Home  Albert  News  Purchase  Gallery  Contact  Writings  Links

2015 09 25

Two Row Wampum

a belt of beads made of clam-shells records perhaps the first treaty made between Europeans and Native Americans

                In the early 1970s, at my home community of Faust in northern Alberta, I attended a ceremonial dance conducted by a group of young men of the North American Indian Travelling College. They had come far from their homes near Montreal to relate of the White Roots of Peace which could be followed back to the Great Tree where, in the shelter of its leafy canopy, the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy dwell. On learning of my Dutch heritage, one of the young men told me that long ago their treaty with the 'White Man' had been concluded with the Dutch. The young man told me it spoke of two canoes in which each would place everything that made them a people, and that it was agreed that each boat would travel down the great river of life without interfering with the other.
                (I read Akwesasne Notes for years after.)

[from the Kanien'keha:ka Onkwawen:na Raotitiohkwa Language and Cultural Center.
Adapted and edited by Teiowi:sonte. Found at the Longhouse People website]

This is how it is remembered in the Mohawk tradition:

            "The first Europeans to meet the Kanien'keha:ka were the French, who arrived in 1534 with Jacques Cartier. Cartier and his men did not pave a smooth road for the other Europeans who followed. They exposed the Kanien'keha:ka to treachery and despair after the Kanien'keha:ka had taken them in, relieving them from hunger and curing them of scurvy.
            "When Samuel De Champlain arrived in the St. Lawrence River Valley in 1608, the Kanien'keha:ka were at war with the Algonquin. Champlain allied himself with the Algonquin and lost the trust of the Kanien'keha:ka. For a short time, French interference and their supply of firearms to the Algonquin, allowed the Algonquin to overpower the Kanien'keha:ka. Cartier and Champlain had showed the Kanien'keha:ka that the newcomers were different than any of the people who the Kanien'keha:ka had dealt with for centuries.
            "The first Europeans who established continued contact with the Kanien'keha:ka were the Dutch. Henry Hudson, an Englishman employed by the Dutch East India company, sailed up the Hudson River in 1608 and Fort orange (Albany) was established in 1624. the Mahicans were at war with the Kanien'keha:ka and the Dutch allied themselves with the Mahicans. Six Dutch soldiers and their commander, Kreickebeck, joined a battle which took place nine miles upriver from Albany. Although the Dutch had firearms, the Kanien'keha:ka were victorious and Kreickebeck and three men were killed. Shortly after, the Mahicans were defeated and the few remaining permanently left the territory.
            "The Kanien'keha:ka were puzzled as to why the Dutch had allied themselves with the Mahican. The Kanien'keha:ka had never done anything to disrupt the peace between themselves and the Dutch. The newcomers did not understand the ways of the people on Turtle Island (North America). As a result of their experiences, the Haudenosaunee realized that a special agreement was needed in order to restore peace with the Dutch. The Two Row Wampum concept was introduced, recognizing an agreement of peace and respect for each other's way of life.
            "The understanding was recorded with belts of wampum. Wampum beads are made from the shells of the Quahog clam. The belt was made with a background of white wampum beads with two rows of purple that run parallel from one end to the other. The words that go with the explanation of the Two Row Wampum speak of the relationship that should exist between the parties involved in the agreement.
            "The background of white bead represents a river and the two parallel rows of purple beads represent two vessels traveling the river. It is recognized that the river is large enough for the two vessels to travel down together. In one vessel shall be found the Haudenosaunee and in the other, the Dutch. Each vessel shall carry the laws, traditions, customs, languages, and spiritual beliefs of each nation; in short, all which makes a people who they are.
            "It is the responsibility of the people in each vessel to steer a straight course. Neither the Dutch nor the Haudenosaunee shall interfere with the lives of the other. Neither side shall attempt to bring or force their laws, traditions, customs, languages, and spirituality upon the other. Such is the agreement of mutual respect that is recorded in the Two Row Wampum.
            "The Haudenosaunee Nation has used the principles embodied in the Two Row Wampum as the initial guide or set of rules for relations between themselves and any other nation. They have been careful to abide by the concept that was developed so long ago and each succeeding generation is taught the importance of maintaining the principles of the Two Row Wampum."


             (Hudson disappeared 1611 after having wintered in James Bay
and a mutiny abandoned him with six of his crew in a boat in arctic waters)

                After Hudson reported the reconnoitering of the river to which he left his name to his employers, the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (the VOC, known commonly in English as the Dutch East India Company), it established Nieuw Amsterdam on Manhattan Island. (In 1664 the Dutch surrendered its interests to the British and received Surinam in return). At what would become Albany (now capital of New York state) trading posts were built: Fort Nassau between 1610-1615, which was replaced in 1624 with Fort Oranje.

                As noted, the Dutch were the first Europeans to establish continued contact with the 'Mohawks' ~ the Kanien'keha:ka, a nation in the League of the Haudenosaunee People of the Longhouse (the Six Nation Iroquois Confederacy). The treaty preserved by the Iroquios in the Two Row Wampum may be the first treaty recorded between Europeans and Native Americans.
                No Dutch record was known until 1968 when a US physician "published an article that included the text of a treaty allegedly drawn up in 1613 between Dutch traders and Iroquois tribal leaders and written in seventeenth century Dutch." This document was not free of controversy, and in 2012 (in advance of the publication of research branding it a forgery) raged in the press on both sides of the ocean: Albany Times Union: "Is wampum proof of deal?"; NRC Handelsblad, "Indianen willen nep verdrag vieren" (Indians want to celebrate fake treaty); Onze Taal: "De laatste spreker van Low Dutch, L.G. van Loon vervalste de geschiedenis van het Nederlands in America" (. . . falsified the history of the Dutch language . . . ).
                Linguistic analysis of the so-called Tawagonshi Treaty demonstrated "without doubt that the text was forged" (Journal of Early American History 3 (2013) by researchers at Tilburg, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Meertens Instituut, and the Koninklijke Nederlandse Akadamie van Wetenschappen.)
                The article is a fine piece of research on the forgery as on the probable forger: "Lawrence Gwyn Van Loon (1903-82) was an American physician with a life-long passion for the history of the Dutch colonists in America and their descendants. It is possible that he was a direct descendant of Jan van Loon, who had emigrated from Liege in modern Belgium to New Netherland in the seventeenth century. In his youth, Van Loon's grandfather Walter Hill (1856-1925) taught him to speak the Mohawk Valley variety of Low Dutch (Leeg Duits), the term that over time had come to be associated with the variety of Dutch as it was spoken on the American East Coast. Van Loon was one of the last speakers of the "taol", as Low Dutch was popularly known ~ a fact of which he was very proud."
                Van Loon was a man steeped in the history and lore of the Mohawk Valley (both Dutch and Iroquois), and was no doubt told the tale of the Two Row Wampum. Some time in the 1950s, he probably created the document (the original of which no person has ever seen) to attain prestige (and perhaps fame and fortune) ~ as he had attempted earlier by publishing a fake letter to the commissary at Fort Orange, as well as a journey into Mohawk country 1634-35, published 1940. The extent of Van Loon's knowledge of history shows in the names of the real persons chosen by him as the signatories (one of the signatures does not match another known record).
                According to the article in the Journal of Early American History: "If the text originates from the seventeenth century, then it was most likely drawn up by the Dutch traders Eelkens and Christaensz, who signed it. Little is known about these two men. Hendrick Christiaensz probably came from Cleves, a German town near the Dutch border. In the beginning of the seventeenth century he sailed as captain several times from Amsterdam to the Hudson River, where he established the trading post Fort Nassau in 1614. Jacob Jacobsz Eelkens sailed as supercargo on some of these voyages. Eelkens was born in Amsterdam in 1593."

                While the document has been proved a forgery, it is nonetheless accepted within the nations of the Iroquois Confederacy that the treaty was conducted and agreed to by the participants.
                Frans Horbach of the New York - Amsterdam Art Station reported an April 4, 2009 "public meeting in the old Westerkerk in Amsterdam to commemorate Hudson's discovery of the island of Manhattan and also to reflect on the historic significance and influence of the early Dutch colonial presence in North America, seen in the light of 17th century Dutch society." It heard presentations by historians Russel Shorto and Geert Mak, and a passionate talk by the Dutch foreign secretary of State for European affairs.
                "At the end of the meeting a man in the audience asked to speak. He introduced himself as Thundercloud, a Native American, and representative of the Mohawk nation. He gave an exceptional clear and noble speech in which he refered to a covenant agreed upon by the Dutch and the Mohawk people, which is still remembered and reconfirmed in ceremonies today.
                "In the covenant, he said, it was agreed that the two peoples would live in peace, in friendship and treat each other with respect, for all time. And to this day, almost 400 years later, the Mohawk people have not forgotten this covenant, this promise, which had been recorded in what is called a 'Wampum', the equivalent of the signed document."

                The wampum is apparently missing in Dutch historical archives, but in safe keeping with the Mohawk, who respect it as an enduring formal covenant between the two nations.
                A replica of the original 'Wampum' was given to the city of Amsterdam on the day following the Westerkerk meeting.
                Horbach: "Let it here be known, that on april 5th of the year 2009, a ceremony took place in Amsterdam, where Jerry Thundercloud McDonald, representing the Mohawk nation, and Carolien Gehrels, deputy mayor of the city of Amsterdam, reaffirmed a 400 year old convenant by holding the Wampum in unison, and hearing the agreement and its significance, promising to live in peace, in friendship and with respect."

                In 2013, some aged (in their 70s and 80s) members of the Longhouse People travelled to conduct drum ceremonies in the Netherlands on the occasion of its anniversary.
                The Onondaga Nation (People of the Hills), when planning a commemoration of the Treaty, published (2012) "An Analysis of the 1613 Tawagonshi Treaty" by Robert Venables which notes that the controversy over the Dutch language document or that over the date (1613, 1618, 1623, 1634, 1643, or sometime later) "does not matter to the Haudenosaunee, because the Two Row Wampum is their record of the treaty. The meaning of the treaty is its most significant component. The Two Row emphasizes the long peaceful trade and political relationships the Haudenosaunee have had with the Dutch and then the English. This long alliance continued until a civil war among the white colonists, known as the American Revolution, threw that steadfast friendship into chaos."
                Venables "had the privilege of examining the treaty on several occasions" but concluded that the source of the handwritten copy he inspected is "now lost".
                "The handwritten copy covers two pages that were originally in a notebook that I believe dates from the nineteenth or twentieth century. The transcript, in ink, is in seventeenth century Dutch. The two-page transcript was collected and translated by L.G. Van Loon, M.D."
                The Journal article notes that Venables "mentions 'parchment or high quality paper'. It could therefor be concluded that Van Loon provided the Onondaga chiefs in 1978 with this paper (or parchment) version of the treaty."

                In the absence of an authentic Dutch document, the final word is the Iroquios Confederacy's and the Two Row Wampum.


the league of nations was old when Columbus sailed the ocean blue
accounts of its "origin were passed on for centuries with the guidance of wampum belts"
"part constitution, part mythology, in which governance is sanctioned by holy revelation" as received from "the Peace Maker, a divine hero, [who] alighted from a white stone canoe and expounded his Great Law"
1534, Cartier went up the St Lawrence to be received at the important town of Hochalaga (Montreal), where besides "Cartier's lies [and] violent behavior, [he] left invisible conquerors behind" that caused extreme mortality
1603, when de Champlain followed, "Hochalaga had vanished."
Stolen Continents: the "New World" through Indian eyes, Ronald Wright, 1992

the (VOC) dutch east india company equipped Henry Hudson for a journey of discovery on which he sailed the Hudson upriver to where it conjoins the Mohawk 1609
1611 the VOC began trade relations
a company of nieuw nederland continued permanent trade by establishing Fort Nassau (Albany) and had a monopoly to 1618, and a period of free trade to 1621, when the (WIC) dutch west india company was allowed a monopoly on trade in the region
(Nieuw Amsterdam, New York, was established by the WIC 1626)

Wright notes that "the Iroquois always called the governor of New York 'Corlaer', the name of the Dutchman with whom they negotiated the original Two Row Wampum treaty in the 1640s"
there are historical figures of that name: one Arendt van Curler (corrupted to Corlaer) established a colony at Schenectady on the shores of the Mohawk west of Albany in 1662; and Anthony van Corlaer (trumpeter at the Nieuw Amsterdam garrison) who drowned 1642 swimming across the Hudson; a point of land on the East River was called Corlaers Hook in the 1630s after schoolmaster Jacobus van Corlaer



the longhouse was in the charge of a clan's senior woman who lived in it
and all her female relations with their children and husbands

in europe was the rule (or misrule) of various royal estates as kings battled each other for dynasty, thrones, and territory, and imposed on its people their wars and their crimes
a millennium of unjust imperial and religious wars wrought carnage and desolation
the confederacy predates the european union by perhaps that long,
but it was created for the same reason:
to put an end to war

the treaties were made in good faith by both sides ~
John Ralston Saul (The Comeback, 2014):
                Aboriginal relations "should be" ... "at the centre of the national consciousness .... This is the great issue of our time, the great unresolved Canadian question upon which history will judge us all.
                "Who are the treaty people?
                "We are the treaty people.
                "Anyone sworn in as a Canadian citizen today or tomorrow inherits the full benefits and the full responsibilities ~ the obligations ~ of these treaties."


                wikipedia relates that the close relationship between the two peoples led to the development of Mohawk Dutch ~ "a now extinct Dutch-based creole language . . . spoken . . . by the Dutch colonists who traded with or to a lesser extent mixed with the local population from the Mohawk nation.
                "Dutch settlers . . . frequently married First Nations women, most commonly from the Mohawk. . . . The resulting children often drifted between the territory of the Iroquois Confederacy and New Netherland, forming among themselves a creole taking elements from both languages.
                "The language was never documented and disappeared before the end of the 17th century."

 click image to visit this very informative site:
                "One result of such a [marital] relationship between a Dutch man and a Mohawk woman was Jan Smit, who became the respected Mohawk chief Canaqueese. He appears first in history in one of the many letters Marie Guyart, known as Marie de l'lncarnation, wrote to her son in France . . . in 1650.
                "In the Spring of 1654, Canaqueese participated in the negotiation for a peace settlement with the French. He brought with him some letters from Fort Oranje.
                ". . . He accompanied Denonville in his campaign against the Senecas in 1687 as the leader of 150 Christian Indians. He had thus not only turned against the Dutch but against his own tribe and the Confederacy."

check also at three rivers for more on the Mohawk Dutch ~ a site maintained by A.J. Berry, who also produces the adventures and misadventures of a time traveling granny in Out of Time Books


The Mohawk use in English of the national name Kanien'keha:ka in their own language
argues also for the use of Nederlander in English.
The Mohawk refer to the Dutch; the Dutch speak of the Mohawk.
Kanien'keha:ka ~ Nederlander; use of the language name shows respect.

for more on the Iroquois Confederacy and the Great Tree of Peace click the links below
White Roots of Peace
at Amazon the Iroquois Book of Life

also on [albert's website]: Sagoyewatha on religion