The interest of the Dutch merchants was trade, not colonization. Their employees never saw the New Netherlands as home, and always intended to return to “the paradise of Holland”. This may have made business sense, but it would prove disastrous for the long-term interests of the colony. The English considered that they also had a claim on the land, based in part on the explorations of Bartholomew Gosnold who attempted to establish a colony in 1602 on an island off the Massachusetts coast, (and ingenously, partly on the fact that Hudson was an Englishman!) Gosnolds colony had been quickly abandoned, but once the English learned of Hudson’s discoveries, they launched further explorations of the coast. English colonists would soon follow settling first at Plymouth, Massachusetts, and then elsewhere along what they referred to as the “New England” coast.
Unlike the Dutch, these English settlers came with the intention of making a home in the New World. Population growth in New England was rapid, with over 20,000 immigrants arriving by 1640. In the New Netherlands, the first permanent settlers would not arrive until March 1624. Others settlers would follow, but by 1647 the total population would number under 2000 souls, and by the time the British took over the colony from the Dutch in 1664, the population would still be just 10,000.
At first the Dutch sought to spread their colonists over a broad area, occupying as much territory as possible. This meant that individual settlements were small, and at risk from Indian attacks; by 1626 the settlers, numbering perhaps 200 persons, were pulled back to New Amsterdam at the tip of Manhattan Island. Over time, settlements spread out from New Amsterdam, with colonists moving into the surrounding countryside, and up the Hudson River. By 1636 the Dutch had begun to settled the western end of Long Island. Within a few years several towns would be established, forming the future core of New York City: Brooklyn, Bushwick, Flatbush, Flatlands, New Utrecht and Gravesend. Most of these towns were settled by Dutch speakers, and would become known as the “five Dutch towns”. They would leave a strong Dutch cultural imprint on the area. The remaining town, Gravesend, was settled by Englishmen, and would stand out because of its distinctly English character. A sixth town, Mespath, located near modern Brooklyn, was also found by English speakers, but would be soon extinguish during the Indian uprising of 1643.
Lady Deborah Moody, a member of the minor English aristocracy, came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1638, 18 years after the Pilgrims landed Plymouth. The colony had been growing rapidly, and many thousands of immigrants had come in what came to be known as the Great Migration (1630-1640). Lady Moody would be among the last of the Great Migration immigrants. After 1640 the immigrant flood would become a trickle. Many factors were involved in this, but one stands out for our purposes: the Puritan fathers were intolerant of other views. Those who disagreed with the leadership’s religious views were harshly treated. Cotton Mather, in reference to the Anabaptists and others, would later write:
Harsh measures were enacted against those who would not conform to Puritan belief. This intolerance did not come without a price. Stephen Winthrop, brother of Governor John Winthrop noted from London that:
Sir George Downing, a cousin of the Winthrops, rails against the “law of banishing for conscience, which makes us stinke everywhere.” (Source:Hofstadter, 1996:81)
Even Lady Moody, was not immune to this intolerance. Her reasons for emigrating from England were largely the same as those of the Pilgrim fathers---a desire to follow her own conscious in matters religious. Lady Moody was an Anabaptist, and believed that the sacrament of baptism should be reserved for adults who could make a conscious decision, rather than a rite performed at birth. This was in conflict with Puritan beliefs, and eventually resulted in her banishment and excommunication.
In 1643, when Gravesend was founded, it was surrounded by primeval forest, marshes and prairie. In 1902 Peter Ross, in his "History of Long Island", wrote:
He was writing about Brooklyn, a few miles north of Gravesend, but he could have been speaking equally of the area around Gravesend. This is well shown in Vingboon's 1639 map of Manhattan and the surrounding land.
Vingboon's map, based on his personal recognizance of the area, is a reasonably accurate depiction of the lay of the land, but its value for us is the fact that it shows the location of settlements, both Dutch and Native American. Apart from a few homes hugging the shoreline along the East River, and an isolated homestead deeper into the Island, Vingboon's map shows the forest wilderness broken only by the occassional Indian villages. One of these villages, Massabarkem (probably the "Tikkonis" of Vingboon's map) was to be the future site of Gravesend.
As can be seen from Vingboon's map, in 1643 the settlers of Long Island were living in close proximity to various native American peoples. The relationships between the Dutch and the Native Americans were complex, and can not be described simplistically. But in late 1641 and early 1642, those relationships deteriorated rapidly, culminating in "Kieft's War" after the then Governor of New Amsterdam, William Kieft, or as it is sometimes known, the "Wappinger War", after one of the tribes involved. "Kieft's War" is probably the better title, since it is fairly clear that its cause, or perhaps blame, lies with William Kieft.
The causes and reasons for Kiefts War do not directly bear on the founding of Gravesend per se. Moody arrived during its course, and it formed part of the circumstances in which she found herself. An overview of Kieft's War is provided by Source:Tuckerman, 1893, an excerpt from which is to be found at MySource:Tuckerman, 1893:34 et seq, and to which the interested reader is referred.
Lady Moody and her followers were not alone in their banishment for reasons of religious conscience. Other had preceded them. The best known of these was Roger Williams who founded a separate colony that came to be known as "Rhode Island", but there were many others, all fleeing the repressive atmosphere of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Among those who had previously fled were Anne Marbary (exiled 1638, and better known by her married name of Anne Hutchinson), the Reverend Person:Francis Doughty (3), driven off in 1641, and Roger Throckmorton. All three held views related to baptism that were unacceptable to the Puritan fathers, and both came initially to Roger Williams colony. In 1642 both left the Rhode Island area, and settled with the Dutch on Long Island. Why they left Rhode Island is not clear. One suggestion that has been made, that seems not unreasonable is that the Massachusetts Bay Colony viewed the Rhode Island colonists as illegitimate, since they lacked a charter authorizing their settlements. It may be that Hutchinson and Doughty felt sufficiently threatened that they chose to move on to the New Netherlands, rather than run the risk that the MBC might eventually enforce their intolerant views on the settlers of Rhode Island. In support of this view we can point to the following letter from Roger Williams would later write:
From this we gather that the pressure on the Rhode Island settlers was sufficient to force Williams to seek relief, in the form of a formal charter for his colony, in England. From Governor Winthrop's Journal, we can fix the approximate time of Williams voyage to England. Winthrop, wrote in his Journal for 20 June 1643 that
Thus Williams was in the New Netherlands sometime immediately prior to 20 June 1643. The timing of this trip is very suggestive. It follows shortly after Hutchinson, Doughty, and Throgmorton left the Rhode Island Colony presumably out of fear of continuing hostility from the MBC, and more or less coincidentally with the exile of Lady Moody.
The movements of Lady Moody and her company following her exile are not entirely clear. Some authors place her first in Rhode Island to meet with Roger Williams. That would seem logical, given the similarity of religious views, but it does not seem possible given known facts. Lady Moody was exiled on 24 June. As we noted above, Roger Williams was in the New Netherlands sometime prior to the 20th, waiting for his ship to England, and negotiating a truce between the Dutch and the Native Americans.Lady Moody might have met Williams in the New Netherlands but clearly such a meeting could not have influenced her choice of destination. There seems to be no direct evidence that Moody passed through Rhode Island, or that she ever spoke directly with Roger Williams.
Her choice of refuge in the New Netherlands seems to reflect the same motivations suspected of Hutchinson and Doughty: that until they were outside English held land, they would not be allowed to safely follow their conscience.
After 1641 the Dutch were anxious to secure additional settlers, in part because of continued slow growth of the colony, but also because of increasingly hostile relationships with the Native American tribes, culminating in Kieft's War of 1642-1645. The temporary peace secured by Williams in June of 1642, coinciding with Lady Moody's arrival, would be fragile. Open warfare would break out again the following year, but in the summer and fall of 1642 there was probably some hope of peace prevailing. In any case, Kieft set aside a substantial area in western Long Island for Lady Moody and her colony, as he had done for Hutchinson, Doughty, and Throckmorton.
In August of 1643, the Native Americans renewed hostilities.
We do not know much more of the nature of the first settlement of Gravesend. We would like to know who, besides Lady Moody, was numbered among her company. We'd like to know how far along the community had progressed in the two months between Lady Moody's banishment from MBC, and the attack by Native Americans in August. Had they erected homes in that short time? Were they protected by a palisade? Why were they able to fend off the attack, while others failed? Was there any loss of life during the attack? Possibly the answer to these and similar questions lie buried in the surviving Dutch era archives, waiting to be extracted, but so far information on this point does not seem to have surfaced in the common literature currently available to us. Source:Gerard, 1892:19-31 suggests that Lady Moody's newly constructed home in Gravesend served as a fortification against the attack, which implies that a palisade had not as yet been constructed. He also indicates that after the initial attack the settlers fled to nearby, and better established Amersfort (later Flatlands), which in itself suggests the the development of the Gravesend location was not far advanced when the attack came.
In anycase, what we know is that the colony managed to survive the attack, and after hostilities passed, Governor Kieft would proclaim in 1645:
Kiefts 1645 proclamation, following approval of the Dutch West Indies Company, formalized or perhaps reaffirmed prior agreements between Kieft and Lady Moody that had been struck in 1643. While we do not know who was numbered among Lady Moody's company in 1643, and survived the Indian attack we do know who was numbered among her company in 1645, for their names are listed in Kiefts proclamation. The following table identifies these early settlers of Gravesend, preserving the original order given in the proclamation, and adding information about their origin, and subsequent history.
Eventually, the Gravesend palisade would rot away, the individual commons areas would be acquired by individuals for private uses, the small plots would be bought up by a few successful settlers, and eventually the farms would recede, replaced by closely packed homes, stores and schools, not to mention rail and subway lines. But the basic civic layout of the village would largely remain intact through the years. As Brooklyn to the north grew, annexing the original towns, it gradually extended its streets to the south. The crystalline, right-angle aligned Brooklyn Grid, as we might call it, now overlies much of western Long Island, occasionally adapting itself to remnants of the street plans of six original towns. If you look at a modern street map of the Gravesend area the original square of 1645, subdivided into its four quadrants, can still be seen in the street layout. The perimeter road marking the palisade is still clearly visible, as are the main crossroads, now known as Gravesend Neck Road and McDonald Street. Old Gravesend is clearly visible because its roads are misaligned with the Brooklyn grid. Thus Gravesend appears in modern street maps as a small imperfection in the larger sea of Brooklyn city streets.
Van Rensselaer, Schuyler. 1909. History of the city of New York in the seventeenth century. New York: The Macmillan Company.