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 Laws and Punishments.
The common rules of order in the administration of justice, are not observed among this people, and are not exercised to protect the innocent or to punish the guilty. There is so little order observed among them that the Netherlanders, who reside there and traffic with them, are astonished to find that such societies, can remain, united, where there is no regard paid to the administration of justice. All minor offences, such as stealing, adultery, lying, cheating, and the like wrongs against civil order, pass unpunished among them. I have known that an unmarried woman murdered her own child, and although the fact was well known, still she went unpunished; and also that an Indian, on several occasions, violated several women whom he found alone in the woods and in lonely places, who also passed unpunished.
With those exceptions, during a residence of nine years in the country,
I have not heard of any capital offences. Stealing is quite common among them,
but not of articles of great value. It may be a knife, an axe, a pair of shoes,
a pair of stockings, or such like articles. When we detect them with the goods,
we may retake the, same and chastise them freely; and when the thief is not
known and the matter is represented to the chief, the property is, usually restored.
On those occasions the thief is reprimanded by the chief for his conduct, and
although reproof is the highest punishment suffered by the culprit, yet it will
not readily show how much they fear such treatment, and how uncommon crimes
are among them. With us a watchful police is supported, and crimes are more
frequent than among them.
Murder or personal injuries are not attended to by the chief, or friends,
except for the purpose of reconciling the parties, for which they use all possible
means, and give liberally to effect their object when the offender is deficient
in means, which is usually the case. A murder among them is never atoned for
without heavy payment. The nearest relative by blood always is the avenger,
and if he finds the murderer within twenty-four hours after the act, he is slain
instantly, but if the murderer can save himself until one day is past, and the
avenger slays him afterwards, then he is liable to be pursued and slain in like
manner. A murderer seldom is killed after the first twenty four hours are past,
but he must flee and remain concealed; when the friends endeavour to reconcile
the parties, which is frequently agreed to, on condition, that the nearest relatives
of the murderer, be they men,
women, or children, on meeting the relatives of the person murdered, must give way to them.
Persons are very seldom doomed to death among them, except captives taken
in war, whom they consider to haveforfeited the rights of man. Such they condemn
to be burned. This they usually do slowly, beginning withtheir hands and feet.
The torture sometimes lasts three days before the victim expires, who continues
to singand dance, until life is extinct, reproaching his tormentors, deriding
their conduct, and extolling the bravery of his own nation.
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