Thursday, May 17, 2012

William Dyer and the Anglo-Dutch war

The First Dutch War,
by Abraham Willaerts (Dutch painter)


© Christy K Robinson

On 17 May 1653, William Dyer, along with newly-elected Governor John Sanford and Nicholas Easton, formed an admiralty court to attend to Rhode Island colony’s part of all prizes secured in the war against the Dutch. “Prizes” were Dutch ships and their cargo, Dutch trading posts or farms encroaching on what the English colonists considered their chartered territory, or even Dutch trade goods from the East Indies carried by English, American, French, or Spanish ships. This taking of prizes, or privateering, was a powerful and lucrative business. It was a license to be a pirate in the employ of a government. The privateer shared a percentage of the prize with the employer, along with the advantage to the authorizing government of valuable ships which could be fitted for their own navy.

The first Anglo-Dutch war (there were three of them) was all about trade with foreign ports, following England's Navigation Act. 
Cross-section of a 17th-century merchantman,
the sort that Dyer and Hull may have commanded--or taken as prize.
It's certainly a ship that plied the West Indies, America's east coast,
the Mediterranean, and the English Channel.

Captain William Dyer was at this time Rhode Island attorney general, and had already been commissioned by England’s Council of State in early October 1652. His orders were to
“raise such forts and otherwise arm and strengthen your Colony, for defending yourselves against the Dutch, or other enemies of this Commonwealth, or for offending them, as you shall think necessary; and also to take and seize all such Dutch ships and vessels at sea, or as shall come into any of your harbors, or within your power, taking care that such account be given to the State as is usual in the like cases. And, to that end, you are to appoint one or more persons to attend the care of that business; and we conceive the bearer hereof, Mr. William Dyer, is a fit man to be employed therein; and you are to give account of your proceeding to the Parliament or Council.”

It was signed by James Harington, president of the Council of State that month, and John Thurloe, clerk of the council—and spymaster for the Commonwealth of England.

(Did Thurloe, who had a network of spies in the West Indies, America, and Europe, expect spy reports from William Dyer? Hmmm… Interesting thought, because William appears to have been a royalist, not a fan of the puritan parliament.)

With very similar language to the orders from England, Rhode Island’s legislature commissioned him commander-in-chief upon the sea on May 27.

[I modernized the antiquated spelling for your ease of reading.]

This certifies whom it may concern that whereas we the free inhabitants of Providence Plantations having received authority and power from the Right honorable Council of State by authority of parliament to do something ourselves from the Dutch, the enemy of the Commonwealth of England, as also to assist them as we shall think necessary as also to seize all Dutch vessels or ships that shall come within our harbors within our power.

And whereas by true information and great complaint of the severe condition of many of our cantonments of English natives living on Long Island are subjected to the double sovereigns of the Dutch province at the manors there and the desperate hazard they are subjected to by the bloody plotting of the governor and all, show who are decided and declared to have demand in and any ways of the Indians by bribes and promises to set off and destroy the English natives in those places by which exposure one cantonment is put in trouble as quite desperate hazards and in continual fear to be set off and murdered unless some speedy and defensible remedy is so provided.

These present we consider and as all neighbors by our general assembly met the 19th of May 1653. It was agreed and is to remind by the said assembly that it was necessary and for our own defense (where if the English there should be attacked or set off) we could not long enjoy our stations chosen as before we have thought it necessary both to defend our selves and so sustain them to give.

And we hereby give by virtue of our authority provided us before full power and authority to Capt. William Dyer and Capt. John Underhill to take all Dutch ships and vessels as shall come into their power and so to defend themselves from the Dutch and all enemies of the Commonwealth of England. And do further think it necessary that they offend the Dutch, offer all inducements also to take them by indulgence, and to prevent the effusion of blood, provided also that no violence be given nor no detriment sustained to them it shall submit to the Commonwealth of England which being which authority though thus may offend them at the Expedition of Capt. William Dyer and Capt. John Underhill who by devise and counsel of three councilors one of which councilors dissenting have power to bring the same to conformity to the Commonwealth of England provided that the states so provide and all vessels taken be brought into the harbor at Newport and according to the law to show before and states that further provided also that these seized and authorized by us do give account of their proceedings to the said Court and assistants of the Colony and accordingly provide further instructions to order their assigns by the President and assistants aforesaid.

It is further provided that Capt. John Underhill is constituted Commander-in-Chief upon the lands and Captain William Dyer Commander-in-Chief at the sea, yet to join in counsel to be assisted both to other for the preparings of the several seizures for the honor of ye Commonwealth of England in which they are employed.
Given under the Seal of the Colony of Providence Plantations this the present 27th of May, 1653.
Per me, Will Lytherland, General Recorder.

Captain John Underhill was magistrate of Flushing, New Netherland (later called NewYork), a Dutch territory, from 1651-1653, all the time he was commander-in-chief upon the land for the English citizens of New England. He was married to a Dutch woman, Helena; her mother, also Dutch, resided with their family. Underhill was a military officer-for-hire from his training days in 1620s Netherlands, to his career with the English colonists in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and on Long Island. After some run-ins with the Massachusetts courts, they refused his compensation and he couldn’t find work, so he sailed back to England, where he also could not find the right fit. So he offered his services to the Dutch of Long Island and Manhattan for some years. Now, with a conflict brewing in the English Channel, he was back in the employ of the English, and he was knowledgeable about the disputed territories, defenses, finances, and weaknesses of the Dutch in New England.
This 1635 map considers Connecticut and Long Island to be
"New Netherland" for settlement and trading purposes.
In other words--the Dutch claimed it as their own.

A commission was given May 27, 1653, to Captains Dyer and Underhill to “go against the Dutch” in the first Anglo-Dutch war of 1652-54. The war had been fought, on and off, in the English Channel since the year before, and it was destined to end in treaty early in 1654. But during the second half of 1653, with the unscrupulous Captain Edward Hull authorized to prey on Dutch vessels in Long Island Sound, the Anglo-Dutch war was fought between the shores of Long Island and Connecticut. The two commanders were ordered to do their best to prevent violence and bloodshed if possible.

According to Rhode Island records, Dyer’s and Underhill’s first target was the House of Good Hope, a Dutch trading post on the south side of the tributary to the Connecticut River at Hartford. (Another blog post, another time!)

Here’s something to get you started, though: This is the location of House of Good Hope: south bank of Little River (now the underground Park River) where it met the Connecticut River. The street called Huishope memorializes the grounds of the trading post. The smaller river was diverted and covered over, and is now covered by Park Street and buildings. Photo: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f8/Park_River_Conduit.JPG 

Paddling Hartford’s Park River (formerly Hog River, formerly Little River), article:

1 comment:

  1. Yo ho, yo ho, a privateer's life for me! Thank you for this excellent post, Christy. If only Rhode Island's government had been more specific in their records about what sort of prizes William Dyer took.

    ReplyDelete

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