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Updated: Feb 17, 2020

It should not be a surprise that if someone moves into your territory without your permission or continually breaks promises that you might not take it so well. As soon as Europeans arrived on the shores of the New World, there was bound to be trouble ith the indigenous population. Starting with the Jamestown massacre in 1622, the "Indian wars" began and would not effectively end until 1890 in South Dakota with the Battle of Wounded Knee. The Dutch who settled in Ulster County, New York were not exempt from the conflicts.

The community that Louis DuBois and the other family members moved to after arriving in the colony of New Netherland was originally inhabited by the Munsee Esopus tribe of the Lenape (Delaware) Indians, numbering around 10,000. They lived in small villages and used the land for farming. In 1614, Dutch settlers built a trading post in the area. The Esopus destroyed it and the settlers retreated south.

In 1658, at the urging of Governor Peter Stuyvesant, the colonists tried again and built a fortified town, calling it "Esopus" after the tribe. The village contained about seventy settlers. An incident occurred that led to the First Esopus War which lasted from 20 September 1659 to 15 July 1660. It all started as a misunderstanding. A group of Indians were sitting around a campfire and drinking. The commotion and raised voices caused some of the settlers to become alarmed. Although initial reports from soldiers sent out to investigate were that it was just a harmless disturbance, some young settlers mistook it for aggression and attacked the Indians as they were sleeping. The Indians retaliated with about 500 warriors who proceeded to raid local villages, killing livestock, destroying crops and burning buildings. They then laid siege to the fort. Even though outnumbered, the settlers managed to execute several attacks and burn fields and crops, in the hope of starving out the Esopus. Reinforced with more men and weapons, the colonists struck a truce with the Indians in 1660 when it was agreed to trade land for food. Even though hostilities officially ended, tensions between the settlers and Esopus continued. In 1661, the village was renamed Wiltwyck.

Shortly thereafter, another town was built on the Esopus Creek, approximately two and a half miles southwest from Wiltwyck, and named "Nieuw Dorp" ("the New Village"). It would later be known as Hurley. After residing in Wiltwyck, Louis DuBois, the Blanchans and Crispels relocated to this new village. They might have received their land for free or on very easy terms from the New Netherland government, in an effort to increase agricultural production.

Peace would last for 3 years until the morning of Thursday, 7 June 1663. On that date, the Second Esopus War began.

When the men of Nieuw Dorp returned to the village that day from the lowlands, they discovered that three men were dead, the entire village burned to the ground and 1 man, 8 women and 26 children were taken as prisoners. Among those abducted from Nieuw Dorp were Louis' wife, Catherine, and his 3 children (The official record is at odds with the actual number of children they had at the time: Abraham, b. 1657; Isaac, b. 1659; Jacob, b. 1661; and Sarah, b. 1662. Since no names were given, it is difficult to tell which children were abducted or if it was a miscount). The Indians also attacked Wiltwyck where they killed 12 men, 4 women and 2 children, abducting 10 women and children. They also burned 12 houses.

As the Esopus and their hostages retreated into the wilderness, Governor Stuyvesant summoned Captain Martin Kregier and all the soldiers he could muster up from New Amsterdam. Over the next several months, the opposing forces played a game of cat and mouse.

On 30 August, news reached Wiltwyck that the Esopus were engaged in building a new fort. Captain Kregier wanted to set out immediately, but was delayed due to bad weather and the difficulty in procuring more horses for the expedition. When they finally caught up with the Esopus, there is a discrepancy between what actually happened and what was passed down as a fanciful, romantic tale through family tradition.

As the legend goes, when the Dutch attacked the Indians, they were about to burn one or more female captives at the stake. One of the women began singing the 137th Psalm, allegedly Catherine DuBois. It so pleased the Esopus that they stopped what they were doing to listen. The singing also alerted the soldiers to their presence who arrived in time and rescued the captives. Louis DuBois was said to have accompanied the band and, being in advance, killed an Indian with a sword before the alarm could be raised.

However, the official report contained none of that information. Here is what Captain Kregier wrote in his journal:

Divided our force in two — lieutenant Couwenhoven and I led the right wing, and Lieutenant Stilwil and Ensign Niessen the left wing. Proceeded in this disposition along the hill so as not to be seen and in order to come right under the fort; but as it was somewhat level on the left side of the fort and the soldiers were seen by a Squaw, who was piling wood there and who sent forth a terrible scream which was heard by the Indians who were standing and working near the fort, we instantly fell upon them. The Indians rushed forthwith through the fort towards their houses, which stood about a stone's throw from the fort, in order to secure their arms, and thus hastily picked up a few guns and bows and arrows, but we were so hot at their heels that they were forced to leave many of them behind. We kept up a sharp fire on them and pursued them so closely that they leaped into the creek which ran in front of the lower part of their maize land. On reaching the opposite side of the kill, they courageously returned our fire, which we sent back, so that we were obliged to send a party across to dislodge them. In this attack, the Indians lost their Chief, named Papequanaehen, fourteen other warriors, four women and three children, whom we saw lying both on this and on the other side of the creek but probably many more were wounded, when rushing from the fort to the houses, when we did give them a brave charge.

What really happened? While one would want to believe the heroic act of a condemned woman singing in the face of a painful death, the facts tend to point to the Indians working on their fort, not constructing sacrificial fires or listening to death songs, when the soldiers attacked. This lines up with Captain Kregier's journal. The prisoners were found alive and well and there was no record of any ill treatment. None of them had their heads shaved and painted, as was the custom. The Esopus had opened negotiations for the ransom or exchange of the captives so there was no motivation for them to harm or mistreat them.

Thus ended the three month long ordeal among the native Americans. The experience of Catherine and her children ended well, compared to a lot of others for whom it did not. This type of tragedy would be repeated multiple times throughout the years. Anyone who lived on the frontier put their lives in jeopardy, but such was the price and risk of living in the New World.


The Early History of Kingston & Ulster County, N.Y., Marc B. Fried, 1975


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