Saturday, July 02, 2011

Independence Viewed From My Early 1600s Remonstrant Roots

My preference for quiet, isolated places to stay in touch with my spirituality may have roots that trace back to the dawn of the 1600s and two ancestors born a few hundred miles apart along the edge of the North Sea.

They and their families came to America, one in 1639 when they were 31 years of age and the other in 1643 at 44 years of age, as part of the first handful to settle the area around remote Fort Orange, the site of Albany, New York today. The younger one was a sailor by trade and appears to have made several voyages.

The younger by nine years was born in Husum (or Husem), Schleswig controlled then by Denmark and today the northern most Schleswig-Holstein tip of Germany; the other born in Voorhout in the now idyllic tulip-growing region near Leiden in the southern portion of the province of Holland, one of seven in the newly independent republic, the United Provinces of the Netherlands.

Both of these areas may have been far from idyllic at the time, torn either by external religion-oriented conflicts with Spain or overrun during the death throes of the Holy Roman Empire or from internal conflicts between hardline and flexible Protestants or specifically between hardline and flexible Calvinists.

One and probably both of these men had close association with proponents of the philosophy of a former Calvinist professor at Leiden University, Jakob Hermanszoon, who in their lifetime had put forth a “kinder-gentler” form of Calvinism that believed in free will vs. predestination, decentralized vs. centralized government and the continued peace instead of the resumption of war with Spain.Capture

Known as Remonstrants, they had recently been suppressed and purged or driven underground by hard-line Calvinists. This may have also created a spark of passion in their decedents that resulted in Independence for our nation 137 years later.

While growing up along that stretch of North Sea coastline, these two ancestors would have also witnessed the founding of the Dutch West Indies Company (DWIC) and would have read or heard the excitement created when logs of Henry Hudson’s Third Voyage in 1609 were published in 1625 about his exploration of the river in the New World that would be renamed after him.

They had both gravitated to Amsterdam, where four years apart, they were among the first handful to contract to go to the New World by another who studied the Remonstrants, the diamond-maker businessman, agrarian developer and a founder and board member for the Dutch West Indies Company (DWIC), Kiliaen Van Rensselaer.

The families of Jan Fransse van Hoesen (of Husem), aka Heusen, Hossem, Husum and his wife Volkje and Cornelis Segerse van Voorhout (of Voorhout), aka van Egmond because his grandfather had been born in Egmond Castle) and his wife Bergjie were brought together because the DWIC had decided to privatize colonization to patroons (business owners) such as Van Rensselaer.

His agreement with the DWIC was to raise venture capital to assemble land around Fort Orange and then lease it back in a feudalistic model for contract-settlers to farm. The farmers would supply food to the Fort and the Fort would provide protection to the colonists.

Jan Fransee, now Frantz, assembled numerous plots while serving as DWIC land commissioner, eventually to own and farm a large parcel that included the area where the town of Hudson is now. Cornelis Segerse quietly assembled control of the entire Castle Island, the rich, fertile but flood-prone site of a former fort and today the site of Albany’s airport. I suspect he had more than a little experience, of course, with sodden soil due to his years in Holland.

However, these settlers didn’t organize into towns such as the very social English colonists did in Massachusetts or as they had back home where half the population of the Netherlands lived in towns with a population of 30,000 or more. A mix of Dutch and German along with Walloons and French Huguenots in the New World, they forged a new and highly individualistic society.

They resisted the formation of local political authority and lived on separate and distant farms that could grow as large as they wanted while they navigated relationships with Mohawks and other Native American tribes in the area.

They resisted interference from the central government down in Manhattan which was renamed New Amsterdam just as their descendants would, having won Independence more than 140 years later, during discussions of a Constitution for the new United States of America.

They also didn’t all worship in common, building only a small 34 foot by 19 foot church with nine banken or benches in 1643 that wasn’t expanded until 1656 as the population grew to some 210 by 1664. Ironically, as independent as they were, their descendants didn’t rebel against that feudal-like system until after the abolishment of slavery had taken full effect in 1827 based on legislation passed in New York in 1799.

At about that same time as the abolition of slavery in New York, the Remonstrant roots of my ancestors also helped flame The Second Great Awakening that fueled the emergence and growth of so many new religions in central and western regions of that state, one of which would draw together many of my ancestors from various states who then migrated to the Intermountain West along the Oregon-Mormon Trail in the 1840s and 50s.

Those families of Jan and Cornelis obviously socialized enough after their arrival in America in the 1640s for their children, Cornelis Van Voorhoudt and Catalyntze Van Hosen, to marry and become the great-great-great-great great grandparents to my maternal great-great grandfather Thomas Messersmith.

As for my moderate center-left, post-modern Independent political beliefs, maybe those are also rooted back with my ancestors of that time. Immigrating just six years after they did to that part of America was Claes Maarrtenszen van Rosenvelt, an ancestor of two U.S. Presidents, progressive-Republican Theodore Roosevelt and progressive-Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt.

1 comment:

Larry Langston said...

Jan Fransse had been a sailor for the DWIC; signed a contract to work in America for Renseelaer; came in 1639. Did he actually work as a land commissioner for the DWIC and also do something else for the Patroonship? What exactly did he do for Rensselaer? Did he continue working for the Patroonship after his four-year contract ran out? I would love to find out. I, too, am one of his many many descendants. I would love whatever information you might have. Thank you very much.

Alexandra Wilhelmsen (using my husban'ds account)