by Bart Plantenga
The Mystery of the Plockhoy Settlement in the
Valley of Swans
"If we be insufferable to the World and they be incorrigible,
or unbetterable, as to us, then let us reduce our friendship
and society to a few in number ... that we might truly be distinguished
from the Barbarous and Savage people..."
- Pieter Plockhoy
"While Plockhoys plans failed, and in some details
were utopian, he must, nevertheless, be considered as one of
the heralds of that religious freedom which modern nations accept
and cherish" - Irvin B. Horst, "Pieter Corneliszoon
Plockhoy: An Apostle of the Collegiants"
Its August 1664, thirteen chaotic months after Pieter
Corneliszoon Plockhoy and forty-one Dutch settlers established
Zwaanendael [Valley of Swans] along the banks of Delaware Bay,
near present-day Lewes, Delaware. Although home to many swans,
it is far too flat to host anything called a valley. Their efforts
at creating an ideal community "distinguished from the barbarous
and savage people" of typical societies had suffered its
England was preparing to wrest control of New Netherland.
The end is in sight. But what sort of end? If Englands
King Charles II, no admirer of the Dutch, had his way, it would
involve strife with some revenge thrown in. He vowed to crush
the Dutch to "an entire obedience" if necessary. But
James, Duke of York, preferred a more diplomatically pragmatic
resolution if Dutch settlers declare allegiance to England
they would be allowed to remain as English subjects.
Charles gave his brother, James, the northern territories
todays Northeastern states down to Delaware. Lands
previously granted to the Plymouth Company, including Dutch settlements
along the Delaware Riverlong an annoying wedge dividing
English colonies were offered to Charles Calvert, Lord
Baltimores son. This unconcealed land grab of this, in
James words, "sanctuary of discontent and mutiny,"
would give England dominion over "its" colonies once
again meanwhile ushering in the Second Anglo-Dutch War.
In late August 1664, four English men-of-war, under the command
of Colonel Richard Nicholls had triumphantly, if anti-climactically,
accepted the Dutch surrender of New Amsterdam. Nicholls then
dispatched two ships and some soldiers under the command of Colonel
Richard Carr to secure the surrender of Fort Casimir, just down
river from present-day Wilmington, and the surrounding
New Amstel region.
The outgunned Dutch, realizing that any show of resistance
would be suicidal, refused to abandon their homesteads to join
any fight. Instead, they hoped for a peaceful surrender. The
Articles of Surrender were rumored to include religious freedom,
retention of land and language. But not everyone hoped for that.
Alexander DHinoyossa, the flamboyantly corruptible director
of the New Amstel region of New Amsterdam and the ever-cantankerous
Peter Stuyvesant in New Amsterdam, tried to stoke up passions
for a last stand, but to no avail. DHinoyossa and some
ragtag followers retreated to Fort Casimir, just down river from
present-day Wilmington, to mount a mostly ceremonial sputter
of resistance more vainglorious biography than patriotic
Carr however, was in no mood to negotiate with a gaggle of
reprobate resisters and demanded submission or be forced to an
"entire obedience." There was a half-hearted show of
resistance and so Carr fired two broadsides into the fort, then
took it by storm, killing three resisters and wounding ten. The
British ransacked Casimir and took prisoners.
Carr, already infuriated by the resisters impertinence,
was in no mood to accept any dignified surrender of the surrounding
settlements. In a fit of arrogant pique, he pillaged the settlements
even though settlers offered no resistance. He seized property,
harvests, some 200 sheep, horses, and cows, destroyed a brewery,
a sawmill and, it is said, sold the surviving soldiers and Dutch-owned
slaves into slavery in Virginia. Most of the rest took oaths
of allegiance to the English throne it was either that
or face the consequences. And Nieuw Amstel became New Castle.
Carr then sailed eighty miles southward to the sad excuse
for a fort, Fort Sekonnessinck. This was taken with no resistance.
Further inland he found Zwaanendael, near Hoornkill [also spelled
Hoornkil, Horekil and Whorekill]. On a humid September 4, the
Zwaanendael sentry may have caught a glimmer off the sword of
one of Carrs soldiers. No one suspected the worst.
Carrs regiment of wide-eyed, half-drunk, illiterate
country boys in threadbare breeches, shabby boots, and makeshift
redcoats stood stiff as a row of bowling pins a few hundred meters
away across a field of golden corn, matchlock muskets drawn.
Dread hung in the cumbrous air. What now?
Carr, with sword raised, marched his troops into Zwaanendael
in close formation, plumes jiggling on their caps to the drummers
fearsome beats. Perhaps further awkwardness ensued as the settlers
refused to resist. Carr ordered the settlements total destruction.
Troops plundered provisions and livestock, demolished the colony,
leaving only traces of smoldering rubble ashes to ashes,
dust to dust departing with spoils in tow. Some historians
maintain that several settlers were slain, others driven into
the wilderness and, as Stuyvesant notes in his diaries they had
"demanded good treatment, which however they did not obtain,
they wer[e] invaded, stript bare, plundered, and many of them
sold into slavery in Virginia." Rumors arose that some stragglers
even found their way back to Holland. Others remained to farm
the region as English subjects.
Some believe Carr took it out doubly on Plockhoys people
because they were viewed as enemies of the crown, associated
with the hated Levelers and various utopians Plockhoy had befriended
during his London days. In Carrs eyes, a bunch of weirdoes
and seditious heretics, and his mission to root them out was
merely extending policies already enacted in England. To this
end he followed orders beyond any call of duty.
New Amstels Sheriff Van Sweringen noted at the time
that Carr almost succeeded in "destroying the quaking society
of Plockhoy to a naile," and, in essence, erasing it from
posteritys pages. Alas, no journalists or photographers
were present to document the tragedy. And so little remains of
this proud man stripped of colony, country, and purpose. Yet,
Plockhoy survived, miraculously reappearing, blind and destitute,
with his wife in the Mennonite town of Germantown, Pennsylvania,
thirty years later.
Who was Plockhoy and how did he end up in the New World leading
a community dedicated to alleviating suffering and social inequality?
Plockhoy was born in Zierikzee around 1625 although no records
exist to pinpoint exactly where and when. Zierikzee is a port
town of 10,000 inhabitants located in the heart of the Dutch
seafaring province of Zeeland. It had been inhabited since 2000
BC but officially founded in 849 and had become one of Zeelands
"round" cities, today still ringed by remnants of fourteenth-century
fortified walls that were girdled by water kept in by an outer
Spain had already occupied Holland for sixty years during
the Eighty-Year War [1568-1648] when Plockhoy was born. The occupation
had ushered in the iconoclastic humanism of Erasmus and Protestantism,
which questioned papal authority and other hallowed institutions.
Science, logic, and pragmatism threatened traditional orthodoxies.
Rampages of iconoclasm the smashing of Catholic images
by roving bands led by Protestant nobles and Calvinist
exiles occurred in Zeeland and throughout Holland. Plockhoys
youth coincided with Zierikzees heyday, Hollands
Golden Age and the ascension of artists like Vermeer and Rembrandt.
Holland was a world power and a unique society characterized
by a deep estrangement from traditions, making it, arguably,
the first modern society.
Zierikzees ships, loaded with salt, herring, cloth,
brandy, lumber, and farm products sailed throughout the Mediterranean
and Europe, up to Denmark and the Baltic, connecting Holland
with new worlds and old. Its fishing fleet ventured as far as
Iceland to fish for cod. But they were vulnerable to attack by
take your pick Spanish, French, or English warships
(or Dunkirkers and other privateers hiring on with anyone who
would have them) intent on challenging Dutch shipping prowess.
Herring boats were escorted by warships, but to no avail. William
of Oranges provisional government even sanctioned hero-pirate,
Piet Heyn, to commit high seas misdeeds. In true swashbuckling
style, he captured Spains Silver Armada in 1629.
Zierikzee was the West India Companys second principal
port after Amsterdam and eventually its ships (including slave
ships) sailed to the New World and returned loaded down with
pelts or tobacco. Textile salesmen, fishermen, and butter merchants
combed Zierikzees bustling market for bargains while rambunctious
sailors on leave killed time with drink and other more sinful
diversions. Both Erasmus and Albrecht Dürer noted how annoyingly
clangorous Zierikzee was.
Young Plockhoys best friend, the physician Galenus de
Haan, a few years Plockhoys senior, was to have an enormous
influence on Plockhoys life and writings. The two boys
were part of the sizeable Mennonite community that had emigrated
from Switzerland around 1570. But now the Mennonites in Holland
were undergoing severe sectarian fractures at this time.
De Haans father was the leader of the Mennonite congregation.
Meanwhile, the anti-sectarian Collegiants challenged the Mennonites
to stop their internal bickering. Collegiants were basically
progressive Mennonites who advocated replacing ministers, creeds,
in effect, all organized churches with collegia prophetica,
meetings in the round where people of various faiths could gather
to read Scripture, sing psalms, and discuss the Bible and contemporary
issues. Both de Haan and Plockhoy became ardent Collegiants.
They were convinced that these collegia were the "only
way to abolish all lording over consciences." The Collegiants
broke away ironically from the schismatics (a schism
of a schism).
In 1646 de Haan moved to Amsterdam to promote his Collegiant
ideas. Plockhoy followed two years later at the end of the Eighty-Year
In Amsterdam, the unorthodox de Haan established his medical
practice and was elected preacher of Het Lam [The Lamb,
now the Singelkerk] where he promoted Collegiant ideas and struggled
for religious freedom in the shadow of Calvinism, Hollands
state religion, which attempted to enforce spiritual conformity.
Holland was a trade giant, wages were high, and its ships
sailed the world over. Hollands fortunes were further aided
by Englands internal strife that allowed it to undersell
English merchants and dominate trade in Englands own colonies.
Amsterdams city hall, constructed in Dam Square in 1650,
was called the "eighth wonder of the world" and signaled
Hollands arrival as a world power and Amsterdam as the
financial/trade center of the world truly the "Empress
But Dutch prosperity was most arresting in the arts
specifically in painting and philosophy. Grotius (Hugo de Groot)
was drafting the basic tenets of what still serves as todays
international maritime law while the paintings of Steen, Vermeer,
Hals, and Rembrandt, signaled the humanistic drift from religious
themes, and toward everyday life itself. This was also reflected
in a prevailing atmosphere of tolerance and a skepticism of established
beliefs. Amsterdam became a center of scientific thought while
people of many faiths and philosophies found refuge here: scientists
and philosophers considered heretical elsewhere Mennonites,
Jews, Puritans, even Catholics found clandestine attics
to practice their faith in.
Plockhoy arrived in 1648 and wasted no time installing himself
among Amsterdams intellectual circles, becoming involved
in an ad hoc clique of writers, "lovers of the noble art
of poetry," and artists known as the Parnassis of Y. [today
spelled "Ij," the name of the river behind Amsterdam].
The Parnassians [or Reformateurs] were not some gaggle of
sour academics or blithe band of bohemians but a serious "art
school for the promotion of virtue." They gathered frequently
in an informal manner around a table in the Sweet Rest, an inn
owned by the groups "head poet," the irreverent
Jan Zoet, to engage in heated discussions "of political
and philosophical import." Other members included renowned
artist-Mennonite, Govert Flinck and poets Karel Verloove and
They hoped to improve the moral tenor of Amsterdam through
the "abolition of various customs," and advance the
cause of the poor, which they did by establishing the Oranje-Appel
orphanage together with the Mennonites.
Zoet usually commenced the evening by asking a "meaningful
and soul-searching question" like "When a man by marriage
is bound to a woman, may he sleep with his maid-servant without
transgression?" To this Plockhoy replied "yes,"
claiming the Bible did indeed condone polygamy. Some of the Parnassis
members, including Zoet, agreed. The versified repartees grew
robust, perhaps fueled by small measures of gin. Plockhoys
poet-friends, Steendam and Verloove, offended by Plockhoys
arguments, issued bitter rebuttals. Steendam characterized Plockhoy
and his supporters as "patriarchs of polygamy." In
1662 however, the two offered poems to support Plockhoys
elaborate settlement prospectus.
Conservative critics quickly tried to convert Plockhoys
intellectual exercise into a scandalous advocacy of polygamy
issue. "It was said that Plockhoy
asserts upon scriptural
authority that a man may have as many wives as he can support,"
one such opportunistic critic blustered.
Plockhoy probably spent much time writing during these years
in Dutch and English developing into an
earnest and tireless enthusiast for social progress. Meanwhile,
Parnassian discussions may have turned to the ferment in Oliver
Cromwells England, which seemingly offered many hopes for
dreamers like Plockhoy who wrote, "I resolved for awhile
... to leave my family and native country." Maybe he just
needed to escape the polygamy controversies. Regardless, by June
1658, he was in London looking for sponsorship for his ideas
for an equitable society.
London & Cromwell
"looking round-about me, where to make a beginning
to rectifie those evils, I found no better object in Christendome,
the Lord Protector
- Pieter Plockhoy
The mystery of why Plockhoy thought Oliver Cromwell, anti-royalist
Lord Protector of the Commonwealth with its Puritanical and "reasonable"
order, would be sympathetic to him remains largely unresolved.
Perhaps it was Cromwells anti-papist sentiments or the
public image of Cromwells enlightened progressiveness
in 1649 he was the hope of all of Europes Protestants.
Englands dynamic social climate of poverty and hope
and dizzying stir of prophetic schemes and intriguing ideas captivated
Plockhoy. Despite Cromwells Blasphemy Act , pamphleteering
radicals and street agitators continued to rail and present petitions
to Parliament, who were busy executing Levellers and banning
maypoles, theatrical performances, Sunday strolls, and Christmas.
Meanwhile Ranters ranted against the entire idea of sin; Diggers
advocated separation of church and state and equality of the
sexes; and female Levellers petitioned Parliament for better
education and equality for the poor. And then there were the
Quakers, Fifth Monarchists, and Independents
all of them believed government needed a moral soul. In
this context it is easy to see how, although an uncommon man,
Plockhoy was also a man of his time and place.
Plockhoy, however, thought it best to found an idealistic
community somewhere removed from the sins of the rest of the
world. [It seems he failed to see the inconsistency with his
universalist ideas.] Other firebrands held sway over Plockhoys
development. Samuel Hartlib, a Polish progressive, was convinced
the entire state needed transforming. Gerard Winstanley, of the
Diggers, presented Cromwell with plans for communal utopias.
Leveller Giles Calvert, advocated for the poor and probably published
Plockhoys A Way Propounded as well as activist
and Christian communalist, William Walwyn who may have aided
Plockhoy with the English wording in his pamphlets. They, in
turn, were probably influenced by the German utopian, Johann
Andreaes [1586-1654] blueprints for a geometrically fortified
"republic of workers living in equality."
Plockhoy set to work to win Cromwells support for his
plans. His first letter, dated June 24, 1658, addressed Cromwell
as the "Mighty and (as I hope) Prudent Lord." The letter,
perhaps written with Hartlib assisting with the English, presented
his essential ideas of equality in faith, religious tolerance,
and the extension of the Lords kingdom via the Collegiants
In his second letter Plockhoy wrote: "One should leave
the world for posterity in a better state than how one found
it. I have made this my contribution..." He eventually gained
an audience with Cromwell, reporting that "I was heard several
times with patience." However, despite a certain decorum,
Cromwell may have remained distracted after all, he was
ill with ague or malarial fits, his fragile commonwealth was
imploding, and he was worried about the health of his most beloved
Then suddenly Cromwell died on September 3, 1658. But Plockhoy
remained undaunted. With Parliament back in session in January
1659, he redoubled his efforts sending letters to both Parliament
and Cromwells son and successor Richard.
That same month, Plockhoy published his pamphlet, The Way
to the Peace and Settlement of These Nations
awaken Public Spirits" and foster interest among English
citizens. The pamphlet, signed "Pieter Cornelius van Zurik-Zee,
a lover of truth and peace," consisted of the two Cromwell
letters and one written to Parliament on the subject of the collegia
prophetica, which encompassed his (and Hartlibs) ecumenical
vision of religious tolerance and an all-embracing universal
church which would finally empower the disinherited.
Plockhoys ideas, however, got lost in the bedlam that
followed the Commonwealths disintegration. Still this did
not discourage him. Plockhoy was never content with mere what-if
pipe dreams. He wanted action, concrete results as his ideas
drifted from religious to social activism to "give ear to
the poor." There is evidence, however scant, that Plockhoy
and his circle convinced some "well affected persons"
to sanction the development of three cooperative communities
to "promote so good and pious a work." Donors offered
100 pounds each to bring the "little commonwealths"
to fruition. Some evidence hints that the communes were
developed one each in London, Bristol, and Ireland, with
plans for more on the mainland.
In 1660, Richard Cromwells tenuous hold on power vanished
and he fled England, making way for Charles II, who ascended
the throne on May 29, 1660 and commenced a vigorous campaign
to suppress opponents. Times had soured for Plockhoys ilk.
Charles showed no great disposition to the Dutchmans fancies.
But Plockhoy seemed unwilling to accept this and remained in
England until late 1661. This meant he probably witnessed the
gruesome events surrounding Cromwells corpse. Royalists
had not forgotten Cromwells beheading of King Charles I
in 1661. They exhumed Cromwells body from Westminster Abbey
and dragged his corpse through Londons streets. On the
anniversary of Charles beheading, Cromwell was hung in
a public square for a day. Then they lopped off his head and
impaled it on a pole, paraded it around London, before sticking
it on a spiked Westminster fence to horrify passersby
for 25 years!
If this did not open Plockhoys eyes to the (lack of)
writing on the wall, then what would!? Yet, somehow he remained
indomitable and undaunted. London had made him an articulate
pamphleteer. Upon returning to Amsterdam in late 1661, he continued
his quest of converting his ideas into reality unaware that fate
in the person of Charles II would again interfere with his plans
some three years later, 3000 miles away.
Preparations in Amsterdam
agree to depart
by the first ship
to the aforesaid colony
there and to work at farming, fishing, handicrafts, etc.
[so] that provision may thereby be made for others to come."
- Contract signed by the Amsterdam Magistrates and Plockhoy
on June 6, 1662
Plockhoy wasted no time switching his sights to Amsterdams
magistrates, the College of XIX, who had assumed management responsibilities
of New Netherland from the West India Company. Between November
1661 and May 1662 he wrote them seven letters outlining his settlement
proposals. Plockhoys fourth letter of January 1662, included
117 articles to be used to govern his settlement.
Would the restructured remains of the West India Company,
formed in 1621 to promote trade and colonization in North America,
be interested in such utopian reveries? Though it had sent settlers
as early as 1624, its patroonship system, which encouraged stockholders
to become landlords, failed to inspire much colonization because
it actually preferred fur profits to a stable colony. The companys
Delaware Bay colony, chartered to exploit whaling, never developed
for that very reason. By 1640, the West India Company had developed
a more pragmatic policy of religious tolerance and a charter
that made emigration more attractive to humbler recruits to spur
colonization. Still these endeavors met with little success,
attracting few Dutch recruits who saw little opportunity for
bettering their lot.
On April 20 1662, Amsterdams magistrates agreed to fund
Plockhoys plans to settle a colony along Delaware Bay,
in Zwaanendael. A little utopia in the name of profit seemed
like a good investment at this juncture.
Plockhoy signed the agreement in early June and agreed to
present "the names of 25 persons, who will agree to depart
by the first ship ... to the aforesaid colony ... to reside there
and to work at farming, fishing, handicrafts, etc., and to be
as diligent as possible not only to live comfortably themselves,
but also that provision may thereby be made for others to come."
In exchange, Plockhoy negotiated a 25-year tax exemption for
his colony, the right to much of the profits and to choose as
much territory as they could develop and protect, plus the right
to make their own laws. Amsterdams magistrates offered
loans of 100 guilders to each man. Women and children traveled
His 84-page Korte Verhael van Nieuw Nederlants, ("Brief
Account of New Netherland..."), published in October, bundled
the seven letters in one pamphlet and announced his intention
to found a settlement for "the many poor and needy families."
In it Plockhoy tried to allay the fears of more conservative
parties who thought his insistence of communal equality would
mean a loss of individuality. He also reassured sponsors that
although his experimental community would be based on moral concerns,
it would still be profitable and competitive in the marketplace.
His collaborative and not so brief Kort en Klaer Ontwerp
("Brief and Concise Plan
") sounded more like
a travel brochure meant to lure settlers to a mythical land of
limitless abundance. "New Netherland is the flower, the
noblest of all lands
birds obscure the sky, so numerous
in their flight, the animals roam wild
fish swarm in the
waters and exclude the light
" Poems by old Parnassis
friends, Steendam and Verloove, encouraged Plockhoy and assured
sponsors that his ideas were sound. [Steendam who had lived in
New Netherland, 16501660, wrote glowing reports from the
New World, touting its many virtues "the purity of
the air..." making him, arguably, not only the New
Worlds first poet but also its first publicist.]
Plockhoy zealously set about recruiting the right people from
four categories "Husbandmen, Handicrafts people,
Mariners and Masters of Arts & Sciences" idealists
with skills befitting the project. He offered attractive inducements
and the thrill of adventure. In September, provisions were collected
and a ship secured. His efforts produced underwhelming results,
however; he had hoped against hope to enlist 100 families but
only managed to persuade twenty-four, many of whom likely came
from his old friend, De Haans Collegiant Church.
Finally on May 5, 1663, the St. Jacob filled "with
their baggage and farm utensils" set sail. On July 28 they
approached land after an uneventful voyage as much as
over two months on the open sea can be. The colonists waded ashore
and stood huddled together on the banks of Delaware Bay, gazing
in awe at the marvelous land with "all kinds of necessaries
and small articles
as for agricultural purposes and clothing,
etc. also two half bags of hops, guns for the people..."
at their feet.
Arrival in Delaware
in such places as are separate from other men
where we may with less impediment or hindrance love one another,
and mind the wonders of God."
- Pieter Plockhoy, A Way Propounded
the air, land, and sea are pregnant with her
- Jacob Steendam
The Dutch have a saying: mother poverty is the bride of dreamers.
Plockhoy was a dreamer, simultaneously impoverished by circumstances
and enriched by the hope of his dreams. The New World offered
plenty of room for the dreams dreamt by spiritual dissidents,
but such dreams can swiftly sour.
Plockhoy and his followers trudged up the sandy shore off
Cape Henlopen, near Hoornkill, negotiating their way through
driftwood, dragging provisions, farm implements [trenching gouges,
single-wheel ploughs] their muskets and wheel-lock pistols
loaded and ready. They took frequent pause to gaze gradually
inward bogs, lush with reeds and never-before-seen flowers
and a trail meandering further inland.
It was like a Henri Rousseau canvas: dense, mysterious, primeval
forests of towering oak and pine; clearings and banks holding
profuse bouquets of flora and wild fruits; cypress near water,
willows in the swamps; and wild fauna bears, foxes, beavers,
eagles, and unknown creatures in unbelievable abundance.
Fish halibut, mackerel, bass filled inlets with
their silvery flopping bodies like his prospectus had promised
or the fertile imaginings dripping off a florid pen. It was by
no means an empty canvas of a wilderness. However, it
was a vast tapestry of interconnected native tribes.
The colonists settled inland near present-day Lewes. They
had already missed the spring growing season and still had to
clear land felling trees, burning the stumps for
winter crops and begin construction of their "little commonwealth."
Tensions Plockhoy had not anticipated arose immediately. He
had envisioned friendly relations with the natives but the local
Algonquins were mystified by Plockhoys claims to the land.
A letter written to the Amsterdam magistrates reported that the
natives "had declared they never sold the Dutch any land
to inhabit." The land had already been sold several times
over (to the Swedes at least once) bypassing tribes who probably
had little claim to it.
Most notable among Plockhoys neighbors in this sparsely
populated area were the Lenni Lenape and Nanticoke tribes. They
were portrayed as tall, athletic, trustworthy, and curiously
relaxed. They settled local waterways where they fished, farmed,
and hunted. According to Dutch scholar, Claes Wassenaer, who,
in the 1630s, wrote: "There is little authority known among
these nations. They live almost all free."
Although Americus Vespucci was said to have visited Delawares
shores first, Dutch Captain Kornelius May [Cape May is named
after him] is given credit for "discovering" Delaware
Bay. Forty years before Plockhoys arrival he built Fort
Nassau, at the site of Gloucester, New Jersey. Traders arrived
to pursue their fortunes in furs. Swedes and Finns arrived in
1638, but the first permanent Delaware settlement was Pieter
Minuits New Sweden colony and Fort Christina on the site
of present day Wilmington in 1638. Later, Lord Baltimore settled
nearby and used native tribes to harass Dutch and Swedish settlers
with an eye on an eventual English conquest. By the 1640s, several
hundred Dutch (Swannekens or "people from the sea,"
to the local tribes), Finnish, and Swedish settlers lived in
the Delaware Bay region. Stuyvesant built Fort Casimir in 1651.
It quickly became a powder keg of jealously guarded Swedish settlements,
ragtag Dutch outposts, and skeptical Indians. Murders went unsolved
but were quickly avenged. Dutch and English merchants regularly
filled vessels with guns, alcohol, cloth, and trinkets to trade
with Indians for pelts and furs.
Zwaanendael was first settled in 1630 when Dutch captain,
David de Vries, brought Cornelis Jacobs of Hoorn with thirty-two
settlers mostly French-speaking Walloons tools
and cattle, to start a whaling and farming settlement. However,
local Lenni Lenapes destroyed the settlement after a misunderstanding
involving a stolen coat of arms. Upon de Vriess return
he found only some charred vestiges and bleached bones. Retaliations
only made things worse.
In 1656, the West India Company sold the Delaware region to
the City of Amsterdam, which established a colony at Fort Casimir
called New Amstel. In 1658, the Dutch finally established a permanent
trading post there called Sekonnessinck, although the (re)building
of the fort near Hoornkil could not proceed from lack of settlers
in the area. It was not until 1659 that DHinoyossa established
the town here, idly promising it would become a great prosperous,
sin-free, diked city. Today the Zwaanendael Museum, modeled after
Hoorns city hall, commemorates both the Hoorn and Plockhoy
By the time Plockhoy arrived, relations with the locals had
thoroughly spoiled. Although Plockhoy was not the first settler,
his colony of "universal Christian brotherhood" based
on moral principles was so unique that it left them estranged
from their neighbors. Plockhoy had been intent on avoiding the
mistakes of the Puritans who had used their spiritual beliefs
to justify wiping out the natives from their chosen land, and
those of traders and hucksters inspired only by profit and power.
But unforeseen circumstances forced Plockhoy to focus on agriculture,
a comprehensive criminal code, and more extensive defenses, including
the institution of sentry duty. Plockhoy also discovered, to
his disillusionment, that he had to coerce others into rotating
decision-making responsibilities and new tasks. Eventually however,
the settlement succeeded in its endeavor to survive just
in time to suffer its dramatic demise.
Charles Calvert, of Englands Virginia and Maryland territories,
came to snoop around the Delaware colony, one month after Plockhoys
arrival. Everyone knew he coveted the Delaware colony, and yet,
a temporary, if strained, reprieve was negotiated between Dutch,
English, Swedish, and Indian factions. Meanwhile, to the north,
James offered generous terms of surrender to the Dutch, because
James preferred the profits of an intact colony to the spoils
of a ruined one.
In March 1664, King Charles II, no fan of the Dutch "usurpers"
who had attempted to extradite him back to England from exile
as part of a treaty between Holland and Cromwell, set out to
enhance the eminence of his crown with the second Anglo-Dutch
War [1664-1667]. His legacy of conquest and glory would come
at the expense of the Dutch colonists, among them the peaceful
Stench, smoke and all traces of the settlement all but dissolved
into the oblivion of the surrounding countryside on that fateful
day in August of 1664. On September 8, Stuyvesant surrendered
New Netherland to England.
The Lost Years
Plockhoy was so thoroughly forgotten his memory so
thoroughly obliterated by the Zwanendael skirmish that
twenty-five years later, in 1688, a certain brazen, Abraham van
Akkeren, translated Plockhoys work into Dutch and took
full credit for the plagiarized texts with no mention
of Plockhoy. However, the translation was so abominable that
no one paid it any mind. Gone was the dynamic enthusiasm of Plockhoys
prose and Plockhoy was shoved ever further into the shadows of
Plockhoys life after 1664 is nebulous at best. One source
notes that in January 1682 Plockhoy was ordered by the town of
Lewes to build a home to certain specifications within a year
or relinquish his rights to his plot of land and be fined ten
pounds. By May, he had become an English subject but was unable
to meet the deadline and was forced to flee.
Plockhoy, by then old, blind, and destitute, did not disappear
into total obscurity. He and his wife tramped around, only to
arrive seemingly out of nowhere thirteen years later in 1694,
in Germantown, Pennsylvania. This Mennonite community, the first
permanent Mennonite congregation, took up a collection for the
Plockhoys. Two neighbors built them a small house and planted
a garden on half an acre of land on the "end street of town"
(present-day Washington Lane in the Germantown section of Philadelphia.)
Plockhoy is last referred to in John Kipshavens will,
who bequeathed twenty shillings to Plockhoy. The couple lived
out their last days in peace perhaps regaling their neighbors
daily with fantastic tales until his death somewhere between
1695 and 1700.
Plockhoy did receive some posthumous homages. The American
historian, Samuel Pennypacker, discovered Plockhoys writings
in 1899. Dutch Socialist historian, H.P.G. Quack, wrote enthusiastically
about him in 1911. Socialist John Downie declared him the father
of socialism in the 1930s and French historian, Jean Seguy, wrote
an extensive account of Plockhoy in the propitious year of 1968.
But it has mostly been left to a few Mennonite historians
Leland Harder and Irvin Horst to keep his memory alive.
Horst in a 1949 article on Plockhoy said, "While
Plockhoys plans failed, and in some details were utopian,
he must, nevertheless, be considered as one of the heralds of
that religious freedom which modern nations accept and cherish."
When asked why Plockhoy continues to founder in obscurity, despite
his contributions, Zierikzee town archivist, L. Flikweert, could
only shrug his shoulders, the same shrug most people have offered
since the seventeenth century whenever Plockhoys name has
Plockhoy continues to occupy little more than a footnote in
most history books. It is as if history has no room for the likes
of a Pieter Plockhoy who sacrificed everything for his "little
community" based on old ideals. Curiously, this made him
a man centuries ahead of his time.
Bart Plantenga (email@example.com)
currently lives in Amsterdam where he is a freelance editor and
writer of various fiction and nonfiction. He is also a radiomaker
at two independent radio stations in Amsterdam.
Mennonite Historical Bulletin, April 2001