In the 1640s and 1650s, a small number of colonists had settled in the Middle Hudson River Valley, in an area along the river just south of the Catskill Mountains, where the Esopus Creek and the Rondout Creek had created fertile floodplains. The first settlement was located on the flood plain and surrounding areas that offered little natural protection. In 1658, increasing tensions with the Esopus Indians spurred on the concentration of the settlers in a single location, which could then be fortified with a stockade (palissaden).
The inhabitants and the soldiers that Stuyvesant had brought with him began the work of digging a ditch or furrow (grep), cutting palisades and hauling them to the selected location with six or seven wagons. The description of the work being carried out stipulates that the palisades were sharpened and put upright, indicating a perimeter defence of vertical rods. Stuyvesant’s report indicates that the colonists did the digging and the soldiers constructed the stockade and this also suggests that the grep refers to a narrow trench in which the logs were erected.
The 1658 palisade served the village well when hostilities broke out again the following year. In some documents relating to the First Esopus War (1659-1660), during which the stockaded village withstood an eight-day siege, it is referred to as “the fortress” (fort). It had at least two gates, as at some point in time a group of soldiers was ordered to exit through one gate (poorte) and return through the other. Another detail that emerges is the presence of some ordnance (stucken), presumably light swivel guns.
Two years later, Wiltwijck’s population increase necessitated an expansion of the stockaded area. In May 1661, thirteen lots were granted to new settlers, on the condition that they would enclose it on the outside with “good, stout and suitable palisades.” Some inhabitants did not do so immediately, while others made openings in the palisades, so as to exit the village quickly. In November 1662, the authorities tried to increase security by ordering the colonists to close the openings with palisades or doors that could be properly locked, in which case the keys had to be deposited at the guardhouse every night.
The defences of the village seemed to have been kept in a reasonable condition, but did not prevent an Indian attack in June 1663. Under the pretext of trade, a large group of Esopus Indians entered the village in broad daylight, only to suddenly attack the colonists. Eighteen inhabitants were killed and a large number was captured before the Indians were driven off.
The 1658 stockade was built on a promontory bluff overlooking the Esopus Creek and floodplains to the north, located at the northeastern edge of what is now the Kingston Stockade District. This is what Stuyvesant meant when he remarked upon the location being “by nature [..] properly defensible.” Stuyvesant’s report indicates that the 1658 stockade had a circumference of ca. 210 rods, either the Rijnlandse roede of 3.767 meters or the Amsterdamse roede of 3.68 meters. This means the circumference of the 1658 stockade was about 775 meters, its boundaries being Clinton Street to the east, North Front Street to the North, John Street to the south, and cutting through the current block between Wall Street and Crown Street to the west. The 1661 expansion added thirteen lots and moved the western perimeter defence to the current location of Green Street. Further expansion, this time to the south, took place in 1669-1670 and 1676-1677, extending the southern boundary of the village to current Main Street (see fig. 14).
The stockade area of Kingston has been the subject of seven archaeological investigations, during some of which evidence of the fortifications was uncovered. Remains of the 1658 stockade were discovered in 1970 and 1971 during an excavation on the eastern side of Clinton Avenue in front of the Senate House, i.e. the northeastern part of the stockade. Postmolds were found at a depth of 33.2 to 45.72 cm and indicate that the palisades varied considerably in size (7.62 to 33.2 cm), which is interpreted as a sign of frequent repairs. Photographs of the excavation suggest that the palisades were not placed in a ditch and subsequently backfilled, but were excavated and pounded in. However, during the investigation of the Matthwis Persen House a section of the 1661 palisade was excavated, which did show the use of a trench and backfill to erect the posts. Finds also included a burn layer from the attack of 7 June 1663 and cannonballs from a four-pounder gun, which may also have been used in 1663, though probably not during the attack but afterwards.
1658, 1669 -1670, 1676 -1677
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- Jacobs, J., Dutch Colonial Fortifications in North America 1614-1676 (Amsterdam, 2015), 59-61