The Flemish Bastard and the Former Indians: Métis and Identity in Seventeenth-Century New York

The Flemish Bastard and the Former Indians: Métis and Identity in Seventeenth-Century New York

The American Indian Quarterly
Volume 34, Number 1 (Winter 2010)
pages 83-108
E-ISSN: 1534-1828 Print ISSN: 0095-182X
DOI: 10.1353/aiq.0.0087

Tom Arne Midtrød, Professor of History
University of Iowa

In 1709 the English Board of Trade recommended the settlement of three thousand Palatine migrants on the Hudson and Mohawk rivers in New York. The officials expressed confidence that these colonists would not only produce naval stores for the fleet but also intermarry with the Indians “as the French do” and lay the foundation for an expanding fur trade. They knew well that French Canadians had long mingled with Indians and produced children of mixed ancestry, or métis. What they perhaps did not know was that New York had long had métis of its own.

Compared to Canada, New York never had a large métis population, and some historians have commented upon the social distance between Dutch and Indians. Nevertheless, intimacy resulting in métis children does not seem to have been uncommon in this colony. Dutch observers charged Indians with lack of sexual restraint, and liaisons between Dutch men and Native women sometimes worried the authorities. In 1638 the Dutch council prohibited adultery with blacks and Indians and at least occasionally took legal action. Manor lord and patroon Kiliaen van Rensselaer warned his nephew Arent van Curler and forbade his tenants from sleeping with Indian females. Sexual promiscuity with Indian women was among the charges levied against provincial secretary Cornelis van Tiehnoven by his political enemies in the 1640s. Prosecutions of colonists impregnating Indian women are known from the early English period.

Native people probably thought these relations should involve a degree of reciprocity and mutual obligation. Historians have stressed that many Native peoples saw marriage and other intimate relations as means of incorporating outsiders, and an early Dutch observer alluded to the existence of this practice among Native traders in New Netherland…

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