Flatbush Colonial Days Part I

The spring of the year 1670 found Eskemoppas, sachem of the Rockaway Indians, in hard straits. His blanket was full of holes, and there were few if any skins in his wigwam, which was pitched some distance back from the shore. Even his sugarloaf hat, which came to him as part of the purchase price of many Long island acres, was gone. He had traded it for twelve drinks of fire-water from a jug which his brother Ahawaham had succeeded in obtaining from one of the Dutch settlers at Flatbush.

It looked as if Eskemoppas would have to go to work. He frowned until there were furrows all over his face when he thought of employing his royal hands in the making of seewant or wampum. There was no hope of levying on the tribe, for in times of peace the sachem of the Rockaways was merely a figurehead, and no one could remember the last time the tribe had taken the path of war. In fact, they had almost forgotten their war whoop, and when an Indian tribe reaches that stage of degeneracy it is high time for the sachem to institute a reform.

It was not the degeneracy of his tribe that caused Eskemoppas to think out a scheme by which he could "bunco" the settlers at Flatbush. it was the prospect of having to begin manual labor.

"The Dutch no longer rule at Manhattan." he said to his brother Kinnarimas."Old Silver Leg (meaning Governor Stuyvesant) is no longer a sachem. The English have driven him out."

Kinnarimas did not see what all this meant to them, nor did Ahawahaum, the other brother, who had joined the council, and for whose benefit the sachem repeated his statement.

"The Dutch bought from us the lands on which the whiteskins live," continued Eskemoppas, "but the English have paid us nothing. We go to Flatbush and tell the Dutch they have to pay over again because the English now own the country; pay or fight. Dutchmen much afraid of Rockaway braves; they pay before they fight."

So it was that a day or two later Eskemoppas and his two brothers, blazing with red and yellow paint, appeared in Flatbush and demanded an audience with the men of the town. They put their proposition without any evasion. They must be paid for their lands or there would be trouble. The men going "boers" replied that they had purchased the town from the Canarsee Indians, and wanted to know what possible claim the Rockaways could have to lands which they had never owned. Eskenappas said he would show them, and with a (?), invented on the spur of the moment, but none the less awe inspiring on that account, he hurried out of the palisade which the Dutchmen had built around the church, and his brothers followed.

There was a hurried conference between "boers" and "Kenters" or mechanics, and the conclusion was reached that it would be better to buy the lands over again than risk an Indian uprising. A messenger was sent after the sachem and he was asked to return to the council. The Dutchmen asked what the Indians wanted for the lands.

"Twenty fathoms of black and white seewant." began the sachem. "Five coats of Duffells," added Kinnarimas. "A fat of strong beer," declared the third brother. Nor did this satisfy them. In turn they added items until the final list was imposing. It included four blankets, two gunners sight guns, two pistols, five double handfuls of powder, five bars of lead, ten knives, two aprons of Duffells, three cans of brandy and six shirts. This was as much as they had paid for the lands in the first place, but Adrian Hegeman and three other citizens signed the deed. The Indians made their marks in the presence of Governor Francis Lovelace. The tribe lost the chance of rebuilding its shattered strength, which would have been the result of a successful war, but a summer of idleness was assured the lazy sachem. So what did he care?

The town school in these early Dutch days was a remarkably interesting institution. It was first held at a little stone building erected in the centre of the town, and by combining school and church duties the support of a teacher was assured. As the school grew a wooden building was attached to the end of the original stone structure. The roof was very steep in front and sloped toward the rear until it nearly reached the ground. Finally a third wooden building was added to the string. In some respects it resembled the second addition, but there was enough of variety to give the whole a decidedly undignified appearance, yet the building served its purpose well until 1803.

It was in 1762 that the Dutch fathers of Flatbush decided that it might be wise for their children to learn English as well as dutch. In the person of Petrus Van Steenburgh they found a teacher who seemed to fill the requirements. it was no easy task which he undertoook. The children spoke nothing but Dutch at home, and it was difficult to get them to leave off when they were in school.

"Every English scholar who speaks a Dutch word in school will receive a taste of my ferule," he announced one morning.

The words were hardly out of his mouth before a fat faced youngster uttered an exclamation in the prohibited language. He was called to the front, and paid the penalty with many Dutch sobs and tears. So many broke the new rule that the sturdy Van Steenburgh was worn out when the noon recess came at 11 o'clock, and half the scholars were nursing swollen hands. it was evident that the scheme would not work, and as he smoked his pipe during the recess he hit upon another, which tradition has been kind enough to preserve.

He secured a pewter token about the size of a dollar, and in the morning handed it to the first boy who spoke in Dutch. It was passed on to the second culprit, and continued to move about the room during the day. The boy who possessed it when school closed was the scapegoat for all the others, and received a feruling that he did not soon forget. There was only one drawback to the plan. As the closing hour approached the boy who held the token would offer bribes to his neighbors to speak out in Dutch and take the consequences. In spite of this, however, the scheme worked well, and there are families in Flatbush today who owe indirectly their knowledge of English to the progressive token of the old schoolmaster.

Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Flatbush Colonial Days Part I
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


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