NYC: June 2004 Archives

delaware indians.jpg

The story appeared in The City section of the NYTimes on Sunday. It was part of an article describing the history of the World Trade Center site. As I read it I felt that its outline seemed very familiar. It described the manipulation of the power of the state for personal gain, but while both the profit and the loss associated with two years of warfare against the Indians in New Netherland was on a much smaller scale than that of the imperial Bush wars, has anything changed much in four centuries?

Jan Jansen Damen, who came from Holland around 1630 to help set up the new colony, was more than just a simple farmer. The first European owner of what would later become part of the World Trade Center site had much greater ambitions.

Like an early Donald Trump, Damen had a thirst for land and wealth. He pushed aggressively to secure commitments from the Dutch West India Company for grants or leases of property located just north of the barricade that was Wall Street. Below this barrier was all of settled New York, the land where the pioneers had built their crude, wooden-roofed homes.

When trouble came in the form of Indian attacks on settlers, the Dutch governor turned to Damen for advice, naming him in 1641 to New York's first local governing board, known as the Twelve Men.

The board's chairman, David Pietersen De Vries, urged Gov. Willem Kieft to be patient, as the tiny colony, with little in the form of arms or soldiers, was vulnerable and "the Indians, though cunning enough, would do no harm unless harm were done to them."

Damen did not agree. His land, at the edge of the settled area, was particularly vulnerable. In February 1643, accounts written at the time say, Damen and two other members of the Twelve Men entertained the governor with conversation and wine and reminded him that the Indians had not complied with his demands to make reparations for recent attacks. "God having now delivered the enemy evidently into our hands, we beseech you to permit us to attack them," they wrote in Dutch, in a document that survives today.

DeVries tried to calm Governor Kieft: "You go to break the Indians' heads; it is our nation you are about to destroy." But the governor disagreed. It was time, he resolved, "to make the savages wipe their chops."

The assault, which took place about midnight on Feb. 25, 1643, in Jersey City, then called Pavonia, and at Corlears Hook, now part of the Lower East Side, was an extraordinarily gruesome affair. "Infants were torn from their mothers' breasts and hacked to pieces," DeVries relates in his journal. Others "came running to us from the country, having their hands cut off; some lost both arms and legs; some were supporting their entrails with their hands, while others were mangled in other horrid ways too horrid to be conceived." In all, more than 100 were killed.

The region's Indian tribes united against Governor Kieft and the colonists. Damen was nicknamed "the church warden with blood on his hands," and expelled from the local governing board. The governor was ultimately recalled by the Dutch. The colony, over two years of retaliatory attacks, sank to a desperate state.

"Almost every place is abandoned," a group of colonists wrote to authorities in Holland in late 1643. "We, wretched people, must skulk, with wives and children that still survive, in poverty together, in and around the fort at the Manahatas, where we are not safe even for an hour whilst the Indians daily threaten to overwhelm us."

Damen died about 1650. His heirs sold his property to two men: Oloff Stevensen Van Cortlandt, a brewer and one-time soldier in the Dutch West India militia, and Dirck Dey, a farmer and cattle brander. Their names were ultimately assigned to the streets at the trade center site. Damen's was lost to history

We won't be so lucky with Bush's name.

Note: The native American peoples in Manhattan were of the group, Lenape or Lenni-Lenape, later catagorized by the Europeans as Upper Delaware.

[image from RootsWeb for Montgomery County]

PS1 and the members of Young Architects Program, responsible for the beautiful courtyard installation, should be delighted to know that the visitor pictured above, relaxing in one of their outdoor spaces, had made the art very much his own for part of the day. (We remembered seeing him earlier inside, very intent upon the work in the Special Projects and Studio Program rooms, but he may have been inspired by the sandy images in Ugo Rondinone's beautiful installation, "Sleep.")

I nearly forgot to post something about our visit to PS1 on Sunday afternoon. We almost didn't make it at all, since neither Barry and I nor our friend Karen were anxious to get the early start our day's ambitions recommended. We started out with a pilgrimage to ATM Gallery in the East Village, hours before the current show was to be taken down. Half of the afternoon had evaporated before we squeezed into the crowd drawn to Long Island City for the Museum's summer show, "Hard Light."

It was a warm urban moment. Summer in the city. People were drawn by the art and maybe the music, but perhaps more than anything else, by each other.

We will have to return to get a good look at the work of some 40 or 50 artists and collaboratives installed in and around the rambling old school building, but judging from what we did manage to see, I'd say that anyone would have to be quite dead not to be delighted, surprised or challenged by much of what's there.

The weekends on Jackson Avenue are great fun, but the weekdays are probably better for serious arties.

arties and friends having fun in the main courtyard on Sunday

the press conference across from Madison Sqare Garden ended, some participants still linger [NY1's Michael Scotto in front, Donna Lieberman of the NYCLU in the center, and from UFPJ, Bill Dobbs, back to camera, tall on the far left and Leslie Cagan, partly obscured, fingers spread, on the right]

Beginning last June United For Peace and justice (UFPJ) started planning a New York City march and rally for August 29, the eve of the Republican Convention. They still have no permit.

In fact, no police or park permits have been granted to any of the organizations planning protests related to the Convention, although some applications were made up to a year ago.

UFPJ has filed an application for a permit to walk up 8th Avenue from 23rd Street, past the site of the Convention, Madison Square Garden, and end up with a gathering in Central Park. The NYPD and the NY Parks Department wants them to go to Queens for their rally or, alternatively to bake in the wasteland of the West Side Highway, four long blocks left of the Convention site.

Today a number of groups planning protests related to the Convention joined UFPJ in a press conference across the street from Madison Square Garden, to describe their frustrations with city agencies and to demand that Mayor Bloomberg protect their right of dissent.

We should all be concerned with what the experience of these groups says about the agenda of the Bloomberg administration, bending over backwards to see that the convention of a radical right-wing political party goes as smoothly as possible, while doing absolutely nothing to ensure the peaceful assembly of those who wish to voice objection. Should this surprise us at a time when the Republican party controls the mechanisms of all three branches of the federal government as well as Albany and our own City Hall? Now even dissent must be eliminated or at least rendered invisible.

Even beyond the big issue, the city's behavior is appalling for what will be its impact on the basic safety of both New Yorkers and visitors in the last days of what will surely be a long summer. We should be asking how are the best interests of anyone being served when no group knows how to plan for August 29, neither a police department (already being stretched to the limit by real or imagined security concerns) nor a crowd whose size some now expect may easily end up as a seven-figure number. The city is playing a dangerous game, and we are the pawns.

Virtually every other great city of the world (and I won't even use the customary patronizing qualifiers, "western" or "industrial") can accomodate enormous peaceful protest without confining participants in pens or moving them far beyond the periphery of protest targets. But in the land we call "of the free" we only imagine we can exercise such liberty, and it's some measure of just how unfree we are that few understand that they are are so bound.

The right to dissent and the right to protest are meaningless if the dissent and protest are neither heard nor seen.

On August 29 we gotta pass by the Convention site, and we gotta have the Park.


I was in the garden most of the afternoon. No, not the wonderful wild tundra of the High Line represented above, in a picture taken Saturday afternoon, but the 12' x 16' roof which lies outside our apartment.

New Yorkers have many gardens, and almost all of them are communal property. Chelsea however has no real public park, so Barry and I consider ourselves fortunate indeed. We have both the luxuriant garden court of our building, and the far smaller, and far less light-gifted, accidental Eden immediately outside our own walls.

I would describe the exposure outside our second-floor, north and east-facing windows as very deep shade. That's the environment many of us remember from our childhood as the one which accounted for the cement-hard, packed ground lying under the largest shade tree in the neighborhood. Even the ferns and the Lilies-of-the-Valley couldn't make it there.

I've been defeated repeatedly in my attempts at bringing a woodland environment to the perimeters of our urban shelter, but, partly thanks to a little past experience with limited resources, the undaunted Linda Yang and the Chelsea Garden Center, I haven't given up yet.

Pictures will follow, as soon as the latest plantings establish themselves. I'm convinced that's going to happen, or I wouldn't already feel exhilarated by this afternoon's work in "the garden."


The High Line? Looking at these pictures, it's hard not to ask that it be kept exactly as it is. New Yorkers should all be able to run through a meadow, even if much of the horizon is composed of second-story windows.

Grand Central Station

waiting for the Lex express

on board, somewhere above Union Square, er . . . actually, below

transferring to the L

I saw the message captioned, "Photographer's Rights Protest," and I told myself, "I'm in!"

The issue is the New York MTA's recently-announced proposal that photography be banned throughout the system. Of course it would be for our protection, from camera-hefting researcher/terrorists. I was attracted to the issue (how could its lack of merit even be arguable?), but the fact that a demonstration was announced through the internet, the modest panache of its text appeal, and finally my own recent experience with MTA security incompetence, and its photographic documentation, made it a must.

An excerpt from the organizers' webpage:

This will be a peaceful demonstration against the MTA's proposed Photography Ban, conducted in the spirit of Rosa Parks. We will simply ride through Manhattan with our cameras, taking as many photographs as we please, of whatever we please. This is a completely legal protest, as photography within the subway system has not yet been banned (even though the police seem to have been told otherwise).

Participants were asked to bring cameras and, if they wished, "a witty sign." I have to admit that while I had good intentions, I didn't manage to fabricate the cool sandwich-board I had created in my head; I went shamefully textless. So did all but one of the hundred or so people who gathered in the central hall of Grand Central Station early this afternoon. That singular body sign, "the end is nigh," was suitably wry but undoubtedly arcane for all passers- and sitters-by.

But maybe in this action it really was appropriate to just take pictures, especially if the press was already interested, as it seemed this afternoon it was.

The weirdest thing for someone who's been in perhaps hundreds of other zaps and demonstrations was to be in the midst of all these people taking pictures of each other. Right now there must be thousands of shots out there somewhere showing people snapping people snapping people snapping people, and perhaps beyond.

Not incidently, our progress through the system today must represented the safest time and place in the history of the MTA - at least as far as any threat originating with camera-wielding terrorists is concerned. Don't leave those cameras home, good folks; it's for your own security.

For some early-posted, great images go to the dart board]

In the end, I broke down and made this crummy impromptu sign on the site, hoping it might raise us above the "flashmob"-type thing.

[bottom image from Forgotten NY]

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