, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 121–153

Engendering New Netherland: Implications for Interpreting Early Colonial Societies


  • Anne-Marie Cantwell
    • Rutgers University-Newark
    • The City College of the City University of New York

DOI: 10.1007/s11759-011-9159-7

Cite this article as:
Cantwell, A. & Wall, D.d. Arch (2011) 7: 121. doi:10.1007/s11759-011-9159-7


Here, we study the Algonquian and Iroquoian women who lived in settlements surrounding the Dutch colony of New Netherland, in today’s northeastern United States. We begin by examining their roles in the colony and find that their lives did not fall into the pattern of servitude, concubinage, culture-brokering, and intermarriage that many have seen as the fate of Native or African women in other colonial societies. Instead, these women were, by and large, independent agents and followed their own indigenous customs as they interacted with Europeans. We then go on to explore how this new revisionist view of their actions affects archaeological interpretations of their households and the households of the Europeans as well. We further point out how the role of Native women in New Netherland was influenced in part by the presence and absence of other groups of women—both European and African—there.

Key Words

GenderNative American womenWomen tradersSexualityNew NetherlandColonialismSite interpretation


Nous étudions dans le présent document les femmes algonquines et iroquoises qui vécurent dans les établissements de population autour de la colonie néerlandaise de la Nouvelle-Hollande, dans les États-Unis du nord-est d’aujourd’hui. Nous commençons par l’étude de leurs rôles dans la colonie et découvrons que leurs vies ne se conformaient pas aux modèles de servitude, de concubinage, de courtage culturel et de mariage mixte que beaucoup ont vu comme ce qui advenait des femmes aborigènes ou africaines dans les autres sociétés coloniales. Au contraire, ces femmes ont été dans l’ensemble des représentantes indépendantes et suivaient leurs propres traditions locales lors de leur entrée en contact avec les Européens. Nous poursuivons en examinant comment cette nouvelle vision révisionniste de leurs actions a influencé les interprétations archéologiques de leurs ménages, ainsi que des ménages des Européens. Nous soulignons de quelle manière le rôle des femmes autochtones en Nouvelle-Hollande a été influencé par la présence et l’absence d’autres groupes de femmes, à la fois européennes et africaines dans cette région.


En el presente trabajo estudiamos a las mujeres algonquinas e iroquesas que vivían en los asentamientos que rodeaban la colonia holandesa de Nuevos Países Bajos, en lo que hoy es la zona noreste de los Estados Unidos. Comenzamos analizando su papel en la colonia y descubrimos que sus vidas no se corresponden con los patrones de servidumbre, concubinato, intermediación cultural y matrimonios mixtos que muchos consideran como inevitable destino de las mujeres nativas o africanas en otras sociedades coloniales. Más bien al contrario: estas mujeres son, en su inmensa mayoría, personas independientes y siguen sus propias costumbres indígenas en su interacción con los europeos. Posteriormente procedemos a analizar cómo esta nueva visión revisionista de sus acciones afecta a las interpretaciones arqueológicas de sus hogares y también de los hogares de los europeos. Más adelante destacamos la influencia que la presencia y la ausencia de otros grupos de mujeres (tanto europeas como africanas) tuvieron en el papel de las mujeres nativas en Nuevos Países Bajos.

The time has come….to cast away all our ancient antipathies, all inherited opinions; and having taken a nearer view of their social life, conditions and wants, to study anew our duty concerning them. (Lewis Henry Morgan, writing about the Iroquois 1851:ix–x)

As the second wave of the feminist movement swept through western society in the 1970s, many academicians, including anthropologists, began to ask questions and to design studies that were influenced by, and contributed to, feminist theory. The publication of Margaret Conkey and Janet Spector’s seminal article in 1984 served as a watershed for archaeologists. This in turn was followed by a third wave of feminist theory, which critiqued the earlier focus on white middle-class women “to argue for a feminist theory of the diversity of women’s experiences due to the complex intersections between gender, race, class, and subsequently, ethnicity, sexuality, age/life cycle, religion, etc.” (Spencer-Wood, this volume). More recently, archaeologists have published a plethora of articles, edited volumes, and single-authored books that use feminist approaches to decode stereotypes and problematize issues of gender in looking at the past.1 This article is in keeping with this tradition of examining the diversity of women’s experiences and stresses the importance of taking historical and cultural contexts into account.

We are currently working on a long-term archaeological study of the inhabitants of the Dutch colony of New Netherland and their Native neighbors—Europeans, Africans, and Indians alike. Scholars have not subjected New Netherland to the scrutiny they have applied to some of the other North American colonies (Goodfriend 2003); it therefore offers a relatively new case study for examining colonialism. The work of many scholars using both feminist and engendered approaches (c.f. Wilkie and Hayes 2006) in their studies of colonialism (e.g. Deagan 1974; Etienne and Leacock 1980; Lightfoot et al. 1997; McEwen 1991; Rothschild 2003; Stoler 1989, 2001; Voss 2008) has led us to rethink the data and to contest many long-standing preconceptions. Following Elizabeth Brumfiel and Cynthia Robin, we hope that this study challenges “implicitly held assumptions about gender [that] limit our understanding of the past,…assumptions…that go unchallenged precisely because they are so central, naturalized, and ingrained in our society…[and constrain] archaeological interpretation” (2008:9). Furthermore, we hope our work will contribute to their call to “widen the scope of the social sciences” by showing how earlier societies “are distinctive from contemporary arrangements” (2008:1).

New Netherland flourished at the beginning of the era of the European penetration into northeastern North America, during the time when slavery was first being introduced and the Native population, though scarred by European diseases and war, was still relatively free of overt European rule. New Netherland itself, unlike some neighboring colonies, was also relatively free of missionary activity. As such, as Rothschild has argued (2003), it provides a useful case for comparative studies with other colonies in other times and places.2 Here, we study the Algonquian and Iroquoian women who lived in settlements surrounding New Netherland. We begin by exploring the historical background of the colony and framing our argument. Next, we examine the roles of the Native women there and make some unexpected findings: their lives did not fall into the pattern of servitude, concubinage, culture-brokering, and intermarriage that many have seen as the fate of Native or African women in other colonial societies in North America and elsewhere. Instead, these women were, by and large, independent agents and followed their own indigenous customs as they interacted with Europeans. We then go on to explore how this new revisionist view of their actions affects archaeological interpretations of their households and the households of the Europeans as well. Finally, we point out how the role of Native women in New Netherland was influenced in part by the presence and absence of other groups of women—both European and African—there.


New Netherland, a 17th-century Dutch colony in northeastern North America, was set in an Indian country with at least thirteen millennia of indigenous history. The colony extended from today’s Delaware River to the west and south, to Albany on the Hudson River in the north, and to the Connecticut River in the east. Dutch interest in the area began with Henry Hudson’s exploration of the Hudson River area in 1609, when he noted the presence of animals bearing high-quality furs, a coveted commodity in Europe in the midst of the Little Ice Age. Soon thereafter, European traders working for Dutch merchants began to make annual visits to the river, where they traded for furs with its Algonquian and Iroquoian inhabitants. Finally in 1624, the Dutch West India Company, which by then controlled the trade, established settlements in Indian country to protect its interests from other European powers. Although the Dutch, a maritime people, set up trading posts on the Connecticut and Delaware Rivers, for the most part they conducted the fur trade on the Hudson River, at Fort Orange in today’s Albany, in Iroquois and Mahican country. Their entrepot was at New Amsterdam, today’s New York City, at the mouth of the Hudson and in the territory of the Algonquian Munsee.3 The colony ended with the British takeover in 1664 (Cantwell and Wall 2008; Jacobs 2005).

Peoples from three different continents and many cultural groups inhabited the New Netherland area. First, there were the Native men and women, both Algonquian and Iroquoian—the Americans. They lived in their own settlements, away from the Europeans, and as such they maintained what Nan Rothschild, in another context, has called a “social distance” from the Africans and Europeans (c.f. Jacobs 2005; Rothschild 1995, 2003; see also Snow 1994; Wallace 1972; but see Mann 2000; Starna 1991, 2003; Tooker 1984). Both matrilineal and matrilocal, they included the coastal and riverine Algonquins as well as the Iroquois, some of whom were members of the Iroquois confederacy, others not.

African men and women, both enslaved and free, were an important part of the colony’s population almost from its beginning. They came from many different African homelands and spoke many different languages. For decades after the initial settlement of New Netherland in the 1620s, the Netherlands was at war with a politically united Spain and Portugal, and Company ships began to drop off enslaved Africans, seized from captured Portuguese vessels, in the colony. These Africans, relatively few in number, were Company-owned and mostly came from Portuguese colonies in west-central Africa. Later, in the 1650s, enslaved Africans began to arrive in larger numbers; most of these later arrivals came from West Africa where the Dutch were trading in their own right, and many were privately owned.4

Approximately half of the Europeans in New Netherland were not Dutch at all (Cohen 1981) but Protestants from other parts of northern Europe. For the first two decades after its settlement, these Europeans were mostly men who worked for the Company, although there were a few colonist families that included women and children as well. But Company rules dictated that men who worked for the company be discharged in the event of their marriage.5 It was only after the Company removed its monopoly on the fur trade and the end of the first round of wars with the Algonquians in the 1640s, that European families—including women—began to settle in numbers in the colony, marking the beginning of the transformation of New Netherland from a trading post to a settler colony. Thus, for almost four decades, from around 1609 to the 1640s, most of the Europeans in New Netherland were men.6

Earlier studies of New Netherland have tended to focus on the Europeans and their male Iroquoian trading partners (especially the Mohawk), with other peoples (including the Algonquians and Africans) making at most shadowy appearances. Some of this mirrors the Dutch concept of the importance of different groups, whereby the Mohawk were the preferred trading partners while the Algonquians (as Allan Trelease notes) soon became the “expendable Indians” after their fur-bearing animals were hunted out (1960:xii) and the Africans were seen simply as a source of labor.

Here in this article, we focus on exchanges that took place between Native women and Europeans, including trade as well as intimate encounters between Native women and European men. Although the latter occurred primarily during the early period, when there were relatively few European women in the colony, they did persist into the later years as well, according to the limited documents available. What we focus on here are cases of exchange that by and large did not take place at Native settlements, but rather occurred when Native women crossed that social distance from Indian country and entered into the European and African zone that was the colony.7 We argue that when they did, they usually did it not as wives, servants, concubines, or culture brokers, but as independent agents often acting for themselves. Their relationships with Europeans were, we argue, part of a continuation and expansion of their traditional societal practices of exchange and gift giving, and the Europeans, probably unknowingly, conformed to those practices. In fact, the arrival of the Europeans and the introduction of the fur trade may, in those early years, have offered them more opportunities. These exchanges between Native women and European men, we further argue, cannot be seen in isolation but must be seen in the context of the roles of European and African women in the colony. The actions or non-actions of all these women impinge upon each other. All of their roles, we contend, may, in fact, be affected by the absence or the presence of one or the other of these groups of women—the absence of the European women during the early years and the presence of African women throughout the colonial period.

We hope our analysis will go beyond an “add gender and stir” approach and contribute to the discussion of the early years of settler-colonial societies founded when modern European nation states were first emerging and slavery was first being introduced in North America. We also hope that this study will contribute to the interpretations of archaeological sites of that era. Our analysis challenges some of the stereotypes used by archaeologists and others studying the roles of Native American women in the Northeast. These stereotypes are based on the assumption that in New Netherland, European men stayed in their trading posts and settlements along the rivers, Mohawk and Algonquian women stayed at home cloistered in their longhouses or wigwams, isolated from interactions with the newcomers, and only Indian men crossed back and forth between these two worlds when they brought furs to the posts to sell.8 These stereotypes also ignore the presence of Africans and the effect of their presence on Native-European relationships. A corollary of this assertion, often assumed, is that Native women did not participate in exchange with Europeans: They did not engage in the fur trade themselves and they (along with African women) had very little intimate contact with European men during this period. Although not explicitly stated, an implication of this interpretation is that the European goods found in Native archaeological sites and the Native goods found at European sites all arrived through the agency of Native men.

Woman the Trader

A close scrutiny of the records shows that Native women did not always stay home, cloistered from the larger world, one that included Europeans and Africans as well as other Indian nations. In fact, right from the beginning they took part in trade with the newcomers. Hints of this come from one of the earliest documents we have. Robert Juet, Hudson’s first mate, wrote that when they arrived in New York Harbor on September 5, 1609:

Our men went on Land there, and saw great store of Men, Women, and Children, who gaue them Tabacco at their comming on Land….This day many of the people came aboord, some in Mantles of Feathers, and some in Skins of divers sorts of good Furres. Some women also came to vs with Hempe. They had red Copper Tabacco pipes, and other things of Copper they did weare about their neckes. (Jameson 1909:18; emphasis ours)9

Seven days later, as they sailed a few miles up the Hudson, “there came eight and twentie Canoes full of men, women, and children…” (Jameson 1909:20; emphasis ours).

Following the establishment of the colony, American women, both Algonquian and Iroquoian, went to the European settlements under many different circumstances and for many reasons. Some came with their families, for trade, treaty or land negotiations; to seek protection; to visit; and even out of curiosity.10 But some also came on their own or with other women to participate in the newly formed Atlantic trade in their own right; like many of their northern European women neighbors,11 they were active in the fur trade. The documentary records are scanty in their accounts of Native life and often do not mention the gender of the actors, let alone their names. They also do not frequently discuss their tribal affiliations, which means we sometimes have to conflate them and simply use the more generic terms “Indian” or “American.” Much of the evidence comes to us in the form of court records, suggesting that much of what goes on that does not wind up in court is not revealed to us (c.f. Fabend 2003:272).

But even with this flawed documentary record, there are some clues to help us understand the role of Native women in the emerging Atlantic world. Some come from the minutes of the court at Fort Orange dealing with incidents when the law was broken. One case, in 1654, notes that an Indian woman gave wampum to a European woman in exchange for brandy in a small pewter bottle (Gehring 1990:154). In 1656, a Mohawk man, whose name was not recorded, was accused of violence at a Dutch home. He claimed that the “wine which made him drunk was fetched by three Indian women from Barent Pietersen molenaer” (Gehring 1990:263), a European who worked in a saw mill (Venema 2003:205). There is also an account of a 1660 court case at Fort Orange involving a woman Indian trader, probably Mohawk, and Adriaen Jansen van Leyden, the defendant. The Indian was accosted by an agent of Van Leyden while bringing furs to her preferred trader in Fort Orange, given wampum, and brought to the defendant’s home. Once she was there, “she refused to trade and insisted on going to Volckert Jansens’, whereupon her beavers were retained and she was pushed outdoors by the defendant’s servant, the door being then locked” (Gehring 1990:523).12 The Native woman was not cowed and filed a complaint with Johannes la Montagne, an officer of the court, who presented her case for her and who then ordered Van Leyden to restore her furs. Van Leyden’s wife refused to do so, and the Indian woman was forced to trade there. The case returned to court but its resolution is not documented.13

This last account raises a host of issues. It suggests that Native women were traders, that they were not awed by European men, and that even though they lived outside the colony, they were savvy enough in Dutch ways to address the wrongs done to them in the Dutch court. It further suggests that this woman, at least, was an accomplished trader who had established a trading relationship with a particular preferred European trading partner: Volckert Jansen Douw, a prominent magistrate and trader. The remains of his house were found during the excavations by Hartgen Archaeological Associates at the KeyCorp Site in Albany in the 1980s. His house was well situated for trading operations; it was built on high land near the route taken by Mohawks on their way to Fort Orange, and unlike many other Dutch houses in New Netherland, which had flimsy wooden-walled cellars, his was stone-walled and had a wooden floor made up of 14 inch boards supported by wooden beams placed directly on the underlying clay and stone walls (Bradley 2007:96; Fisher 2008:15). Excavations revealed evidence of Douw’s trading stock which included such preferred items as blue tubular beads, knives, mouth harps, European smoking pipes, and lead bars, among other things. Dealing in firearms was forbidden in New Netherland at that time but the lead bars suggest that Douw may have been exchanging the raw materials for making musket balls for peltries (Bradley 2007:120; Fisher 2008:15–16; Pena 1990:100–101).

Obviously, we don’t know whether the Native woman who was heading for the well-stocked Douw house when she was intercepted was interested in acquiring these particular goods or something else entirely. Nonetheless, this incident raises questions as to who was responsible for the acquisition of trade goods that archaeologists have recovered in Native households. Archaeological excavations at the home of traders such as Arent van Curler at Schyuler Flatts and Hendrick and Marietje van Doesburg at Fort Orange also recovered evidence of their stock for Native traders. Van Curler, who was friendly with Mohawks and had been involved with a Mohawk woman and had a child by her, may have learned through her what would comprise good stock. Archaeologist Paul Huey recovered European ceramics, some of which may have been intended for the Indian trade, funnel bowl clay smoking pipes made expressly for the Indian trade, glass beads, brass mouth harps, tinkler cones, iron knives, and gun parts (Bradley 2005; Huey 1998:28). Huey’s excavations at the Van Doesburgh house in Fort Orange also uncovered trade items including funnel bowl clay pipes, wampum, glass beads, and gun parts, as well as fragments of Indian pottery, perhaps left by a Mohawk woman trader (Huey 1988:352, 414–416, 466, 594).

There is also a case where a woman apparently presented her husband with a shopping list. Wassenaer (in Jameson 1909:71) tells of a Native woman who fell sick and gave her husband three pelts to trade with a skipper for his lace shirt so she could be buried in it. Wassenaer further mentions that Indians, both men and women, came down from Canada, presumably to trade. He goes on to note that if the men “bring women with them, it is a sign that they come as friends” (Jameson 1909:86).

So women clearly bridged the social distance between their settlements and those of their European neighbors. Furthermore, it seems that this may have been part of a long standing pattern of women trading among Native groups and that the arrival of the Europeans simply presented Native women with an opportunity to expand already—established patterns of exchange and gift giving for their own advantage and that of their lineage. We have already noted that Algonquian women were among the parties greeting Hudson on his arrival here, hoping for trade or rather an exchange of gifts. Van den Bogaert on his trip into the interior in 1634–1635, one of the earliest for the Dutch, noted that three women, perhaps Seneca, had come to Mohawk country to exchange fish and tobacco (Snow et al. 1996:4).

For a later period, some information on women as traders comes from Kees-Jan Waterman’s analysis (2008) of an account book kept by an Albany trader, Evert Wendell. Wendell’s records, which cover the period from 1695 to 1726, show the activities of many late 17th- and early 18th-century Native women, mainly Iroquois, at his trading post, buying for themselves or as intermediaries for others, introducing new customers, etc. Waterman estimates that during that time, nearly 50% of those who traded at Wendell’s post were women, and that many of them stayed overnight with him or other traders (2008:139, 143). It seems that this practice may have been a holdover from earlier days. Many settlers in Beverwijck had special accommodations for visiting Indians, who probably included women. These outbuildings were referred to as wilden huysjen or ‘little Indian houses’ (Venema 2003:92). This may also have been the practice in New Amsterdam, where Sara Roeloffse, wife of the surgeon Hans Kierstede, is reputed to have had a shed built in her yard to accommodate Native traders who had come to the settlement. It is said that “under its shelter there was always a number of squaws who came and went as if in their own village” (Van Rensselaer 1898:26). They were not trading furs (which had already been hunted out in that area) but were reported to be making baskets and brooms to sell at market, stringing wampum, and sewing and spinning as well as selling maize and venison.14 This evidence that Native women visited Dutch homes requires that we re-think the analysis of assemblages from these homes so that we can look for the presence of the women there.

As a final note, Trocolli (1999) has offered insights that might be helpful in looking at the archaeological record and trying to understand it in this and other colonial situations. She suggests that “the separation of the so-called domestic sphere from the public sphere is an analytical model that is not applicable to all societies” (1999:57). In speaking of Native North American Indian peoples, particularly those living in matrilineal societies, she argues that the gendered relationships that are common in other cultures are not applicable and should not be assumed. Instead, she suggests, citing Kopytoff (1990) and Miller (1994), that “[t]hese women’s existential identities are not tied to notions of passivity, lack of personal power, dependence, and childishness—qualities associated with women in Western culture…. [Instead, t]hese women accessed roles that in Western society are gendered and limited to, or reserved for, men. Such roles are not defined by gender in their own societies; instead they are circumstantial” (1999:56). We argue here that trading is one of those roles that is not inherently defined by gender but instead is circumstantial. Further, we argue below that sexual freedom for some Native women differed significantly from 17th (not to mention 21st)-century western notions and may not have been understood for those very reasons.

Intimate Exchanges

In 1638, just before the Company removed its monopoly on the fur trade, it proscribed sexual relationships between Native and African women and European men: “Furthermore, each and everyone shall refrain from fighting; from adulterous intercourse with heathens, blacks or other persons” (Van Laer 1974d:4). Both the very presence of this ordinance and a close reading of the documents show that even though the Europeans tended not to write about them,15 such relationships, both transient and long-term,16 between European men and Native women, certainly existed in New Netherland. Most of the documented relationships took place during the early period, before the arrival of large numbers of European women in the colony.17 Although we have some evidence that these relationships also occurred between European men and African women, we have much more evidence of their occurrence with Native women.

Colonist Adriaen van der Donck, in his paean to New Netherland, described the situation between Native women and European men clearly: “their womenfolk have an attractive grace about them, for several Dutchmen, before many Dutch women were to be had there, became infatuated with them” (2008:75). We argue that at least some of these relationships were consensual, involved customary gift-giving, and provided women with power, a power neither intended nor understood by the European men who contributed to it. The Europeans did not understand either the workings of matrilineal societies or the sexual codes of the Americans (Mann 2000:275–277). Furthermore, the Europeans also did not understand the difference between commodity exchange and gift exchange, or the Native concept of gift-giving (Murray 2000:15–47).18

We do not have enough information about African women to determine whether these relationships were consensual for them. Further, although many of the African women also came from matrilineal societies, most of them were now, unlike Native women, living enslaved within a European colony, without the support of their homeland kin. In the early years of the colony, the nature of enslavement was quite different from what it would become in the middle of the century (see Jacobs 2005:380–388), and the Africans were able to join the Dutch Reformed Church, where many had their children baptized. Baptism provided godparents for their children, vital relationships for building kin networks in an environment where people had been stripped of their families (Evans 1901; Purple 1890).

Documentation on transient sexual relations between European men on the one hand and indigenous and African women on the other often appears in the record in the form of evidence used to undermine the character of male witnesses or defendants in cases brought before the Company’s Council. There are reports that women, African and Native, sometimes spent the night with European soldiers at a guard house in New Amsterdam. For example, in 1638, Nicolaes Coorn, a sergeant, was charged with theft and adultery; part of the charge was that he had several times had “Indian women and Negresses sleep entire nights with him in his bed, in the presence of all the soldiers” (Van Laer 1974d:33; see also Williams 2001:68). And in 1639, Corporal Hans Steen was accused of being a “whoremonger” (Van Laer 1974d:43–45) with a Native woman. It is not clear, according to the testimony of the witnesses in this case, who initiated the encounter; two of the witnesses suggest that it was the Native woman, while the third indicates that it was Steen (Van Laer 1974d:44–45).19

Coorn and Steen were not alone. In 1641 Jan Platneus was accused of being a “perjurer and incompetent to give testimony” because he had “committed adultery” with Indian women (Van Laer 1974d:122). In none of the testimonies, however, was there any hint that the Native or African woman was forced against her will.

Although some scholars invariably see sexual relations between European men and Native women in New Netherland as instances of dominance or coercion (see Foote 2004 as well as Anderson 1991 for neighboring New France; but see Mann 2000 and Williams 2001 to the contrary) and some contemporary European men describe the behavior of Native women as “whorish” (Jameson 1909:174), neither description is accurate and the situation is much more complex. The 17th-century sexuality of Native Algonquian and Iroquoian women should be examined, as Morgan suggested (see the quotation at the beginning of this article), in the context of Native culture and not western culture. In most cases, according to the documents available, the women were neither coerced nor “whorish”; they were simply following traditional models of gift-giving and exchange. Of course, there may be cases of coerced sex that were not reported because they did not become part of court cases. But it seems that many of these liaisons were ones into which unmarried women entered willingly for their own purposes, for pleasure, power, prestige, or wealth.20 Although for the Natives adultery on the part of married women was condemned except under special circumstances,21 it was acceptable and in fact expected for young unmarried women to have sexual relationships with men of their own choosing, whether European or Indian. Furthermore, exchange in the form of gift giving on the part of the man to the woman formed an important part of these trysts. Adriaen van der Donck recounts that:

if the women is single or unattached…. she may do as she pleases, provided she accept payment. Free favors they regard as scandalous and whorelike. She is not blamed for what else happens to her, and no one will later scruple to propose to marriage to the woman concerned. It also happens that a free woman cohabits with someone for a time so long as he satisfied her and gives her enough, whom she would nevertheless not wish to marry. They are actually proud of such liaisons and as they begin to grow old, boast of having slept with many chiefs and brave men. I was amazed to hear how sedate and steady women, of the worthiest among them, thought highly of themselves when speaking of such conduct on their part, as if it were praiseworthy and glorious. (2008:86, emphasis ours)

Other documents confirm the importance of Native customary gift giving in these relationships, although they may see it through the lens of their own European sexual codes. For example, Domine Megapolensis in 1644 described such liaisons thus: “The women are exceedingly addicted to whoring: they will lie with a man for the value of one, two or three schillings, and our Dutchmen run after them very much” (Jameson 1909:174). A more concrete example comes from an incident in the 1650s, when a Mohawk woman, described as having a “beautiful figure,” is reported to have had sex with Jacob van Leeuwen, a merchant who frequently visited New Netherland, in the Fort Orange court house attic during a church service. At some point during their encounter, Van Leeuwen gave her a necklace made up of blue and red beads that she was seen wearing as she came down the court house steps after their tryst. Evidently the gift pleased her because she was often seen wearing it later on (Venema 2003:168). In her culture, gift giving played an important and necessary role in sexual relationships for unmarried women and that necklace was her due (Jacobs 2005:396; Venema 2003:169).

In sum, the records indicate that through the gifts given by European men (who were, perhaps unwittingly, adopting traditional Native exchange), these women, on their own accord and through the power of their own sexuality, also actively entered the emerging Atlantic economy. Through this exchange, they obtained wealth in money or trade goods, as well as power that added to their own or their lineages’ prestige. As Van der Donck reported, older women often boasted of their youthful affairs. Furthermore, these gifts may have been part of a process used by Native women to maintain power in the changing circumstances of colonization (c.f. Sorenson 2000:175).22 Although a colonizer may see a Native woman as “a potential convert and labourer, wife, concubine, slave, part of social exchanges and political alliances, a fleeting unwilling sex partner or an object of abuse and degradation” (Sorenson 2000:173), that does not, we argue, mean that the Native woman saw herself as the colonizer did. From her perspective, the colonizer may be a source of the material goods she desires; a way of maintaining her status and that of her lineage; a source of power, pleasure, and perhaps prestige for her children; as well as providing access to a wider exchange network. In other words, she might benefit from such a relationship in many ways.

Since unmarried women were free to explore their sexuality as they pleased, we wonder if in addition to the novelty of European gifts that they valued and received from their encounters, the novelty of European men was also an appealing factor and may have played into their fantasies. Such contacts may have been explored for any number of reasons, including desire. There are no records that we know of from oral traditions or European sources that say one way or another. Yet, we cannot but wonder if some Native women may have found some European men attractive while others did not or were indifferent. European men, after all, were very different in appearance than Native men. They were hairier on face and body, and their eyes were not all the same color. As Evan Haefeli (referencing Moogk 2000:25–27) noted in another context, hairiness was associated with animals and “the multicolored eyes of Europeans only had counterparts among dogs and wolves” (2007:426). Some women may have found these “animalistic” qualities ambiguous, seductive or magical, and therefore highly desirable. Furthermore, Sorenson (2000:177), in talking about the ‘newness’ associated with contact, reminds us how “the outsider, or that which is new or from far away, can be an object of imagination and desire” and how contact can be an exploration and a highly charged one. We should not leave desire and curiosity, from the perspective of Europeans or Africans or Native peoples, out of the equation of intimate encounters. In regard to the allure of sexual fantasies from the European perspective, Cornelis van Tienhoven, the Company’s secretary, was reputed to have run around dressed as an Indian, “with a little cloth and a small patch in front, from lust after the whores to whom he has always been mightily inclined….” (Adriaen van der Donck, quoted in Jacobs 2005:396).

Parenthetically we should note that we have no evidence of intimacies between European women and Native or African men, although there is an intriguing account given by Pierre Esprit Radisson in which a Dutch farm woman shows curiosity about whether such intimacies have in fact taken place. Radisson was escaping from the Mohawk, who upon his capture by them had then adopted him. He, at this point, had decided to escape and was posing as a Mohawk fur trader and was hiding at the Dutch farm from his Mohawk captors. The woman’s husband was away at Fort Orange looking for help for him. Radisson reports that the woman, thinking he is Mohawk, “shews me good countenance as much as shee could, hoping of a better imaginary profit of me. Shee asked me if we had so much liberty with the ffrench [sic] to lye with them as they; but I had no desire to do anything, seeing myselfe so insnared att death’s door amongst the terrible torments, but must shew a better countenance to a worse game” (Snow et al. 1996:92).

These liaisons did not go unnoticed in the metropole. In addition to the Company ordinance against sexual relationships between Dutch men and Native and African women, mentioned above, in 1643 Kiliaen van Rensselaer, the patroon of Rensselaerswijck (his private colony near Albany), who lived in the Dutch Republic, imposed a series of fines on the men in his colony who co-habited with ‘heathen’ women. The fines ranged from 25 guilders for “unchastity with heathen women and girls,” to 50 guilders if the woman became pregnant, and to 100 guilders if the woman gave birth (Van Laer 1908:694). His bothering to implement these fines indicates that not only was co-habitation an on-going issue but also that he was troubled by the possibility or the actuality that an Indian woman might become pregnant and bear a child fathered by a European in his employ. As James Homer Williams points out, Hugo Grotius, the foremost Dutch judicial scholar of the time, saw adultery as a form of behavior against personal honor and reputation. Related to this were fears that extramarital sex led to illegitimate children that resulted in threats to public order and the sanctity of marriage (2001:65–66). Van Rensselaer had grounds to be concerned. One of his employees who was also a kinsman, Arent van Curler, fathered a daughter with a Mohawk woman (Wilcoxen 1979). Van Curler was not alone, and there are other references to the children born of these relationships.23 What Van Rensselaer and other Europeans did not understand, however, was that because American peoples in New Netherland were, by and large, matrilineal and matrilocal, reproduction rights rested in the mother’s lineage (Snow et al. 1996:44). Any child was a member of his or her mother’s matrilineage, regardless of who his or her father was, and was raised by his or her mother’s people. From the Native viewpoint, in the early years of colonization, constructions of identity were not made by Europeans either in the metropole or colonial settlements. They were made in Native settlements and there was no stigma attached to the circumstances of a child’s parentage as there might have been in the European colony. In fact, Radisson notes that when he was living with the Mohawk, his best friend there was courting a young Mohawk woman “who by report of many was a bastard to a flemish. I had no difficulty to believe, seeing that the coulour of her hayre was much more whiter then that of the Iroquoits. Neverthelesse, shee was of a great familie” (Snow et al. 1996:91; emphasis ours).

Native women themselves do not appear to have made demands on their former lovers for themselves or their children, though in 1659, a Mohawk delegation went to Fort Orange with a number of demands that included one “that when any one of their people dies and the Dutch is her mate, he ought to give to the relatives of the deceased one or two suits of cloth” (Gehring 1990:454). Unfortunately, the court minutes do not mention the outcome of this particular demand (Gehring 1990:453–460). Nonetheless, the fact that this demand was presented at a formal court session at Fort Orange underlines the ubiquity and the knowledge of such relationships, the fact that marriage or cohabitation was not part of them, and the important role of gift giving in them.

Many studies of intimate relationships in colonial encounters seem to focus on the “sexual politics of colonial institutions” (Voss 2008:192). In looking at New Netherland, it is obvious to us that the sexual politics of indigenous institutions are just as important and have been too long ignored. In this case, Native women are not responding to colonial institutions but rather to their own. In fact, they are making the colonizers respond to them by their insistence on exchange and gift giving. In so doing, the women may be expanding on traditional mores for their own advantage. So although in many colonial societies, to be sure, “concubinage, slavery, and servitude were likely to have been the most common means through which colonists incorporated Native Americans and Africans of both genders into their households” (Voss 2008:192), this was not the situation in all European colonies throughout their histories. Natives were not in all cases incorporated into colonial households nor were they cloistered in their own settlements with little contact with Europeans. The situation with African women in New Netherland is quite different, as we discuss below. But Native women there in many instances not only acted according to their own cultural norms, but were able to make European men follow those norms as well.

It is these instances, we argue, that have not received sufficient scholarly attention (c.f. White 1999). What Gilles Havard argued for Native people of the Great Lakes, could also be argued for Native women in New Netherland: “far from seeing themselves as actors on the European periphery, [they] believed themselves to be at the center of the world” (2002:50, quoted in Cohen 2008:21). Certainly, just as it is important to incorporate Native and African archaeology and history into colonial archaeology and history, it is equally important for archaeologists to realize that non-colonials have their own worlds and perspectives (Cohen 2008; DuVal 2006; Richter 2001; Trigger 1984; Van Zandt 1998, 2008). It is only through considering their worlds that a true understanding of colonialism—one of the most dramatic, painful, complex events in world history, with effects continuing to this day—can be understood. These ignored worlds and the agency of women challenge the traditional, romantic, and self-congratulatory narratives so common to settler societies (Stasiulis and Yuval-Davis 1995:4; see also Greene 2007:235) and work toward a “reshaping of what scholars call American history” (Greene 2007:235) and other histories as well. As a final note, Sorenson has pointed out that although contact does not always benefit women (2000:181), it is a mistake to think that it never benefits them or that they are passive in their encounters with Europeans. It is also important to remember that the roles of women (as well as those of everyone else) in colonial situations are never static but are constantly changing as they adapt to new circumstances.

An Engendered New Netherland

In engendering the early history of New Netherland, our focus has been on Native women. We have seen that Native women there were not simply “an appendage to colonial history” (Trigger 1984:32). Furthermore, they do not fit into the triad that researchers have suggested for Native women living elsewhere in settler societies in North America: intermarriage, concubinage, or servitude. In fact, in New Netherland, in their interactions with Europeans, they appear to have followed their own established traditions and expected Europeans to conform to them as well. They may have used the Europeans to improve their own status and standing and initially such contact may have benefited them. The Europeans may have misunderstood and not realized that they themselves were, in fact, doing what the women expected them to do. As in many colonial situations, all sides, compelled by their own patterns of culture, acted with little knowledge of, or interest in, what that interaction meant to the other. The European men may have thought that the Native women were prostituting and degrading themselves, but for Native women it does not appear to have been coerced or degrading or illicit sex; instead, it seems to have been a simple matter of traditional exchange and gift giving in a customary sexual context that was appropriate for unmarried women. Of course there may well have been coerced sex that was not recorded in court and other records, but we simply do not have evidence of that. All of the evidence we have seems to fall within traditional parameters. In fact, some women may have adapted these traditional patterns of action in their new circumstances and enlarged upon them, to their own advantage.

The preliminary implications of our study of New Netherland are twofold. The first relates to a rethinking of the archaeological record.24 For too long, archaeologists have tended to assume that most European goods found in Native American contexts arrived there through the agency and design of Native men—they were the fur traders, they were the ones in contact with the Europeans—while the women, by and large, stayed home. But from what we have shown here in a challenge to that view, Native women were certainly in contact with Europeans in New Netherland in various exchange contexts where they obtained European goods too: through their own activities as traders and through the customary gift giving that formed an essential part of the sexual liaisons of unmarried women. It may be that the fur trade and the arrival of the Europeans offered new opportunities for women, opportunities that they seized. This means that we must now develop new ways of interpreting European trade goods that have been found in Native contexts, and consider whether they were acquired by women or men. Furthermore, we need to rethink the assemblages found on European sites. There, Native goods would not necessarily have been left by Native men who were trading. Native women were also trading there. And we cannot assume that European traders chose the trade goods archaeologists have recovered on their sites for trade with men exclusively. That means that we cannot give a facile explanation for the goods that archaeologists have recovered from European homes, homes like the Douw house, the Van Doesburgh house, or the Van Curler house in the upper Hudson Valley (Bradley 2005, 2007; Fisher 2008; Huey 1988, 1998; Pena 1990), or the Kierstede house or the Van Tienhoven house in New Amsterdam (Grossman 1985).25

All in all, we must rethink the patterns of interaction and exchange between and among all the various groups that made up 17th-century New Netherland and all of the roles of these groups in building the new Atlantic world. To elaborate upon what Natalie Zemon Davis has argued, we must “insist on the absolute simultaneity of the Amerindian and European worlds” and look for interactions “in the colonial encounter other than the necessary and overpolarized two-some of ‘domination’ and ‘resistance’ and attribute the capacity for choice to Indians as [well as] to Europeans” (1994:85). That capacity for choice also, obviously, includes Native women. We also need to retire the conventional paradigm of “Man the Trader” on the part of Natives (just as we are doing for the Europeans). Although we may never be able to sort out who left these artifacts behind—Indian, African, or European; male or female—we should at least not assume that they all arrived there solely through the agency of European or Native men. We need to think of the activities of Native women outside their households, as they bridged the social distance between Native and European worlds, and how this might affect household assemblages in Native and European households. In addition, there is the larger question of how their efforts led to a creation of the new entity that became colonial America as all groups tried to maintain and expand their own worlds.

To rethink our analyses we first need to develop a host of new questions: Did those involved in exchange relationships acquire things just for themselves personally? Was there a difference between the trade goods that men and women desired in exchange? In exchange with women, were different items used as gifts in the context of sexual liaisons as opposed to those received for furs? Did senior women in these matrilineal societies present male and female traders with shopping lists for the lineage? Did men present women with shopping lists? Are women’s activities in the new Atlantic economy reflected in grave goods? These and other questions will provoke new ways of looking at archaeological assemblages and stimulate the formulation of additional questions. Further, understanding the roles of the men and women of all of the cultural groups living in or on the outskirts of colonies will also provide a greater understanding of colonialism itself.

The second thrust of our study relates to the role of women in the earliest years of a colonial encounter. Ann Stoler has noted that “early colonial communities commonly produced a quotidian world in which the dominant cultural influence in the household was Native” (Stoler 1989:154).26 But this was certainly not true in New Netherland, a colony that persisted only during the very early period of colonialism. There, Native women had autonomy and entered the colony on their own terms, and then returned to their own households and settlements and kin groups. They were not recruited to work, willingly or unwillingly, in European kitchens or nurseries either before or after the arrival of European women in the colony. Although they may have slept with Europeans, it was mostly of their own choosing.

Unfortunately we have found no specific mention in the documents of who cooked for the European men during the early period when European women were scarce. Jaap Jacobs suggests that enslaved Africans, probably female, were used in domestic tasks (2005:382) and the only hints that we found support his interpretation. But those hints are scanty: one is a reference to a young African girl, Maria, “belonging to the honorable West India Company,” whom Company Director Kieft leased to Nicolas Coorn in Renssalearwijck for 4 years (Van Laer 1974b:223–224). (This may well be the same Nicolaes Coorn whom we mentioned above who was charged by the Company’s Council with spending nights with Native and African women.) Another mentions three older African women who were given their freedom in the early 1660s on condition that one of them come and clean the home of Director General Petrus Stuyvesant every week (Jacobs 2005:382). And Jan Gerritsen had a female slave, but it is not clear whether she was a domestic slave or worked in his brewery or both (Williams 2001:68).27 Certainly the enslaved African women in these colonial households were in a very different position than the Native women who were their contemporaries, and were far from being free agents.

This raises an important point. We speculate that Native women might have escaped domestic roles in European homes in New Netherland (unlike in many other colonial situations) not only because they lived in matrilineal and matrilocal societies with settlements at a remove and thus were able to engage Europeans on their own terms, but also because that role was filled by enslaved African women, both in the early days, when European women were in such short supply, and afterwards. In other words, perhaps Europeans were not making claims on the domestic labor of Native women in the European settlements because they had co-opted the labor of enslaved African women instead. Clearly more attention needs to be applied to colonial situations where there are both free and enslaved non-European women present and where the Native populations are matrilineal and matrilocal. It is also important, in studying colonialism, to remember that the roles of one group of women (or men) can not be studied in isolation from the presence or the absence of other groups of women (or men). Their lives (in this case Native, African and European) are entangled with each other whether or not they ever met. It is the intersection of that tangle that raises intriguing possibilities in understanding the working of colonies such as New Netherland.

In conclusion, we argue that not only is the power of gendered and feminist studies alive and well but that this approach is a vital tool in trying to understand colonialism. There is no place on the globe today that has not been touched by colonialism in one way or another and studies of it and the inequality that often follows in its wake (c.f. Gosden 2004:5) remain central to not only to archaeology but to our understanding of the modern human condition. We hope that the challenges to orthodox interpretations that our engendered re-visioning28 of the interactions of the Native women and colonists of New Netherland raises will be helpful to archaeologists and other scholars as they try to untangle the complex relationships that made up colonial worlds in other times and places, and ultimately in our world today as well.


  1. 1.

    See Leacock (1983), Rosaldo and Lamphere (1974) and Rogers (1978) for early examples of gender studies in cultural anthropology. Historical archaeologists, to use one example, have tended to examine gender relationships in four different settings: under colonialism (beginning with Deagan 1974), as part of the separation of the spheres in Victorian America (see, for example, Wall 1994), as part of the African diaspora (see, for example, Wilkie 2003), and as part of the study of women in institutional settings, be they utopian or correctional (see DeCunzo 1995; Spencer-Wood 1991; after Voss 2006).

  2. 2.

    See, for instance, Anderson (1991), Bragdon (1996a), Davis (1994), Foote (2004), Gutierrez (1991), Rothschild (2003), Richter (1992), Sleeper-Smith (2000), Stoler (2001), and White (1991).

  3. 3.

    For further reading on these groups, see Cantwell and Wall (2001), Brasser (1978), Dunn (1994), Engelbrecht (2003), Goddard (1978), and Snow (1994). For a history of the colony, see Jacobs (2005).

  4. 4.

    See Postma (1990), Heywood and Thornton (2007), and Van den Boogaart and Emmer (1979).

  5. 5.

    The instructions state: “Whosoever shall contract marriage on sea or land shall immediately be discharged from the Company’s service, cease to draw monthly wages, and from that moment be regarded as a free man and colonist, enjoying the privileges granted to others by the former instructions, unless he, being competent, should with his family wish to enter the Company’s service and employ in which case the Council shall be permitted to engage him at reasonable wages and distribute and employ him and his family in the same way as other farm laborers” (Van Laer 1924:25).

  6. 6.

    Rink (1986:146–147, 166–167); the ratio of men to women arriving in Rensselaerswijck (the patroonship or private colony which is the only place for which we have figures) between 1631 and 1640 was 8.9:1; whereas from 1641 to 1644, it was 3.6:1; and from 1657 to 1664, it was 1.9:1. The Company opened the colony to trade for all in 1640.

  7. 7.

    Our focus is on direct exchange between Native women and Europeans. We are not discussing the vital roles of Native women actively engaged in their settlements in preparing beaver pelts, corn, or wampum for exchange in the fur trade nor their roles in inciting mourning wars, adoption or in local politics (Engelbrecht 2003; Goddard 1978; Loren 2008; Mann 2000; Snow 1994; Tooker 1984; Wallace 1972). For household activities in home settlements, see Nassaney (2000, 2004), Bragdon (1996b) for neighboring New England. For Algonquian women living in the Mid Atlantic in the 18th century, see Grumet (1980). Nor are we talking about leadership roles of women in Native societies such as the squaw chief of the Katskill group (Van Laer 1974c:212). Unfortunately, we are writing about a period (1624–1639) for which there are relatively few written records for New Netherland and in those sparse records there is little mention of Native peoples (Jacobs 2005:4).

  8. 8.

    Many have described northern Iroquoians as having two worlds, a world of the forest for men, and a world of the clearing for women. Tooker (1984:123fn.9) argues against this stereotype and says that this contrast between the worlds of Iroquois men and women may have its origins in the work of Anthony F. C. Wallace (see Wallace 1972:24), as elaborated by Hertzberg (1966:23–30). Wallace’s focus was on the Seneca, the westernmost nation in the Iroquois League. The Mohawk, the easternmost, were the Iroquois nation who lived the closest to the Dutch settlements, and had easy access to them. See White (1999) for an historiography of gender and the fur trade as well as his bibliography for the French fur trade in the Great Lakes.

  9. 9.

    This early reference to women trading was first pointed out by Grumet (1980:57).

  10. 10.

    Venema (2003:43, 44). Records from Fort Orange note that Mahican women came or sent relatives to Fort Orange to engage in land deals (Gehring 2000:253, 256).

  11. 11.

    Work has already been done on the superior position that women enjoyed under the Dutch in comparison with their peers in contemporary England in terms of the rights in property given them through law and custom as well as in the degree to which they could participate in exchange (Narrett 1992). Some people have posited that the strong economic position of women in the Netherlands was linked to the fact that such a high percentage of men in the maritime provinces were away at sea for long periods of time, leaving women home to act for their families (Venema 2003:188). The Dutch had the custom of making mutual wills, whereby husbands and wives left each other half of their property, with the remaining half to be divided among the children. In addition, their law supported the equal division of property to all the children, regardless of sex and birth order (as opposed to the English custom of male primogeniture). Dutch women also continued to use their own patronyms after marriage. A Dutch wife could own property, and after marriage she had joint ownership of the communal property with her husband; if a husband mismanaged an estate, she could appeal to the court to have him removed as administrator. Furthermore, to secure her children’s inheritance and to retain control of her own property, she could marry with a prenuptial agreement, an arrangement that was often preferred by a woman who was marrying for the 2nd time and who had children from her first marriage and/or had inherited the estate of her first husband (Venema 2003:190). Under English law, on the other hand, a married woman was a “feme covert;” she was legally completely ‘covered’ by her husband, who thereafter represented her interests—she took his name, he took control of the real and/or personal property she possessed (Burrows and Wallace 1999:89); she was dependant on her husband’s will and authority and could not enter into contracts, sell property, or act for herself with out her spouse’s permission. Many Dutch women were very active in trade in their own right (e.g., Shattuck 1994; see also Fabend 2003) and in New Netherland many European women participated in the fur trade and several of them were very successful (Venema 2003:189–190). Historian Goodfriend (1992) has noted that these women had a lot to lose with the English conquest, and in fact they did eventually lose many rights with anglicization (see also Cantwell and Wall 2001; Janowitz 1993). We wonder if this unusual status of Dutch women among their European contemporaries may have been part of the attraction that drew dissident English women (such as Ann Hutchinson and Deborah Moody) and their religious communities from New England to New Netherland, although the relative religious tolerance of Dutch for the 17th century was undoubtedly an important factor too.

  12. 12.

    See Merwick (1990:88–95) for a discussion of the problems, some of which sometimes involved violence, which arose when private brokers accosted Indian traders coming to town and tried to barter with them.

  13. 13.

    Van Leyden denied the charge, was ordered to make a report the next day, but apparently did not, for 2 weeks later the Court Minutes state that he was in default (Gehring 1990:523–524, 529).

  14. 14.

    Although this information is from an undocumented source dating to the late 1890s, it does fit in with what we know of Native traders and their European hosts in Beverwijck, mentioned above (Venema 2003:93), and the fact that the City ordered a trading house to be built for the Indian trade nearby, in front of the Kierstede house (Fernow 1907:112–113). Archaeologist Joel Grossman has suggested that the remains of a building his team excavated in 1984 on the Broad Financial Center Site in Manhattan may have been the Indian house that Sara Roeloffse had built (2009).

  15. 15.

    Reticence about these relationships in the European documents is not unusual—it characterized the Dutch in Africa and the English in Jamestown as well. For Jamestown, the 1607 settlement in Virginia where the first settlers were also male, the English documents do not mention cohabitation between the English male colonists and Algonquian women, but a Spanish record from 1612 mentions that “around 40 or 50 of the men had married with the salvages [sic]” (quoted in Kelso 2006:38). And Postma notes that although the WIC ordered the Dutch in Africa to keep a distance from the Africans—the former were not permitted to spend the night outside the trading fort or to let African women spend the night within it—he adds that “[o]bviously, this policy was only selectively enforced as evidenced by the growing number of mulattoes and the common practice of regular liaisons between WIC officials and African women” (1990:69).

  16. 16.

    In addition to the transient encounters cited here there were a few long term relationships as well (Rothschild 1995, 2003; Venema 2003:169–170).

  17. 17.

    See also McGovern (1985) and Stalsberg (1987) (as cited in Sorenson 2000:175) and Sorenson (2000:175–176) for similar discussions on the significance of colonizers that include women and those that do not.

  18. 18.

    There are a couple of references in the documents that suggest an attempt at coerced sex with American women, but they are far from clear. In 1639, Claes, a cabin boy, was accused by one witness of having “thrown down a squaw on the path near the Fresh Water and then sit on her” and by another witness who testified that he saw the cabin boy, after throwing the woman down, “draw a knife and that as far as he could observe the aforesaid [Claes] intended to cut the belt which the said squaw had around her waist” (Van Laer 1974a:177; see also Van Laer 1974d:52). Williams speculates that the cabin boy “may also have been attempting sexual contact” (2001:68). To make things even murkier, on the same day, charges were made against Toby, another seaman, for the exact same crime (Van Laer 1974a:177).

  19. 19.

    In regards to the first witness, the court records state that “an Indian woman came and laid her down on the other side of Steen, covering the said Steen with her blanket.” Another soldier’s testimony implies the same thing: “an Indian woman came to the guardhouse and that Hans Steen desired her to lie down on the bunk beside him, which took place….and that the aforesaid Indian woman left the guardhouse in the morning” (Van Laer 1974d:44). Another soldier gave somewhat different testimony stating that when Steen saw a Native woman, he called her into the guardhouse. When there, he “asked her to lie down beside him on the bunk, which the woman did. He also forbade the soldiers to make a fire” (Van Laer 1974d:45).

  20. 20.

    They may have wanted material or immaterial advantages, future gifts, preferred trading partners (as the European men might also), or even spiritual power (c.f. White 1991:128, 134). Unfortunately, we do not have enough information to be more specific.

  21. 21.

    When instigated by a polygynous husband (Goddard 1978:219).

  22. 22.

    See Sorenson (2000:172) and Trocolli (1999:99) for their comments on Etienne and Leacock (1980) and Leacock (1983) who argued, among other things, that Native women suffered loss of status in the reorganization of gender roles following contact. We wish to emphasize that in this paper we are focusing on the role of Native women outside their settlements, in direct trade and sexual relationships with the Europeans. Within their settlements, their economic and political activities were also reorganized to focus on, at different times and places, processing hides for trade, growing and pounding corn for trade, stringing wampum, or for the Iroquois, with the internal politics of the mourning wars, and the adoption of prisoners. Further, obviously, their roles and power change through time.

  23. 23.

    For example, David De Vries reported a 1643 meeting in which an Algonquian leader remarked that they “[h]ad given them [the Dutch] their daughters to sleep with by whom they had begotten children, and there roved many an Indian who was begotten by a Swanneken” or Dutchman (Jameson 1909:231). See also Jacobs (2005:394–397) and Venema (2003:168–171, 173) for other examples. In some cases, the European community was aware of these liaisons and in other cases, probably not (Venema 2003:169–170). Whether or not the Natives privileged the children of such unions is not known. In the early days of the colonial encounter, Dutch colonial categories of race and/or inheritance simply were not relevant to Native kin groups and were superceded by their own, Native, categories of lineage and clan and inheritance. See also Davis (1994:87) on the fact that the concept of illegitimacy was not important in Native communities. For European concern in colonial contexts not about the impropriety of sexual contact with Native groups but about property inheritance, see Stoler (1989:152) as well as Plane (2000).

  24. 24.

    For discussions of some of these problems in analyzing assemblages, see McEwen (1991) and Scott (1991).

  25. 25.

    As we have argued elsewhere, we also cannot assume that European-affiliated artifacts in European colonial sites were left there by Europeans; they could just as easily have been left by the Africans who made up part of these households. See Cantwell and Wall (2001:170).

  26. 26.

    See Stoler (1989:154, 2001:832). Stoler has also suggested that during the early stages of acts of colonization (like this period of New Netherland’s history), mixed unions (either coerced or uncoerced) between male European colonizers and the female indigenous colonized were usually encouraged by the colonizing state as part of the “strategic tactics of conquest;” these were condemned only later in the colonizing process “as encroachments upon, and threats to the privileges of… a settler population” (2001:836). In New Netherland, this obviously did not happen, which makes New Netherland an interesting contrast. In New Netherland, the Company’s opening of the fur trade to all Europeans led to the arrival of large numbers of European women there and the start of its transformation to a settler colony. Stoler notes that this conjunction of the arrival of European women and the “planned stabilization of colonial rule…” was a common occurrence in the process of colonization (1989:147). See also Gutierrez (1991), Plane (2000), and Rothschild (2003).

  27. 27.

    Jacobs notes that from 1647 to 1654, slaves belonging to the WIC were “regularly hired out to private individuals” (2005:383). We do not know whether this practice included women who were hired out for domestic work. This also raises the important question of how the presence of enslaved African men in the colony affected the relationships between European and Native men. That issue is beyond the scope of this particular project and will be addressed in a future study.

  28. 28.

    The concept of re-visioning is adapted from Richter (1992:2).


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