By Craig Lukezic, archaeologist, Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs
Alexander d’Hinoyossa was perhaps the most colorful and influential man in the history of Colonial Delaware, best known for surrendering the Dutch colony along the Delaware River to the British Crown 350 years ago. One tradition suggests he traveled with Jacob Alrichs from Brazil to Holland to work in the city of Amsterdam and thence, to New Amstel (now New Castle, Del.). When Alrichs was the governor of New Amstel, it was a difficult time for the colony as hunger was widespread and invasion from Maryland seem inevitable.
After Alrichs’ death in 1659, d’Hinoyossa became the colony’s leader. Due to his arrogant manner, however, his subordinates dubbed him “the Little Prince.” There have been many accounts on how d’Hinoyossa abused people, sold company property for personal gain and traded company guns to the Native Americans. According to one account, he tore out palisades from Fort Casimir (in New Amstel) in order to fire up his beer-brewing kettle. Apparently, profit was more important to him than defense. But one can get lost in these abuses and forget his accomplishments.
Through diplomacy, d’Hinoyossa set up a trading relationship with the Calvert administration in Maryland. With Augustine Herrmann, he started the “Smuggler’s Path” from New Bohemia (now Bohemia Manor, Md.) to Appoquinimink (now Odessa, Del.). In order to avoid taxes and ensure safe transportation, Marylanders passed tobacco through to the Dutch along this route in return for enslaved Africans and strong beer. Current archaeological investigations sponsored by the Delaware Department of Transportation may have recovered a section of this trade route which was eventually transformed into the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. D’Hinoyossa envisioned that Odessa would become the new trade center of the colony. He patented land at the confluence of the Appoquinimink and Drawyer’s creeks, which his servants diked and drained for agriculture.
After the English captured New Amsterdam in 1664, Sir Robert Carr and a force of 130 English soldiers and two ships were dispatched to capture the Dutch possessions on the Delaware River. While most of the colony’s settlements capitulated immediately, the garrison at Fort Casimir delayed in an attempt to negotiate more favorable terms. Although d’Hinoyossa served a small feast to the British officers, his negotiating ploy failed. The ships opened fire, damaging the roofs of structures inside the fort. British troops then stormed the rear walls, quickly taking the stronghold, leaving three of the garrison’s 30 defenders dead and 10 others wounded. Afterward, the English plundered property but largely left the townspeople alone, granting them rights as British subjects.
After the surrender, D’Hinoyossa left New Amstel and settled with his wife and seven children in Talbot County, Md. He later returned to the Dutch Republic and was commissioned in the army. When the Sun King and his French army invaded the Netherlands in 1672, d’Hinoyossa was charged with the defense of the city of Wesel. Unfortunately, this time he surrendered too quickly—he was subsequently tried for treason, mutiny and cowardice; and then beheaded.