Military Wiki
Esopus Wars
DateSeptember 1659–September 1663
LocationNew Netherland
Result Dutch victory
Prinsenvlag.svg Dutch settlers
Iroquois Confederacy
Esopus tribe of Lenape Indians
Commanders and leaders
Captain Martin Cregier Chief Papequanaehen

The Esopus Wars were two localized conflicts between the indigenous Esopus tribe of Lenape Indians and colonialist New Netherlanders during the latter half of the 17th century in what is now Ulster County, New York. Like many other wars during the colonial period, at bottom they were the result of competition between European and Indian cultures, aggravated by mutual misunderstanding and suspicion. The first battle was started by Dutch settlers; the second war was a continuation of grudge on the part of the Esopus tribe.[1]

The most lasting result of the wars was the display of power by the Esopus. These two wars coincided with the broadening of English interests in the Dutch territories of the New World. The Dutch difficulty in defeating the Esopus alerted the English to the power of these Native Americans.[2]


In 1609, Henry Hudson explored the river which was named after him. Many of the natives he encountered had never seen European men before and, some were unaware that there were any other people in the world. They were disturbed when, five years later, a Dutch factorij (trading post) was established where Kingston, New York stands today. This land was occupied by the Esopus tribe, who used it for farming. They destroyed the post and drove the settlers back to the south. Colonists established a new settlement in 1652 at Kingston, but the Esopus drove them out again.[3]

In 1658 the Dutch returned to the area as they believed it good for farming. They built a stockade at 41°56′02″N 74°01′11″W / 41.9338°N 74.0197°W / 41.9338; -74.0197Coordinates: 41°56′02″N 74°01′11″W / 41.9338°N 74.0197°W / 41.9338; -74.0197 to defend the village. The colony was named Wiltwijck. Skirmishes continued, but the Esopus were not able to repel the Europeans. Instead, the Esopus granted the land to the settlers. They hoped to limit the foreigners and keep them from overrunning too much important crop land.[3]

First Esopus War

The first Esopus War was a short-lived conflict between Dutch farmers and the Esopus, largely started by fear and misunderstanding on the part of the settlers. On September 20, 1659, several Esopus men were hired to do some farm work for the settlers. After they had finished and had received their pay in brandy, a drunken native fired a musket in celebration. Although no one was hurt, some the Dutch townsfolk suspected foul play. Although a group of soldiers investigated and found no bad intentions, a mob of farmers and soldiers attacked the offending natives. Most escaped. The next day they returned with hundreds of reinforcements, and Esopus forces destroyed crops, killed livestock, and burned Dutch buildings.

Completely outnumbered and outgunned, the Dutch had little hope of winning through force. But they managed to hold out and make some small attacks, including burning the natives' fields to starve them out. They received decisive reinforcements from New Amsterdam. The war concluded July 15, 1660, when the natives agreed to trade land for peace and food. The peace, however, was tentative at best. Tensions remained between the Esopus and the settlers, eventually leading to the second war.[4]

Second Esopus War

In the hope of making a treaty with the Esopus, Dutch emissaries contacted the tribe on June 5, 1663, and requested a meeting. The natives replied that it was their custom to conduct peace talks unarmed and in the open, so the gates of Wiltwijck were kept open. The natives arrived on June 7 in great numbers, many claiming to be selling produce, thereby infiltrating deep into the town as scouts. By the time word arrived that Esopus warriors had completely destroyed the neighboring village of Nieu Dorp (modern day Hurley),[5] the scouts were in place around the town and began their own attack. Well-armed and spread out, they took the Dutch by surprise and soon controlled much of the town, setting fire to houses and kidnapping women before they were driven out by a mob of settlers.[4] The attackers escaped, and the Dutch repaired their fortifications. On June 16, Dutch soldiers transporting ammunition to the town were attacked on their way from Rondout Creek. The Esopus were again repelled.[6]

Throughout July, Dutch forces reconnoitered the Esopus Kill. Unable to distinguish one tribe from another, they captured some traders from the Wappinger tribe, one of whom agreed to help the Dutch. He gave them information about various native forces and served as a guide in the field. In spite of his help, the Dutch were unable to make solid contact with the Esopus, who used guerilla tactics and could disappear easily into the woods. After several unproductive skirmishes, the Dutch managed to gain the help of the Mohawk, who served as guides, interpreters, and soldiers. By the end of July, the Dutch had received sufficient reinforcements to march for the Esopus stronghold in the mountains to the north. However, their ponderous equipment made progress slow, and the terrain was difficult. Realizing their disadvantage, rather than attacking the Esopus force, they burned the surrounding fields in the hope of starving them out.

For the next month, scouting parties went out to set fire to the Esopus fields, but found little other combat. In early September, another Dutch force tried to engage the Esopus on their territory, this time successfully. The battle ended with the death of the Esopus chief, Papequanaehen, as well as several other men, women, and children. The natives fled, and the Dutch, led by Captain Martin Cregier,[7] pillaged their fort before retreating, taking supplies and prisoners. This effectively ended the war, although the peace was uneasy.[6]


First page of the 1665 treaty, prohibiting violence between "Christians" and "Indyans"

After the second war, the Dutch settlers remained suspicious of all Indians with whom they came into contact. Reports made to the Dutch government in New Amsterdam cited misgivings about the intentions of the Wappingers and even the Mohawks, who had helped the Dutch defeat the Esopus.[6]

Dutch prisoners taken captive by natives in the Second Esopus War were transported through regions no white man had yet seen. Upon their release, they described the land to the Dutch authorities, who set out to survey it. Some of this land was later sold to French Huguenot refugees, who established the village of New Paltz.[1]

In September 1664, the Dutch ceded New Netherland to the English. They were said to take a more patient and fair stance toward the natives. The boundaries of Indian territory were carefully established, the land taken for the Crown was paid for, and the remainder of the Native American land could no longer be taken without full payment and mutual agreement. The new treaty established safe passage for natives for trading, declared "that all past Injuryes are buryed and forgotten on both sides," promised equal punishment (execution) for settlers and Indians found guilty of murder, and paid traditional respects to the sachems and their people.[2] Over the course of the next two decades, Esopus lands were bought up and the natives were peacefully but inexorably driven out, eventually taking refuge with the Mohawks north of the Shawangunk mountains.

Today, some of their descendants live on the Stockbridge-Munsee reservation in Shawano County, Wisconsin as well as among the Munsee Delaware of Ontario. Some historians believe surviving Esopus joined with the Ramapough Mountain Indians of New Jersey following the wars.[8] In this they followed the course of some Wappinger people after Kieft's War in 1643.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Smith, Jesse J. (2005-05-29). "Esopus Indian wars were 'the clash of cultures'". Kingston, NY. Retrieved 2011-09-05.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "SmithJ" defined multiple times with different content
  2. 2.0 2.1 Ulster County Clerk (2002). "Richard Nicolls Esopus Indian Treaty" (PDF).  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Ulster" defined multiple times with different content
  3. 3.0 3.1 Sylvester, Nathaniel Bartlett (1880). History of Ulster County, New York, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men and Pioneers. Philadelphia, PA: Everts & Peck. OCLC 2385957. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Smith, Philip H. (1887). "The First Esopus War". Legends of the Shawangunk. Pawling, NY: Smith & Company. OCLC 447759526. 
  5. Baker, David (2006). "A Brief History of Hurley". Retrieved July 5, 2006. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Krieger, Martin (1663). "Journal of the Esopus War 1663" (PDF). Journal of the Second Esopus War. Hudson River Valley Institute. Retrieved 2011-09-05.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "KriegerM" defined multiple times with different content
  7. Otto, Paul (2006). The Dutch-Munsee Encounter in America: The Struggle for Sovereignty in the Hudson Valley. Berghahn Books. p. 152. ISBN 1-57181-672-0. 
  8. Kraft, Herbert C. (1986). The Lenape — Archaeology, History, and Ethnography. New Jersey Historical Society. p. 241. ISBN 0-911020-14-4. 

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