THE STORY OF
JESSE DE FOREST AND THE HOME-MAKERS
shiploads of American furs sold in Amsterdam set Dutch money-makers hot
on the trail for more. Led by Usselinx, they urged in the State Legislature
of Holland that a West India Company be formed. Asia had enriched the
Republic. Why should not New Netherland?
Not while the truce
with Spain lasted could the national congress grant the petition of Usselinx;
but in 1621, when war was renewed, consent was given. Then, like hounds
from the leash, the Dutch leaped to lead all nations in commercial enterprise.
In June, 1621, the West India Company was chartered. The governor-general
of the new corporation must be commissioned and approved by the congress;
but, except on this point, its powers were sovereign. It could effect
treaties and alliances with princes and potentates, erect forts, levy
and arm soldiers, dispatch war vessels, plant colonies, carry on war,
and establish government. Its products imported into Holland were free
of all taxes for the space of eight years. Its proud flag bore the monogram
G. W. C., for it possessed the coveted privileges of a Geoctrooyed,
or chartered corporation with monopoly.
This charter made
possible the cradle history of Americas greatest city. The first
object was war against Spain. The second was commerce for the enrichment
of the Dutch Republic. Hence the great powers granted to the company.
In the Netherlands were no mines and very little fertile soil. The life
of the State must be maintained by riches won in and on the sea, and by
trade with other lands. Holland in the seventeenth century had to do what
Japan must do in the twentieth, in order to feed her people and maintain
her growth. hence the extraordinary commercial expansion of 1621.
must be remembered that colonization was only one method chosen to enrich
the mother country. The Company was not obliged to populate new lands
in America. The charter word is may (mogen), not must. There was
no urgent call for a colony beyond the Atlantic, for Dutch people did
not need or desire to leave Patria. Religion was free, and employment
and money were easy to get.
Where, then, was
the Republic, not at all overpopulated, to get the colonists? There was
little to attract the native Hollander away from home, and a hundred men
were ready to enlist as soldiers or sailors to fight or spoil the Spaniards
to one willing to go out as a farmer in savage lands. However,
and here is the secret of the initial emigration, there were several
hundred thousand foreigners or Walloons, living as guests
in the land where conscience was free, and some of these,
especially in Leyden and Amsterdam, were ready to try a hazard of
Other companies of
refugees for conscience sake, besides The Pilgrim Fathers
of New England, were in Leyden; for the city was then recovering
grandly from its famous siege. The cloth trade attracted work-people from
many countries, who had churches according to their own tastes. All these,
whatever their language, were Walsh or Walloons,
that is, foreigners. Out of Leyden came the first colonists who settled
both New England and New Netherland.
Generous offers were
made first to the Pilgrims or English refugees, but these
wanted a convoy of war vessels, to protect them against pirates and Spaniards,
which the Government could not then spare.
The real colonizer
of New Netherland was Jesse de Forest, a Walloon, born between 1570 and
1580 at Avesnes, then in the Netherlands, but now, and since 1819, in
France, who was in Leyden in 1605 pursuing his trade as a dyer. In this
city, four of his ten children were born, his son Isaac, who became the
father of the American de Forests, seeing the light in 1616. Becoming
interested in emigration to America, or the West Indies, he
made an application in June, 1621, through Sir Dudley Carleton, the English
envoy, in the name of fifty-six Walloon families to go to Virginia.
When the answer of King James was received, it was not satisfactory.
So on August 27,
1622, Jesse de Forest petitioned the States-General for permission to
enroll families, who should settle in New Netherland. His petition was
allowed. It was his company that embarked on the first colonizing ship,
the New Netherland, to make homes and begin the settlement of the Empire
In the Leyden archives,
we hear nothing further directly from Jesse, except that he had left for
America. His brother, Gerard de Forest, petitioned the burgomasters of
Leyden, saying that his brother Jesse had lately gone to the West
Indies, a general name for America, and he asked permission
to replace his brother in his position, according to the regulations of
the city and guild. The records of the City Council show that this paper
was sent by the magistrates for advice to the Aldermen of the Dyers
Guild, and that permission in due form was given to Gerard de Forest to
take his brothers place as a master-dyer. Jesse de Forest deserves
honor as leader of the first band of thirty-one families from Leyden,
who began the community of homes in New Netherland.
As those people,
who were willing to try their fortune in America, did not ask for the
protection of big frigates, their request was quickly granted. The first-class
new ship of two hundred and sixty tons, roomy and clean, took Jesse de
Forests first party of thirty-one families over sea. A small armed
yacht, the Mackerel, commanded by Captain Cornelis J. May, was to convoy
them past the pirates of Dunkirk and across the Atlantic.
The larger of these
historic vessels, like its fellows of those days, had no jib. Instead
of the bowsprit of modern days, with its stays, a spar projected forward,
on which two or three little square sails could be spread. The main place
of habitation for passengers was in the tower, of two stories,
very high and with two rows of ports or windows. The stern view of the
New Netherland, with its affluence of carving and emblems, and a mighty
lamp at the top, which illuminated the back track, was most imposing.
High over all flew the great orange, white, and blue flag, with the triple
monogram G. W. C., that is, The (Geoctrooyed, or) Chartered West [India]
Company. This pioneer Dutch ship, eighty tons larger than the Mayflower,
was probably three times the size of Henry Hudsons yacht.
All merchant vessels
went armed in those days, and the New Netherland was prepared to fight,
in case Spaniard or Dunkirker hove in sight. Besides carrying the flag
of the Republic at the mizzen and peak, she was ready to poke out cold
iron noses from the portholes and blaze forth fire and shot if attacked.
Plenty of iron beans for the cannon were on board.
We do not know all
the details of Jesse de Forests life, but we can trace him in the
Netherlands from city to city and from communion table to communion table,
for he was, first of all, a Bible Christian. Religion was the first care
with his colonists. Arrangements were made with the reverend Classis of
Amsterdam for church officers to provide cheer and consolation. These
being duly furnished, in March, 1623, fathers and mothers, boys and girls,
said good-by to their friends in hospitable Holland and cleared for the
land of hope beyond the Atlantic. Truce was over, and mighty Dutch fleets
sailed to Angola in Africa and to Brazil to conquer the Portuguese and
Spanish possessions, but this single ship, almost tiny in contrast, bore
freight of peaceful colonists who were to begin the homes of the future
Empire State of the American Union, and Jesse de Forest was the soul of
the enterprise. It may be that they did not see Manhattan until 1624.
These beginners of
our Middle States and the men who sent them over were neither dreamers
nor humorists. They stood for pure family life, for the Church
and the school, and for farming, the true source of all legitimate national
wealth of land-dwellers, for they were, most of them, either skilled workmen
or tillers of the soil. They were not likely, when landed, to go hunting
in the woods for gold or silver mines. They did not come with their brains
full of spectres of mythology, such as drove the Spaniards into waterless
deserts to seek the Gilded Man, Fountains of Youth, the Seven Cities of
Cibola, and various other things that exist only in fairyland. They had
once given up home and all that was dear to them, when driven out of the
Belgic Netherlands, and had fled to Holland to enjoy freedom of conscience.
The Republic was now their own Patria, and they were about to trust God
again and seek homes in the New World. They were the real settlers of
New Netherland, John Company being merely the figurehead and
money-maker. Among these thirty-one families, with children and young
men and maidens of marriageable age, the adults in the company, of course,
spoke French. Bible-reading and singing of the psalms in Marots
version were part of the daily routine of a Walloon family. The Belgic
Confession of Faith, which many of the adults knew by heart, was their
foundation creed, as it was of the Dutch National Church, already established
for over a half-century. It was first written in French in 1561, by Guido
de Bres, who was burnt by the Spaniards in 1567. In its revised Dutch
form of 1619 the children learned it thoroughly. The keynote of its deep
harmonies is sounded in Article I: God . . . the overflowing fountain
of all good.
The young folks born
in Leyden, who had attended the Dutch public schools, spoke the language
of the captain and crew and of Patria. They were in effect young Dutchmen,
and loyal to the Republic and to the orange, white, and blue flag. Every
ship had its Comforter of the sick, who was well versed in
the Holy Scriptures, and the form of words duly provided in the familiar
liturgy of the National Church.
Happily no Dunkirkers
or Spaniards challenged those pioneer ships, and they may have remained
some time in the West Indies, but on entering the Narrows in New York
Bay, possibly early in 1624, the Netherlanders saw a French vessel lying,
at anchor. Not willing to tolerate a stranger, the Mackerel ran out her
guns and showed the necessity of departure. The Frenchmen took the hint
at once, and the Dutch were left alone.
Like a sower, going
forth to sow in the seed bed of a future empire, was Captain May in the
good, clean ship New Netherland. Each of the new settlements was called
a concentration, after the Spanish term. Eighteen of
the passengers were left on Manhattan, and those wore the first families
from Europe to dwell upon the island; but the settlement, if at first
called New Avesnes, was destined to be New Amsterdam and New York. Several
couples disembarked on the land named after the seven States of the Dutch
Republic, Staten Island. In a bocht, or bend in the East River,
several families made a settlement. This loop, or cove, was, like Walkill,
later called the Waal, or Walloons Boght, or Wallabout.
were planted on the site of the future city of Albany, and left under
the command of Adrian Joris, lieutenant to Captain May. Fort Orange, a
redoubt with four angles, was built and armed with cannon that fired stone
balls for defense. Inside this inclosure, Sarah, the first baby of the
colonists, was born, in June, 1625. Her fathers name, as he wrote
it in Walloon French, was Simon de Rapello, but the Dutch of it is Simon
Rapelye. Her mothers name was du Trieux, in modern form, Truax.
In a year or two, cradles were in demand. Fathers were ready to make these
out of rough timber with barrelhead rockers, but the mothers drew
the line here, and the importation of Dutch cradles from Holland
into New Netherland was quite frequent until the year 1664.
A better defense
than Fort Orange, with its cannon and gunpowder, was a league of peace
made with the wilden of the forest and the river, that is,
the Iroquois and the Mohicans. This covenant of friendship was perpetual.
In succeeding years, when the people at Esopus and on Manhattan were in
terror and saw fire, blood, and devastation, those at Fort Orange found
the red men as quiet as lambs. From the beginning to the end
of the Dutch rule in America this, the northern end of the colony, was
the most peaceful, the best governed, and, on the whole, the most prosporous
portion of New Netherland. Manhattan was cosmopolitan. The distinctively
Dutch part of the colony and province lay in the Hudson and Mohawk valleys.
Civic life in New Netherland was typical, not on the manors or the island,
but in the village communities of free farmers, as on Long Island, at
Schenectady, Esopus, and New Paltz.