If you were to write all of this in a novel, it would seem too absurd.
FOCUS ON HISTORY by Bob Cudmore
Dutch barber documented 1634-35 journey
A young Dutch barber-surgeon who lived in what we call Albany and what was then called Fort Orange was the first European to document a journey through the Mohawk Valley. His journal has added importance as it makes the first printed reference to the Iroquois confederacy of Indian nations.
About 20 years ago Charles Gehring, a native of Fort Plain, and William Starna, originally from St. Johnsville, translated Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert’s journal, “A Journey into Mohawk and Oneida Country, 1634-1635.” Gehring heads the New Netherlands Research Center in Albany. Artist George O’Connor of Brooklyn was fascinated by the translation and published a graphic novel version in 2009.
Van den Bogaert and two other young men set out in December 1634 to find out why the fur trade had dropped off with Iroquois tribes to the west. The Mohawks, the closest of the Iroquois nations to Fort Orange, had told the Dutch that the French were trading for furs west of Mohawk territory. Gehring said the Indians generally preferred Dutch trade goods because of their high quality compared to what was offered by the French.
The Dutch emissaries took an Indian path to what is now Schenectady, NY although there was no settlement there. They crossed to the north side of the Mohawk River and traveled west. They crossed back to the south side beyond the point where the Schoharie Creek enters the Mohawk. They then proceeded west into territory occupied by the Oneida Nation in the area of present day Little Falls.
The travelers sometimes were in water to their knees in cold weather, sleeping without a fire. “It’s a wonder they didn’t freeze,” Gehring said.
The trio visited several Indian castles, as the Dutch called them. These were stockade settlements containing longhouses, some of them 200 feet in length. Despite some ventilation in the longhouses, smoke irritated the eyes of the travelers.
The trip was one of the first made by Dutch colonists to Mohawk villages. Gehring said the Indians crowded around the travelers so closely that the Dutch said they could hardly find space to relieve themselves.
When the Dutchmen were leaving the first Indian settlement, the Mohawks asked them to show how their firearms worked. The travelers complied the first time but did not use their weapons after that. Van den Bogaert said they were afraid the Indians would see how long it took them to reload and be tempted to overpower the travelers and take the weapons. In 1634 the Indians did not possess firearms, although they would have them within six years.
The travelers returned to Fort Orange with gifts. One of the Dutchmen wanted to take home a captive bear offered by the Indians but was persuaded to leave the animal behind.
Van den Bogaert eventually became commander of Fort Orange. But then he was embroiled in a sexual controversy. He was accused of having a sexual relationship with a male slave named Tobias. He was charged with sodomy, a capital offense. Van den Bogaert fled to Indian country. A bounty hunter caught up with him at an Oneida longhouse and in an exchange of gunfire, the longhouse was set ablaze and destroyed.
Van den Bogaert was taken back to Fort Orange to await the arrival of Peter Stuyvesant from New Amsterdam, what is now New York City, who wanted to be on hand for van den Bogaert’s trial. Van den Bogaert escaped again when a sheet of floating ice badly damaged the fort. However, he then drowned in the Hudson River.
Gehring said, “If you were to write all this in a novel it would seem too absurd.”