The illustrated story of Pieter Claesen Wyckoff

History + Imagination

A few months ago, I wrote a series of blog posts based on the history of my great great great great great great great great great grandfather, Pieter Claesen Wyckoff. The following is a consolidation of those posts into one story, with a few revisions from the original posts.  I’ve stayed as close as I can to available historical evidence, but I’ve also used a bit of imagination in telling the story.

Special thanks to the folks at the Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum for their help with historical details.

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Introduction

When I heard that Hurricane Sandy was going to hit the east coast, I had all the same fears as everyone else. Will this be another Katrina? How many lives and livelihoods will be lost? Is this just the first of a series of coast-bashing storms, courtesy of global climate change?

But, when Sandy headed toward New York City, my concerns zeroed in on a patch of ground in Brooklyn.

I kept thinking: “It’s survived for so long. Will this be the end of it?”

Apple Map view looking down on Brooklyn with Manhattan in the distance.

 

It’s an unassuming little place—a triangle-shaped lot on a busy corner, surrounded by junkyards, check-cashing stores, car repair shops and fast-food joints. Surprisingly, in the middle of this rather homely urban setting, is a tiny oasis of leafy green space surrounded by tall trees and filled with garden plots and lawn.

 

Tucked toward the back of the property sits a small, plain farmhouse. Officially, it holds the honor of being the Oldest Structure in the City of New York, and it’s a National Historic Landmark.

Photo of the Wyckoff House, courtesy bridgeandtunnelclub.com, http://www.bridgeandtunnelclub.com/bigmap/brooklyn/eastflatbush/wyckoffhouse/index.htm

 

It’s also my ancestral homestead.

In 1652, my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents, Pieter Claesen Wyckoff and his wife Grietje Van Ness, moved to this house.

The following is a story—based on available historical evidence—of Pieter and how he came to live in this little house.

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Voyage to the New World

It’s the year 1636, and a young teenage boy huddles in the damp, stuffy hold of a Dutch sailing ship. They’ve had bad weather since the voyage began, but this is the worst. The howling wind and the crashing waves muffle the shouts and curses of the crew up on deck. The boy clutches tightly to his bunk as the ship pitches and dives.

The hold is packed with 38 passengers, most of them whimpering and praying. Many are children traveling with parents or other relatives.

Unlike them, the boy is traveling alone.

Crossing the Atlantic in the 17th century was a dangerous ordeal.

 

Trying not to think of the cold depths below him, he lets his thoughts drift into the past…

The last few years had been hard. The endless wars crippled Father’s trading business, and they had been forced into bankruptcy. Then, when Mother died, Father seemed to lose his mind for a while. Things had fallen apart quickly after that.

One day, a man in a fancy carriage had come through the countryside, smiling and offering his gold-leafed ledger to anyone who looked his way. “Sign here,” the man said, “and you will be set for life. A New World awaits—a paradise filled with riches. It only takes six or seven years…then you’ll be free forever.” He held out a quill pen temptingly.

Father had bowed to the man, accepted the ledger, and stood for a moment examining it. Then, his eyes brimming with tears, he handed the book to his son.

“Sign,” Father had ordered.

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Many immigrants in the 17th and 18th centuries came to the New World in such a way—as indentured servants or contract laborers. Many of them were under the age of eighteen. Some came with their families and were sent out to their stations upon arrival. Others made the treacherous crossing by themselves.

Imagine leaving your home, family, and friends to undertake a risky ocean crossing to an unknown world…knowing you would likely never return. What would motivate such a drastic life-choice? Desperation, adventure, hope, despair?

My great great great great great great great great great grandfather Pieter Claesen Wyckoff spent much of his childhood as an indentured laborer. Little is known about his life before he made his Atlantic crossing to the New World, other than that he was born in Norden in Lower Saxony (now Germany) and his father was named Claes.

We will probably never know for certain why Pieter left on a ship bound for the New World—or if he made the trip alone or with family. But we do have the ship’s log from the voyage, and can read first-hand the captain’s descriptions of the entire trip.

The Voyage of the Ship Rensselaerswyck

In 1636, when Pieter was a young teenager, he left Texxel (near Amsterdam) on the Dutch Ship Rensselaerswyck. There were 38 passengers on board, many of whom were signed as indentured laborers or contract farmers to a wealthy Dutch diamond merchant named Kiliaen Van Rensselaer. They were on their way to Fort Orange (Albany, New York) and the settlement—also called Rensselaerswyck.

The entire trip took over six months.

It was a difficult trip, even by the standards of the day. For the first seven weeks, the captain’s log tells of one bad day after another:

“In the morning, the wind changed to the west. It blew so hard that…we could not carry a single sail….There blew a violent gale from the northwest and we then drifted east with a very rough sea. The waves rose to such an awful height that the waves and the sky seemed one…it lasted the entire night.” – Ships’ log, Tuesday, Oct 21, 1636.

“That day the overhang above our rudder was knocked in by severe storm. This day a child was born on the ship, and named Storm, (Albertsz Van der Zee) the mother is Annetie Barents.” Ship’s log, Sunday, Nov 2, 1636.

They finally decided to reverse course and wait out the bad weather in England.

“Seeing little hope of getting better wind and weather soon – though God knows – having few provisions for 52 or 53 souls…we could oppose it no longer…on account of the sick people whose number increase daily because of their hardships…put the helm hard up and steer in God’s name toward the English Channel and try to get into Falmouth or Plymouth…” Thursday, Nov 6, 1936.

Several weeks later, they pulled into harbor at Ilfracombe, Devon, where they found several other battered and lost ships also taking refuge from the weather. They stayed here for five weeks, until finally setting sail on January 9th, 1637.

 

New Amsterdam

After months at sea, finally reaching New York Harbor must have seemed like sailing into heaven for the passengers of the Ship Rensselaerswyck. It was March 4th, 1637—more than sixth months after the ship had left the Netherlands.

I sketched this watercolor showing how New Amsterdam (New York) might have looked in 1637. At that time, New Amsterdam was still years from becoming the neatly laid out Dutch village shown in historical illustrations (most of them depicting the view twenty years later). The ship in the foreground is the Rensselaerswyck (I could not find definite reference for the ship itself, but there’s a good chance it was a Dutch fluyt). Click on the picture to get a larger view.

 

Fort Amsterdam and a windmill stood on a small hill surrounded by a scattering of rough buildings. There was no proper pier—people arriving by ship would have been rowed to the shallows to splash up the muddy shore on foot. It was a primitive settlement, and the few hundred inhabitants surely had no idea of the growth spurt their little town would undergo in the next few decades—let alone that this lonely outpost would one day be the financial center of the entire world.

 

An AppleMap view of the original site of New Amsterdam – today Wall Street in lower Manhattan. The Fort was located behind Battery Park.

 

I imagine that young Pieter would have been greatly excited to finally reach New Amsterdam. It is apparent from his later achievements in life that Pieter was intelligent, strong, gregarious, and lucky. He was a born survivor, and this was the New World.

After being so long at sea, it must have been a relief to stand on dry ground once again. The group of passengers probably made their way up to the Fort to be received by the director-general of the West India Company, who must have been overjoyed at their safe arrival. They spent the next few weeks in New Amsterdam waiting for the Hudson River to thaw before they could continue upriver to Fort Orange.

I wonder…would Pieter and the other children been allowed to ramble around, exploring the beaches and woodlands, the little farms, and the town itself? What would they have found in the crude little shops, or the bakery, stables, or blacksmith? Did they peek inside the little church…or the tavern?

The captains’ log mentions another ship in the harbor—an English vessel. The waterfront might have been busy with cargo being loaded and unloaded, the muddy streets bustling with strange faces speaking foreign languages. There could have been African slaves in town, and there were almost certainly Native Americans meeting and trading with the townspeople.

It must have been strange and exciting, and perhaps a little frightening.

 

 The Edge of the World

After a spending a few weeks in New Amsterdam, the Ship Rensselaerswyck sailed up the Hudson River on the last 150 miles of its journey. On April 7, 1637, they reached Fort Orange—a tiny fortified settlement that had been hacked out of the towering pines a decade or so earlier. It was the last outpost of Dutch civilization.

To young Pieter and his fellow passengers, it must have seemed farther away than the moon.

A rough watercolor sketch I did from imagination, showing the view from the banks of the Hudson River looking south toward Fort Orange (present day Albany). The entire fort was enclosed by a wooden palisade. Outside the fort, there was a scattering of dwellings on the river bank.

 

This is the view from roughly the same spot today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Behind the fort, millions of square miles of wilderness sprawled across the continent, inhabited by the Native Americans that had lived there for thousands of years, and hordes of wild animals, birds and fish and other creatures. The location of the fort along the river was key—the waterways were the main travel routes for both wildlife and the people that hunted them. The Europeans were astonished at the abundance of fish and game in New Netherlands.

Elk, bear, mountain lions and wolves were abundant in the area. The only game animal with a larger population today is the whitetail deer.

 

In 1637, the Europeans had no concept of how big North America was—there was even still some debate as to whether the earth was flat or round1. In his 1655 book, Adriaen van der Donck wrote that “several of our people have penetrated far into the country to at least seventy or eighty miles from the coastline.

Judging from the climate and the huge numbers of wildlife and migrating waterfowl, van der Donck concluded that the “land stretches for hundreds of miles into the interior…”

He would have been surprised to know it stretches for several thousand miles!

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Welcome to America Beaverland

It would have been an appropriate name. After all, beavers were the re-landscapers of much of North America’s terrain, transforming entire watersheds and creating millions of wetlands which were rich habitat for countless other species.

Unlike mink or river otters, beavers are vegetarians. Their preferred foods are the succulent leaves, twigs and bark of small trees. Both Indians and settlers thought beavers were the tastiest meat on the continent, and the best part was the tail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beavers were responsible for much of the wetland habitat in North America. At one end of the pond is the dam, and nearby on the bank is the lodge. Both are well-constructed of sticks, logs, mud and leaves.

 

 

The lodge has a secret underwater entrance—cleverly hidden from land predators like wolves, coyotes, or mountain lions.

 

Beavers were also the main reason for early European exploration and settlement of North America. Europeans—especially the prosperous Dutch in Amsterdam—were wild for fashionable, expensive beaver fur hats, and beaver pelts became a medium of currency, forming the economic base of the New World.

The main business at Fort Orange was beaver. The Mohawk tribe hunted the animals throughout the highlands and brought down thousands of pelts to be traded for European axes, kettles, glassware, knives, and before long, guns and alcohol.

Eventually, beavers were hunted to the brink of extirpation.

This painting from 1662 shows wealthy Dutch businessmen wearing beaver felt hats. Rembrandt van Rijn, courtesy of the Rijkes Museum.

 

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Pieter Claesen Wyckoff starts his life as a laborer

The 38 passengers of the Ship Rensselaerswyck were either farmers or laborers on a tract granted to Kiliaen van Rensselaer, a wealthy diamond merchant residing in Amsterdam. The estate, also known as Rensselaerswyck, stretched for about nine miles along both sides of the river from the Fort and inland a distance described as “two days’ journey.”

Simon Walischen was a Master Farmer and a lease-holder with van Rensselaer. He was favored by being given his choice of the laborers on the boat, and he chose Pieter. As master, Simon would have total control over Pieter’s life for the next six years. In addition to Pieter, there may have been other laborers assigned to Simon.

A watercolor sketch I did imagining Pieter facing his new master.

 

After arriving at the Fort, they would have left by rowboat or small sailboat to Simon’s assigned land, a large tract of previously cleared land on what is now Papscanee Island in Albany.

I did this watercolor sketch imagining the type of house they would have lived in. These types of primitive dwellings had no chimney—the smoke simply rose out from gaps in the thatch.

 

At least initially, they probably lived in a crude pithouse with a roof of planks or logs. Eventually they might have built a log and thatch hut, or even a small plank house.

I wonder…most of the settlers had wives, and if Simon was married, did the couple share the house with their servants, or did they build a separate dwelling for them?

Maud Goodwin wrote of the settlers: “Most of them could neither read nor write. They were a wild, uncouth, rough, and most of the time a drunken crowd. They lived in small log huts, thatched with straw. They wore rough clothes, and in the winter were dressed in skins. They subsisted on a little corn, game, and fish. They were afraid of neither man, God, nor the Devil. They were laying deep the foundation of the Empire State.2

Pieter stayed with Simon until the age of eighteen, then he collected his wages (a total of 375 guilders for 6 years) and left to rent his own farm on the Rensselaerswyck estate. He married Grietje Van Ness, the daughter of a prominent family, and later the two moved— possibly to a location near New Amsterdam or elsewhere on lower Manhatten Island.

At that time, New Amsterdam was a growing trading and port settlement, controlled by the Dutch. The map below shows New Amsterdam a few decades later, in 1660.

The Castello Plan, a map from 1660 that shows a detailed depiction of New Amsterdam. Today, this is lower Manhattan, the financial and government center of New York City. You can see the layout of Fort Amsterdam, built in 1625 by the Dutch on the upper left side of the town. On the right side of town is the wall, officially built to protect against attack by the Indians, or “wilden” as they were called. Wall Street takes its name from this wall. Image from Creative Commons.

 

In 1652, Pieter signed a contract to “superintend the Bowery and cattle of Pieter Stuyvesant in New Amersfoort” (Flatbush, Brooklyn)—which was a West India Company- owned tract— and Pieter and Grietje moved to what is now known as the Wyckoff Homestead and Farm, the oldest structure in New York City and a National Historic Landmark.

In the mid 1600s Brooklyn and the rest of Long Island was still mostly wild country. There was a small settlement called New Amersfoort—centered a couple of miles to the southwest—that had been started about 20 years earlier as a farming community. At the time Pieter, Grietje and their 3 children moved in (they ended up with 11 kids eventually!) there were about 15 settlers living in New Amersfoort.

I imagine Pieter’s farm might have looked something like this:

I did this watercolor sketch imagining what Pieter’s farm might have looked like in the 1650s. At that time the house (now the Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum) would have been a small, simple thatched hut. There may also have been a barn or hay barracks, a pigsty and other outbuldings. At first, they probably grew mostly grain.

 

Pieter became one of the most prosperous and influential citizens, buying land, serving as magistrate, and helping establish the Flatlands Dutch Reformed Church (now the juncture of Flatbush Avenue and King’s Highway). He adopted the invented name “Wyckoff” when the British took over New Amsterdam.

Pieter and Grietje had eleven children, all of whom married, had children and went on to live somewhat prosperous lives.

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REWIND: The Dutch founding of New Amsterdam

In 1609, Henry Hudson was sent by the Dutch East India Company to explore the area for a Northwest Passage—a shortcut to Asia. Instead he found the Island of Manhattan (shown below) and the North River (now the Hudson River, on the left).

At that time, Manhattan Island was a densely wooded wilderness. There were Native American villages and patches of open meadow which may have been maintained for hunting and gathering by intentional burning.

View looking north on the Island of Manhattan as it would have looked in 1609 when Henry Hudson sailed into New York Harbor. Image from a screen grab from the website http://welikia.org/about/overview/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today, this is one of the most intensively transformed landscapes on the planet.

I wonder what Pieter and Grietje would think if they could see it now.

An Apple Maps view of the southern tip of Manhattan.

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Climbing on the Family Tree:

The family lineage from Pieter to me:

Pieter Claesen Wyckoff, born 1625

Cornelius Wyckoff (one of 11 children!), born 1656

Simon Wyckoff, born 1683

Cornelius Wyckoff, born 1715

George Wyckoff, born 1745

George Wyckoff, born 1795

Cornelius Wyckoff, born 1820

(From here the lineage goes on the female side)

Maloda Wyckoff, born 1853 (my great-great grandmother)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edna Moore, born 1876 (my great grandmother)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frances Muller, born 1908 (my grandmother)

 

 

 

 

Barbara King, my mother

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Denise Dahn (me…long ago at age 22)

 

 

 

Read more about the Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House

http://www.historichousetrust.org/item.php?i_id=14

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/21/nyregion/21houses.html?_r=0

http://hvva.org/hvvanews5-4.htm

Explore historic New Amsterdam:

http://www.virtualnewamsterdam.com/page/page/1846100.htm

Explore New York City before settlement:

http://welikia.org/about/overview/

To read the entire ship’s log from the voyage: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~clifflamere/Misc/MI-LogRenWyck.htm#Part%201

To read some of the ship’s correspondence: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nycoloni/rnscores.html

To read more about Fort Orange on the New York State Museum site: http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/albany/loc/fortorange.html#farmers

 

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NOTES:

1. “A Description of New Netherlands”, pages 6 and 70, by Adrian van der Donck, first published in 1655, and re-translated by Dederik W. Goedhuys.

2. “Dutch and English on the Hudson”, by Maud Wilder Goodwin, 1919, quoting Augustus H. Van Buren in the Proceedings of the New York Historical Society.

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Sources Include:

“A Description of New Netherland”, by Adriaen van der Donck and first published in 1655. Newly translated by Diederik Willem Goedhuys.

“The Island at the Center of the World”, by Russell Shorto

“New York”, by Edward Rutherfurd

“Daily Life in Holland in the Year 1566”, by Rien Poorttvliet

“White Servitude”, by Richard Hofstadter (article on-line)

“Dutch and English on the Hudson”, by Maud Wilder Goodwin (available on-line via project Gutenberg)

The Rise of Pieter Claessen Wyckoff, Social Mobility on the Colonial Frontier, by Mortom Wagman.

The Wyckoff Families of Old Canarsie Lane, by Mae Lubizt.

The Wyckoff Family in America, Published by the Wyckoff Association in America

Lucie Chin and Joshua Van Kirk, the Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum

Van Rensselaer Bowier Manuscripts: Being the Letters of Kiliaen Van Rensselaer

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60 thoughts on “The illustrated story of Pieter Claesen Wyckoff

  1. Hello Denise,

    What a wonderful story you wrote with all the information you gathered. Love the drawings, they bring your story to life.

    Pieter Claesen Wyckoff is my 10 great grandfather. My line goes, Pieter Claesen Wyckoff, Nicholas Wyckoff, Peter Wyckoff, Jacobus Wyckoff, Peter Wyckoff, John Peter Wyckoff, Cynthia Wyckoff, Martha Boldman, Sarah Nelson, Lawrence Riley, Lorraine Riley, and down to me. I would love to connect with cousins.

  2. I like your water colors alot my mothers maiden name was wycoff And my grandmothers maiden name was king who married a wycoff it seems we share common blood lines. Your story about peter claesen wycoff is great! I had heard about him when i was growing up as ancester on my mothers side.we all thought that peter was a dutchman.

  3. Bravo Denise!
    Your portrayal of Grandfather Pieter’s New World experience conveys a realism that could only be achieved with a true passion for 17th century history coupled with delightful artistic skill. I’ve never thought about the connection between the Eighty Year’s war and the bold decision for Pieter to make an Atlantic crossing on the Rensselaerwyck, basically a well built floating timber frame, but it makes perfect sense. I share your sentiment regarding Hurricane Sandy. Sadly climate change remains a threat to the Wyckoff House as well as our entire planet. I’ll be sure to share your illustrated story with other family members.
    Thanks, Michael.

  4. Dear Denise,
    I have had such a wonderful time reading all that you have written and admiring the beautiful artwork! My husband is a very distant cousin of yours. I was wondering if you would ever consider sharing your writing and/or artwork on the family history site familysearch.org? I understand if you’d prefer not to, but I just thought I would ask. I bet there are so many people out there who would enjoy it! Thanks again!

  5. Dr. Jerry R. Aschermann on January 20, 2016 at 6:32 pm said:

    20 January 2016….. at sometime I happened to find your Wyckoff pages… then I meandered off to something else. Found them again tonight, accidently! 🙂

    Fantastic. History as it should be written for 95% of the people. My initial impression was “how does this lady know all of this?”…… then I began looking at the bibliography. You or someone has done a tremendous amount of research. Good job. The images add to the story. It all becomes “interesting” for the non-historian….. good writer!

    My grandmother’s pre-marriage name was Ruth Wyckoff…. need to get into the file drawer to find out her exact line.

    Curious— Considering that the family had Dutch origins, lived in New York, and probably did not like the english that well, I assume that they were involved in the American Revolution. Are you aware of any actual participation that would satisfy the requirements for membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution? If so, do you have a name/email address that I can contact so as to verify and document the participation?

    My mother, daughter or Ruth Wyckoff, each day adds to what she calls “My Story” <an autobiography of being born in Iowa and living in Colorado for 89 years. …… Her story is long; I assume that she has stories about the Wyckoff family in Iowa in the late 1800's. Will have to check.

    Unbeknown to all— you have kinfolk living in Kent, Washington. Stafford family. They moved to South Bend, WA in the 1930's . Cousin concluded that logging was going to peter-out in the early 1960’s…. so he became a chemist.

    Once again— fantastic. I need to go through the entire story again and conceptualize the story of Pieter.

    Cheers from Kentucky…

    Jerry Aschermann

  6. Just recently found that I am related to the Wyckoff family. My branch went all the way to Texas.

    Thanks so much for your research and story! Love the illustrations!

    Agnes Edna Wyckoff (1893-1976) married Jesse David Lane, my gr. grandfather.

  7. I am so glad you have all this information! I just got into my families geneology about 2 years ago. I was first interested because I knew nothing about my dad’s biological father’s side of the family. Now that I’ve traced them, I’ve started on my mothers side. Claes Pieterse Wyckoff is my 10th great grand-father. A trip to New York is in my future for sure!! Thank you so much for all this information!

  8. This is beautiful and so well done. I am so glad I came across it 🙂 Pieter Wyckoff is my 10th Great Grandfather. His first child Nicholas was my 9th ggf.

  9. I absolutely loved this. Pieter Claesen Wyckoff was my 11th great grandfather, so we’re distant cousins as well! Beautiful artwork. Thank you for compiling this!

  10. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your tale of Pieter’s early life. Well done! And you are a very talented watercolor artist. I hope it’s in the Wyckoff genes as I want to try my hand at it when I retire. My mother was a Wyckoff from the Cornelius branch. I visited the Wyckoff house 3 years ago and was quite amazed at the extraordinarily long history of our family in America. I wish you great success.

    • Thank you so much, Max! I’m glad you enjoyed it! It is wonderful to have a tangible connection with our forebears, isn’t it?

  11. Your artistic entry is lovely and the information helpful to my own research. However, appreciating the Claesen/Wyckoff history, there has been no mention of African-Americans who share this name and I wonder if there are resources as to how and when the name got passed on, particularly in LA, and regardless of the alternative spellings. Thank you.

    • I’m sure there are African Americans in the family tree, but I don’t have any specific references about them. I think since the forebears were in the US for such a long time, it is probable that many Native Americans are as well. Have you tried Facebook? It could yield some information for you.

  12. Pingback: The Pieter Claesen Wyckoff Story | Denise Dahn, artist/writer

  13. I first came across this page last October while searching for info on the ship Rensselaerswyck. To the best of my knowledge, my ancestors Dr. Johannes de La Montagne (a 9th G-Grandfather) and returning resident Claes Cornelus Swits (a 10th G-Grandfather) and their families were on that ship, and I just love the watercolor paintings. I put the Wyckoff House on my list of places to visit if/when I ever get back to NYC. Last night, to my surprise, while tracing another branch of the old family tree, Pieter Wyckoff came up as another 9th G-Grandfather! I thank my lucky stars that the Rensselaerwyck ship made it to New Netherland in one piece. It took four or five generations for these diverse colonists’ offspring to intermarry, but I’m certainly glad they did. Thanks for posting such a well-written and illustrated essay.

    • I guess that makes us distant cousins! So nice to meet you, and thanks for visiting my blog. I hope to do more about the Wyckoffs in the future. It’s such a fascinating story.

  14. Wonderfully written and beautifully illustrated.
    My husbands relationship to Pieter Claesen Wyckoff:
    9th great grandfather – so he is another cousin!
    Annetje Pieterse Wyckoff (1650 – 1688)
    daughter of Pieter Claesen Wyckoff
    Neeltje Roelofse Schenck (1681 – 1751)
    daughter of Annetje Pieterse Wyckoff
    Jannetje Albertse Covenhoven (1707 – 1783)
    daughter of Neeltje Roelofse Schenck
    Eleanor Neeltje Cornell (1739 – 1816)
    daughter of Jannetje Albertse Covenhoven
    Joseph Nevius (1779 – 1864)
    son of Eleanor Neeltje Cornell
    David J Nevius (1798 – 1869)
    son of Joseph Nevius
    Joseph Dunham Nevius (1824 – 1864)
    son of David J Nevius
    David Augustus Nevius (1853 – 1887)
    son of Joseph Dunham Nevius
    John Kline Nevius Sr (1885 – 1968)
    son of David Augustus Nevius
    John Kline Nevius Jr (1913 – 2000)
    son of John Kline Nevius Sr
    Gary Dumont Nevius, my husband
    son of John Kline Nevius Jr
    Thank you for taking the time to write and illustrate the story!

  15. Dear Denise: Just recently I started on the ancestry.com path and have found it to be a real eye-opener. I am descended from Pieter, also, through Cornelius, through Annetjie. My paternal uncle’s name was Wyckoff Schomp, and before he died he told me we were descended from French Huguenots who settled in New York in the late 1600’s but I don’t think even he knew the origin of his first name. I really enjoyed your artwork and research and musings about life in those early years in New Amsterdam and thank you for taking the time to share it with the rest of us descendants of this remarkable family. We are indeed fortunate to live in an age where the internet has made it possible for us to communicate easily with people we will likely never meet in person but can receive and appreciate their thoughts through cyberspace. I have found it very humbling to think about how many people combined to make the person that is me, since prior to searching my history I never much thought past my great-grandparents, largely, I suspect, because ours is a generation that lives in a fast-paced present, which makes it especially refreshing to come to an abrupt halt, face backwards, and enjoy finding out what lies behind us instead of what is in front of us. Karen

    • Beautifully stated, Karen. It is fascinating to be able to “face backwards”, like you say. I wish someone would invent a time-machine so we could visit the past in person! Maybe someday, in the distant future….
      But now we are fortunate to have access to all this great information at our fingertips, and the capacity for imagination to bring it all to life.

  16. This is really a very nice page. Most who view it will have no idea of how much work such a production is. I am 13th generation in the Garret line. My father (William Ames Wikoff) and I attended the opening of the Home in Brooklyn in 1982. I remember it being a very warm day. Currently I am the VP & Treasurer of the Wyckoff Cooperstown group which holds a reunion each year on the first Saturday after the 4th of July. The Wyckoff Picnic, as it is known, takes place at Glimmerglass State Park a few miles North of Cooperstown New York. 2012 turned out to be a particularly exciting year as we had the pleasure of hosting the national reunion, an wonderful experience.

    Thank you for your efforts.

    – Garret Wikoff

    • Thank you, Garret. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. It was a lot of work, but I hope to follow up with more if I get a chance. It’s such a fascinating story…really fires up my imagination! I’d love to do an illustrated story that went through more of the generations. Maybe someday…

      • I am adopted. I have had the unique opportunity to find my birth family and trace our family origins. My birth mother died while researching our tree, however, she left very good information for me and my sister. And my birth father and uncle gave me a lot of information for that side of the family. Dorcas Wyckoff is my 3rd great grandmother on my father’s side. She married George Bondurant Hopper. I traced the Wyckoff name all the way back to Pieter Claesen Wyckoff. I was amazed! And my sister (we have the same parents) was amazed as well. She grew up in New York and she has been by the original family homestead, but never visited. Back then she didn’t know the family connection. She now lives close to Cooperstown, NY. I told her about the family reunion there that Garret mentioned. She wants to attend the next one. Funny thing is she knows some Wyckoffs that live there. It really is a small world!

        Thanks Denise for this wonderful piece! It’s great to feel a part of such an interesting and historical family.

        Joan Dean

        • I too am a direct descendant of George Bondurant Hopper and Dorcas Wyckoff through their son John Hopper, who married Sarah J. Bayse. Mary Jane Hopper was John’s daughter and married a distant cousin of hers, E. Lemuel O’Brien. Dorcas Wyckoff was the daughter of Sarah Sally O’Brien, who would have been a distant cousin to Lemuel.

  17. Hi Denise,
    I have been working on a family tree with my sister. Found your article great piece.
    I have an old book called the Dutch history on New Amsterdam that has some interesting information.
    My family is from Pieter’s son Nicholas .

  18. Your article is wonderful. My husband has just started doing research and learned that he is a descendant of Pieter Wyckoff, through his son, Nicholas Class Pierterse Wyckoff,so I guess that makes us cousins by marriage. We are interested in learning more.

    Thanks again for your wonderful narrative!

  19. Your beautiful history of Pieter Claeson Wyckoff is wonderful. I am pleased to be a descendent of this great man. I am the great great great great great great great great great (9th) grandson in the following order:

    Hendricks, Jay Dee
    Hendricks, Milton James Sr.
    Hendricks, Charles Orren
    Hendricks, Joseph Smith Jr.
    Hendricks, Joseph Smith Sr.
    Hendricks, James
    Hendricks, Abraham
    Couwenhoven, Altje
    Roelofse, Neeltje
    Wyckoff, Annetje
    Wyckof, Pieter Claeson

    Your text and illustrations are wonderful. In April of 2011, I took my family to New York for a vacation. On one afternoon we went over to see the Wyckoff home in Brooklyn (Flatbush). It was the highlight of the trip for me and my sister. I tried to get my four grandchildren excited about the experience, but you know how teenagers are!!!

    Your history and illustrations have brought the memory of my visit back vividly to my mind. I thank you for that. I am very proud of my Dutch ancestry and of the long history of progenitors who have lived in America from the very earliest years of the history of our wonderful country.

    • Thanks so much, Jay Dee! I’m glad you enjoyed the post – it was so interesting to immerse myself in the past while I was writing and illustrating it. It is amazing that so many of us can trace our heritage back to this one man, isn’t it?

  20. Hello Cousin Denise,

    Thanks for a fun and informative take on our ancestor. I just started reading “Island at the Center of the World” by Russell Shorto. As I have other Dutch ancestors, Anthony Jansen Van Salee and his wife, Gretje Rayniers who also were in NY at this time. I will try and track down William Wykoff’s article as that is new info to me, thank you. Loved the Welikia website and very much appreciated you artwork. My maternal great grandmother was Loretta Katherine Wycoff who descends through Nicholas Pieterse Wyckoff.

    • Several years of research on the origins of Pieter Claessen have now been summarized in a new book, “What’s in a Name? History and Meaning of Wyckoff” available by searching amazon.com for Wykoff, the name of the author. That’s me.
      You may be interested in knowing that Pieter was probably closer to age 20 than to 10 when he contracted to work for a man’s wage at Rensselaerswyck. There is much more to be discovered. Enjoy the read!

  21. Thank you!! What a delightful rendition!! I am somewhat of an artist of watercolor and loved your gentle and thoughtful faces and landscapes. I am decended from Pieter’s son Nicholas. I have been trying to do some detective work on his lineage. It is interesting, the many theories and stories. You tell this story well and accurately. Thank you again, beautiful!!

    • Thanks, Gretchen. So nice to hear you enjoyed it – I sure had fun doing that post. These stories can be so absorbing, especially knowing that they come from our ancestors. Good luck on your detective work!

  22. Dear Denise,
    Your imaginative watercolor of a 17th century vessel crossing the Atlantic captures the frightening peril of the journey very well. I also like the watercolor showing the view of Fort Orange from the east side of the Hudson, but I think you meant to say the viewer’s perspective is looking north rather than south. Fort Orange was on the west side of the Hudson. With the ship sailing north, the Fort is on the left.
    While it is true, as you write, that Peter Claessen adopted Wyckoff as his surname, it was not invented. He chose the name of the Wykhof estate, the most likely place of his origin, which was six miles south of Norden. The name was Friesian, not Dutch. There is no such Dutch name. It is a common name in Friesland. I submitted an extensive article on the History and Meaning of Wyckoff to the Wyckoff Association for publication some time ago, but have not heard if, when, or how it will be disseminated. Are you a member of the Association? Maybe we can meet someday at one of the annual reunions. I would be so pleased to meet you.
    M. William Wykoff

    • Mr. Wykoff, thank you so much for your comments! I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      Regarding your points, the general location of Fort Orange in my illustration and caption are correct. The Fort was indeed located on the west bank of the river, as you say, but I think you are reading the illustration incorrectly. The view shown is not upstream across the river, it is downstream along the west bank, which has a natural bend along the shoreline that disappears from view. The viewpoint is a quarter mile or so north of the Fort, and the view direction is downriver, to the south, with the Fort on the west side of the river. In the post, I included a photo of the present-day view from the same location, to help orient viewers. As you can see, the freeway straightens out the bend a little, as freeways often do, but it’s still there, more or less.

      As I was writing this post I found quite of bit of written history about Pieter, but discovered that today, much of it is considered to be incorrect. For both the text and the illustrations, I relied on the expertise of the historians at the Wyckoff Association, who kindly reviewed the post for me and helped ensure its accuracy. There are many things about Pieter we do not know for certain, and I have identified which points in my text are speculation or imaginative and which are based on historical evidence. According to the Association, we know little about Pieter’s life before he came to North America other than that he was born in Norden in Lower Saxony (now Germany) and that his father was named Claes. As you say, there is no indication that the name Wyckoff was of Dutch origin, but I have never heard any indication it was Friesian. I have never heard of the Wykhof estate in Friesland. That is an interesting connection, and I’ll look forward to hearing more about it.

      Thank you again for reading this post and taking the time to respond with your thoughtful comments. Putting together the historical details for the text and the artwork was a fascinating exercise and kept me absorbed for quite some time, imagining the life of a young man/boy named Pieter who so many of of are tied to in our family roots. When I was working on the section of the Atlantic Crossing, I actually had a sleepless night or two imagining what that must have been like!

      I’ll look forward to reading your article and possibly meeting you one day at a Wyckoff event.

      • Denise, You say that you consulted the expertise of the “historians” at the Wyckoff Association, but that you never heard of the Wykhof estate in Ost Friesland. Since you wrote that you look forward to hearing more about it, you should find the following reference very informative:
        Wilhelm Wykhoff, “An East Frisian Theory of Wyckoff Origins,” Bulletin of the Wyckoff House & Association, 350th Anniversary Issue, vol. LI. (New York: Wyckoff Association, 1988): 9-21.
        I include the modern photo of The Wykhof , and a floor plan ca.1840, in the article I submitted on the origins, meaning, and history of the surname. The evidence for the Frisian origins of Wyckoff, Wykhof, et al. is actually overwhelming and conclusive.
        Cheers, Bill Wykoff

  23. I live in Elizabethtown, PA. I was born in Coudersport, PA. My line goes Pieter Wyckoff, Garret Pieter Wyckoff, Garret G Wyckoff, Aukey Wyckoff, William Aukey Wikoff, William E. Wykoff, Henry D. ( it says Henry M on the internet, buy i think it was D) Arnold Moses(my father). Found on the internet. I haven’t read all of your post. It’s reall nice. I would like to visit the Wyckoff House some day. I was born in 1949. I had wonderful parents. I never met my grandparents. She died in childbirth and he raised the 8 children. Dad said he was a wonderful father. He died in 1937(Henry D Wykoff) My dad died in 1963 when I was 14. My mom is 93 and doi g well. Sincerely, Susan Wykoff Young

  24. Hello Denise!

    My sister, my mom and I were talking about our ancestry tonight and my sister mentioned this blog post!

    My mom’s maiden name is Wykoff.

    Pieter Claesen Wyckoff is my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather! (I guess that makes us distant cousins?)

    Thank you so much for writing this blog! It was so wonderful to read, and your artwork is beautiful!

    ~Doriana Musselman

  25. Denise –
    Always appreciative of your posts. Most amazing!
    There is a Wycoff Ave in Bremerton. Although the spelling is a little different, I wonder if there is a connection.
    Noel

    • Thanks, Noel. It’s a name that Pieter invented when the English took over control of New York and ordered the Dutch to adopt surnames (they hadn’t before). But back then, spelling was a lot more free-form than it is today, so all kinds of words and names were spelt in diferant wayz. 😉

    • Thanks, Christina! It is interesting to think about family connections, even if they are distant. It was a fun project.

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