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When treating of these tempestuous times, the unknown writer of the Stuyvesant manuscript breaks out into an apostrophe in praise of the good St. Nicholas, to whose protecting care he ascribes the dissensions which broke out in the council of the league, and the direful witchcraft which filled all Yankee land as with Egyptian darkness.
A portentous gloom, says he, hung lowering over the fair valleys of the east; the pleasant banks of the Connecticut no longer echoed to the sounds of rustic gayety; grisly phantoms glided about each wild brook and silent glen; fearful apparitions were seen in the air; strange voices were heard in solitary places, and the border towns were so occupied in detecting and punishing losel witches, that for a time all talk of war was suspended, and New Amsterdam and its inhabitants seemed to be totally forgotten.
I must not conceal the fact, that at one time there was some danger of this plague of witchcraft extending into the New Netherlands; and certain witches, mounted on broomsticks, are said to have been seen whisking in the air over some of the Dutch villages near the borders; but the worthy Nederlanders took the precaution to nail horse-shoes to their doors, which it is well known are effectual barriers against all diabolical vermin of the kind. Many of those horse-shoes may be seen at this very day on ancient mansions and barns, remaining from the days of the patriarchs; nay, the custom is still kept up among some of our legitimate Dutch yeomanry, who inherit from their forefathers a desire to keep witches and Yankees out of the country.
And now the great Peter, having no immediate hostility to apprehend from the east, turned his face, with characteristic vigilance, to his southern frontiers. The attentive reader will recollect that certain freebooting Swedes had become very troublesome in this quarter in the latter part of the reign of William the Testy, setting at naught the proclamations of that veritable potentate, and putting his admiral, the intrepid Jan Jensen Alpendam, to a perfect nonplus. To check the incursions of these Swedes, Peter Stuyvesant now ordered a force to that frontier, giving the command of it to General Jacobus Van Poffenburgh, an officer who had risen to great importance during the reign of Wilhelmus Kieft. He had, if histories speak true, been second in command to the doughty Van Curlet, when he and his warriors were inhumanly kicked out of Fort Goed Hoop by the Yankees. In that memorable affair Van Poffenburgh is said to have received more kicks, in a certain honorable part, than any of his comrades; in consequence of which, on the resignation of Van Curlet, he had been promoted to his place, being considered a hero who had seen service, and suffered in his country's cause.
It is tropically observed by honest old Socrates, that heaven infuses into some men at their birth a portion of intellectual gold; into others, of intellectual silver; while others are intellectually furnished with iron and brass. Of the last class was General Van Poffenburgh, and it would seem as if Dame Nature, who will sometimes be partial, had given him brass enough for a dozen ordinary braziers. All this he had contrived to pass off upon William the Testy for genuine gold; and the little governor would sit for hours and listen to his gunpowder stories of exploits, which left those of Tirante the White, Don Belianis of Greece, or St. George and the Dragon, quite in the background. Having been promoted by William Kieft to the command of his whole disposable forces, he gave importance to his station by the grandiloquence of his bulletins, always styling himself Commander-in-Chief of the Armies of the New Netherlands; though in sober truth these Armies were nothing more than a handful of hen-stealing, bottle-bruising ragamuffins.
In person he was not very tall, but exceedingly round: neither did his bulk proceed from his being fat, but windy; being blown up by a prodigious conviction of his own importance, until he resembled one of those bags of wind given by Ĉolus, in an incredible fit of generosity to that vagabond warrior, Ulysses. His windy endowments had long excited the admiration of Antony Van Corlear, who is said to have hinted more than once to William the Testy, that in making Van Poffenburgh a general, he had spoiled an admirable trumpeter.
As it is the practice in ancient story to give the reader a description of the arms and equipments of every noted warrior, I will bestow a word upon the dress of this redoubtable commander. It comported with his character, being so crossed and slashed, and embroidered with lace and tinsel, that he seemed to have as much brass without as nature had stored away within. He was swathed too in a crimson sash, of the size and texture of a fishing-net; doubtless to keep his swelling heart from bursting through his ribs. His face glowed with furnace heat from between a huge pair of well-powdered whiskers; and his valorous soul seemed ready to bounce out of a pair of large, glassy, blinking eyes, projecting like those of a lobster.
I swear to thee, worthy reader, if history and tradition belie not this warrior, I would give all the money in my pocket to have seen him accoutred cap-a-pie--booted to the middle--sashed to the chin--collared to the ears--whiskered to the teeth--crowned with an overshadowing cocked hat, and girded with a leathern belt ten inches broad, from which trailed a falchion, of a length that I dare not mention. Thus equipped, he strutted about, as bitter looking a man of war as the far-famed More, of More Hall, when he sallied forth to slay the Dragon of Wantley. For what says the ballad?
"Had you but seen him in this dress, How fierce he looked and how big, You would have thought him for to be Some Egyptian porcupig. He frighted all--cats, dogs, and all, Each cow, each horse, and each hog; For fear did flee, for they took him to be Some strange outlandish hedgehog."
I must confess this general, with all his outward valor and ventosity, was not exactly an officer to Peter Stuyvesant's taste, but he stood foremost in the army list of William the Testy, and it is probable the good Peter, who was conscientious in his dealings with all men, and had his military notions of precedence, thought it but fair to give him a chance of proving his right to his dignities.
To this copper captain, therefore, was confided the command of the troops destined to protect the southern frontier; and scarce had he departed from his station than bulletins began to arrive from him, describing his undaunted march through savage deserts over insurmountable mountains, across impassable rivers, and through impenetrable forests, conquering vast tracts of uninhabited country, and encountering more perils than did Xenophon in his far-famed retreat with his ten thousand Grecians.
Peter Stuyvesant read all these grandiloquent dispatches with a dubious screwing of the mouth and shaking of the head; but Antony Van Corlear repeated these contents in the streets and market-places with an appropriate flourish upon his trumpet, and the windy victories of the general resounded through the streets of New Amsterdam.
On arriving at the southern frontier, Van Poffenburgh proceeded to erect a fortress, or stronghold, on the South of Delaware river. At first he bethought him to call it Fort Stuyvesant, in honor of the governor, a lowly kind of homage prevalent in our country among speculators, military commanders, and office-seekers of all kinds, by which our maps come to be studded with the names of political patrons and temporary great men; in the present instance, Van Poffenburgh carried his homage to the most lowly degree, giving his fortress the name of Fort Casimir, in honor, it is said, of a favorite pair of brimstone trunk-breeches of his excellency.
As this fort will be found to give rise to important events, it may be worth while to notice that it was afterwards called Nieuw-Amstel, and was the germ of the present flourishing town of Newcastle, or, more properly speaking, No Castle, there being nothing of the kind on the premises.
His fortress being finished, it would have done any man's heart good to behold the swelling dignity with which the general would stride in and out a dozen times a day, surveying it in front and in rear, on this side and on that; how he would strut backwards and forwards, in full regimentals, on the top of the ramparts, like a vain-glorious cock-pigeon, swelling and vaporing on the top of a dovecote.
There is a kind of valorous spleen which, like wind, is apt to grow unruly in the stomachs of newly-made soldiers, compelling them to box-lobby brawls and brokenheaded quarrels, unless there can be found some more harmless way to give it vent. It is recorded, in the delectable romance of Pierce Forest, that a young knight, being dubbed by King Alexander, did incontinently gallop into an adjacent forest, and belabor the trees with such might and main, that he not merely eased off the sudden effervescence of his valor, but convinced the whole court that he was the most potent and courageous cavalier on the face of the earth. In like manner the commander of Fort Casimir, when he found his martial spirit waxing too hot within him, would sally forth into the fields and lay about him most lustily with his sabre; decapitating cabbages by platoons; hewing down lofty sunflowers, which he termed gigantic Swedes; and if, perchance, he espied a colony of big-bellied pumpkins quietly basking in the sun, "Ah! caitiff Yankees!" would he roar, "have I caught ye at last?" So saying, with one sweep of his sword, he would cleave the unhappy vegetables from their chins to their waist-bands; by which warlike havoc, his choler being in some sort allayed, he would return into the fortress with the full conviction that he was a very miracle of military prowess.
He was a disciplinarian, too, of the first order. Woe to any unlucky soldier who did not hold up his head and turn out his toes when on parade; or who did not salute the general in proper style as he passed. Having one day, in his Bible researches, encountered the history of Absalom and his melancholy end, the general bethought him that, in a country abounding with forests, his soldiers were in constant risk of a like catastrophe; he therefore, in an evil hour, issued orders for cropping the hair of both officers and men throughout the garrison.
Now so it happened, that among his officers was a sturdy veteran named Keldermeester, who had cherished, through a long life, a mop of hair not a little resembling the shag of a Newfoundland dog, terminating in a queue like the handle of a frying-pan, and queued so tightly to his head that his eyes and mouth generally stood ajar, and his eyebrows were drawn up to the top of his forehead. It may naturally be supposed that the possessor of so goodly an appendage would resist with abhorrence an order condemning it to the shears. On hearing the general orders, he discharged a tempest of veteran, soldier-like oaths, and dunder and blixums--swore he would break any man's head who attempted to meddle with his tail--queued it stiffer than ever, and whisked it about the garrison as fiercely as the tail of a crocodile.
The eelskin queue of old Keldermeester became instantly an affair of the utmost importance. The commander-in-chief was too enlightened an officer not to perceive that the discipline of the garrison, the subordination and good order of the armies of the Nieuw-Nederlands, the consequent safety of the whole province, and ultimately the dignity and prosperity of their High Mightinesses the Lords States General, imperiously demanded the docking of that stubborn queue. He decreed, therefore, that old Keldermeester should be publicly shorn of his glories in presence of the whole garrison--the old man as resolutely stood on the defensive-whereupon he was arrested and tried by a court-martial for mutiny, desertion, and all the other list of offences noticed in the articles of war, ending with a "videlicet, in wearing an eelskin queue, three feet long, contrary to orders." Then came on arraignments, and trials, and pleadings; and the whole garrison was in a ferment about this unfortunate queue. As it is well known that the commander of a frontier post has the power of acting pretty much after his own will, there is little doubt but that the veteran would have been hanged or shot at least, had he not luckily fallen ill of a fever, through mere chagrin and mortification--and deserted from all earthly command, with his beloved locks unviolated. His obstinacy remained unshaken to the very last moment, when he directed that he should be carried to his grave with his eelskin queue sticking out of a hole in his coffin.
This magnanimous affair obtained the general great credit as a disciplinarian; but it is hinted that he was ever afterwards subject to bad dreams and fearful visitations in the night, when the grizzly spectrum of old Keldermeester would stand sentinel by his bedside, erect as a pump, his enormous queue strutting out like the handle.
 Ballad of Dragon of Wantley.
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