Murder in Colonial Albany: European and Indian Responses to Cross-Cultural Murders Open Access
Downloadable ContentDownload PDF
Although historians have long been aware of the lack of open warfare in Albany, few have addressed the important question of how Europeans and Indians handled cross-cultural murders that were as problematic in Albany as elsewhere in the colonial world. This study focuses first, and most importantly, on how Indians and Europeans living in and around Beverwijck/Albany resolved murders and other cross-cultural violence. Second, this thesis examines how the methods used to resolve cross-cultural murders in Albany are indicative of the economic and political relationship between the Albany settlers and their Indian neighbors and trading partners. Analyzing how the Albany settlers addressed murders aids in understanding the relationship between the different peoples near Albany, as well as the extent to which the Dutch and English in Albany feared war with Indians.This thesis also questions the persistent theory that because the French did not force Indians to accept the French legal system, the French therefore had a special affinity for Indians. The Dutch in Albany also never forced Indians to accept their European legal system, but this was not related to any special affinity for Indians. South of Albany, the Dutch at the Esopus and on Manhattan Island had no trouble ordering the arrest and execution of Indians, even when they knew that an arrest would be completely unacceptable to the accused's nation. This thesis argues that what made the Dutch willing to compromise was not a special concern for Indians, but rather a concern for the local Dutch economy that depended almost entirely on the fur trade with Indians.After the English conquest of the colony, the residents of Albany remained deferential to the concerns and expectations of Indians, at least as long as the Indians provided a benefit to the colony. This benefit could be economic, via the fur trade, or political, as during the eighteenth century when the Iroquois Confederacy was a significant ally in British struggles against the French. When Indians no longer held a pivotal economic or political role, however, the English colony quickly lost all concern for maintaining a balanced relationship and, like their colonial counterparts elsewhere, began to demand that Indians accept British legal norms including arrest, trial, and execution.