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A Series of Local Articles, on Past and Present1

NO. 3,

  • Comparison of Brooklyn with the settlements of New England and Virginia.
  • The Indian aborigines—the Kanarsies.
  • Remnants existing until lately.
  • First trade of New Netherlands.
  • Importations and exports.
  • Peaceful purchases of the land.

A series of articles on Brooklyn, with special reference to its origin and past history, would hardly be complete without a glance at the conditions of this section of the island when it was first planted by the Dutch, with some brief mention of the natural advantages, &c., of the spot. The histories of our country have much to say on the subject of the Puritan foundation of New England, and the rival foundation in Virginia, with accounts of the tribes found there; and yet here on this island are some points of interest transcending either of those celebrated beginnings of European colonization.

If the reader will but carry his mind back to the times of the original settlement of Kings county, (1614–50,) he will easily perceive that there are many interesting circumstances connected with the locality, the aboriginal inhabitants, &c., &c.

When the Dutch first planted themselves here (and for some time afterward) the whole of Kings county was possessed and ruled by the Kanarsie tribe of Indians.2 The principal settlements were at Flatbush, and, according to tradition, the locality toward the shore that still goes by the name of the tribe. In the latter spot was the residence of the sachem.

Our readers may not be aware, that down to within a comparatively late period of time, remnants of this tribe still continued to exist in Kings county, and were occasionally seen as visitors, selling clams, fish, baskets, &c., in Brooklyn.—(Descendents​ of the Indians or half-breeds, still remain on the East end of the Island, around the neighborhood of Peconic bay, and especially on the peninsular of Montauk. We have repeatedly seen them there; but we have never seen any of these Kanarsie remnants. The last one, we have heard old Brooklynites say, became extinct between forty and fifty years ago.)

So, here these aborigines lived, on fish, clams, berries, wild fruits, and game.—They paid little attention to the cultivation of the land, except to raise, perhaps, a little corn. Besides their canoes, of which some were large and of elegant workmanship, and their bows and arrows, almost the only articles of manufacture among them were stone hatchets, and rude vessels of earth, hardened in the fire. And yet, they had one article of manufacture which is deserving of special notice—an article which made this specific portion of the New World, possess a character different from any other, and superior to any. We mean the manufacture of aboriginal money, which we shall presently describe.

The produce of the settlements of the New Netherlands, and of the station at Albany, were principally furs, peltries, &c., with which the West India Company's return ships were freighted. The commerce springing out of the settlement increased regularly from the very outset, and with great rapidity. From the years 1624 to 1635 the number of beaver skins exported from New Amsterdam was 80,182, and of other skins, 9,347, valued at 725,117 guilders.

Then the colony furnished a market for many products of the mother country. Almost everything required by civilized tastes was for a long while imported—even to the tiles for roofing the houses, of these latter, sufficient specimens even yet exist in the limits of Brooklyn and New York to give the reader a visible demonstration of what they were.

Following the peaceful and prudent method of the Dutch, the new comers made specific purchases of the land from the aboriginal inhabitants, as their first move. Our records have numerous evidences of these purchases, even yet.

Of the west of the Island, in possession of the Kanarsie tribe of Indians, though it would be interesting to some degree, to enter into an account of those aboriginal inhabitants, at the time of the appearance of the "Half-moon," and Hendrick Hudson, in these waters, our time does not now admit.3



1. The "Brooklyniana" series, published anonymously, consists of twenty-five historical articles. The composition history of the pieces remains unclear. Luke Mancuso believes that Whitman began writing these histories of Brooklyn after the firing on Fort Sumter in 1861 and contends that the articles were Whitman's attempt at forging a restorative nostalgia for the people of Brooklyn during a time of crisis. See Mancuso, "Civil War," in A Companion to Walt Whitman, ed. Donald D. Kummings (Chichester, West Sussex, United Kingdom: John Wiley and Sons, 2009), 293–294. More recently, however, Ted Genoways has questioned the argument about "nostalgia," holding that "there is ample evidence to suggest that the overwhelming majority of the material in 'Brooklyniana' was recycled from a book of Brooklyn history that Whitman was planning and drafting in the early 1850s," while editing the Brooklyn Freeman. See Genoways, Walt Whitman and the Civil War: America's Poet during the Lost Years of 1860–1862 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), 108. [back]

2. The Kanarsie (alternately Canarsie or Canarsee) Indian tribe was a band of Lenni Lenape Indians who inhabited the land that came to be known as Manhattan. The Dutch negotiated with them and with the Manhattan, another band of Lenni Lenape Indians, in order to claim the island. [back]

3. The Half-moon was the ship on which Hendrick (Henry) Hudson sailed from Amsterdam in 1609. [back]

4. Whitman continues this discussion of the Kanarsie tribe and Hendrick Hudson in "Brooklyniana; A Series of Local Articles, Past and Present" (December 28, 1861). [back]

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