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"A Pedigree Partly Indian, Partly Batavian"


    First Americans


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 Houses, Castles, Villages, and Towns.

Their houses are usually constructed in the same manner, without any particular costliness or curiosity in or to the same. Sometimes they build their houses above a hundred feet long; but never more than twenty feet wide. When they build a house, they place long slender hickory saplings in the ground, having the bark stripped off, in a straight line of two rows, as far asunder as they intend the breadth of the house to be, and continuing the rows as far as it is intended the length shall be. Those sapling poles are bent over towards each other in the form of an arch, and secured together, having the appearance of a garden arbour. The sapling poles are then crossed with split poles in the form, of lathing, which are well fastened to the upright work. The lathings are heaviest near the ground.

A space of about a foot wide is left open in the crown of the arch. For covering they use the bark of ash, chestnut, and other trees, which they peel off in pieces of about six feet long, and as broad as they can. They cover their houses, laying the smooth side inwards, leaving an open space of about a foot wide in he crown, to let out the smoke. They lap the side edges an ends over each other, having regard to the shrinking of the bark, securing the covering with withes to the lathings. A crack or rent they shut up, and in this manner they make their houses proof against wind and rain. They have one door in the centre of the house. When the bark of the ash and chestnut trees is not loose, they have recourse to the timber trees, which grow along the brooks, the bark of which can be taken off during the whole summer season. Durability is a primary object in their houses. In short, their houses are tight and tolerably warm, nothing but they know nothing of chambers, halls, and closetings. They kindle and keep their fires in the middle of their houses, from one end to the I other, and the opening in the crown of the roof lets out the smoke. From sixteen to eighteen families frequently dwell in one house, according to its size. The fire being kept in the middle, the people lay on either sideIf they thereof, and each family has its own place. have place they From other situations for a pot or kettle, with a few small articles, and a place to sleep, then they have room enough; and in this manner, a hundred, and frequently many more, dwell together in one house. Such is the construction of an Indian dwelling in everyplace, unless they are out on fishing and hunting excursions, and then they erect temporary huts or shanties.

In their villages and their castles they always build strong, firm works, adapted to the places. For the erection of these castles, or strong holds, they usually select a situation on the side of a steep high hill, near a stream or river, which is difficult of access, except from the water, and inaccessible on every other side, with a level plain on the crown of the hill, which they enclose with a strong stockade work in a singular manner. First, they lay along on the ground large logs of wood, and frequently smaller logs upon the lower logs, which serve for the foundation of the work. Then they place strong oak Dalisades in the ground on both sides of the foundation, the upper ends of which cross each other, and are joined together. In the upper cross of the palisades they then place the bodies of trees, which makes the work strong and firm. Thus they secure themselves against the sudden invasion of their enemies. But they have no knowledge of adding flankings and curtains to their fortifications. Those belong not to their system. Near their plantations they also frequently erect small works, to secure their wives and children against the sudden interruption of the small marauding parties of their enemies. When their castles and forts are constructed according to their rude custom, they consider the same very safe and secure -places. But in a war with the Christians, those afford them no security; on the contrary, they do them more injury than good. In their castles, they frequently have twenty or thirty houses. We have measured their houses, and found some of them to be a hundred and eighty yards long, and as narrow as before stated. In those places, thev crowd an astonishing number of persons, and it is surprising to see them out in open day. Besides their strong holds, they have villages and towns which are enclosed. Those usually have woodland on the one side, and corn lands on the other sides. They also frequently have villages near the water sides, at fishing places, where they plant some vegetables; but they leave those places every year on the approach of winter, and retire to their strong places, or into the thick woods, where they are protected from the winds, and where fuel is plenty and where there is game and venison. Thus they subsist by hunting and fishing throughout the year.

Their castles and large town's they seldom leave altogether. From other situations they remove frequently, and they seldom remain long at other places. In the summer, and in the fishing seasons, many come to the water sides and rivers. In the fall and winter, when venison is best, they retire to the woods and hunting grounds. Sometimes towards the spring of the year, they come in multitudes to the sea shores and bays, to take oysters, clams, and every kind of shell-fish, which they know how to dry, and preserve good a long time.


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