Voyage to the New World

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.

It’s the year 1636, and an eleven year-old 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 Dutch 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. They were desperate people seduced by smooth-talking salesmen looking to supply free labor for land holdings in the New World. Many indentured servants 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.

Last week, I introduced you to Pieter Claesen Wyckoff. It is not known for sure if Pieter came to the New World alone or not. Some sources say he was with his father, others not.

It is known, however, that Pieter spent much of his childhood as an indentured laborer, serving from ages 12 to 18.

 

What is known about Pieter’s childhood

When Pieter was eleven—in 1636—he left Amsterdam on the Dutch Ship Rensselaerswyck, crossing the Atlantic to New Netherlands (New York area). Only a partial passenger list of the voyage survives. It lists Pieter’s name, but does not include his father’s name or that of any other family members. Pieter’s mother had died when he was six, and he had no brothers or sisters. Pieter’s father is known to have remarried and migrated to New Netherlands, but he and his new family apparently lived separately from Pieter.

There were 38 travelers on board the Ship Rensselaerswyck, all signed as indentured servants 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—which was essentially a dozen or so settlers struggling to survive.

Pieter spent the years between ages 11 and 18 as a servant laborer on the land allotted to another indentured servant, Simon Walichsen. Together they worked to transform a chunk of raw wilderness into a producing farm.

Pieter eventually adopted the surname Wyckoff, a name he invented.

(I’ll tell you more about Pieter’s life in future posts.)

 

What is known about Pieter’s Voyage

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.

They reached what is now New York Harbor on March 4th, 1637, and after waiting for the frozen Hudson River to thaw, continued up to Fort Orange, reaching it on April 7th, 1937.

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Find out what happens when the ship reaches New Amsterdam in 1637! Click here to go to the next post in the series.

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

To visit the site of the Wyckoff Farmhouse and Museum: http://www.historichousetrust.org/item.php?i_id=14

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

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

 

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 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

 

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10 thoughts on “Voyage to the New World

  1. Hi Denise,

    Amazing finding this. My mother spent the last few days tracing back my ancestry and it ends up I am related to Pieter Wyckoff as well. Here’s our lineage: “Pieter Claesen Wyckoff 1625-1694 was the father of Cornelius Pieterse Wyckoff 1656-1746, who was the father of Jacob Wyckoff 1686-1732 who was the father of Cornelius Wyckoff 1705-1737 who was the father of Eida Wyckoff 1735-1775 who was the mother of Ida Van Liew 1768-1804 who was the mother of William P Cook 1800-1887 who was the father of Mary Cook (Mrs Mary Peoples)1830-1923 -who was the mother of Diana C. Peoples (Mrs Diana Volk) 1866- 1947 who was the mother of Carrie E. Volk ( Mrs Carrie Schaefer) 1891-1949 who was the mother of Marilyn Schaefer (my Grandma)

    My Grandma was able to get information from the Daughters of the American Revolution and from there my mom did some research. So interesting! I would love to go visit the Wyckoff house and learn more about my family tree!

  2. Hi Miss Dahn,

    I am an admirer of your history and your art with reference to 1637.
    I as well am a decendant from that perilous journey that the sea eventually delivered to the new world.
    My Great Grandmother was a Bradt during the journey in the captains log Storm Vanderzee Bradt came as a birth and was named from the sea.
    would love to know if any prints are available of the Rennselearwyk,
    Also remember seeing Bradts Normanskill saw mill rendition. Was not sure if that was your work or not..
    Well any help would be great..
    many thanks
    Douglas Perry

    • Hi Douglas,
      I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and it is so interesting to know that Storm was your ancestor! Vanderzee sounds like it means “sea wander” or maybe “seafarer”. If it does, that would be a fitting surname! What a difficult trip that must have been for those people. When I was writing that post and making the paintings, I got really caught up by imagining the dramas, the stories. Really fascinating.
      Drop me an email and I’ll let you know about prints:
      denise@dahndesign.com

  3. Having been born in Brooklyn in 1954 and presently living in New York, I was recently recalling Canarsie , Brooklyn with my Mom , who grew up in Canarsie as a young girl. While surfing around info on the internet I came upon the information about the Wyckoff house in Canarsie. I also had briefly owned an early Dutch house in upstate NY, so found all of this very interesting. But your blog Ms Dahn about your family’s history and connection to the Wyckoff house was most interesting and delightful reading. I look forward now to going to the Wyckoff house museum in Brooklyn to have a first hand look. Thanks for this wonderful story about your family. I’ve subscribed to your blog ! Best Wishes, Vincent

    • Thank you so much, Vincent! I hope you have a wonderful visit to the Wyckoff House. It’s an amazing place, and a fascinating story.

  4. Having been born in Brooklyn in 1954 and presently living in New York, I was recently recalling Canarsie , Brooklyn with my Mom , who grew up in Canarsie as a young girl. While surfing around info on the internet I came upon the information about the Wyckoff house in Canarsie. I also had briefly owned an early Dutch house in upstate NY, so found all of this very interesting. But your blog Ms Dahn about your family’s history and connection to the Wyckoff house was most interesting and delightful reading. I look forward now to going to the Wyckoff house museum in Brooklyn to have a first hand looked. Thanks for this wonderful story about your family. I’ve subscribed to your blog ! Best Wishes, Vincent Verdi

  5. How very lucky…. And what an AMAZING retelling / story!

    I always imagine life in times past…. We have it oh-so-very easy, today. Your details of this ship’s journey are perfect. Can you fathom that fear, that discomfort (to put it politely)? Let alone starting anew in a completely new world?

    • Thanks, Christina. I actually had a few sleepless nights when I was thinking about writing this post. The lives of indentured servants in colonial times was really rough, but to think that so many of them were children, separated from their families… is especially disturbing. The voyage alone would have been awful, but then once they entered their service they were at the complete mercy of their masters, the elements, and the unknown wilderness.

  6. Hi Denise, They are quite amazing, your ancestral tales. Did you always know about them or did you discover them recently? I know you never mentioned them. Where were you able to access the ship’s logbook? This is all really fascinating and I am eager for the continuation …

    • Thanks Vreni! I got most of the initial information from my mom, who has done quite a bit of research and study on the family history, along with her sister, my aunt, who is a real history buff. Lots more came from the Wyckoff Family Association (connected to the farmhouse in Brooklyn). Some time in the 1920s there was a geneology done, and they published a book, along with some booklets and other stuff. I’ve known about them for a while, and have been mulling over a possible project. Also – the internet is an amazing resource to find out information, for example what the ship would have looked like (Dutch fluyt). I forgot to add the links to the post — doing that now — where you can go to read the entire ship’s log!

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