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Pavonia Massacre

Also known as: Kieft's War  
Date: 1641–1645 
From: Encyclopedia of Native American Wars and Warfare.

The Dutch had an economic imperative in the New World that none of their European competitors had. Their primary objective was to make money through trading furs with local Native Americans in exchange for European goods. As long as the fur stocks held and the Dutch were making a profit, Dutch-Indian relations were quiet. However, when the supply of fur-bearing animals became exhausted in the 1630s, tensions between the Dutch and their Native American neighbors escalated. Faced with shrinking profits, the Dutch began selling guns to the Indians. This policy was prompted by the colony's governor Willem Kieft, who planned to employ armed Indians, especially the Mohawk, against the southern farming tribes within New Netherland (which included parts of present-day New York and New Jersey.)

Although most of the Dutch colony's profits came from trade, some colonists had arrived to settle land along the Hudson River. Kieft tried to offset the cost of maintaining the forts that protected Dutch farmers by taxing the local Native Americans. The Indians resented both the taxes and the infringements on their lands. This inevitably led to violence. In 1641, the Raritan Indians of Staten Island retaliated against a Dutch farmer whose cattle had destroyed their cornfields. In 1642, a Raritan killed a man named Claes Rademaker because he believed Rademaker had been involved in the death of a relative.

In February 1642, Kieft's Mohawk allies tried to extort money from the Wappinger Indians of what is now New Jersey. The Wappinger sought protection from Kieft at New Amsterdam (present-day New York City). Instead, however, Kieft turned the Mohawk loose on them. Seventy Wappinger died in the fighting and others were captured by the Mohawk. On the night of February 25–26, in an effort to enforce Kieft's policies, Dutch soldiers killed 80 Wappinger women and children refugees at Pavonia (near present-day Jersey City, New Jersey). Thirty others were tortured to death in public. This "Slaughter of the Innocents," as it was called, roused the Indians against the Dutch. By mid-March, Kieft was trying to negotiate with the New York Indians, offering them presents in return for peace. However, on October 1, 1643, a small band of Native Americans captured the town of Pavonia, killed its inhabitants, and burned it to the ground. Panicked settlers from all over New Netherlands fled to New Amsterdam seeking shelter. New Amsterdam itself fell under siege for more than a year.

The siege was not lifted until the Dutch hired British Captain John Underhill, a veteran of the Pequot War (1636–37), to harass local Indian villages. In March 1644, Underhill surrounded a large Indian village with musketeers in the same way that he had surrounded Mystic Village during the Pequot War. The soldiers killed about 180 Indians in the initial assault; by the time the fighting ended, Native American losses amounted to around 500 killed and wounded. The Europeans lost one man, and a few others were wounded. Shocked by the demonstration of European firepower, the Native Americans raised the siege of New Amsterdam; they made peace with the Dutch the following year. Willem Kieft, whose aggressive policies had provoked the war, was recalled to the Netherlands in 1646.


The American Heritage History of the Thirteen Colonies. New York: American Heritage, 1967.

Text Citation (Chicago Manual of Style format):

Kessel, William B., and Robert Wooster, eds. "Pavonia Massacre." Encyclopedia of Native American Wars and Warfare. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2005. American Indian History Online. Facts On File, Inc.
ItemID=WE43&iPin=ENAW0288&SingleRecord=True (accessed May 3, 2016).

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