Esopus Wars – Conflict between European Settlers and Natives in North America

Esopus wars starting year is 1659, and the end year is 1664. Armed conflict between the Dutch and their native allies and the Esopus Nation, centered in the Hudson River Valley. The Esopus Wars were part of a long history of conflict between European settlers and natives in the northeast region of North America.
Somewhere between 1614 and 1640, more than two thousand Dutch colonists settled on Esopus (Waranawonk) lands along the Hudson, from Long Island to Kingston, New York. They did so under the auspices of the Dutch West Indies Company. By the end of 1640, a series of Dutch-native conflicts had developed stemming from land issues and revenge killings.
The last of these conflicts were the First and Second Esopus Wars. Ironically, those wars ended with the Dutch destruction of much of the Esopus tribe by 1664. Therefore, in the same year, the English invaded New Amsterdam and put an end to the Dutch colonization of North America. After 1664, the Iroquois Confederation replaced the Esopus as the major native power broker in the Hudson River Valley.
In the early 1600s, French, English, and Dutch colonists flowed into a region already experiencing complicated political affairs between indigenous tribes. The river valleys were key strategic transport corridors, both for trade and for maintaining maritime power. In New York, the Hudson River and its mouth at Long Island were vital corridors for both Native Americans and Europeans.
The natives wanted to be involved in trade markets to receive goods such as firearms and liquor, whereas the Europeans desired native lands along the Hudson River and those lands’ resources, such as beaver pelts. A classic colonial confrontation soon ensued with both natives and colonists using each other to reconfigure power relationships in the valley.
At the time of the first Dutch settlement in 1614, the Susquehannocks controlled the east bank of the Hudson, the Esopus the west bank, and the Mohawks the upper reaches around the Catskill Mountains. The Dutch then established Fort Orange (Albany, New York) on the Hudson River in 1614, Fort Good Hope (Hartford, Connecticut) on the Connecticut River in 1624, and Fort Amsterdam (New York City) on western Long Island in 1626.
Although claimed by England, which was often preoccupied with war with France and Spain, the region was actually controlled by Native Americans such as the Esopus. The Esopus and other natives tolerated the Dutch presence because they offered an additional outlet for trade, especially for guns that were vital to native diplomatic negotiations and political affairs.
With the French in Canada, the English in New England, and the Dutch on Long Island, the Hudson River became the strategic center of trade, with New Amsterdam as the key port. Dutch expansion upriver, the devastation wrought by Old World diseases, and increasing conflict between native tribes all took their toll on indigenous peoples along the Hudson River.
The news of the 1636–1638 Pequot War in New England and the virtual extermination of a once-influential Pequot Nation also heightened tensions and amplified the flow of native refugees into the region. This powder keg ignited a series of revenge killings that led to Kieft’s War (1639–1645) with the Raritan’s around Long Island.
That was followed by wars involving the Iroquois (1642–1655), the Anglo-Dutch Wars (1652–1654, 1654–1657) centered on New Amsterdam, the capture of New Sweden by the Dutch in 1655, and a final conflict with the Raritan’s known as the Peach War (1655–1657). Both the Dutch and the Esopus found themselves increasingly drawn into these conflicts on opposing sides. Inevitably, they were bound to face each other directly over the control of the Hudson River.
Furthermore, during 1652–1655, the Dutch settlement of Kingston, New York, established the Dutch at both ends of the valley. By the start of 1660, the Dutch population was more than 10,000. Centered on a small settlement known nowadays as Esopus, Dutch-native land conflicts developed into full-scale war all along the river. The Mohawks entered it on the side of the Dutch and turned the tide against the Esopus.
The Mahicans then intervened as peacekeepers and ended the first conflict in 1660. But because the natives were mobile seasonally, the European-style treaty proved inadequate as Mohawk, Mahican, and Dutch interests were advanced at the expense of the Esopus. 192 Esopus Wars Mahicans settled on Esopus lands to act as a buffer against future conflict. Eventually, they left the lands to the Mohawks.
Many Esopus refugees fled to Mahican buffer lands only to find that they could not reacquire their homelands when the conflict ended. The return of captives also worked against the Esopus, as many of them returned from captivity with diseases that spread rapidly. The Esopus fared even worse in the second phase of the Esopus Wars from 1663–1664. They and the Susquehannocks had dominated the Hudson Valley up to the Dutch arrival. Now both groups found their gunpowder and weapon supplies severely limited.
Also, their access to European trade goods had almost been cut off. This was largely the result of Dutch success in halting Swedish and English shipments in 1655 by capturing New Sweden and by a peace treaty with England ending the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652–1654). By 1663, the trade guns remaining to the Esopus were at best old and unreliable, and deadly to the user at worst. Mohawks, supplied by the English and granted access by the Dutch, now poured into Esopus territory. Most Esopus fled as refugees to Mahican lands in the Catskills, never to return to their former home.
In 1664, a British fleet captured New Amsterdam, and the role of the Dutch and the Esopus as major power brokers in the Hudson River Valley ended. The British and the Iroquois now replaced them. The Esopus sold the last of their lands in 1677 to newly-arrived French Huguenots and moved west with the permission of their Iroquois landlords to Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley.
See also: Montgomery, United States Protected Cruiser
Esopus Wars – Conflict between European Settlers and Natives in North America
Esopus Wars: Conflict between European Settlers and Natives in North America. Photo Credit: Miner Descent