Monday, July 27, 2009

An Opportunity For Just Action?

In my blog postings I have frequently written about the Christian fortitude of Flemings during the Protestant Reformation. We admire that fortitude today because often those individuals followed their conscience inspite of the very real risk to their homes, selves and families in practicing their Christian beliefs.

Yesterday, in an article entitled, "Hate Engulfs Christians in Pakistan", Sabrina Tavernise, a well-known reporter for the New York Times reported on the heart-breakingly unjust murder, rape, looting, and torching of more than 100 Pakistani Christian homes in an impoverished enclave.

In a followup e-mail exchange, Ms. Tavernise wrote:

"There are two families here (the other was also quoted in my story). Both are extremely needy. "

"First, the Hameeds, who had 7 from their family killed, and whose house was burned to ashes. Second, the family of Mr. Riaz, who had been saving for his daughter's wedding and for heart surgery, had the equivalent of about $3,700 looted, and his house burned to ashes. Mr. Riaz (he was also quoted in the story) is quite ill, as he has several blocked arteries (the heart surgery issue)."

Why am I posting this seemingly unconnected reference to the Flemish past? Because I believe that the Flemish Christians who endured so much and whose DNA runs through millions of Americans would have been stirred to action had they lived today. Aristotle, frequently quoted by Christian philosophers, once observed that "we become just by performing just actions". While hardly a unique thought or indeed a uniquely Christian position, to do something for another person without the possibility of recompense is.

So what can we do? If your pocketbook permits and your spirit moves you, please contact Sabrina Tavernise directly. Her e-mail address is and let her know your interest in helping these people. The safest and most practical relief for these two families literally bereft of family, home, and resources is funds via remittance.

"The process, usually, is that Western Union gives you a number -- the passcode that allows them to pick up your donation on the Pakistani end -- so once you get that, email it to me, and we will relay it to the family.I feel absolutely confident that whatever you are generous enough to send will go directly to the families. And the money is confidential. No one will know where it is from, except the Western Union office."

There are few times in life when the opportunity presents itself to extend a hand to another individual so cleanly, directly, and immediately. If this story moved you as it has moved me I urge you to contact Ms. Tavernise.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Flemish Fathers of America - Emanuel Van Meteren

To understand the Founding of America one must know the story of the American Pilgrims. To understand the story of the Pilgrims one must understand the story of the English Reformation. And to understand the English Reformation one must know the story of those men and women whose fiery convictions crossed the Channel with them and seeded Britain’s Protestant Reformation.

That story thread is entwined with and inseparable from the struggle of the Dutch-speaking peoples for independence.
[i] For much of at least the first half of the Eighty Years’ War (1566-1648), from the initial smash of porcelain religious statuary in Flanders in 1566 to the final triumph of arms of the grandsons of Flemish Protestants in 1648, the combined region of the Netherlands with the British Isles, might, as one historian has described it, be considered one country with two languages (Dutch and English). These ties were close enough for the Flemish dominated leaders of the Dutch Revolt to consider asking Queen Elizabeth to be their new sovereign, in 1583. These ties extended to the cultural, familial and even linguistic. As the contemporary “Dutch” historian of this period, the Antwerp-born Emanuel Van Meteren, once stated, the English language was, in his view, no more than “broken Dutch”.

In fact, few men embody this transition of the 16th century for the Anglo-Flemish Protestants more than Emanuel Van Meteren (1535-1612)
[ii]. Sometimes written to or about with name variations such as Emanuel Meteren or Emanuel Demetrius[iii], Van Meteren was prominent at the nexus of scholarship, politics, religion and business between the Low Countries and England. Critically, Van Meteren left a lasting impact not only on his times and place but also in the wider world.

Late in his life Van Meteren identified and engaged an unemployed English captain for a mission that required secrecy and bravery. On behalf of a loose coalition of Flermings – nearly all passionate, Protestant refugees from Antwerp – Van Meteren convinced Henry Hudson to sail under the Dutch flag. The VOC (Vereinigde OostIndische Compagnie – Dutch East India Company)
[iv] sought to fulfill patriotic impulses through the pursuit of profits. Their goal: to seek an unguarded (by their Iberian enemies, the Spanish and Portuguese) route to Asia and thereby capture for themselves the lucrative spice trade in Europe.[v]

Upon Henry Hudson’s return from America, Van Meteren took the primary role of disseminating the knowledge of this New World discovery in Europe. Since there are only three primary source accounts for Henry Hudson’s voyage to America
[vi] – and only Van Meteren had access to both Henry Hudson as well as his journals – understanding who the man behind the Discoverer will help us understand the discovery itself. In other words, if we wish on the Quadricentennial to honor Henry Hudson’s discovery of the river and valley that bear his name, should we not at least pay tribute to the man who not only provided the opportunity but also publicized his accomplishments?

Emanuel Van Meteren’s critical involvement at the very beginning and at the very end of Henry Hudson’s Third Voyage earns Van Meteren the first place as a Flemish Father of America and of course the reason for the biopic. Later, I hope to add other, “Flemish Fathers of America” to this gallery.
[i] My reference here to the “Dutch-speaking peoples” is of course intentional. The Netherlands-speaking peoples of the current Low Countries – Belgium and the Netherlands – were united in their efforts to free themselves from Spain and in fact it was the fiery efforts of the Flemish that provided leadership, finance, men, and materiel for a good proportion of the first half of what we know as the Dutch Revolt and what the Dutch-speakers call de Tachtigjarige Oorlog. A good starting point is Hugo DeSchepper, Belgium Nostrum' 1500 - 1650. Over Integratie en Desintegratie van het Nederland, (Antwerpen: De Orde van de Prince, 1987). Note also that a disproportionately large proportion of the non-local troops were Walloons, not Flemings, serving Spain’s reconquista of the Low Countries (cf the various military units composition at the Battle of Nieuwpoort in 1600
[ii] Van Meteren according to Dutch sources [W.D. Verduyn, Emanuel Van Meteren, (‘s-Gravenhage: Martinus Nijhoff, 1926), p.37] was born July 9, 1535 (Gregorian - which calendar change did not take place in the Low Countries until 1585). One online Dutch source depicted his birthdate as 09.06.1535 which American usage interprets as “September 6, 1535”. This sloppiness has passed into the English version of Wikipedia ( ) and its clones: the utterly false and fanciful ( and the sloppy plagiarism - hence the confusion around birthdates.
[iii] Men of letters in late 15th century Europe – or even merchants with a scholarly bent like Van Meteren – often Latinized their names at this time since Latin was of course the lingua franca of the Christian world at this time. Many of these Latinized names – e.g., Mercator for De Kremer, Ortelius for Ortels, etc. – survive as the preferred name we know these figures by today.
[iv] The best study in English I am aware of the study of the West India Company’s birth is Simon Hart, The Prehistory of the New Netherland Company, (Amsterdam: City of Amsterdam Press, 1959). The classic (although light on details) study in Dutch is W.R. Menkman, De Geschiednis van de West-Indische Compagnie, (Amsterdam: Van Kampen & Zoon, 1947).
[v] For the spice trade there are innumerable books but starting points might include Jack Turner, Spice: The History of a Temptation, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004). For an interesting angle on spice history please see Wolfgang Schivelbusch, Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Stimulants, and Intoxicants, (New York: Vintage Books, 1992).
[vi] The three primary sources include only one English account: that of Hudson’s prime mutineer, Robert Juet of Limehouse. Juet’s account has issues partly because it was written more than a decade after the fact (1625) and partly because of course he was directly responsible for Hudson being set adrift in the Arctic in 1610. Van Meteren had direct access to both Henry Hudson in person as well as his logbooks – as evidenced by the preciseness of dates and cartographic positioning. Johannes De Laet in his Nieuwe Wereldt ofte Beschrijvinghe van West-Indien, uit veelerhande Schriften ende Aen-teekeningen van verscheyden Natien, (Amsterdam, 1625). De Laet, in fact, most likely knew Van Meteren directly, from both his Anglo-Flemish in-laws, his connection with prominent Leiden humanists of the age, and his tenure in London as a merchant beginning in 1603.

Copyright 2009 by David Baeckelandt. No reproduction permitted without my express, written consent.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Flemish Influence on the Pilgrims: Part 4

A 1606 reprint of Mercator's map of West Flanders, the source of the spark of the Protestant Dutch Revolt

Recap of Earlier “The Flemish Influence on the Pilgrims” Blog Postings
In my earlier postings, Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3, we saw that from the time Flemings stormed across the English Channel as the largest component of William the Conqueror’s Invasion Force in 1066 up to the birth of the first Pilgrims in the late 16th century Flemings in the British Isles came, saw, influenced, and assimilated. The steady influx of Flemings to the British Isles in every subsequent century earned for the Flemish William Caxton’s classification by the 16th century as one of the ‘seven races of England’.

Thus, by 1600, many who spoke the King’s English and went by ‘English’ names were in fact of direct Flemish descent.The Flemish ‘swarming’ over the course of those 500 years prepared the crucible of the English body politic for the smooth reception of Flemish ideas of work and worship. Thus the late 15th century Catholic best-seller of Flemish mysticism from Thomas a Kempis called the Imitation of Christ manifested itself in the willingness of Englishmen to eagerly absorb Protestant tracts. We saw that Martin Luther’s first and most vocal Protestant advocates in the Low Countries were Augustinians from the monasteries at Ghent and Antwerp and that these Flemish friars brought the Good Word back to Flanders. Not only tracts but the English Bible itself was first financed and then prepared on Flemish printing presses at Antwerp and brought over by Flemish printers who trafficked for the benefit of both God and Mammon.

The dominance of Flanders in printing, literacy, and trade combined with this early enthusiasm for reading and disseminating the printed Word of God set the stage for the English Reformation by producing the very first Protestant martyrs – who were also from Antwerp. Flemish Protestants, often acting in league with the Flemish diaspora in England, financed and sheltered the Fathers of the English Reformation, made their work of translating the Bible into English possible and distributed the fruits of their work. In some cases they not only married themselves to the cause of the English Reformation but, as in the case of John Rogers’ wife/Jacob Van Meteren’s niece[i], even married off their daughters to make certain the cause of English reformation prospered.

At the same time, as we have seen (with more to follow), Flemish artisans brought needed skills to economically depressed regions of England[ii]. We have seen a glimpse of that in the earlier transfer of weaving skills in Bristol, Manchester, East Anglia, and select quarters of London proper. Oftentimes these artisans were migrants and moved freely and frequently between Flanders and England. Their skill sets, connections, and willingness to work harder and for lower wages sparked both envy and admiration. The Flemish immigrants’ mix of fervor and frugality meant that some Englishman saw examples to be emulated while others saw “strangers” whose radicalism was worse than treason.

In the last blog, Part 3, we chronicled the instances of Flemish and English Anabaptists being caught and martyred together for their faith from the 1530s to the 1550s. We also saw the issuance and re-issuance of proclamations prohibiting secret prayer meetings and bible-study – often conducted in nocturnal rural settings or private homes – but also the ‘separateness’ of these conventicles from regular attendance at Church of England services.

The belief of these charismatically-led, Anglo-Flemish Anabaptists in the need to separate themselves from ‘corrupt’ nationally- sanctioned parish churches and establish covenants of believers around tenets which included adult baptism while removing ritual acts were templates that English Separatists copied. The fact that English, Scottish and Flemish Protestants were caught and martyred together proves a connection more complete than mere documents can. Ignoring harsh edicts and the threat of confiscation, banishment and burnings, Englishmen were inspired by the sufferings of the Flemish “Strangers” in their midst and later linked the turning point of their conversions (to evangelical Protestantism) to those sad events. Interestingly, fruitful unions between Englishmen and Flemish women from John Rogers (English Bible translator) to John Hooper (conformist Anglican bishop) multiplied partisans on both sides of the debate.

English authorities’ failure to stamp out what they considered treasonous heresy from economically critical Flemish artisans pushed them to radical action: sanctioning the existence of ‘separate’ churches for the “Strangers” in their midst. These separate churches were intended as a solution but in fact they became (as we shall see) both a template of what was possible and a further catalyst for English religious dissenters. That these first “Dutch” churches – in London, Norwich, Sandwich, Colchester, Ipswich, and elsewhere – were predominantly Flemish congregations is proved by recent scholarship. Unfortunately, as we shall see, dissension between Anabaptist and Calvinist Flemings often played out to a broader English and European audience, to the discredit of the Flemings, and to the dismay of their congregations.

We also saw – in print and in text – that the inspiration for so many English Protestants was in fact not only the written Word of God in the Bible but also the ‘best-seller’ of late 16th century England: John Foxe’s Acts and Monumentes. This book leapt across religious schisms in 16th and 17th century England as a source of inspiration. And although the term ‘Anabaptist’ was not an acceptable one in Elizabethan England, the fact is that the majority of the ‘martyrs’ were Anabaptists and a majority of the Anabaptists were Flemings.

The role of Flemish Anabaptism in furthering the English Reformation through the seminal year of 1558 and beyond is undisputed. This Flemish connection with English Separatism has been largely ignored by mainstream historians. Few have had a reason to accent the connection between Anabaptism and Separatism. Fewer still the real tie between the Flemish, the Pilgrims and the Puritans.

Our previous posts, then, brought us up to the end of Queen Mary’s reign. This posting will carry us halfway along the near half-century of Queen Elizabeth’s rule (1558-1603) and to the dawn of the Pilgrim Fathers’ journey to the Netherlands and the New World.

A page from Tyndale's English language Bible, translated at Antwerp and financed and distributed by Jacob Van Metern of Antwerp. Van Meteren was head a family left a huge impact on England, the Netherlands and the U.S.

Elizabeth I’s Restoration of the English Reformation
The year 1558 was a watershed in British history. England lost its last toehold in France (Calais) – a psychological shock since French territory had been ruled from London since the Norman invasion of 1066. England also lost her Catholic Archbishop, her Catholic Queen (Mary), and of course ultimately her tie to the Church of Rome. In exchange the English gained a monarch of exceptional talent, skill, brilliance – and of Flemish ancestry: Queen Elizabeth I

Regardless of her pedigree and intelligence the 25 year old Queen Elizabeth, had critical concerns to address. Uppermost for Elizabeth was the need of the Realm for temporal stability amidst spiritual turmoil. These concerns were of course no different than the preoccupations of her father Henry VIII (1509-1547) her brother Edward (1547-1553), or her sister Mary (1553-1558) for the half-century before. Ever mindful of how the religious debates of the Reformation on the Continent had quickly degenerated into warfare and brigandage, Elizabeth believed that what England needed was a middle road leading to national conformity. Although Elizabeth herself might not have so quipped, she wanted neither Papist nor Puritan to prevail.
An Anabaptist burning in the 1560s. Anabaptists were considered heretics by both Catholics and Protestants.

Under her father Henry VIII (whom Elizabeth deeply admired[ii]) Anabaptist ‘pests’ and ‘radical’ Protestants had been hurried to their Maker. Elizabeth’s sister Mary surpassed their father’s vigor in this. Perhaps as many as 500 Protestants and Anabaptists suffered – and contemporaries underscored that under Mary a “notably high proportion of artisans” were martyred.[iii] In fact, the first Protestants burned under Mary (in 1555) and the last ones burned under Elizabeth (in 1575) were Flemish cloth workers[iv].

While Elizabeth retained many of the trappings of Catholicism in her personal devotion
[v], she herself had intentionally chosen close political advisors with unquestionable Protestant credentials[vi]. Unsurprisingly, Elizabeth strove for a middle path between the rituals she inherited from Rome and the firebrand evangelism propagated from Geneva. To reach this accommodation Elizabeth marked a legal path between the two.

Queen Elizabeth I, about 1563 as painted by the Flemish painter Steven Van Der Meulen

First, in The Act of Uniformity, (1559) Elizabeth required every inhabitant of the kingdom to regularly attend Mass (or be subject to fines and worse). All clerics were required to use the Common Book of Prayer as their sole guide to conducting the liturgy. Elizabeth followed the Act of Uniformity with the requirement (The Act of Supremacy -1559) that every candidate for higher clerical office swear a personal oath of allegiance to her. Collectively these acts were known as the Elizabethan Religious Settlement. These acts signaled Elizabeth’s desire to subordinate dictates of conscience to the diktat of realpolitik.

On one hand, these Parliamentary Acts earned England, after the Catholic interregnum under Queen Mary’s reign (1553-1558), a spot in the vanguard of the Protestant Reformation. On the other hand, these acts seemed suspect to Calvinists in England and on the Continent. Although they stabilized the English political landscape, radical Protestants – such as Separatists and Puritans – were neither pleased nor praising of Elizabeth’s chosen path.

The Protestant Revolt in the Netherlands started in Flanders and spread outwards to the north and east.

Religious Dissent in Flanders 1558-1570s
In Flanders and the Netherlands as a whole, several developments – religious, political, military, and economic – influenced Elizabethan England’s course. The most visible development was the growth of militant Protestant activism – now known as Calvinism – in Flanders. Calvin’s doctrines took root among many middle-class and aristrocratic Flemings. For the first half of the 16th century religious radicals were primarily Lutherans and Anabaptists. Put another way, “Until the 1550s the Anabaptists had virtually no rivals among the religious dissidents in Flanders.”

Margaret of Parma, Regent for the Netherlands, sister of Charles V and aunt of Phillip II

Pieter Titelman, the Chief of the Inquisition in the Netherlands wrote to the Regent, Margaret of Parma, on November 14, 1561 that:
“Flanders was completely infected by Menno’s teachings. During his trips he had discovered that at Ypres, Poperinge, Meenen, Armentieres, Hondschoote, and Antwerp extensive congregations were enjoying an unheard-of prosperity.”[viii] Pieter Titelman, writing further to the Regent, about the presence of Anabaptists in the Westkwartier, exclaimed: “As for Hondschoote, there is no number [of the Anabaptists] to be given; it is a bottomless abyss.”[ix]

Margaret of Parma [who rejected suggestions to more actively persecute Anabaptists], writing to William the Silent, Prince of Orange [who strongly urged her to exterminate them] in a letter dated July 25, 1566: “I have been warned that in a certain house in the new town, opposite the house of the Oisterlins in Antwerp, there are frequently meetings of the Anabaptists, early in the morning, sometimes three or four hundred persons, who meet in several shifts, not all appearing at the same time, thus not showing how many they are, since they know very well they are disliked by all other sects.”[x]

The day-by-day, town-by-town spread of the Beeldenstorm from Flanders to Brabant and outward.

This was one aspect of the new dynamic: the arrival of a new, militant Protestantism meant that Anabaptists found themselves pursued not only by Roman Catholic authorities but also ‘outed’ and hated by Calvin’s disciples. By the mid 1560s Calvinists dominated the elites of most Flemish cities and towns. Anabaptists (now known more regularly as Mennonites) continued to be found primarily among the artisans and tradesmen.

Among those baptized ‘Calvinist’ the crystallization of theology was inconsistently precise, however. Even such seemingly stalwart upholders of the Dutch Reformed Church (read: Calvinist) as the minister of the ‘Dutch’ Church at Austin Friars in London, Adriaen Cornelis Van Haemstaede
[xi] were in sympathy with Anabaptists[xii] The one commonality among all those who broke with Rome was a strong antipathy for the form and rituals of Catholicism.

The Beeldenstorm - 'Votive Image Smashing' - as depicted in a contemporary painting.

So it is perhaps unsurprising that the shift to a more aggressive, reformed Protestantism reached its apogee in the late 1560s with the outbreak in Flanders of a frenzy of iconoclasm, which in Dutch is referred to as the Beeldenstorm. The Beeldenstorm manifested itself in the smashing of religious statuary, the destruction of Catholic relics, and the sacking of monasteries. It began in the Flemish town of Steenvoorde and quickly spread throughout the Netherlands. The real smashing of statuary shattered the artificial calm between the Catholic authorities of Flanders and the radicalized populace. The shock felt by spiritual and temporal authorities prompted a vigorous military response by the Spanish.

That military response to the image-breaking begun in Flanders opened the first stages of what is called (in English) the “Dutch Revolt”. The military struggle that ensued lasted for eighty years; hence, the name in Dutch, of De Tachtig Jarige Oorlog – The Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648). The outbreak of war sent tens of thousands of refugees away from the contested zone, primarily to what we today call the Netherlands, Germany, and of course England.

Phillip II, sovereign of Flanders, ruler of the largest empire the world had seen - inherited from his Flemish-born father, Charles V, and whose obstinacy lead to the declaration of a Republic in the United Provinces of the Netherlands.

From the 1560s through the 1580s, the war against King Philip II of Spain went poorly for the Dutch-speakers in the Low Countries. Since a majority of the dissent, a majority of the dissenters, and a large percentage of the conflict occurred in Flanders and Brabant, this is where the bulk of the refugees came from. The strongest waves of Flemish emigration then precisely followed the Duke of Alva’s repression (1567) to the Fall of Antwerp (1585).

Other ‘push factors’ – such as poverty, poor economic conditions, famine and persecution – forced Flemish refugees, primarily Protestants but also including some Catholics, to flee their homeland. They fled from those areas overrun by the Spanish and Walloon forces to North Sea coastal areas considered part of the ‘liberated provinces’ under the control of ‘rebel’ forces. These areas were primarily coastal, and extended from Ostende to Amsterdam, what we call modern West Flanders, Zeeland and Holland. From there most caught the first skiff or sail heading toward refugee communities in southeastern England.

London map by Nicolas De Fer about 1702; the Flemish Protestants congregated in Southwark, pictured above.

Civil unrest is hardly conducive to trade. When trade suffers government coffers suffer too. As Flanders was torn asunder England’s commerce with Flanders suffered too. The disruption of value-added markets for unfinished English wool exports was critical to the stability of the kingdom. Queen Elizabeth, conscious of these factors, offered enticements for skilled laborers to resettle in pockets of economically depressed East Anglia. The ‘pull factors’ of stability, economic incentives, and (after the first waves) the active encouragement of established Flemish immigrants, contributed to a further wave of ‘swarming’ during the twenty-year period 1566 to 1586.

A Flemish house in Norwich, the largest Dutch-speaking community outside of London at this time.

Stranger Churches As The Example of Separatism
At a political abstract, welcoming immigrant skilled craftsmen who are also co-religionists is effortless. But of course the reality of accepting large numbers of radicalized foreigners creates its own unforeseen challenges. These include assimilation and separation. Neither is error free and both risk social disruption.

The English learned this first hand. As a leading London merchant wrote in 1575:
“After our hartye commendacons, whereas sondrye straungers borne in the Lowe countries, of late examined befor us the Quenis Majesties commissioners in their behalfe appointed, do maynteyne the most horrible & dampnable error of the anabaptistes, and in the same detestable erroure, manye of them do willfullye & obstinatelye continue.”[xiii]

The Dutch Church placard at Austin Friars today. Founded by Flemings, this is the oldest Dutch-language church in the world. Services have been conducted here almost continuously since 1550.

Recall that Edward VI’s solution had been to permit the establishment of the Stranger Churches beginning in 1550. His hope was that segregating as much as possible the English from the influence of foreign theology and worship practices would nip the spread of heresy (defined here as anything other than the officially sanctioned orthodoxy). Ironically, the establishment of these very visible churches had just the opposite effect. As another church historian concludes, “In 1550…England’s capital was supplied with a working model of a reformed congregation as a pointer.”[xiv]

The 'Dutch' Church at Austin Friars as it appeared 200 hundred years ago. The current church building is a concrete edifice erected after Nazi bombs destroyed the above pictured structure during World War II.

These “Stranger” churches were established along linguistic lines: Dutch, French, and Italian. The largest of these by far was the “Dutch” Church (which was also viewed as the ‘senior’ church in issues of doctrine). The ‘Dutch’ Church at Austin Friars was set up as an unum corpus corporatum et politicum. They were granted a waiver from conforming (to Church of England rules for worship) specifically with the 1549 Act of Uniformity. This meant that they were truly independent in terms of both hierarchy and ecclesiastic matters of liturgy.[xv]

The overwhelming majority of the members of the Dutch Church were, as we have seen, Dutch speakers from the Southern Netherlands – what we today call Flanders.
[xvi] And, in fact, Flemings were found not only in the congregations of the so-called Walloon and French churches but, as one historian has documented, the Flemish even occupied senior positions as Elders and Ministers in the French and Italian churches[xvii].

The St. Martin's at Colchester still stands today although like many such sites the Dutch language is gone.

Neither Edward nor his councilors counted on the law of unintended consequences to kick in. “Historians both of Puritanism and of the English Reformation rightly point to the importance of the example of the foreign refugee churches in London during the reign of Edward VI as providing a valuable precedent, both for the London congregation under Mary and for later Separatist developments.” [xviii] This example chartered clandestine congregations not unlike the first conventicles of Pilgrims. As we shall see there was plenty of channels for cross-fertilization.

Protestants leaving the Flemish coast for a better life, as romantically depicted in this 19th century print.

Flemish Refugees Bring Foreign Crafts and Foreign Ideas
The English monarchs and their counselors when they established the ‘Dutch’ Church in 1550 could not have anticipated great numbers of Flemish refugees in England. But events overtook them.
Englishmen living near the Flemish colonies of Norwich, Colchester, Sandwich, and Yarmouth, “’were the first that made separation from the reformed Church of England.’”
[xix] Chief among the reasons was the simple fact that the native and immigrant lived in close proximity and lived, worked and worshipped in the same venues. In Norwich, England’s second largest city and where the Flemings comprised anywhere between 30% and 50% of the total population between 1570 and 1620, the same church, St. Andrews, served both the Dutch-speakers and Separatist preachers like Robert Browne (spiritual father of Separatism) and the Pilgrim Fathers’ own pastor, John Robinson[xx]. It is hardly a coincidence then that the radicalized thought of these Flemish immigrants should flower in the faith of the Pilgrim Fathers.

Flemings and Englishmen intermarried (as can be seen from the records of the Pilgrims themselves) and native English ministers learned Dutch to assume positions in the Dutch Church.[xxi] So it should be little surprise that among seven Separatists discovered and arrested as a group in 1550, were 6 Englishmen and at least one with a Flemish-sounding surname. The Anglo-Flemish chronicler John Strype, historians’ main source for this information, believed these first Separatists (of 1550) were Anabaptists.[xxii]

Another 'Dutch' home at King's St in Sandwich built by Flemish Protestants and still used today

In 1560 the Spanish ambassador estimated that there were 10,000 refugees from Flanders. By 1562 he estimated that there were more than 30,000 refugees from Flanders. After 1567 the numbers increased even more. Some historians believe that the total number of refugees from Flanders exceeded 100,000 in the second half of the 16th century. While these numbers even today would cause dislocations. In a near-medieval country of only 3 million souls, 100,000 immigrants quickly overwhelmed most charitable organizations.

“Those [Flemish Protestants] in the Netherlands [were] persecuted intolerably by the Duke D’Alva, that breathed out nothing but blood and slaughter. Great numbers therefore of them from all parts daily fled over hither into the queen’s dominions, for the safety of their lives, and liberty of their consciences; and had hospitable entertainment and harbour for God’s sake and the gospel’s; being allowed to dwell peaceably, and follow their callings without molestation, in Norwich, Colchester, Sandwich, Canterbury, Maidstone, Southampton, London, and Southwark, and elsewhere.”[xxiii]

In exchange for refuge, the English expected a technology transfer. Recall that before the widespread adoption of cotton as a raw material, the hottest selling cloths throughout late 16th century Europe were Flemish ‘says and bays’. These textiles blended silks and wools into a light, durable and comfortable cloth. Once settled in Norwich, Colchester, Ipswich, Sandwich, Yarmouth and other East Anglian towns, the Flemish weavers were required to take on English apprentices. “The direct influence of these refugees on the English people was seen in this that each foreign workman, was compelled by law to take and train one English apprentice. This law sent probably fifty thousand English boys and young men to school, not only in industry, but in republican ideas and liberal notions.”

The Flemish refugees then, greatly influenced their English hosts. Despite official and social barriers, they worked alongside, got married to, and worshipped at the same places as their English neighbors. It would be difficult for a 21st century government to inhibit the spread of ideas (one need only think of China and the internet). How much more difficult then in an early modern society? Elizabethan England, much less able than modern societies to confront the vast dislocation arising from a heavy influx of foreign refugees, was completely unable to prevent an impact from these Flemish Protestants on its own people.

The Duke of Alva lead Phillip II's Spanish soldiers in the Netherlands and forced the Flemish Protestants out.

As one well-respected historian summarized:

"When Alva began his rule in the Netherlands, in 1567, [the Flemish] exodus to England opened again (some had taken refuge in England during the persecutions under Charles V), and on a large scale. They were industrious and moral, and as good mechanics [=artisans] would have been welcomed by the government. But, although received and given shelter, they excited the indignation of the English prelates by their heretical doctrines, insisting on the necessity of adult baptism, and declaring that the Saviour died for the redemption of all mankind, and not for that of a select few. Two [of 21] of them, as we have already seen, were for these heresies burned at the stake so late as 1575, by order of the queen [Queen Elizabeth I]. But apart from these heresies, they proclaimed another doctrine still more monstrous in the eyes of a monarch like Elizabeth. Turning for their religion to the Sermon on the Mount, they taught that all oaths, courts of justice, and officers of magistracy were unchristian, and, above all, that the civil government had no concern with religious matters. Here, for the first time, the doctrine of a separation between Church and State was proclaimed on British soil."[xxiv]

Future postings will make the direct connection between the Flemish immigrants and the English Puritans to America, and the seed they planted for the establishment of the United States of America.

[i] For Elizabeth’s fluency in Flemish please see . On Van Meteren, a Father of Flemish America, please see a future posting to this blog.
[ii] There is an entire literature around the Flemings in England and their influence on English religious practices, economic development and political ship of state. Later postings will underscore the direct connections. A starting bibliography would include: Marcel Backhouse, The Flemish and Walloon Communities at Sandwich During the Reign of ElizabethI (1561-1603), (Brussel: Koninklijke Academie voor Wetenschappen, Leteren an Schone Kunsten, 1985); Nigel Goose and Lien Luu, eds., Immigrants in Tudor and Early Stuart England, (Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2005); Ole Peter Grell, Calvinist Exiles in Tudor and Stuart England, (Brookfield: Scolar Press, 1996); Andrew Pettegree, Foreign Protestant Communities in Sixteenth-Century London, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986); and Randolph Vigne and Charles Littleton, eds., From Strangers to Citizens: The Integration of Immigrant Communities in Britain, Ireland and Colonial America, 1550-1750, (Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2001), esp. pp: 1-230; 353-412.
[iii] B.R. White, The English Separatist Tradition: From The Marian Martyrs to the Pilgrim Fathers, (Oxford: University Press, 1971), p.3
[iv] Twenty-one Flemish Anabaptists were betrayed on Easter Sunday, subject to torture and burned for their beliefs at Smithfield in 1575. See for details in English. Note that many of these early martyrs came from Gent.
[v] See Alice Hunt, The Drama of Coronation: Medieval Ceremony in Early Modern England, (Cambridge University Press, 2008), pp.152-155. See also, David Starkey, Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne, (New York: Harper Collins, 2001), pp. 295-299 for Elizabeth’s retention of not only Roman Catholic vestments and practices but also other Roman Catholic paraphernalia in her household as late as 1600. See also Leo Frank Solt, Church and State in Early Modern England, 1509-1640, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), for background.
[vi] These key advisors included William Cecil, Lord Burghley and Matthew Parker, who became the new Archbishop of Canterbury. But she also retained several advisors from her Catholic sister Mary’s reign as well.
[vii] Marcel Backhouse, The Flemish and Walloon Communities, op.cit., p. 63
[viii] A.L.E. Verheyden, Anabaptism in Flanders, 1530-1650: A Century of Struggle, (Scottdale: Mennonite Publishing, 1961), p.55
[ix] ibid, p.56
[x] ibid, p.62, n.96
[xi] "Haemstede, Adriaen Cornelis van (1525-1562) Adriaen Cornelis van Haemstede, of noble lineage, attended the University of Louvain, where he published in 1552 Tabulae totius juris canonici, . . . Livino Bloxenio á Burgh dicatae (copy in the State Library at Munich). He apparently joined the Reformed Church soon after. From Emden he was sent to Antwerp at the urgent request of the Reformed Church (dated 17 December 1555), and preached there in homes and out-of-doors. From autumn 1557 to February 1559 he spent a second period in Antwerp, full of danger and difficulty.
In this period he wrote his chief work, the martyrbook, De Gheschiedenisse ende den doodt der vromen Martelaren, the om het ghetuyghenisse des Evangeliums haer bloedt ghestort hebben, van de tyden Christi af, tot ten fare M.D.LIX toe, byeen vergadert op het kortste, Door Adrianum Corn. Haemstedium. An. 1559 den 18. Martii. The book is of great value, with its carefully collected and highly reliable reports, and was reprinted at
Dordrecht 1657, Brielle 1658, Dordrecht 1659, Amsterdam 1671, Doesburg 1870-1871, Doesburg 1883. His influence on Tieleman van Braght's Martyrs' Mirror is unmistakable.
In his report on Anthonie Verdickt, who died in
Brussels 12 January 1559, there was in the edition of 1559 (p. 449) a statement of Verdickt's very liberal view on early or late baptism, which has been deleted from all subsequent editions. Sharpened denominational sensitivity is also shown by the fact that because of Haemstede's mild judgment of the Anabaptists his name has been omitted from all the editions of his book since 1566 (Dresselhuis, 67; Sepp, 12). Worthy of note is also Haemstede's Confession of Faith for the Reformed in Aachen (1559) (Goeters, Theologische Arbeiten, 82 and 91). The following Anabaptist martyrs are found in Haemstede's martyrbook: Wendelmoet Claesd., Anneken vanden Hove, Sybrand Jansz, Janneken de Jonckheere, and Laurens Schoenmaker.
Fleeing from Antwerp, Haemstede led 13 merchant families to
Aachen in February 1559 (not 1558; see Goeters, 55 ff.; 1907, 27), obtained permission to let them enter, preached to the citizens, had dealings with the Anabaptists, and preached in Jülich (Redlich, II, 375-381).
When Elizabeth assumed the British throne he sought refuge there for his fellow believers. In May 1559 Haemstede was in
London, and was given the right to preach to his countrymen in Christ Church or St. Margaret's. In a letter to Palatine Elector Frederick III (12 September 1559) he pleaded for intervention in behalf of the Reformed in Aachen and sent a very instructive confession of faith for them (Nederland Archief, 1907, 46 ff.; Theologische Arbeiten, 1906, 85 ff.). But he soon became involved in a serious dispute on account of his mild judgment of the Anabaptists. On 3 July 1560 the church council of the greatly increased congregation charged Haemstede with offering the hand of brotherhood to several Anabaptists, though they rejected him; on the question of the incarnation he confessed his ignorance and declared that he would not for that reason reject the Anabaptists. Indeed, he had to intercede for them to the magistrate, to the bishop in London, whom the queen had appointed as supervisor of foreign groups, as well as to the Low German Reformed Church. They did not teach, as the Münsterites had, community of goods or of women; he would not judge them harshly. An anonymous petition was actually presented to the bishop of London, Edmund Grindal, to tolerate several who were unable to unite with the Reformed group. On 4 September the bishop sent it to Petrus de Loenus and Jan Utenhove for their opinion (Strype, Grindal, 62 f.). Haemstede admitted that he had promised to speak for them, not because he sanctioned their doctrine of the incarnation, but because he hoped they would see the light; at any rate, they were weaker members of Christ. They replied with the reproof that to underestimate error is to confuse the believers, strengthen the opposition, and make the church suspect in England and elsewhere. Instead of making the confession of guilt required of him, Haemstede declared that persons who acknowledge Christ as priest and intermediary, desire the Holy Spirit in order to work righteousness, are founded upon Christ, the only foundation. Hence he hoped for the best for them as for all his dear brethren. Even if they built on this foundation with wood, hay, straw, or stubble, they could partake of salvation. Their great ignorance did not exclude them from salvation. The truth should be presented to them in friendliness, but to judge and condemn them as ungodly was of the flesh and forbidden. Galatians 5; Matthew 7. This judgment refers not to all, but to the good among the Anabaptists, who err in simplicity (Kerkeraadsprotokollen, 448). The council replied that then no church discipline could be exercised toward those who joined the Anabaptists. Whoever rejected the incarnation, infant baptism, the oath, and government, refused to join the church, could not possibly be considered a brother. Haemstede agreed with a document of this nature, but added: the question of the method of incarnation was only a minor point in the article that the Son of God truly appeared in the flesh. To separate on this point would be to cast dice for the garment and to neglect the Crucified, or to quarrel about the color of the garment.
On 5 August 1560, Haemstede was suspended from the office of preaching. He replied, "Do these things, it is well, I thank you; this is what I seek. Christ ought always to suffer at the hands of the scribes and Pharisees; his ministers suffer likewise. But I must preach the Gospel; the Lord will provide the place for me" (Kerkeraadsprotokollen, 455).
In further negotiations before Bishop Grindal on September 16 Haemstede signed a correct confession of the incarnation, but refused to make a confession of guilt, and was therefore excommunicated on 19 November 1560, and expelled from the country. His adherents long maintained that he had been unjustly sentenced, and were themselves excommunicated. Among them were such distinguished men as Acontius, the historian Emanuel von Meteren, Antonius Corranus, and Cassiodorus de Reyna.
Haemstede went to
Holland, where he worked in The Hague, East Friesland, and later in Groningen. There is also record of a trip to Kleve (121). In Antwerp a document in his defense was circulated (170). Also in the church council of Emden opinion was in his favor, and they wrote to the London church and to Grindal to have the case reopened. But when Haemstede appeared in London on 19 July 1562 to preach, and looked up his followers, he was arrested on 22 July. Grindal rejected as inadequate and ambiguous the confession of guilt presented by Haemstede and presented to Haemstede a formula of recantation (Strype, Grindal, 469 f.), in vain. An edict of the Privy Council to the church commissioners, 19 August 1562, ordered him to leave England within 15 days or forfeit his life. He died in Friesland in that year. The influence of Haemstede's attitude toward the Anabaptists continued not only in England. In Holland and East Friesland voices were heard in their defense. A very similar case soon after Ulis is that of the Walloon preacher, Adrian Gorinus."
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Scottdale, Pennsylvania, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 620-621. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the
Herald Press website. ©1996-2009 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.
Goeters, W. G. "Haemstede, Adriaen Cornelis van (1525-1562)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 27 July 2009

[xii] Adriaen Van Haemstaede in fact lost his position as the head of the Dutch Church in 1571 for opposing the burning of Flemish Anabaptists in England. As a result, the Antwerp native Emmanuel Van Meteren, the leading ‘Dutch’ representative in London and the son of the financier of the first English Bibles (Jacob Van Meteren) left the Flemish/Dutch Church and became a communicant at the Italian and French (protestant) Churches. Given his stature in the community it is likely that he carried with him other Flemings.
[xiii] Stephen S. Slaughter, “The Dutch Church in Norwich”, April 21, 1933, p.92 from an edict dated June 7, 1575 from London, quoted in Book of Orders for Strangers, folio 81d, p. 183
[xiv] B.R. White, The English Separatist Tradition, op.cit., pp.4-5
[xv] Timothy George, John Robinson and the English Separatist Tradition, (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1982), p.13.
[xvi] For example, not only was the origin of the Deacons and Elders overwhelmingly from Flanders (The Top Five origins for Deacons & Elders were Antwerp, Gent, Brugge, Roeselare, Kortrijk) but the congregation too was overwhelmingly Flemish (The Top Five places of origin for brides and grooms were Antwerp, Gent, Brussel, Brugge, and Oudenaarde). See: Raymond Fagel, “Immigrant Roots: The Geographical Origins of Newcomers from the Low Countries in Tudor England”, in Immigrants in Tudor and Early Stuart England, op.cit., p. 48, Table 2.3 “Geographical Origins of Elders and Deacons of the Dutch Church, 1567-1585” and also p. 49, Table 2.7 “Geographical Origins of Deacons and Elders, Brides and Grooms in the Dutch Church, 1571-1585 – Top Six Places”. Incidentally, The Flemish even heavily contributed to the leadership of the French and Italian Protestant churches. Antwerp, Gent, Brugge were in the Top 5 of place of origin for the Italian Church – See Ibid, p. 48, Table 2.5 “Geographical Origins of Elders and Deacons of the Italian Church, 1568-1591”. Note also that the first place of origin for ministers for the French church was Antwerp. See Ibid, p. 48, Table 2.4 “Geographical Origins of Elders and Deacons of the French Church, 1567-1585”.
[xviii] B.R. White, The English Separatist Tradition, op.cit., p.2
[xix] Timothy George, John Robinson, op.cit., p. 10; quoting John Strype, Ecclesiastical Memorials, (Oxford, 1822), vol.2, pp.70-71.
[xx] Ernest A. Kent, “Notes on the Blackfriars’ Hall or Dutch Church, Norwich”, undated book excerpt pp. 86-108. pp.98-99
[xxi] ibid.
[xxii] Timothy George, John Robinson, op.cit., p. 11; quoting John Strype, Ecclesiastical Memorials, (Oxford, 1822), vol.2, pp.70-71.
[xxiii] John Strype, Annals of the Reformation and Establishment of Religion, and Other Various Occurences in the Church of England, During Queen Elizabeth’s Happy Reign: Together with an Appendix of Original Papers of State, Records, and Letters, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1824), p. 269
[xxiv] Douglas Campbell, The Puritan in Holland, England, and America : an Introduction to American History, (New York: Harper, 1892), vol II, pp. 178-179

Copyright 2009 by David Baeckelandt - All rights Reserved

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Gentenaars of Nieuw Nederland


Johannes Vingboon's 1665 painting of Nieuw Amsterdam

As we close on the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s landfall to the shores of the river that bear his name, I hope to recount the personal tales of Flemings who came here first. No different than today’s Flemings scattered across the globe, these hardy folk were multilingual, culturally adaptable, and assimilated easily into their surroundings. So easy in fact that were it not for the occasional scattered parchments their stories would be lost to us today.

Today, July 18th, is the beginning of the Gentse Feesten
[i]. From all over Flanders – and indeed, Europe – people – perhaps as many as 2 million – flock to Gent to celebrate life. The singing, feasting, and other joyous distractions have turned this into the 3rd largest festival in Europe. As the son of a Gentenaar, this premier medieval Flemish cloth center holds a special place in my heart.

So in a respectful nod toward Gent as we approach a momentous anniversary in the Flemish contribution to America, I begin my recounting of the first Flemings in America with brief biographies of some of the first Gentenaars to settle in 17th century Nieuw Nederland.

The city of Gent circa 1612

No one knows who the first Gentenaar in America was. It may have been a dedicated monk or priest in the 10th century, who guided newly Christianized Norsemen to build a duplicate of St. Baaf's (St. Bavo's) Abbey in Rhode Island.[ii] If not then, that first Gentenaar may have been one of the cod fishermen involved in trans-Atlantic fishing and exploration from the “Flemish Isles” (as the newly discovered Azores were known as) during the 1450 – 1500 period.[iii] Perhaps one even played a part in the earliest Flemish sponsored fur trading expeditions to the northeast Atlantic coast of America which began no later than 1598[iv] and continued annually into the 1600s. It may even have been that one of the three Flemings with Henry Hudson was from Gent. My personal belief is that it was a monk from St. Baaf’s Abbey in Gent. But any likely pre-17th century Gent immigrants have unfortunately been lost to time and amidst a greater milieu of Flemings financed and led primarily by Antwerpenaars.[v]

Sadly, only scattered records remain from the first “Dutch” settlements in America. In part this is because of the low value placed on retaining the records of the WIC (de West Indische Compagnie = the West India Company)[vi] by successive generations. French revolutionary troops used some of the records in the late 18th century as musket wadding. In the 1820s many WIC documents directly connected with the settlement of Nieuw Nederland were unwisely sold for scrap. A severe fire in late 19th century Albany destroyed a great number of the balance of these priceless archives. Still, partial records of a small number of the immigrants have survived to the present and since the 1970s have been painstakingly translated by Charles Gehring and his assistants in the New Netherlands Project[vii].

Jansonnius' 1649 map of Nieuw Nederlandt based on De Laet's of 1630

Nieuw Nederland ofte Nova Belgica
During the 40 years (1624-1664) the Dutch flag flew uninterrupted over the colony’s scattered settlements from the Delaware River to the Connecticut River, at most 10,000 Europeans resided in Nieuw Nederland – as the amalgamation of privately-sponsored colonies was known.[viii] Modern school textbooks often describe New Netherland as “Dutch”. That description is accurate only from the official allegiance owed. Like the Netherlands today, Nieuw Nederlands’ society was comprised of Africans (“Angolans” and Moroccans), South Americans and Iberian Jews. Croatians, Poles, Lithuanians, Scandinavians, Englishmen, Frenchmen, Walloons and of course Flemings were included in the mix. As the martyred Jesuit, Father Isaac Jogues wrote about , Nieuw Amsterdam in 1643, the 400 or 500 non-native inhabitants represented at least “18 nationalities”[ix].

Unfortunately, many of these scholarly studies appear to significantly understate the Flemish cultural contribution to Nieuw Nederland. For example, in David Steven Cohen’s seminal study[x], the table he compiled suggested that the origin of only about 3% (31) of the 904 colonists he was able to obtain records for began in the Flemish provinces of the Spanish Netherlands. But this dramatically undercounts those of Flemish origin who listed their last residence in the Netherlands as well as mis-classifying Flemings living under French rule (eg, from Mardyk and Dunkirk). For example, Cohen is only able to identify 5 from the province of Antwerpen. My count shows more than 30 from the province of Antwerpen and more than 100 from Flanders itself.

Further, a number of individuals whose last residence was in the United Provinces of northern Netherlands were actually of Flemish extraction. To cite only a few of many such cases, Jan Bastianszn van Kortrijk lists his last residence as Leerdam, but as his name suggests, he was from Kortrijk.[xi] Jan de Carpentier is officially a native of England since he was born in a Flemish enclave there in Sandwich, but he was the son of a mother from Brugge and a father from Ieper.[xii] Others in the Netherlands were one step removed from Flanders as children of Flemish Protestant refugees. Notable here would be names like Johanna De Laet, probably born at Leiden, whose Antwerpenaar father, Johannes De Laet, published the first written account of New Netherlands – as well as the first maps to ever show Manhattan.[xiii]

The majority of these Flemings arrived in the 1650s to 1660s.[xiv] Of those whom today we would call Flemings, the majority came from Antwerp, the next largest contingents hailed in decreasing numbers from West Flanders, then East Flanders, Brabant and Limburg. These men and women shared several traits: self-reliance, a willingness to take risks, and a belief in the divinely-ordered reason for their being in the New World.

From Gent and Aecken near Gent I have only been able to identify seven individuals (five from Gent, two from Aecken). Of these individuals only a few left a enough of trail in the notarial record that hint at the flesh and blood personalities behind the written name. Below, then, please find my simple bio-sketches of a few of these men.

The New World as it appeared from Europe in the 1600s

The Gentenaars

Adriaen Vincent/Van Sant
The first Gentenaar we know to have settled in New Netherland was Adriaen Vincent. Born about 1605 “at Aecken near Gent”, he, like many other Protestant Flemings at that time, first left Flanders for England. We do not know the specific circumstances that brought him to migrate to the New World. In 1634 he arrived from London on the English ship the “Mary & John”.[xv] Unlike many other immigrants, Vincent appears to have remained in New Amsterdam (Manhattan). At first Vincent served as a soldier. By 1646 he was listed as ‘an old burgher’. This was quite a leap up in social scale, since the reputation of soldiers was poor and the attainment of ‘burgher’ status connoted an appearance at least of propriety, some recognized financial success, and a say in local affairs.

In 1654 Vincent received a license to sell brandy, which may later have become a source of trouble. He sued and was sued in the late 1650s. In 1659 he successfully sued for slander, when a former adversary began spreading gossip that he was a bigamist. After the English conquered New Netherlands, Governor Nichols, in 1667, granted land to Vincent on Prince Street in Manhattan. Occasionally Vincent’s name is transcribed as “Van Sant”. His wife Magdalena may have also been Flemish. We do not know a specific date of death but circumstantial clues suggest the late 1660s or early 1670s. Vincent’s four children remained and prospered in New York City.

Fort Orange in 1650, at the site of present-day Albany and as represented by a modern artist

Jan Coster van Aecken
Like Vincent, Coster (or Koster) was born at Aecken near Gent. Coster may in fact have been related to Vincent, but we have no proof. If they were related it must not have been very close because Coster did not arrive until seventeen years after Vincent, in about 1651. Moreover, when Coster did arrive he moved far north to the frontier at modern-day Albany, NY, away from Vincent in Nieuw Amsterdam. At that time, because of its critical role as an entrepot for beaver skins traded from the Indians, Albany was then called Beverwijk. Coster supported himself and his wife, Elsje Janse, and their children as both a blacksmith and as a beaver fur trader. With his smithing talents Coster repaired damaged muskets – most likely intended for the Dutch’s Indian allies, the Maquas (what popular history calls the Iroquois nation of the Mohawks).

An example of Jan Coster van Aecken's 'mark. Source: Venema's Beverwijk, p.325

Coster was not an educated man. In fact he may have not been able to read until 1662 – when he started signing his name instead of a sophisticated mark.[xvi] But this did not prevent him from amassing wealth and vigorously pursuing the letter of the law. For example, on April 18, 1667 Jan Tyssen Goes said he owed Jan Koster van Aecken 38 beaver pelts valued at 167 guilders.[xvii] Coster rolled these profits into the acquisition of land.[xviii] Although it may not be entirely accurate, Coster gained a reputation in his community as something of a land speculator.[xix]

But Van Aecken was no mean scrooge. When three young girls orphaned from a sudden Indian attack were ransomed back (to which fund it seems he most likely contributed), Coster not only provided a home for one child (Ytie Hendricks), but also taught her how to read and write.[xx]

The American beaver whose pelts paid Nieuw Nederland's bills and whose form adorns the seal of New York State

Ferdinandus Van Sycklin
Ferdinandus Van Sycklin was born in Gent about the year 1635. He arrived in Nieuw Nederland while still a boy, in 1652, the year after Van Aecken landed. He may have been following another Van Sicklen (Antoine) who is recorded as arriving in 1635 (with no further record I am aware of). However, he made his home closer to the English villages on Long Island. In what might clearly be one of the first inter-racial marriages for Flemish Americans, Van Sycklin married the half-Moroccan Eva van Salee (daughter of Anthony Janszen van Salee) about the year 1660. Their descendants include the Van Sickle family and maybe even Gen Dan Sickles of Civil War fame. Van Sycklin died on April 20, 1712 at his home in Flatlands, Long Island.

Pieter Winne/Winnen
Pieter Winne or Winnen is one individual whose life was well chronicled in Nieuw Nederland. Born in 1609, he was baptized at Gent's St. Baaf’s Cathedral on April 14, 1609. Like many Flemings he adapted to living almost anywhere in the world. In the 1640s he and his first wife, Aechie Jans Van Schaick, were living in Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles, where his oldest son Pieter was born. Around 1650 he was trading Indians for beaver pelts in Nieuw Nederland. By 1657 Winnen had returned to the Netherlands (Friesland) where he married his second wife, Tannetje Adams. In 1659 Winnen was again a settler at Beverwijk.

Many settlers were jacks of all trades and Winnen was no exception. In the 1650s he traded beavers, farmed, and later operated a saw mill. When Winnen served as Beverwijk's night watchman he was paid 550 guilders in sewant (the beaded shell currency of the Euro-Indian trading region[xxi]) plus 50 guilders worth of beaver pelts.[xxii] The primary export and main currency of exchange within New Netherlands – and indeed, throughout the English colonies as well – was beaver pelts.[xxiii]

In the 1670s he had as immediate neighbors Robert Livingston (Secretary of Albany in 1677 and forefather of the famous Revolutionary War family) and Martin Van Buren, forefather of the 8th American president of the same name. (After Pieter Winnen’s death (before 1693) his neighbor Van Buren became his wife’s second husband.) To the half-island he shared with Van Buren he added the purchase of a sawmill from Nicolas Van Rensselaer (the patroon family who in fact became lords in colonial America[xxiv]) in 1677. Winnen also found the means to bail his eldest son out of debt and to serve as a magistrate, as he noted in his second will (drafted in 1684).

At Beverwijk Winnen was also known as “Pieter de Vlamingh” [Peter the Fleming]. A local creek near his home was known as “Vlamings kill” which over the centuries has been corrupted to “Vloman’s kill”.[xxv] Today his home still stands in the Albany suburb of Bethlehem (please see map above and picture below). Modern day telephone books show his descendants can still be found in the region.

The home of Pieter Winnen being restored in Bethlehem, NY

Pieter’s neighbors and descendants later established (in 1735) the town of Ghent, NY.[xxvi] The town’s boundaries eventually expanded to include much of the village of Kinderhook, birthplace of our eighth president, Martin Van Buren. Van Buren's home later became the childhood home of Jenny Jerome, Winston Churchill's American mother. The name of the town Kinderhook reputedly was coined by Henry Hudson as he watched Mohawk (Maquas) Indian children (kinderen) playing at this furthest point of the bend (hoek) in the Hudson River that he visited.

Pieter Winnen’s will named his twelve surviving children and his second wife as his heirs. Pieter’s descendants married into the Loockermans family (from Turnhout), the Van Winkle’s, the Van Ness family and the Fondas (of 20th century acting fame). Winnen's other direct descendants include Teddy Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The Gentenaars continued to arrive even after Nieuw Nederland was traded away to the English for an East Indies nutmeg island.[xxvii] After the Duke of York siezed the Dutch settlements (as a means to provoke war with the Dutch Republic) in 1664, Immigrants from Gent continued to trickle into the Dutch-speaking settlements. Individuals such as Marcus Tibaut, proved that Gentenaars’ contribution to the establishment and growth of America continued unabated.

Perhaps the last view of Gent its emigrants saw as they left for foreign lands

[i] Although officially the Gentse Feesten begins July 18th, in practice festivities began with the “Vlaamse Feestdag” celebrations that started on July 10th commemorating the 707th anniversary of the Guldensporenslag (Battle of the Golden Spurs. The victory that marked Flanders coming of age and its brief window of independence. Please see my earlier posting (July 11, 2009 ) for reference materials. Some excellent urls for learning more about Gentse Feesten and Gent itself:
[ii] See my earlier posting (June 23, 2009 ) for the discussion around the origins of the St. Baaf theory.
[iii] There are several nascent postings lurking in this pregnant sentence. I will be discussing some of these expeditions in a later posting.
[iv] This was the date (1598) mentioned in “Report and Advice on the condition of New Netherland”, an internal government report based upon primary source documents collated in 1644. The English translation is inE.B. O’Callaghan, History of New Netherland, or New York Under the Dutch, (Originally published 1855; University of Michigan Reprint, n.d.), p.418 De Laet, an Antwerpenaar investor/patroon of various parts (Rensselaerwijk as well as the Delaware River) colonies in Nieuw Nederland, citing documents known to him and the audience he was writing to in the 1620s.
[v] There is a great deal written in Dutch on these financiers of which I hope to post over the coming months.
[vi] The best study in English I am aware of the study of the West India Company’s birth is Simon Hart, The Prehistory of the New Netherland Company, (Amsterdam: City of Amsterdam Press, 1959). The classic (although light on details) study in Dutch is W.R. Menkman, De Geschiednis van de West-Indische Compagnie, (Amsterdam: Van Kampen & Zoon, 1947).
[vii] Please see . This effort to translate almost impossible to decipher the faint ink scrawl on water damaged and mildewed 17th century documents is shedding new light on the Flemish contribution to America.
[viii] Jaap Jacobs, New Netherland: A Dutch Colony in Seventeenth Century America, (Brill, 2005), p.55. Head and shoulders this is the best book on this subject in any language today.
[ix] Oliver A. Rink in “The People of New Netherland: Notes on Non-English Immigration to New York in the Seventeenth Century” , New York History (January, 1981) pp.5-42 and David Steven Cohen in “How Dutch Were the Dutch of New Netherland”, New York History (January, 1981) pp.42-60 for the seminal works on this subject.
[x] David Steven Cohen, op.cit. Table #2, pp.52-53.
[xi] See “The Early History of the Van Courtright Family” here: .
[xii] Edwin Jaquett Sellers, Van Hecke Allied Ancestry, (Philadelphia, 1933), p.1
[xiii] An English translation of De Laet’s work can be found in J. Franklin Jameson, Narratives of New Netherland, 1609-1664, (NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1909), Elbron Classic Reprint, 2005, pp. 36-60. See also the Wikipedia entry: “Joannes or Johannes de Laet (Latinized as Ioannes Latius) (1581, Antwerp – buried 15 December 1649, Leiden) was a Dutch geographer and director of the Dutch West India Company. Philip Burden called his History of the New World, "...arguably the finest description of the Americas published in the seventeenth century" and " of the foundation maps of Canada". de Laet was the first to print maps with the names Manhattan, New Amsterdam (now New York) and Massachusetts.“
[xiv] SOURCE – my own compilation of the origins of individual Nieuw Nederland settlers yields approximately 100 who were recognized as having been born in what we today call Flanders. The hometowns of these individuals – almost all were only heads of houdseholds, which suggests the totals are understated – were not always specified. But for the ones that were, besides Gent (5), the towns include: Aecken (2), Aalst (1), Alphen (1), Antwerpen (11), Baele (1) Brugge (9), Brussel (3), Damme (1), Dendermonde (2), Dunkirk (2), Hasselt (2), Herenthals (1), Hoboken (2), Ieper (1), Kortrijk (2), Leuven (2), Lier (1), Limburg (3), Loemel (1), Mardyk (1), Nieuwkerke (3), Oudenaarde (1), Overpelt (1), Sluis (5), St. Laurens (1), Turnhout (7), Voorhout (2), Zandvoorde (1), and Zele (1). The balance simply list their place of origin as “Vlaanderen”.
[xv] SOURCE: Gardner Card Collection; Records of New Amsterdam Vols I-VII (1897); 55 Geneal. Mag. of NJ 65-70 (1980).
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[xvi] For an excellent discussion of the use of marks – simple and sophisticated – and signatures as a mark of literacy – please see Geoffrey Parker, “An educational revolution? The growth of literacy and schooling in early modern Europe”, in Tijdschrift voor geschiednis, 93ste jaargang 2, 1980, pp.210-220.
[xvii] See the excellent and very readable Beverwijk: A Dutch Village on the American Frontier, by Janny Venema (Albany: State University of New York, 2003) for many references cited here. Online access can be found here:,+ghent&source=bl&ots=8q2oCU1KzQ&sig=XkDo8gk-FbeGXnyBXdGNDocPCgs&hl=en&ei=DOFfSra2D8SGtgemj6TPDA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5
[xviii] For Coster’s Beverwijk land grants to Jan Coster van Aecken: .
[xix] See Jonathan Pearson, Contributions for the Genealogies of the First Settlers of the Ancient County of Albany, From 1630 to 1800, (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1978), p.112.
[xx] Venema, Beverwijk, op.cit., p.81, 348.
[xxi] In a 1628 letter to West Indische Compagnie Director, Samuel Blommaert, Isaac Rasiere writes: “As an employment in winter they make sewan, which is an oblong bead that they make from cockle-shells, which they find on the sea-shore, and they consider it as valuable as we do money here, since one can buy with it everything they have. They string it, and wear it around the neck and hands; they also make bands of it, which the women wear on the forehead under the hair, and the men around the body; and they are as particular about the stringing and sorting as we can be here about pearls.” Caleb Johnson 2003:
[xxii] Venema, Beverwijk, op.cit., p.111. The actual fee was double what I have stated here but he shared the fee with a fellow night watchman.
[xxiii] The best book on this that I have seen so far is Van Cleaf Bachman, Peltries or Plantations: The Economic Policies of the Dutch West India Company in New Netherland 1623-1639¸ (Baltimore: John Hopkins, 1969). See also the link here for not only the Maryland and Virginia exchange rates of beaver pelts for other mediums of exchange, but also for new meaning to the ‘skin’ trade:
[xxiv] This ‘lordship’ in America was confirmed by the English authorities to Killaen Van Rensselaer in 1687. Killaen was the grandson on his father side of the most successful of the patroonships, that for Rensselaerwijk, which included Beverwijk, aka known today as Albany, NY. On his mother’s side he was the grandson of Anna Loockermans of Turnhout and thus ¼ Flemish. See A.J.F. Van Laer, Ed., Correspondence of Maria Van Rensselaer 1656-1689, (Kessinger Reprint, 2006), pp.3-7.
[xxv] Charles Gehring, Translator & Editor, Fort Orange Records 1656-1678, (Syracure: University Press, 2000), pp.250-251, p.251note.
[xxvi] “Ghent is a town in Columbia County, New York, United States, with a ZIP code of 12075. The population was 5,276 at the 2000 census. 2004 estimates put the population at 5,316.” See,_New_York. Please also see for historic info about Ghent, NY:
[xxvii] See Giles Milton’s poorly written, Nathaniel's Nutmeg: Or, The True and Incredible Adventures of the Spice Trader Who Changed The Course Of History , (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999).

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