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
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