A Description of New Netherlands
Adriaen van der Donck - 1649
OF THE MANNERS AND PECULIAR CUSTOMS OF, THE NATIVES OF THE NEW-NETHERLANDS
Of their hope after this present life.
It is a wonderful truth which affords strong evidence against unbelievers
and free-thinking spirits, that this barbarous wild race of people of whom we
have treated, should know that there is a distinction between the body and the
soul, and believe, as they actually do, that the one is perishable and the other
immortal. The soul, they say, is that spirit which directs all the actions of
the body, and is the producing cause of all good and evil conduct, which, when
the body dies, separates from it and removes to a place towards the south, where
the climate is so fine that no covering against the cold will be necessary,
and where the heat will never be troublesome.
To this place the souls of all those who have been good and valuable in this life will go, where they will be satisfied and have an abundance of good things, without any trouble or labour for the same, forever; and they who have been bad in this life, after death will go to another place, where their condition will be directly contrary to the first; where they will never enjoy peace and contentment, as the good will do. But I have never been able rightly to discover whether they believe the soul will be hereafter united to the body. I have, however, spoken with Christians who remark, that they have heard them state such to be their belief. But they do not affirm to this fact. When they hear voices or noises in the woods at night, which frequently happens, and which, we believe, usually proceed from wild animals, but which they declare, with fear and astonishment, are made by the wicked, the souls of whom are thus doomed to wander at night in the woods and solitary places for punishment in unhappy situations.
The Indians, because they fear those subjects, do not travel by night unless it be necessary, and then go in parties or companies; when they go alone they always carry a fire-brand with them, with which they believe they can keep off those evil spirits and prevent them from doing them any injury, which, they say, are always disposed to frighten them and do them wrong. They acknowledge also that, the soul proceeds from, God, and that the same is his gift. This we sometimes learn from their old men of understanding, when an opportunity presents itself in conversation, and we probably would discover more of them in relation to this matter, if we did perfectly understand their languages. Among their common or young people we do not hear those spoken of. In this we still see the providence of God, who, by the common light of nature, has given to this people the knowledge that there is, after this life, a reward for the just, and a punishment for the unjust, which all mankind may expect.