This post was originally part of a 4-post series. I have since consolidated the series into one post, with a few revisions.
Click here to get the full updated version.
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?”
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.
It’s also my ancestral homestead.
In 1655, my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents, Pieter Claesen Wyckoff and his wife Grietje Van Ness, moved to this house from their previous home in New Amsterdam (now lower Manhattan).
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 4 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:
They probably were growing crops such as beans, corn, hay, squash, and tobacco.
Before moving to New Amersfoort, Pieter and Grietje had lived for a while in New Amsterdam (now lower Manhattan in New York City). At that time, New Amsterdam was a rapidly growing trading and port city, controlled by the Dutch. At one time, Pieter had a signed contract to “superintend the Bowery” (farm) of Peter Stuyvesant, the Governor of New Netherlands.
Why were the Dutch in New Amsterdam? (in 2 sentences or less)
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.
Today, this is one of the most intensively transformed landscapes on the planet.
I wonder what Pieter and Grietje would think.
More about Pieter Claesen Wyckoff to come!
Pieter’s story is an interesting one, especially how he came here and managed to get himself established. I’ll tell you more about it next time!
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)
Except for me (raised in Seattle), most of the above family members had their roots pretty close to the New York/Long Island area.
Find out how Pieter made his way to the New World aboard the Ship Rensselaerswyck in 1636. He was only 11 years old at the time. Click here to go to the next post in the series.
Read more about the Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House
Explore historic New Amsterdam:
Explore New York City before settlement:
Do you know much about your family history? Do you like looking back and wondering what life was like for people in past eras?
“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 Old World Progenitors of the Wyckoff Families, by William L. Wyckoff and Herbert J. Wyckoff.
The Wyckoff Family in America, Published by the Wyckoff Association in America
Thanks for visiting, come again!
Leave a comment, question, rant or rave!
Never miss another post…be a subscriber. It’s FREE and you’ll get an email notifying you of each new post! See subscriber button on my home page.
Share on Facebook!
I have a letter connecting my family with Pieter Clausen(sp) that tells a similar story that was written to my mother in 1960. Her maiden name was Wycoff. I found the letter in my Mom and Dad’s things last night. I decided today to investigate Pieter and found your site. Mom’s predecessors moved from the Illinois to Fayette County Alabama in February 1898.
Your writings are very interesting!
I am also a distance Cousin. I am connected to Maria Ann Wyckoff who married Osborn Edward Bright. I enjoyed reading your comments and seeing your art.
What great information, I have family tree & had googled My 9th Great Grandfather Pieter Clasen Wyckoff , to my surprise of what I had found the history on him, I would like to share & compare information with cousins, I love history never thought my ancestors would be apart of it. Enjoyed your site.
Mother’s mother was Ruth Wyckoff . Her family moved to Southwest Iowa by the mid 1850’s. Curious if any of the Wyckoff females are members of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Being “Dutch-German” and living in english dominated area, I suspect that few of the Wyckoff folks had any love for the english in 1776. …………. Is there a genealogy web location for the Clausen/Wyckoff family? ….. Any Wyckoff DNA studies done…. with so many kinfolk that can be documented over the years, seems like the family would present some good DNA info regarding migrations, health issues, etc. Cheers from Union, Kentucky. Dr. Jerry Aschermann <Scott family moved in the 1930's from Southwest Iowa to Northern Colorado so a 'big branch' of Wyckoff blood in Northern Colorado. ………… Seattle: who would want to live any where else? 🙂 Interesting information and bibliography
Also a cousin!
I am listing an original 1853 WYCKOFF family bible on Ebay today (Aug 30 2014). I loved finding the information about the house. This bible has records from 1806 James WYCKOFF
LOVE hearing about all of us Wykoffs being related! So many BIG families of Wykoffs back in the day! I was born a Wykoff in Akron Ohio and always thought this was a German name until I started my journey! Now I know I have Dutch in my blood! I now live in Tucson but just 2 years ago moved here from Seattle! Would love to connect when I visit Seattle to see friends and family!
Pieter Clausen technically was German. The islands off the Northwest coast of Europe belong to Germany. Pieter was “not Dutch” in the normal terms we think of Netherlands/Holland: tulips, windmills, canals, etc.
Just stumbled on your website about Pieter C. Wyckoff. I too am descended from him and Grietje Van Ness, their son Marten m. Hannah, their dau Grietje m. Samuel Poling I, then on through the Poling’s to Amelia who m. George Washington Nestor (W. Va) their dau Sarah & Captain Michael T Haller are my great-great grandparents. From W Va eventually ended up in New Jersey. I am enjoying reading all the historical information you have on the Wyckoff family. Good job and thank you for sharing.
Thanks for visiting, Anna!
Hi there, my name is Ashlee Wykoff, I am 24 years old and live in Florida. I have recently been trying to put together my family tree and history on ancestry.com and it led me to your website! We are relatives, and Cornelius Wyckoff is my 6th great-grandfather. It seems the grandson of Cornelius, James Wykoff, changed the spelling to drop the “C” and thus I have my last name “Wykoff.” Fun Find!
Hello Ashlee, nice to meet you! Since I wrote this post, I’ve discovered the Wyckoffs (also Wykoffs) have a ton of distant cousins all over the country. It is fun to think we can all trace our origins to Pieter and Gretje and that little house!
Also a Distant cousin, but closer to you, than you might think. I live in Seattle area too.
Vivian L Chase Armstrong
Margaret L Wycoff
Corneielius S Wycoff (born Wyckoff – I believe)
Hi cousin! Nice to meet you!
Hi distant Cousin
I am also Pieter Wyckoff descendant from his first born son Nicholas (1699-1778)
Nice to meet you, cuz!
Your family history is fascinating. I too have a Dutch lineage going back to the 1650’s in “Breuckelen”. The family at that time received passage to New Netherland with room and board for three years in exchange for the family’s
services. They settled in New Utrecht and much later moved to Bucks County, PA.
I plan to visit the Wyckoff House Museum soon!
Thanks Sharyn! I hope you enjoy your visit to the Wyckoff House.
Love your website. I met Dale Wykoff yesterday in a drawing class at Deerfield – a retirement community in Asheville, NC. My ancestors Teuntje Straetsman and the Rev Johannes Theodorus Polhemius knew Dales and yours! I’d written a vignette about Pieter Claesen after visiting the Brooklyn house in 2004. It was the 350th anniversary of the Rev Polhemius’ arrival from Dutch Brazil with the first 24 Jews who came to NYC. Huge celebration. I love your painting of the landscape. It’s my goal to do sketches of each of my foremothers and a ‘local’ tree. I keep getting side-tracked – like writing to you. Thanks for your site.
Thank you, Mary Lou! I’m glad you enjoyed it!
Denise, I love this blog piece about your Wyckoff ancestors and the illustrations and narrative that present it. I’ve heard some of the background from your mother, but this piece enlarges my perspective and appreciation of your earthbound connection to the very beginnings of New York City. I am relieved to hear that the house survived the storm. Your work and your blog are like a breath of fresh air to me, almost as refreshing as a “forest bath.” Thank you!
Thank you so much, Lynda!
Pieter is my 9th great grandfather as well, my line is through the daughter side of the 11 children: Annetje is my 8th great grandmother, and my own great grandmother was twice a Wyckoff, first way back through Pieter, then through a much later Nicholas.
I guess that makes us distant cousins then!
The Rapelje’s and Wyckoff families intermarried, as did many prominent first NY/NY/CT/ OH families (Riker, Lent, DeBouvois, etc.) – we would love to have more relatives join us and help explore and keep alive our heritage and ancestry!
That’s interesting Carol, if you have information on how people would connect, by all means share it! Is there a Facebook page set up?
Beautiful watercolor! I am obsessed with this house and with all things Dutch Brooklyn! I posted a tribute to the house here in 2007 on my Brooklyn houseblog, ‘Crazy Stable’:
Thanks for the great research and for sharing your family history!
Thanks, Brenda! Your blog post is really interesting. I especially like the image of what you said about there being 50,000 people resulting from the 11 babies born in that house! That’s a really cool way to look at history.
Another Wyckoff here! My ancestry traces back to Pieter and Grietje through their son Garrret (or Gerrit) Wyckoff. My brother and his family still live in New Jersey. I keep promising myself a visit to the Wyckoff homestead, which remained in the family until the early 20th century, on one of my trips back East.
Hi Ann! It sure would be worth a visit. I grew up in Seattle, but my mom and my grandparents always had lots of stories of growing up on Long Island, and even reminiscences of back when the area was still pastoral. I like to look through old family photos and let my imagination float back to that time.
Also my 9th great-grandparents. Hope to visit someday. Many of my ancestors settled what is now Manhattan and owned most of the land.
I guess that makes us cousins! It’s really wonderful that the Wyckoff Family Foundation has been able to preserve this farmhouse as tangible evidence of history and heritage. It really brings the story alive.
That is an amazing story and a beautiful watercolor Denise! I greatly enjoyed reading this!
Thank you, Phil! I’m glad you found it interesting. There’s more to come!
Denise, does this mean that you are truly and deeply a native New Yawkuh?
Yep! I’m the first generation of that line not rooted in New Yawk! (But I can make a mean cheesecake).
Way cool to trace your lineage like this. Looks like there was a pattern to have kids by about age 30….
Thanks, Karen. Yes…I noticed that too. I think it’s because I come from a line of third and forth sons. People sure had a lot of kids in those days!
Looks like you had fun with the research on this one. Very well put together and I love the photo’s you included
Thanks, Fran! It was fun. And I’m not done yet!
Way cool ! Very intersting story. In answer to your question, ‘what would my gggggggggreat grandfather say if he could see Manhattan now?’, I think the answer would be, ‘I sold too soon.’
Thanks, Noel! I know what you mean…the land value in NYC is astronomical, and I’m sure it is in Brooklyn, too. I’m just so glad that little parcel is intact, though! I think we already have enough MacDonalds and 7-11s. And…I forgot to mention this on the post, but the Wyckoff House was not damaged in the hurricane. They posted on their Facebook Page that they had lost a few of the trees, but the house itself was fine. Whew!