The Castello Plan of New Amsterdam, c. 1660. (I. N. Phelps Stokes Collection. Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs. The New York Public Library. Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations)


First Impressions

O this is Eden!” exulted the Dutch poet Jacob Steendam. A “terrestrial Canaan” echoed the English essayist Daniel Denton, “where the Land floweth with milk and honey.”

That was the usual reaction of the Europeans who began to settle the lower Hudson Valley and the islands of New York’s harbor, three and a half centuries ago. Nowhere else in North America would the beauty and abundance of the physical environment evoke such consistently extravagant praise.

Initially it was what Denton called the “sweetness of the Air” that bewitched explorers and travelers. “Dry, sweet, and healthy,” Adriaen van der Donck wrote. “Sweet and fresh,” the missionary Jaspar Danckaerts noted in his journal as his ship came up past Sandy Hook. “Much like that of the best parts of France,” declared the Rev. John Miller. What could produce such air, or where it came from, was the subject of extensive speculation. Miller traced it to the surrounding “hilly, woody Country, full of Lakes and great Vallies, which receptacles are the Nurseries, Forges and Bellows of the Air, which they first suck in and contract, then discharge and ventilate with a fiercer dilation.” Denton, too, emphasized the region’s sweeping woods and fields, “curiously bedecked with Roses, and an innumerable multitude of delightful Flowers” whose fragrance could be detected far out at sea. The effect was magical, and there was speculation that it might cure colds, consumption, and other respiratory ailments.

But it was the miraculous size and quantity and variety of things—the sheer prodigality of life—that left the most lasting impression. Travelers spoke of vast meadows of grass “as high as a mans middle” and forests with towering stands of walnut, cedar, chestnut, maple, and oak. Orchards bore apples of incomparable sweetness and “pears larger than a fist.” Every spring the hills and fields were dyed red with ripening strawberries, and so many birds filled the woods “that men can scarcely go through them for the whistling, the noise, and the chattering.” Boats crossing the bay were escorted by schools of playful whales, seals, and porpoises. Twelve-inch oysters and six-foot lobsters crowded offshore waters, and so many fish thrived in streams and ponds that they could be taken by hand. Woods and tidal marshlands teemed with bears, wolves, foxes, raccoons, otters, beavers, quail, partridge, forty-pound wild turkeys, doves “so numerous that the light can hardly be discerned where they fly,” and countless deer “feeding, or gamboling or resting in the shades in full view.” Wild swans were so plentiful “that the bays and shores where they resort appear as if they were dressed in white drapery.” Blackbirds roosted together in such numbers that one hunter killed 170 with a single shot; another bagged eleven sixteen-pound gray geese in the same way. “There are some persons who imagine that the animals of the country will be destroyed in time,” mused Van der Donck, “but this is an unnecessary anxiety.”


The formation of this lush ecosystem had begun seventy-five thousand years earlier, when packs of glaciers crept down from Labrador into the almost featureless plain that then stretched east of the Allegheny Mountains to the Atlantic, and halted in the middle of modern New York City. Approximately fifty thousand years ago, a sheet of ice a thousand feet thick lay across the area. Its immense weight, and the continual flow of ice from the north, crushed and flayed the land beneath, depressing riverbeds, scooping out deep valleys, and dragging along boulders, gravel, sand, and clay like a huge conveyor belt. In parts of Manhattan and the Bronx, it peeled away everything above the bedrock—layers of gneiss, marble, and schist, five hundred million years old, that now lie naked to the passing eye, scarred and battered by their ordeal. So much of the earth’s water was captured in this and other ice sheets that the sea level fell three hundred feet or more and the shoreline bulged out a hundred miles. Arctic gusts blew off its face across a desolate tundra, inhabited only by mosses and lichens, that reached as far south as Philadelphia.

About seventeen thousand years ago, the climate of the northern hemisphere began to warm. As the ice sheet melted back, the line of its furthest advance was marked by a terminal moraine—the still-visible ridge of glacial debris that arcs down from northern Queens through places named Jamaica Hills, Highland Park, Crown Heights, and Bay Ridge (which in turn overlook such neighborhoods as Flatbush and Flatlands, settled on the ice sheet’s sandy outwash plain). Extending across to the south side of Staten Island, the moraine reaches its maximum elevation of 410 feet at Todt Hill (the highest natural point on the Atlantic seaboard south of Maine), then turns north across New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Trapped behind the moraine, runoff from the retreating ice pooled into icy lakes that drowned the region for several thousand years before their waters broke through a mile-wide gap, now called the Narrows, and drained off toward the ocean. Scrubby pines and birches took root in the thawing tundra, then gave way, perhaps twelve thousand years ago, to stands of spruce and fir, interspersed with open meadows. Woolly mammoths, mastodons, bison, musk oxen, bears, sloths, giant beavers, caribou, sabertoothed tigers, and other large animals moved in. Trailing behind them came small bands of nomadic hunters—the region’s first human occupants—who stalked game for a couple of thousand years, leaving behind only flint spear points and heaps of bones as evidence of their presence.

The hunters left nine thousand years ago, when the effects of continued climatic warming drove away the big beasts on which they depended. Hardwood forests of oak, chestnut, and hickory took over from the pines and spruce. Fed by the melting ice packs, the ocean rose again, inundating coastal lowlands and pouring back through the Narrows, creating the commodious Upper Bay that would serve as the harbor of New York. In the glacially scoured terrain north of the terminal moraine, it sculpted a fantastic topography of new islands, fjords, inlets, tidal marshes, and peninsulas. The Hudson River gorge was transformed into a broad estuary, while drowned valleys became Long Island Sound, the Harlem River, the East River, and Arthur Kill. Below the Narrows, protecting the Upper Bay from the Atlantic Ocean, sprawled the great Lower Bay—a hundred-square-mile watery expanse whose entrance was guarded by Rockaway Peninsula, a barrier beach on the Queens shore of Long Island, and by Sandy Hook, a long sandspit that jutted up from New Jersey. A broad underwater sandbar running between Sandy Hook and Coney Island, pierced here and there by navigable channels, presented arriving mariners with the only natural obstacle to the 770 miles of waterfront that lay beyond.


About sixty-five hundred years ago, this altered environment attracted a second generation of human residents. The newcomers were small-game hunters and foragers who subsisted on a diet of deer, wild turkey, fish, shellfish, nuts, and berries. Although they possessed a limited repertoire of tools, their campsites may have been occupied by as many as two hundred people at a time. Roughly twenty-five hundred years ago, they discovered the use of the bow and arrow, learned to make pottery, and started to cultivate squash, sunflowers, and possibly tobacco. Later, about a thousand years ago, they may also have begun to plant beans and maize. These changes supported larger populations. By the time Europeans appeared on the scene, a mere five hundred years ago, what is now New York City had as many as fifteen thousand inhabitants—estimates vary widely—with perhaps another thirty to fifty thousand in the adjacent parts of New Jersey, Connecticut, Westchester County, and Long Island. Most spoke Munsee, a dialect of the Delaware language in which their name for themselves was Lenape—“Men” or “People.” Their land was Lenapehoking—“where the Lenapes dwell.”

The Lenapes comprised a dozen-odd groups living between eastern Connecticut and central New Jersey. To the west were the Raritans (of Staten Island and Raritan Bay), the Hackensacks (of New Jersey’s Hackensack and Raritan river valleys), the Tappans (northern New Jersey), and the Rechgawawanches (Orange County). Their counterparts (and sometime enemies) to the east included the Wiechquaesgecks (northern Manhattan, the Bronx, and Westchester) and the Siwanoys (along the northern banks of the East River and Long Island Sound as far as the Connecticut line), as well as the Matinecocks, Massapequas, Rockaways, Merricks, and others of Long Island.

These weren’t the well-defined, organized “tribes” or “nations” that populated the imaginations of European colonizers. Except under very unusual circumstances, the Lenapes identified themselves primarily with autonomous subgroups or bands consisting of anywhere from a few dozen to several hundred people. Nor did they reside in “villages” as that word was understood by Europeans, but rather in a succession of seasonal campsites. In the spring or early summer, a band could be found near the shore, fishing and clamming; as autumn approached, it moved inland to harvest crops and hunt deer; when winter set in, it might move again to be nearer reliable sources of firewood and sources of smaller game. As the Rev. Charles Wolley put it, the Lenapes lived “very rudely and rovingly, shifting from place to place, accordingly to their exigencies, and gains of fishing and fowling and hunting, never confining their rambling humors to any settled Mansions.”

Within the five boroughs of modern New York alone, archaeologists have identified about eighty Lenape habitation sites, more than two dozen planting fields, and the intricate network of paths and trails that laced them all together. On Manhattan, the primary trail ran along the island’s hilly spine from what is now Battery Park in the south to Inwood in the north. Just north of City Hall Park it passed by an encampment near a sixty-foot-deep pond, fed by an underground spring, which together with adjacent meadow and marsh lands almost bisected the island. Farther north, where the trail passed Greenwich Village, a secondary path led west to Sapokanikan, a site of fishing and planting on the Hudson River near the foot of Gansevoort Street. At about 98th Street and Park Avenue the trail ran by a campsite known as Konaande Kongh and, on the broad flats of Harlem just to the north, still more fishing camps and planting fields. (From an East River landing at about 119th Street, fishermen paddled out in tree-trunk


The largest Lenape habitation sites were occupied by several hundred or more people and probably resembled these villages depicted in western New Netherland, but without the enclosing palisade. Detail from a map by Nicolaes Visscher, 1656. (I. N. Phelps Stokes Collection. Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs. The New York Public Library. Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations)


canoes to net or spear striped bass.) Its northern terminus was a cluster of three camps along the Harlem River, two of which now actually lie on the mainland, severed from Manhattan by the Harlem Ship Canal.

Across the East River, in Brooklyn and Queens, another major artery ran just below the terminal moraine, following the present course of Jamaica Avenue west from the Nassau County line. At Evergreen Cemetery, on the Brooklyn-Queens border, it dropped down along the route of Kings Highway, looped across the outwash plains of south Brooklyn, then swung west along Bay Ridge Parkway toward the Narrows. Where Kings Highway now crosses Flatbush Avenue, it went through the main campsite of the Canarsees. At the western end of Bay Parkway, in the Fort Hamilton section of Brooklyn, it passed a camp whose residents maintained planting fields at nearby Gravesend. A half-dozen branches reached down to sites that ringed Jamaica Bay from the main Rockaway camp on the east to what is now Bergen Beach on the west, and to Coney Island, a favorite summering place. Other branches ran to Maspeth on Newtown Creek, to the shores of Wallabout Bay, to downtown Brooklyn (near Borough Hall), and, from there, over to maize lands lying along Gowanus Creek.

Similar trail grids can be traced on Staten Island and in the Bronx. Running up the Atlantic shore of Staten Island, marking the present course of Amboy Road and Richmond Road, was a path that connected campsites at Tottenville, Great Kills Park, and Silver Lake Park. At Silver Lake Park, it intersected shorter paths that circled the island’s central hills to reach additional sites along the Kill Van Kull and Arthur Kill. In the Bronx, most major trails ran north-south along the Harlem, Bronx, and Hutchinson rivers and sundry smaller streams and creeks that together empty south into the East River or Eastchester Bay. These trails linked campsites and planting fields along the shore—among them one on Hunts Point and another on Clasons Point, which may have sheltered three hundred or more people—to similar places in the hilly interior.

Their seasonal movement along these trail systems afforded the Lenapes easy access to fish, shellfish, game birds, and deer—sources of animal protein that compensated for the lack of domesticated livestock—but this transient way of life meant that tools, weapons, and cooking utensils had to be simple and light, or easily reproduced. Their longhouses, some big enough for a dozen families, could be quickly constructed of bent saplings covered with sheets of bark, the crevices plugged with clay and cornstalks. Moving from one place to the next every few months likewise discouraged the accumulation of property. (Dutch fur traders soon discovered that native peoples did not want iron pots in trade because they were too heavy.) It also minimized accumulations of garbage and waste—though Pearl Street in lower Manhattan would get its name from the mounds of oyster shells left by Lenape bands along the East River shore. Constant relocation also prevented depletion of firewood and arable land: when supplies dwindled, the group simply packed up and went elsewhere until the site could again support human habitation. And by discouraging the storage of more food than could be carried to the next camp, seasonal relocations helped minimize the human impact on local plant and animal populations, giving them a chance to rebound before the Lenapes returned the next year.

Lenape bands prepared and maintained their woodland planting fields by the slash-and-burn method, clearing out all but the largest trees and bushes, then burning off the rubbish and undergrowth every spring. This brought fallow land into cultivation quickly and returned essential nutrients to the soil, extending its productive life well beyond the two or three years possible with the European system of crop rotation. Sowing a variety of crops together in the same field—maize, sunflowers, beans, squash, melons, cucumbers, and tobacco—maintained high concentrations of nitrogen; it also required less work, because cornstalks, for example, could support the beans as well as man-made poles. What was more, the simple stone and wood implements of the Lenapes turned the soil easily without the damage caused by European plows and draft animals.

No less than the colonists who came after them, in other words, the Lenapes had “settled” the land by manipulating it to their purposes. Consciously or not, they used it in ways that extended the diversity of plant and animal life on which their survival depended. The heavy use of firewood around their principal habitation sites, combined with the annual spring burnoff of active planting fields, left vast, open, parklike forests where deer, rabbit, birds, and other game flourished. Their abandoned planting fields became the meadows and prairies that were home to a tangle of flowers and edible berries. And because Lenape spiritual beliefs emphasized the interdependence of all life, hunting was an enterprise loaded with such supernatural significance that excessive killing was avoided. The abundance that so amazed early European visitors was thus no mere accident of nature, for “nature” was an artifact of culture as well as geology.


Nothing made it harder for Europeans to see the link between the Lenapes and their environment than the fact that kinship—not class—was the basis of their society. Private ownership of land and the hierarchical relations of domination and exploitation familiar in Europe were unknown in Lenapehoking. By custom and negotiation with its neighbors, each Lenape band had a “right” to hunt, fish, and plant within certain territorial limits. It might, in exchange for gifts, allow other groups or individuals to share these territories, but this did not imply the “sale” or permanent alienation known to European law. In the absence of states, moreover, warfare among the Lenapes was much less systematic and brutal than among Europeans. As Daniel Denton said disdainfully: “It is a great fight where seven or eight is slain.”

More perplexing still, kinship in Lenape society was traced matrilineally. Families at each location were grouped into clans that traced their descent from a single female ancestor; phratries, or combinations of two or more clans, were identified by animal signs, usually “wolf,” “turtle,” and “turkey.” Children belonged by definition to their mother’s phratry: if she was a turtle, they were turtles. Land was assigned to clans, and the family units that comprised them, for their use only: they did not “own” it as Europeans understood the word and had no authority to dispose of it by sale, gift, or bequest. If the land “belonged” to anyone, it belonged to the inhabitants collectively.

On one point European and Lenape societies seemed similar: the division of labor by gender. Lenape women, along with cooking and childrearing, did the bulk of agricultural work—planting, weeding, harvesting, drying, packing, sorting—which made them responsible for as much as 90 percent of the food supply. During seasonal changes of settlement, it was also their job to strike and rebuild dwellings as well as to carry the communal goods.

Lenape men, by contrast, thought agriculture unmanly and devoted their energies to hunting and fishing. European observers were often appalled to find them relaxing after their return while their women toiled away in the fields, though this reaction had less to do with sympathy for the women than with ideas about “laziness.” Europeans believed that agriculture was a respectable occupation for men, while hunting and fishing were chiefly recreational: one was work, the other mere sport. (“They labour not much, but in absolute necessity,” Charles Lodwick reported to the Royal Society, and “mostly employ themselves in hunting and fishing.”) Indeed, the apparent reluctance of their men to work only reinforced the impression that the Lenapes had done little to subdue and develop the land.


Pen and ink sketch of a Native American woman and local fish by Jaspar Danckaerts, c. 1679/1680. (United States History, Local History & Genealogy Division. The New York Public Library. Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations)

The sexual division of labor and the matrilineal organization of clans and phratries accorded women considerable importance in communal affairs. Each sachem was chosen from among the sons—sometimes even daughters—of a sister of the old sachem, and the actual choice might well have been made by the older women of his phratry. There is also evidence that after divorce, which was a simple matter for Lenape women (as well as for men), they retained possession of all household effects and that their children invariably remained with them because they were of the same lineage.

Seasonal habitation sites, few tools and personal possessions, the lack of domesticated animals, disorderly planting fields, a classless and stateless social system, matrilineal kinship, indifference to commerce—what all of this added up to, for many Europeans, was a deeply inferior way of life, mired in primitive poverty. It seemed the very antithesis of civilized existence, a devilish inversion of the proper order of things. To the Dutch, all Indians were wilden—savages—while the English likened them to the despised “wild Irish,” whose seasonal migrations with their sheep and cattle appeared utterly incompatible with civilization.

True, they didn’t appear to be suffering. “It is somewhat strange,” Nicholaes van Wassenaer admitted, “that among these most barbarous people, there are few or none cross-eyed, blind, crippled, lame, hunch-backed or limping men; all are well-fashioned people, strong and sound of body, well fed, without blemish.” “Some have lived 100 years,” Charles Lodwick marveled. “Also,” Jasper Danckaerts added, “there are among them no simpletons, lunatics or madmen as among us.”

Indeed, that the Lenapes lived so contentedly in what looked to Europeans like a setting of wonderful “natural” abundance made them all the more contemptible. How could people living in such a place fail so utterly to take advantage of the opportunities that lay all around them? They ought to have been civilized and rich, but they weren’t. It was only a short step to the conclusion that they didn’t deserve to be there at all.


A map of the New World drawn by Juan de la Cosa in the first decade of the sixteenth century hints that Europeans—probably anonymous fishermen looking for cod—may have visited Lenapehoking when Christopher Columbus was still exploring the Caribbean. The first solid evidence of such a visit, however, conies with the arrival of a French vessel, La Dauphine, piloted by the Florentine navigator Giovanni da Verrazzano. King Francis I of France and a syndicate of Lyons silk merchants had commissioned Verrazzano to find a northern route to China and Japan—the same “Indies” that Columbus dreamed of finding. In March 1524, after a fifty-day crossing from Madeira, La Dauphine began crawling up the coast from Cape Fear. By mid-April she passed Sandy Hook and anchored in the Narrows between Staten Island and Brooklyn.

As they had already done many times before, the crew of La Dauphine lowered the ship’s longboat and rowed out to see what they could see. They soon found themselves, Verrazzano said, in “a very beautiful lake”—the Upper Bay—where they were surrounded by several dozen small boats whose occupants, “clad with feathers of fowls of diverse colors,” greeted them “very cheerfully, making great shouts of admiration.” This happy encounter ended almost as soon as it began, however. A sudden squall forced La Dauphine to stand out to sea again, so Verrazzano decided to resume his search further to the north—“greatly to our regret,” he added, for this was a “hospitable and attractive” country, “and, we think, not without things of value.” He dubbed the “lake” Santa Margarita, in honor of the king’s sister, and the surrounding land Angouleme, the name of the king’s principal estate. (When the Verrazano Narrows Bridge opened in 1964, the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, in its wisdom, spelled the explorer’s name with one z rather than two.)

One year after Verrazzano’s brief visit, Esteban Gomez, a black Portuguese pilot who had sailed with Magellan, ventured a fair distance up the Hudson (which he named Deer River) before concluding it didn’t lead to China. Various French and English pilots are thought to have scouted the region as well in the years that followed. An Englishman supposedly crossed the Hudson in 1568 during an epic overland trek from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada. Marooned sailors and fishermen are rumored to have wintered along the Delaware or lower Hudson rivers in the late 1590s and early 1600s. On occasion, English and Spanish skippers raided the area to take slaves, an enterprise inspired by Gomez, who had seized fifty-seven New England Indians for sale on the Lisbon slave market.

But the most numerous and persistent successors of Verrazzano and Gomez were fur traders. Furs had always figured importantly in the European luxury trades; beaver in particular was highly prized for both its soft, deep pelt and its alleged medicinal properties. As Adriaen van der Donck would explain midway through the seventeenth century, beaver oil cured rheumatism, toothaches, stomachaches, poor vision, and dizziness; beaver testicles, rubbed on the forehead or dried and dissolved in water, made an effective antidote to drowsiness and idiocy.

Traditionally, most of the furs marketed in Europe came from Russia. Trapped in Siberia or along the shores of the Baltic, they were dressed and marketed in the ancient city of Kiev. But when French explorers and traders opened the St. Lawrence River valley in the 1580s, the influx of Canadian skins created a wider market in Europe and prompted rival traders to seek additional sources of supply elsewhere in North America. By 1600 exchanging beaver and other pelts for European wares had become routine for at least some Indian peoples along the Atlantic coast, the Lenapes undoubtedly among them. European trade goods from the 1570s have turned up in habitation sites well into the interior of New York State, and Dutch traders claimed to have “frequented” the lower Hudson Valley as early as 1598, “but without making any fixed settlements, only as a shelter in winter.”

Not all the Lenapes were anxious to do business with Europeans. Some must have heard stories of captives carried off into slavery. Others seemed unwilling to get into the spirit of a market economy. “They take many beavers,” Johannes de Laet remarked in 1615, “but it is necessary for them to get into the habit of trade, otherwise they are too indolent to hunt the beaver.” Even a half century later, Daniel Denton would note that many Long Island Lenapes still showed a marked indifference to material possessions. “They are extraordinarily charitable to one another,” he wrote, “one having nothing to spare, but he freely imparts it to his friends, and whatsoever they get by gaming or any other way, they share to one another, leaving to themselves commonly the least share.”

What the Europeans offered the Lenapes—blankets, brass kettles, iron drills, hoes, knives, combs—were nonetheless obvious improvements on familiar things and could readily be incorporated into prevailing patterns of production and exchange. Slowly at first, then more rapidly after the addition of guns and alcohol as trade goods, even reluctant curiosity would give way to habit, and habit to dependency. By the early seventeenth century, the demand for items of European origin among the Lenapes had begun to undermine their way of life.

Even as the first colonists arrived on the scene, Lenape men were devoting more and more of their time to gathering furs for exchange with Europeans rather than for the use of their families and clans. They were away from home longer and returned with less food, which every spring left a few more communities a little closer to real famine when their stores from the previous harvest finally gave out (and in time virtually exterminated fur-bearing animals throughout the lower Hudson region). Then, too, as the work of men shifted from stalking to setting and checking traps, territorial boundaries became a matter of escalating controversy. The reciprocity that sustained complex kin networks weakened. Bands dissolved, re-formed, and dissolved again in a search for stability. Old intergroup alliances broke up. War became increasingly likely and, with the spread of firearms, increasingly deadly.

As European commodities supplanted their Lenape equivalents, a widening array of traditional skills, duties, and knowledge became less and less important. Lenape women assumed ever greater responsibility for supplying the camp with food and managing its internal affairs. Lenape sachems gained new prestige as the managers of trade with Europeans, though every year it would be more and more difficult to manage their often conflicted communities, let alone mobilize them for resistance. Alcohol hastened the disruption of earlier ways. As early as 1624 Nicolaes van Wassenaer could report that excessive drinking had destroyed the authority of at least one sachem, who “comes forward to beg a draught of brandy with the rest.”

Another danger for the Lenapes had meanwhile appeared to the north in the form of the Iroquois League. According to legend, the idea of the league originated around the middle of the sixteenth century with a Huron prophet and philosopher named Deganawidah, who wandered among the Iroquois-speaking peoples of upper New York State preaching a gospel of unity, brotherhood, and equality. Around 1570, assisted by a certain Ha-yo-went’-ha (Longfellow’s Hiawatha), Deganawidah brought the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca “nations” together in a single federation known as the League of the Great Peace. The league stretched from the Hudson to Niagara, encompassing perhaps a dozen semipermanent, stockaded villages whose combined population approached fifteen thousand.

Once Deganawidah and Ha-yo-went’-ha had gone—not died, it was said, merely moved on to spread their message among less fortunate peoples elsewhere—the league entered a new, aggressively expansionist phase. Its armies, sometimes numbering more than a thousand warriors, ranged west to the banks of the Mississippi, south to Virginia and the Carolinas, east into New England, and north, across the St. Lawrence, deep into Canada. Not unlike the crusading chivalry of medieval Christendom, they ventured out among the infidel with news of the Great Peace of Deganawidah and Ha-yo-went’-ha, a scourge to all who opposed them. Like the crusading chivalry, too, they had practical motives as well.

Their initial encounters with European commodities and weapons, which must have occurred around the same time that Deganawidah and Ha-yo-went’-ha were finishing their work, impressed upon the Iroquois the importance not only of direct access to the traders but also of controlling the supply of furs. In the 1580s, a decade or so after the league had been formed, the Iroquois attempted to establish a foothold on the St. Lawrence but were turned back by a combined force of Hurons and Algonkians, armed with French weapons. The erection of a French trading post at Quebec in 1609 completed the Iroquois defeat and enabled the Hurons and their allies to organize a vast, complex trading empire in which they used European goods to obtain food from agricultural peoples living above Lake Erie, exchanged the food for skins brought in by hunting groups in the far north, then brought the skins to Quebec and exchanged them for more trade goods.

In desperation, the Iroquois turned south toward the Susquehanna, Delaware, and Hudson valleys. Before 1600 they had subjected or driven off many of their original inhabitants. The Algonkian-speaking Mahicans who lived on the west side of the Hudson, near modern Albany, were the next in line. If they too succumbed—when they succumbed—all the peoples of the lower Hudson would be endangered in turn. With Europeans at their front door and Iroquois at their back, the Lenapes were doomed.

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