Unlike the British, the Dutch were quite successful at converting Natives to Christianity during the late seventeenth century.  This acceptance of Christianity by Natives would not so readily take place again in the Hudson Valley until the late-1740s when the Moravians established a mission and converted the Shekomeko to Christianity.  The motives of these tasks taken by the Dutch were religious but very much economically driven.  The Dutch were very much interested in initiating heavy amounts of trade with the Mohawks.  For this reason they encouraged the migration of Dutch families removing to the New World in order to promote the task of converting by way of supporting the practice of home missionary adventures.  This enabled Dutch leaders, especially future land deed bearers, to take on more financially-based endeavors involving New Netherlands.

By the very late seventeenth century, a little more than thirty years had passed since the Dutch established major communities in Schenectady, Albany, New Amsterdam (New York City) and about Rhinebeck.  New Netherlands had become New York.  Throughout this time, the trade relations the Dutch set up with local tribes in the valley became more lucrative than that for the British.  As the Dutch continued to concentrate on these relations, their home missions remained focused on the spiritual relations with the Mohawks. As the result of these unique practices, we see the important merging of two sets of knowledge born by the Dutch and the Mohawks.  The Dutch learned more about the marketing of certain local products from the Mohawks, such as baskets and hand-tool carvings, and the Mohawks learned more about Christianity from the Dutch. 

What resulted from this unique blending of two life styles was the formation of more converts and more half-breed families over time.  Jasper Danckaerts, and his friend Peter Sluyter, a spiritual healer devoted to Bohmism and Labadism, , documented one interesting story about the home missions movement as they made their way through this region by way of the ‘Apokeepsinck’ area.  By retelling these experiences to his readers in his later published book about these travels, Danckaert revealed an important detail on just how successful early American-European interactions could become at the cultural, social and economic level.  But more important, we are provided an example of these impacts can also take place primarily at the personal level for some of the Mohawk Indians.   This tale is very much akin to that told of the Mohawk Indian who was recently beatified as Blessed.    

Aletta and Family

In early spring of 1680, Jasper Danckaerts and his friend Peter Sluyter were travelling from Schoonechtendeel (Schenectady) to New Albania (Albany) through Mohawk Country.  They stopped at the house of Robert Sanders, the Justice of this region, one of the earliest settlers in this region.  Sanders tended to the needs of the small local community being established.  At times those who were taken and in need of medical care or needed a place to stay remained with him during their recovery. 

Danckaerts and Sluyter’s arrival to Sander’s homestead couldn’t have been better timed.  Sluyter had just come down with a fever and needed a place to recover.  Following his arrival, Sluyter was removed to a warm bed in Sanders manor. Jasper and Sanders then made their way to the flats to learn more about Sander’s enterprising land activities.

The flats of the Mauritius-North-River-Hudson Valley consisted of old swamplands which had been naturally filled in with vegetation and debris.  Sanders’s wishes were to turn this acreage into rich farmlands which he could make a profit on by allocating it to various trappers, hunters, homesteaders, and farming families about to migrate to the New World.  Within a few years, a large part of Sander’s goals came to be, as he became one of the first to purchase land from the Mohawks along with Dutchman Myndart Harmenz Vander Bogaert (the land later became known as the Sanderz-Harmenz Patent).

On Sanders’s land, Danckaerts met up with the results of the Christian Missionaries and home missionary agents who passed through this region.  By the 1660s the Dutch goals included the conversion of savages or Native Americans to Christianity.  With many of the Valley residents, they accomplished this in two ways–through missions and home missions, of which the home missions were more active until the mid-1700s as the first Moravian missionaries made their way into this region. 

Danckaerts was introduced to a family one of local squatters legally residing on Sanders land.  This family was one of the many home missionary families then residing there.  Danckaerts writes of his meeting up with them on the 24th of April: “I spoke to several persons of the Christian life, each one according to his state and as it was fit.”  Active in their practice of Christian and quite healthy, this led Danckaerts to conclude that this Valley was by far one of the safest havens for the Dutch and Germans of the lowlands in United Netherlands to remove to.  Later that day, as the wind kicked up and Peter Sluyter began experience the chills by early evening, Danckaerts and Sluyter decided to stay the night. 

During his stay at Sanders’s homestead, Danckaerts met up with a local resident he called “a certain woman, or half-breed,” which Danckaerts then tried to clarify the meaning of: “that is, from a European and an Indian woman”.  Danckaerts had just met up with Aletta.  According to Sanders, Aletta was a Christian Indian, that is she “left the Indians, and had been taught by the Christians and baptized; that she had made profession of the reformed religion, and was not of the unjust.” (p. 202) 

Danckaerts at first did not believe Sanders’s or Aletta’s claims of her allegiance to Christianity, and so he began questioning her about her Christian learnings and philosophy.  He writes “I asked her to relate to me herself how it has gone with her from the first of the morning to Christendom, both outwardly and inwardly,” to which Aletta responded:

“How glad am I that I am so fortunate; that God should permit me to behold such Christians, whom I have so long desired to see, and to whom I may speak from the bottom of my heart without fear; and that there are such Christians in the world.  How often have I asked myself, are there no other Christians than those amongst whom we live, who are so godless and lead worse lives than the Indians, and yet have such a pure and holy religion?  Now I see God thinks of us, and has sent you from the other end of the world to speak with us.” (p. 202, also see endnote.)  

Throughout his journal entries, Danckaerts became philosophical at times about the issues he was witnessing which involved Natives and Europeans.  On one occasion, Danckaerts noted in his diary the more heathen-like nature that even some Europeans had in comparison with the Indians.  As for the new breed of converts, the Christian Indians, Danckaerts greatly contrasted them with some of his acquaintances back home, and wrote: “I was surprised to find so far in the wood, and among Indians–but why say Indians? among Christians ten times worse than Indians–a person who should address me with scuh affection and love of God…”  As he was thinking about this, Danckaerts tells us, he next heard from Aletta her own tale about how she was introduced to Christianity.

As a halfbreed, Aletta was born of a Christian father and Mohawk mother.  During her earliest years of childhood she remained with her parents who resided with the Mohawks.  Her mother, a Native, was adamantly against the Christian religion then being taught to other members of this reservation.  Although she would often take the time to meet and interact with the densely populated Dutch regions of the valley to trade her baskets in return for Dutch domestic goods, these repeated trips to the Dutch communities did not deter her from her personal attitudes and philosophy. 

For Aletta, the impact of witnessing the Dutch lifestyle was different as she took an interest as a very young child in the Christian lifestyle and community.  The result of this fascination to Aletta was that she became more troubled by the others who were against her interest in Christian Society.  At times her mother mistreated and punished her for what she had said, and according to Danckaerts, the nearby young pure-bred Indian children often threw stones at her “and did her all the wrong that they could” due to her half-breed nature.  A few years later, as Aletta reached the point where she felt she was being “abused and mistreated,” she began to consider removing to the nearby Dutch community. 

Aletta left her mixed Dutch Trapper-Mohawk homestead missions family at the tribal encampment to take up residence with an elderly woman of the nearby Dutch community.  Other members of this community had also taken an interest in Aletta and reacted to her increasing attraction to parts of the Christian lifestyle.  According to Danckaerts, some of these Dutch people had decided that although Aletta was a half-breed “she was not as wild as the other children.” (p. 203)  In short time, and against the will of her mother, Aletta decided to remain distanced from her family’s Mohawk settlement and reside with the elderly Dutch woman. 

Danckaerts described Aletta’s early years residing amongst the Dutch:

“She had especially a great desire to learn to read, and applied herself to that end day and night, and asked others, who were near her, to the vexation and annoyance of the other maids, who lived with her, who could sometimes with difficulty keep her back.  But that did not restrain her; she felt such an eagerness and desire to learn that shw could not be withheld, particularly when she began to understand the Dutch language, and what was expressed in the New Testament, where her whole heart was.  In a short time, therefore, she understood more about it than the other girls with whom she conversed, and who had first instructed her, and, particularly was sensible in her heart of its truth.  She had lived with different people, and had very much improved; she spoke of it with heart-felt delight.  Finally, she made her profession, and was baptized.” (p. 204)

Aletta was Mohawk Indian and Dutch and baptised Christian Indian.  Her  brother, on the other hand, was a pure-bred who was baptized.  As he remained with his Band of the Mohawks he began to suffer prejudice from other tribal pure-breeds.  With no full time Dutch minister to attend the church nearby, and reduce any hostility that might ensue, Aletta’s brother became further detached from his Christianity, and after a few years, according to Danckaerts, he became “corrupted by the conversation of impious Hollanders.”  Also according to Danckaerts, Aletta’s brother participated in an unusual marriage to a Dutch lady and together they had several children, as another part of the Dutch-borne Christian Indian conversion philosophy.   

Aletta’s nephew, Wouter, was full-blooded Mohawk.  Professed in Mohawk traditions, Wouter knew little of the Dutch language and even less about the Bible.  According to Danckaerts, it was his experiences with Aletta which turned him into a Christian Indian.  In short time this cultural conversion led Wouter to choose Dutch clothes over traditional native apparel, and follow a desire to learn about Christianity and God.  Like Aletta, Wouter suffered greatly from his decision to undergo conversion to the Dutch lifestyle and religion.  Danckaerts tells us much about Wouter’s experiences as a native of Dutch-stature, which we learn the most about such Christian Indian activities from the Dutch interpetation and perhaps intentional comparison written about Wouter’s activites as a young hunter. 

Like native Mohawks, Wouter grew up learning about the importance of prayer before, during, and after the hunt.  The Dutch were also able to incorporate this religious practice into their own wilderness behaviors, many of which could be likened to their earlier practices of singing Te Diem and other songs and prayers as they made their way into the New World.   Danckaerts re-tells the tale of Wouter’s hunt in a Native-Dutch Christian Metis fashion.  After Wouter prayed for a good hunt, Danckaerts states, Wouter noticed “a very young deer, not twenty paces off” come to him, which he successfully shot during its attempt to bolt away.  Wouter followed this gifted occasion with another prayer, before approaching the deer to prepare it for the return to the encampment.  


The majority of tales told by Danckaerts portray Christian renderings of common tales.   The Native and Christian deer hunt for example, appear identical in substance to each other, and differ only in their religious background and resulting prayers.  These resemblances between Wouter’s Christian style of hunting and the traditional Native style suggest that in the end, these differences in hunting behavior seemed minimal if not absent.  Therefore, what we learn about Native-Christian Indian culture and that of the Dutches’s own Christianity suggest reasons why these early conversions of Mohegan, Mohawk, and Shekomeko so quickly took place.

The fusion of Native American religious and spiritual practices were in many ways quite similar to those of the Dutch Protestant Reforms, and some of the Missionaries who made their way through during the early to middle colonial years.  Metis religion and medicine are more often practiced by communities of Metis nature, where either the Dutch or French influences were involved.  Throughout the colonial years, this differed quite radically from the less traditional, less transitional practices of other European cultures.  England, for example, quite often condemned Native American practices in exchange for substituting them with identical, “better” practices borne by England.  As a separate life practice, Metis medicine, as it was taught either by Metis, Missionaries or Native healers, in many ways have close resemblances to one another. 


Aletta’s comments are perhaps a portrayal of both the pro-Christianity influences of Danckaert’s writings, as well as the true feelings of devotion which no doubt some of these natives felt, especially their children, during the earliest years of their raising as they watched the activities of both the members of their tribe, as well as the activities of the Christian children residing with the traders whom their parents at times interacted with.  This was in fact the case for Aletta, who watched the Christian lifestyle of the Europeans alongside her mother, who experienced some substantial regret for having to make trade with these new arrivals.