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
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 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 http://flemishamerican.blogspot.com/search/label/Guldensporenslag ) for reference materials. Some excellent urls for learning more about Gentse Feesten and Gent itself: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gentse_Feesten
[ii] See my earlier posting (June 23, 2009 http://flemishamerican.blogspot.com/2009/06/first-flemings-in-america-part-one.html ) 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 www.nnp.org . 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: http://www.archive.org/stream/earlyhistoryofco00cour/earlyhistoryofco00cour_djvu.txt .
[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 "...one 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.“ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joannes_de_Laet
[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).
The Big GEDCOM/Revision 2.0 – created on Wed Jul 23 22:14:56 1997 / Copyright ©1996-1997 Descendants of Edward Ball of New Jersey Interest Group.If you have a connection, correction or question, please email: The Big gEDcom@bigfoot.com / GED2HTML v2.5b (4/12/96) http://www.altlaw.com/EdBall/html/d0006/i13754.htm
[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: http://books.google.com/books?id=T9oTAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA438&lpg=PA438&dq=aecken,+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: http://books.google.com/books?id=l4Pe6IXo0sYC&pg=PA465&lpg=PA465&dq=%22aecken%22&source=bl&ots=uh9asztRB-&sig=sXQWtuoPrP78FXzDvbTIybQ0Ft4&hl=en&ei=WORfSqLbMtb7tgfgzazJDA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6 .
[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: http://www.MayflowerHistory.com
[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: http://www.msa.md.gov/msa/speccol/sc2200/sc2221/000017/000017/images/d005114a.gif
[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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghent,_New_York. Please also see for historic info about Ghent, NY: http://www.usgennet.org/usa/ny/county/columbia/ghent2/index.htm
[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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