In 1625, a small family from a town near Utrecht – Wolffaert Gerritsz Van Kouwenhoven, his wife Neeltgen Jacobsdochter, and their children Gerrit, Pieter, and Jacob – set out on a midwinter crossing from Amsterdam. They were part of a six-vessel expedition, organized by the Amsterdam Chamber, carrying hundreds of colonists and supplies to New Amsterdam. It was the largest colonizing effort yet undertaken by the Dutch. The six ships were called, in English, the Orange Tree, Cow, Black Horse, Sheep, Mackerel, and Rider. In addition to people the Oranjeboom carried most of the expedition’s farming tools, seeds, and live plants. The Koe and the Swaerte Paert carried hundreds of cows, horses, sheep, and hogs. The Schaep and Mackereel carried equipment and passengers, and the Ruijter held people and livestock.
As one of five “head farmers” named by the Dutch West India Company for the trip, Van Kouwenhoven traveled with his family on the lead vessel, the 150-ton Oranjeboom. She set out in January ahead of the other five and ran into trouble almost immediately. During a storm in the English Channel, the ship nearly sank and was forced to seek shelter in Plymouth. There her cargo proved problematic. On spotting a hold full of “divers trees, vines, and all sorts of seeds,” customs officials immediately seized the ship. Then, while the captain was mired in tedious negotiations and the passengers stuck in detention, a plague broke out, possibly typhus, and killed several people. Fear of contagion spurred the English at last to release the ship. The Oranjeboom made it to New Amsterdam without further mishap, but she arrived last rather than first and screwed up the planting season.
Two of the six ships didn’t make it all. The Ruijter was captured by Moorish pirates off the coast of Africa, and the Mackereel fell to pirates operating out of Dunkirk.
Van Kouwenhoven farmed several sites in New Amsterdam and then in Rensselaerswyck, up west of Albany. He went back to Holland, worked for Kiliaen Van Rensselaer (a Vail ancestor), and then returned to the colony. In 1636 he bought a chunk of Brooklyn and founded the first known European settlement on Long Island, but that’s a subject for another day.
Wolffaert Gerritsz van Kouwenhoven is an ancestor of Kate Stott.
- Klein, Milton M., Editor, The Empire State: A History of New York (Cornell University Press, 2005).
- Rink, Oliver A., Holland on the Hudson: An Economic and Social History of Dutch New York (Cornell University Press, 1989).