Harlem In The Old Times

Fighting Hostile Indians on the Flats
 
 
The first settler and what happened to him__Organizing the Village__Land at Low Rates__A Good Road Wanted.

Those of us who prefer the shady streets and lanes of Harlem to the brown-stone walls of the lower part of the City have no hesitation, provided we have the necessary cash, in going up there and renting a house and taking our families there, nor even in leaving our wives and children there through the day while we come downtown to business. It is such a quiet and peaceful place that we can hardly realize what we may learn authentically from the early records of the City that at one time a man's scalp was in great danger if he ventured beyond the further end of the Bowery, and that his house was pretty sure to be burned by hostile Indians not his brown-stone-front, with gas, and water, and range, and plate-glass: nor even his cozy little cottage, with its neat front yard and its Mansard roof, and perhaps, its mortgage but his isolated farm-house, with bare earth for its floors, and dried reeds for its roof. We stand upon a platform of the elevated railroad, and grumble if we have to wait a minute and a half for a train, and then when, half an hour later, we are in Harlem, we grumble at something else the time was too long, or the car was too cold, or the brakeman would insist upon slamming the doors at every station. We can hardly find room in the nervous but highly-civilized Metropolitan head for the fact that, not such a terrible time ago, the residents of Harlem were complaining that there was no decent wagon-road, between that village and the City, nor even a road that a man could ride over on horseback without danger to his life.

The story of the settlement of Harlem forms an interesting part of the early history of this City. Like most new places, it was not born without sacrificing some lives and much property; but, when once the breath of life reached it, it flourished and grew, even in the early Dutch times, and it kept on flourishing and growing, until it reached so far down the island that at last it was swallowed up by the great City.

Jochem Pietersen Kuyter, a gentleman of education, who had been a commander in the East India Company, under the King of Denmark, was the first settler in Harlem, and his experiences on the upper end of Manhattan Island were not reassuring. He came to "New Netherland" in 1639, and soon afterward bought the flats on which Harlem now stands. He was a man of means, and, having a taste for rural life, he built a house on his lands and took his family there, calling the place Zegendaal, or Happy Valley. It did not prove a happy valley to Herr Kuyter, however. In 1643 an Indian war broke out, and he was exposed to the depredations of the enemy. An old record says that__

"March 9, 1644.__Appeared the following persons, who, jointly and severally, at the request of Mr. Jochem Pietersen Kuyter, declared as follows: Cornelisen Cornelisen, about 22 years old, declares that he, being a sentinel at night before the house of said Jochem Pietersen, being about 2 o'clock, near the corn-rick, about 50 paces from the barn, did see approaching a burning pile, the flame as blue as the flame of brimstone, about 20 paces from the house, between the dunghill and cherry-door, which pile or arrow fell on the thatched reeds with which the house was roofed, and the house was soon in full flame through the force of the wind. A little after he heard the firing of a gun from the same spot whence the arrow came. He saw the house burned to the ground. He says, further, that the English soldiers, while the fire lasted, would not leave the cellar in which they slept, and remained there till the house was destroyed. In consequence, they obtained no assistance whatever from the English.

"Jacob Lambertsen, about 20 years old, declares, in addition to what was stated by Cornelisen, that when the house was in full flame he heard the report of a gun, which they suspected was fired by the Indians, whom they still heard the next morning hallooing and firing."

About a year after the burning of Pietersen Kuyter's house, however, Jan Evertsen Bout, and Claes Jansen Backer made a declaration that, from conversation and association with the Indians, they knew that "it was well and generally known by the savages that the Dutch burned the house."

But Kuyter seemed to have an affection for the Harlem Flats, and he was not to be driven out of his "Happy Valley" home so easily. After peace was established with the Indians, about five years later, he desired to reinstate himself upon his property. His purse was seriously flattened by his previous misfortunes, and this time he was not able to erect the necessary buildings without pecuniary assistance. He called upon his friends to help him, but that they did not go into the work purely from motives of friendship is shown by the agreement made before the work was begun, as follows:

"This day, the 23d of September, 1651, an amicable agreement was made between Mr. Jochem Pietersen Kuyter, a free merchant, on the one side, and the Hon. Petrus Stuyvesant, Director-General of New Netherland, Curacoa, and its dependencies: Lucas Rodenberg, Governor of Curacoa, and Cornelius De Potter, free merchant, of the other side, concerning a piece of land lying on Manhattan Island and belonging to said Jochem Pietersen Kuyter, named Zegendaal, (Happy Vale,) or by the Indians called Schorrakyn, bounded on the south by land of William Beekman, Lieutenant of the Citizens' Company, at this place, and upon the border of the Herr Johannes La Montagne's lot, so on the first rock stretching northward into the Great Kill, (Harlem River,) having to the west, toward the North River, a meadow of three or four morgens. (six or eight acres.) The aforesaid land contains about 200 morgens, [400 acres,] but is not precisely known, and yet remains to be ascertained with more accuracy on the following conditions, viz.:

"That said Kuyter shall cede, transport, and convey to the said Stuyvesant, Rodenberg, and De Potter the first three-fourths parts of said land, being one-fourth part for each; while he, said Kuyter, retains one-fourth part for him-self, and to his own behoof, upon condition that said Kuyter shall receive from the afore-said gentlemen, the sum of 1,000 Carolus guilders, [equivalent to $400.] of which sum each of said gentlemen is to pay a third part, with this understanding, that the said money is to be employed, at once, in the cultivation of the said land. The said land to remain undivided, until it is agreed, by a majority of those interested, to make separation of the shares.

"During which said time, Jochem Pietersen Kuyter is to remain the cultivator and superintendent of all the land, to the greatest profit and best advantage of all interested, among whom he is to distribute the profits, in equal shares, whether such profits come from grain, stock or otherwise. It being understood, however, that the wife of Jochem Pietersen Kuyter may keep for her family some hens and ducks. The said Kuyter shall receive for his services, as cultivator, 150 guilders, that is to say, each of the three partners shall pay 50 guilders."

The agreement continued that "to make a good beginning, with God's assistance," a decent house should be built immediately at the expense of the partners, to be occupied by Kuyter and his family. But Kuyter's second venture in Harlem was more disastrous than his first, for, in 1654, he was murdered by the Indians in the house that was thus built, and the "Happy Valley" was immediately deserted by his family, and the property went to waste. Four years later, however, a more extended and more successful effort was made to establish a settlement in Harlem.

The settlement of the northern end of Manhattan island was begun in earnest when, on March 4, 1668, there was entered in the big Dutch books the following minute: "The Director-General and Council in New-Netherland give notice that they have resolved, with a view to promote agriculture and the security of this island, with the animals pasturing upon it, and also with the intention to increase the amusement of this City, Amsterdam, in New Netherland, to form a new village, or hamlet, at the northern end of this island, in the vicinity of the lands of Jochem Pietersen, deceased; and in order, also, that agriculture may be further encouraged, the intended village is favored with the following privileges:

"First__The inhabitants of such village shall be granted, in fee, 18, 20, to 29 morgens [of 2 acres each] of plow-land, and 6 to 8 morgens of the meadow for pasture, and shall also have exemption from paying tithes during 15 years following the 1st of May next, provided they pay within three years, either at once or by installments, 8 guilders [$3.20] for each morgen of arable land, which shall be for the benefit of the representatives of said Jochem Pietersen or his creditors, said party having, in former days, been expelled from said lands and suffered thereon great losses."

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Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Harlem In The Old Times
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina

Source:

The New York Times January 11, 1880
Time & Date Stamp: