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