrouded in mystery, even though there is a fairly clear trail of when and how certain traders arrived. This mystery is compounded by parties who obscure the historical record. But recent scholarship coupled with a close examination of the archaeological record illustrates the historic Onkwehon:we and specifically Ka-nyen-geh-ha-kah (Mohawk) presence and authority, evidenced by the Mohawk-Mahican conflicts of the 1620s and countless other historical accounts.
What is known of the Agreement made between Onkwehone:we and the Dutch representatives of the VOC at Tawagonshi Hill in April of 1613, is scarce – and profound. L. G. van Loon’s re-discovery of a Dutch translation of the Treaty was determined in 1987 to be a forgery by three ‘distinguished’ New York history scholars, but the document itself has since disappeared. The claim of forgery remains uncorroborated by subsequent historians. In fact, recent scholarship suggests the agreement’s legitimacy. The Mohawk role in this historic event is now better understood – as is their active participation within the Leauge of Great Peace as Eastern Doorkeepers at critical junctures to follow for centuries.
Hendrick / Tejonihokarawa (Theyanoguin), John of Canajoharie / Ho Nee Yeath Taw No Row, Brant / Sa Ga Yeath Qua Pieth Tow, Joseph Brant / Thayendanegea, and other noteworthy Mohawk Sachems would play significant diplomatic roles honoring these covenants of their ancestors – in the face of treachery and deceit – until present day.
Early recorded Dutch presence, and the use of the Valley by Onkwehon:we and Mahican groups provides for critical analysis of the Tawagonshi agreement and the claims of its detractors. The prevailing consensus among scholars concludes that although a final determination on the agreement’s authenticity awaits its rediscovery, its terms, as a Holland Society committee said in 1959, “dovetail into a pattern of lucidity,” and the claims of its detractors do not. If legitimate, the Tawagonshi agreement not only fixes the date of the earliest Dutch-Onkwehon:we agreement within the Eastern Frontier, it also serves as the prototype and origin of arguably the most important diplomatic instrument in Onkwehon:we history the Covenant Chain of Friendship of the 5 Nation League of Great Peace. Beyond defining clearly who was seen to represent the title holders to Onkwehon:we land in 1600’s, this history defines the Mohawk statesmen’s role within the Great Peace by practice.
Knowledge about Henry Hudson’s 1609 voyage of discovery of the Hudson Valley was known in Holland early in 1610. Hudson was officially detained in England in January, but the Dutch crew members of de Halve Maen returned to Amsterdam and reported to the East India Company (EIC). The States-General heard from Emanuel van Meteren (1535–1612), the Dutch representative in England, who saw Robert Juet’s journal (not published until 1625) and almost certainly met with Hudson and saw his journal and charts as well. Hudson’s journal circulated in London and probably the Netherlands for a dozen years after his death in 1610, and has since been ‘lost’.(1)
There is some evidence that a return ship was dispatched in 1610. The Lenape in particular, and others under the Great Peace, have a well-established tradition that they were given iron hoes by Henry Hudson’s crew and wore them as decorations for a year, until returning sailors showed them how to make handles to use the hoes in their maize fields.(2)
Johannes de Laet (1582–1649), a respected historian, asserted a trading presence; perhaps this was the 100-last Hoope that sailed to the West Indies and traded along the coast under the authority of Arnout Vogels (1580–1620), an Amsterdam merchant with an interest in furs. Another Dutch historian, Nicolaes à Wassenaer, claimed a ship arrived even earlier than Hudson’s—Hendrick Christiaensz (d. 1618 or 1619) and Adriaen Block (c.1567–1627) were supercargoes on an early voyage, he asserted—but nothing is known of this voyage and it is not likely to have taken place before 1610.(3)
Information for this period is spare because the volumes for 1609–1615 of the Secrete Resolutien Registers of the Royal Archives at the Hague, which contained States-General proceedings on treaties, wars, and other sensitive matters, are ‘missing’.(4)
The first demonstrable effort to explore the Hudson Valley for merchantable commodities began in May of 1611 when the St. Pieter under skipper Cornelis Rijser was chartered by Vogels and two merchant brothers, Leonard and Francoys Pelgrom. This may have been the ship alluded to by Wassenaer in which Block and Christiaensz served as supercargoes.
On January 17, 1612, also apparently under Vogels’ authority, Adriaen Block purchased in Amsterdam a 55-last spiegelschip called the Fortuyn (with a “long beak head, high rising aft, and flat stern”), sailed to “Virginia,” and returned “a better voyage even than last year.” Francoys Pelgrom’s nephew, Jan Kindt (c.1584–?), was Block’s supercargo. He may have remained trading on the Hudson while Block went off to survey the coast to Cape Cod and lend his name to an island and a sound seven years before the Mayflower.(5) As alien interest in Onkwehon:we land within the Eastern Frontier increased, diplomacy and protocol became complicated.
The Vogels partnership expanded within Vogels’ Lutheran congregation in Amsterdam to include Hans Hongers (c.1555–1616), an EIC director intrigued by Hudson’s voyage, and Lambert van Tweenhuysen (1564–1627), a pearl merchant who became the group’s principal investor.(6) They sent Block and the Fortuyn again to the new land in 1613. Christiaensz’s role in this voyage is unclear, since later court records listed as Block’s supercargo a young man of nineteen, Jacob Eelkens or Eelckens (1593–after 1633), a Walloon from Rouen. Eelkens was subordinate to Christiaensz and served temporarily as commander (commis) of Fort Nassau during Christiaensz’s extensive trade forays.(7)
Eelkens’ presence one hundred and fifty miles into the Hudson Valley in the spring of 1613, although undeniable, led to a late-twentieth-century controversy about just what he was doing there. A document circulated in the 1950s by L. G. van Loon, an eccentric medical doctor and amateur Dutch-American historian, seemed to state that Eelkens and Christiaensz made an agreement with Mohawk Indians on April 21, 1613, at a hill called Tawagonshi, an imposing eminence that overlooked the Tawasentha as it snaked across river meadows and debouched into the Hudson less than a mile south of today’s Albany.(8) The idea that the Dutch, in the middle of Mahican territory, would have a need to make an agreement with the Mohawks seemed preposterous according to the scholarship at the time, yet if authentic, this “agreement”(9) pushed back by thirty years the earliest known formal trade arrangement between Europeans and Iroquois.
In dating the first formal trade relations between the two groups, historians of this era usually quote a 1659 Dutch commissioner’s statement that it was sixteen years since the Europeans and the Iroquois were bound together “by an iron chain.” This has been construed to mean that the first formal agreement between the two cultures took place during a 1643 visit to a Mohawk longhouse by Arendt van Curler, a legendary Dutch trader whom the Iroquois grew so to revere that they called future governors by the honorific name “Corlaer.”(10)