Friday, September 11, 2009

Four hundred years ago


Here’s a watercolor of Manhattan as it appeared from the Brooklyn side of the East River in 1665. One of the treasures of the Royal Library in The Hague, it’s now on exhibition in New York.

Members of my family were among the inhabitants at the time, but I know little about them. My mother wasn’t the sort of person to devote much time to chronicling the family tree – she was far more interested in current events and her current or forthcoming battles with the Powers That Be. Because I was curious about the centuries-old wooden shoe that had come down to us over the generations, she did occasionally say a little bit about the Dutch side of the family. Mother’s maiden name was Hendrickson. She was a direct descendant of Hendrick Hendrickson who, so mother had been told by her father, was an Utrecht-born navigator who had piloted the Dutch East India ship “Halve Maen” – Half Moon – which was captained by Henry Hudson. The ship entered New York Harbor 400 years ago today: 11 September 1609.

Hudson was the polar opposite of a likeable man, which perhaps was a factor in explaining why Hendrick Hendrickson became part of the first generation of non-native settlers in Manhattan.

There is a famous map of which gives a bird’s eye view of the town on the southern tip of Manhattan, Nieuw Amsterdam, each house clearly drawn and numbered, with a listing on the side giving the names of the occupants. Hendrick Hendrickson’s house was at the north end of Breedtstraat (literally, Broad Street, today’s Broadway), just inside town wall, Wall Street, as it is today.

I would love one day to find out how much of the family story is legend, how much of it is true. Perhaps I will find a book about Hudson’s 1609 voyage with details about the crew of the Half Moon. Who was Hendrick Hudson? Was he really Henry Hudson’s navigator?

The one major relic of the family past in that era is a 17th century New Jersey farm house, the Hendrickson House, now a beautifully restored museum run by the Monmouth County Historical Society.

-- Jim

1 comment:

Judy Miles said...

Enjoyed this posting. We both share a Dutch early settler history as well as Monmouth County roots. My family were also early settlers in New Amsterdam.

Re Monmouth County: I recently obtained a copy of an out of print book titled "From Indian Trail to Electric Rail" which chronicles the county's history. I know you'd find it interesting, given your own roots. If you manage to make it to Brooklyn during your upcoming visit, remind me to show it to you.

Judy