[Image from New York Public Library Digital Collection]
The existence of Bergen--and indeed, much of the other settled parts of New Jersey--was imperiled by the acts of Director-General and Governor Willem Kieft, who had assumed leadership of New Netherland in 1638. Very little is known about Kieft before his arrival in the New World, other than he was a failure at business in Rochelle, France. Walter Giersbach's article on Willem Kieft's Personal War states that, "...according to custom, his portrait was "stuck up on the gallows there" – he was hanged in effigy, which was a lasting disgrace. After being out of business for some time, the government sent this bankrupt businessman to Turkey to ransom Christian hostages there. The hostages with the lower prices on their heads were released; the more "expensive" were left in chains and the balance of the ransom went into Kieft's pocket. His reward for these actions was to be appointed governor."
Kieft's idea of government was based mainly upon the principle that the governor should get all he could out of the governed. His treatment of the Indians soon incited their distrust and hatred of the whites. The savages, for the first time, began to show symptoms of open hostility.
Capt. David Jan Pieterszen de Vries, a distinguished navigator who was then engaged in the difficult task of trying to found a colony at Tappan, sought every means in his power to conciliate the Indians, and to persuade Kieft that his treatment of them would result in bloodshed.
The craft and selfish Governor turned a deaf ear to all warnings and advice and continued to goad the Indians by cruel treatment and harsh methods of taxation. In 1643, an Indian--no doubt under stress of great provocation--shot and killed a member of the Van Vorst family. This first act of murder furnished a pretext for the white and precipitated what is called "The Massacre of Pavonia."
On the night of 25 Feb. 1643, Gov. Kieft ordered a force of 129 soldiers, armed and equipped for slaughter, to cross the Hudson River and attack the Indians while they were asleep in their camp. Without regard to age or sex, deliberately, and in the most horrible manner, the Dutch soldiers butchered nearly a hundred of them. Capt. de Vries, who had been spending the night at Fort Amsterdam, watched the events unfold:
"...At midnight, I heard loud shrieks and went out to the parapet of the fort, and looked toward Pavonia. I saw nothing but the flashing of the guns. I heard no more the cries of the Indians. They were butchered in their sleep!"
Stung by this outrage upon their neighbors and kinsmen, the northern tribes at once took the war path, attacked settlement, burned the buildings, murdered settlers, wiped the villages out of existence. Those of the settlers who were not killed outright fled across the river to New Amsterdam.
Nor was the peace restored between the savages and the whites until August 1645, when the remaining owners and tenants of farms returned to the site of the old village, rebuilt their homes, and started anew.