Saturday, December 23, 2006

Chapter 1 - The Rappleye Family

History of the Grandfather Clock

Each time that I handle our grandfather clock, when I adjust its hands, crank up its old lead weights, and dust its cherry wood cabinet, I feel a sense of pride and awe at this clock for which I have the privilege of being the temporary owner. The clock is not only an antique, it will be 200 years old in the year 2015, but it is also an heirloom as it was constructed by my great-great-great grandfather Peter Rappleye in the year 1815. The wooden case for the clock was made from a cherry tree and pine trees growing on Peter’s farm in Interlaken, New York, a rural farming area in New York’s Finger Lakes Region. As were many of the early settlers in Farmer Village, the original name for Interlaken, Peter Rappleye was of Dutch ancestry. He could trace his family back to the first Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam who first landed on the southern tip of Manhattan Island in the spring of the year 1624. Peter’s great-great-great-great grandparents were Joris Janssen Rapalje and Catalyntje Trico. Their story is an interesting episode in our family’s history.


In 1609, two years after the English settlers established the colony of Jamestown in Virginia, the Dutch Parliament hired English sailor Henry Hudson to find a northwest passage to India. In this he failed, but in the course of his explorations we know that he sailed into a large bay in Canada that bears his name, the Hudson Bay, and he eventually sailed into the mouth of a large river and made his way up the river to the present site of the City of Albany. The river today is called the Hudson River and Henry Hudson upon returning to the Netherlands claimed the entire Hudson River Valley for his Dutch employers.

In 1623, the Dutch East India Company, a national-joint stock company that was chartered by the Dutch Parliament in 1621 to organize and oversee all Dutch ventures in the Western Hemisphere, sponsored 30 families and agreed to transport them to North America and help them establish settlements on present-day Manhattan Island and up the Hudson River Valley. The “Eendracht”, the first of two ships carrying the colonists departed the Netherlands on January 25, 1624 and arrived in the New World in the early spring of 1624. The second ship, the “Nieuw Nederland”, arrived two months later. History knows the names of only a few of the passengers on the two ships and only four of the identified families are known to have left descendents in the colony. One of these families is the Rapalje Family, ancestors of our clock builder Peter Rappleye. The other settlers appeared to have died in the first few years of the colony or returned to the Netherlands.

While much has been researched about the ancestors of Joris Janseen Rapalje and his wife Catalyntje Trico, very little data has proven to be conclusive. We do know that Joris was born in the year 1604 in Valenciennes, a city which in the 1500s was part of the Spanish Netherlands, and is today located near the City of Dunkirk in the north-east corner of France. While it is not totally clear, it is believed that Catalyntje was born in Prisches, a city located about 30 miles south-west of Valenciennes. Exactly where and when the couple met is unclear but we do know that they were married in the Walloon Church in Amsterdam, Netherlands on January 21, 1624, only four days before they departed on the ship for America. He was 19 years old; she was 18. From their marriage certificate we learn that Joris listed himself as a textile worker, a major industry at the time in both Valenciennes and in Amsterdam. Neither Joris nor Catalynyje could read or write as they simply placed their marks on the marriage certificate. Their parents did not attend the wedding. Catalyntje’s sister was listed as their only relative in attendance. Four days after the wedding they departed on the perilous voyage to the unknown wilderness in the New World.

Why did this young couple make the decision to emigrate to America. Both Joris and Catalyntje were Walloons, a Calvinist sect of the Church similar to the French Protestant Huguenots. During the late 1500s and early 1600s, the Walloons were heavily persecuted by the Spanish which during this period of time ruled most of the Netherlands. They with many other Walloons hoping to worship as they pleased, fled to Amsterdam and Leiden, where the Spanish were no longer in control. It is worth noting that during this same period the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony fame, also lived in Leiden, near Amsterdam, prior to their departure to America in 1620. Joris and Catalyntje were probably recent residents of Amsterdam. Since joining the Guild [trade union] to work in the textile industry required a residency of at least one year, Joris, if he were a recent resident, may have had trouble finding a good paying job in textiles. Historians also note that their wedding seems to have been hastily planned. Normally, after an announcement to wed, the action was followed by the proclamation of banns for the next three Sundays before the wedding could take place. This normal procedure did not occur and they were married on the second Sunday following their intention to wed was registered. We might therefore speculate that Joris and Catalyntje may have only recently met and that their hastily planned wedding was necessary so that they would be accepted as colonists by the sponsors of the planned voyage to America. This observation is supported by the fact that neither set of parents attended the wedding, most likely because there was not time to invite them. Obviously the Church must have been sympathetic to the situation since they overlooked the fact that both Joris and Catalyntje were considered minors and absent of their parents permission to wed. A more romantic but a less likely scenario is that Joris and Catalyntje were young lovers much like Romeo and Juliet, who married without their parents’ permission and then escaped to the New World. While this is an unlikely scenario, it should not suggest that it was an arranged marriage and that they were not in love. They stayed married for almost 40 years until Joris’s death in 1663 and they were the parents of eleven children.

The “Eendracht” arrived in New Netherlands at the mouth of the Hudson River in early spring of 1624. Initially they were to have landed on Manhattan Island but instead the decision was made to take some of the colonists, including Joris and Catalyntje, up the Hudson River to settle at Fort Orange, which is presently the City of Albany, where they were expected to help out in the fur trading operations. Problems with the local Indians resulted in the colonists being relocated in 1626 back to Manhattan Island for settlement. In the meantime, the Dutch governor of the colony, Gov. Peter Minuit, in May of 1626, purchased Manhattan Island from the local Indians “for 24 dollars worth of trinkets”, an event eventually recognized as the most infamous real estate purchase in American history. While still living in Fort Orange, Joris and Catalyntje gave birth to their first child Sara, born June 9, 1625. Sara was the first white child born in New Netherlands.

After relocating to Manhattan Island in 1626, Joris and Catalyntje farmed for several years and then opened a small tavern on the north side of Pearl Street abutting the south-west corner of the wall of the new fort that had been constructed at the southern tip of Manhattan Island in 1628. New York City’s famous “Wall Street” takes it name from this fort and Pearl Street is still to this day a city street in New York City. Joris and Catalyntje operated the tavern and lived and raised their eleven children in their home on Pearle Street until 1654 at which time they moved their family to their large 355 acre farm in Brooklyn that they had purchased from the Indians in 1637. The farm had been used to grow vegetables and flowers that the Rapalje’s sold at their tavern. They remained on their farm for the rest of their lives. Their land is now part of land occupied by the U.S. Marine Hospital in Brooklyn. Their farm eventually passed down to one of their descendents, a John Rapalje. As it turns out, John Rapalje remained a Loyalist during the American Revolution. At one point he was actually tarred and feathered and shortly thereafter left the New York area for Nova Scotia. The farm after the Revolution was confiscated by the government and became part of the Brooklyn Naval Yards.

In the colonial records of New Amsterdam Joris Rapalje’s name is mentioned on a number of occasions. In 1641, Joris was elected a member of the board of 12 men to advise the governor as to what to do about the general Indian problems. This was probably an important issue for Joris as his son Jacob in 1639 was shot and killed by Indians while on the front steps of their tavern on Pearl Street. The fact that Joris was elected to this board shows his important standing among the colonists. In the years 1655 through 1661 Joris served as a magistrate in Brooklyn. Joris Rapalje died in 1662 at the age of 58, two years before the English first wrestled New Amsterdam away from the Dutch. Catalyntje lived until 1689 finally passing away at the age of 84. Together they had eleven children including their 8th child, their son Jeronimos Jorise Rapalje, my great (x8) grandfather. Jeronimos continued to occupy the family farm in Brooklyn until his death in 1702. He served as schepen of Brooklyn in 1673 and 1674 and as justice of the peace in 1689 and 1690. Jeronimos’s son Teunis, born on the family farm in 1671, moved out of Brooklyn with his family in the 1690s to New Brunswick in Middlesex County, New Jersey. It was Teunis’s great grandson, Jeremiah, who eventually relocated his family out of the New York-New Jersey area and it is here at this point, that our story of the grandfather clock has its beginning. The above painting shows the third generation of Rapalje's in America.

Before we begin the final chapter of the grandfather clock it is worth noting how the name Rapalje became Rappleye. It is thought that since Joris was French speaking the original spelling of his name may have been Rapalie or Raparlie as it was spelled on the wedding certificate and the spelling changed to Rapalje when he moved into the Dutch speaking area of Amsterdam or later in New Amsterdam. On the other hand, some genealogists believe that Joris’s father’s name was Jean Rapareilliet and if that is the case the name was simply misspelled or just phonetically spelled as Rapalje by the Dutch. Considering that neither Joris or Catalyntje could read, write or spell and it is doubtful that they would have recognized the correct spelling. When the English language finally replaced the Dutch language in New Amsterdam and the city named changed to New York, the existing Dutch surnames were gradually all Anglicized. Considering how large the family had become over the years it is no wonder that the original Rapalje name evolved in English to become Rappleyea, Rappleye, Raplee, Rapleye, and other variations. By the present time, it is estimated that there are over one million descendents of Joris and Catalyntje Rapalje living in North America.

Jeremiah Rappleye, the great-great-great-great grandson of Joris and Catalyntje was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 1742. In 1766 he married eighteen year old Sarah Williamson who like Jeremiah was of Dutch ancestry. Sarah’s ancestral surname was Willemsen and she could trace her family back to her great grandfather Willem Willemsen who emigrated to New Amsterdam in the 1650s. Together Jeremiah and Sarah had thirteen children including our great-great-great grandfather, Peter Rappleye, their third oldest son. All of the children were born in New Jersey between 1767 and 1790.

Prior to the American Revolution the Finger Lakes Region of Central New York State was occupied primarily by Indians. These Indians, primarily Seneca Indians, because they were actively supporting the British during the war, were chased out of the area in the year 1779 by American troops under the command of General John Sullivan. Following the end of the American Revolution the land surrounding the Finger Lakes, primary the land on either side of Cayuga and Seneca Lakes was opened for settlement. Much of the land was set aside for the soldiers who had fought in the Revolution as payment for their services. Many of the soldiers sold their land to land speculators and the remainder of the land that had not been set aside was quickly grabbed up by these same speculators. It became well known that the land around these Finger Lakes was abundant, fertile, ideal for farming and if purchased early enough, inexpensive. No doubt, Jeremiah was attracted to this available opportunity.

In the year 1797 Jeremiah moved his entire family to this then wilderness countryside, via flatboat up the Hudson and Mohawk rivers, making various overland portages, then through Oneida Lake, and finally down the Seneca River into Cayuga Lake. They then traveled by boat down Cayuga Lake and finally on the 15th day of May in 1797, the family disembarked at what is now known as Kidders Ferry. The family then moved overland about five miles to the small scantly populated village named simply “Farmer Village.” The following excerpt was copied from historical records found in the Interlaken Public Library:

“Jeremiah Rappleye, [Peter’s father] who was born at New Brunswick, New Jersey, in 1743, purchased the southwest corner of Lot 42, consisting of 100 acres, from Abram Smith on February 11, 1797, and became the pioneer settler of Farmer Village. He died a highly respected resident on October 27, 1827.” Note that the date of the land purchase does not agree with other records that indicate that they did not arrive in the area until May of 1797. I believe that the actual land purchase was made later in 1799.

Peter Rappleye, my great-great-grand father and third son of Jeremiah and Sarah was born in 1776. He was 21 years old when he moved with his parents to the Finger Lakes. The following history was copied from an article found in the Interlaken Public Library:

“Peter Rappleye was born in New Jersey in 1776. In 1797 he came with his father, brothers and sisters to what was then the town of Covert, Seneca County. Two years after his coming, on June 1st, 1799, he, together with his brothers William and Teunis, each bought farms of Benjamin Dey of the town of Romulus, lying on the west portion of Lot #51 [100 acres each at a cost of $375.00 each], and along the highway known as the Turnpike leading to Ithaca, New York. Peter bought 64 acres lying on the northwest corner of the lot, bordering on the east by lands owned by John Kennedy and on the south by William ?. For his 64 acres Peter paid $214.00.
It continues:
About this time [1799] Peter was married to Mary Covert, daughter of Abraham Covert by his second wife, Arian Wyckoff. Abraham Covert came from New Jersey in 1790 with five children, Ann, Joshua, and Cornelius Wyckoff. [Note: One of Peter’s sons was named Joshua Wyckoff Rappleye after his uncle.] He settled on Lot #27 in the town of Ovid. The stepson, Joshua Wyckoff, came into possession of land which Peter later bought, namely, the northeast corner of Lot #50. On January 1st 1806, Peter bought 55 acres of land of Joshua Wyckoff, paying $308.15 for same. On this land now stands the First Baptist Church of Interlaken. This land comprises the southeast portion of Interlaken also. It is believed that here Peter built his first log house. It stood about where now stands the home of Melvin Morehouse. Peter, by selling off much of his original farm into lots, became a well-to-do man and substantial citizen. To three of his sons he gave a farm each, and gave the land whereon stands the Reformed Church parsonage [This church was constructed in 1831 and still exists as of 2004]. On August 20, 1824, Peter and Mary, his wife, sold to the Union Baptist Church, Farmersville, ½ acre, 11 rods, etc. When the Reformed Church was organized in 1830, Peter was one of the first elders, and a staunch and faithful member the remainder of his life. He was a trustee of McNiel or First Reformed Dutch Church of Ovid and a Justice of the Peace and Postmaster of Farmersville from 1815 until 1833. His life was mostly devoted to the business of farming, although for a time he was engaged in the mercantile business under the name of Almy & Rappleye. He died in 1858.” [He died of Typhoid fever, a common cause of death in the 1800s.]

Interlaken was originally named Farmer Village and it is known that Peter was himself a farmer. Peter Rappleye in the year 1815 constructed or commissioned the construction of the grandfather clock that sits in our Florida home today. The clock was constructed from a cherry tree and from white pine trees that grew on his farmlands. He purchased the clockworks from an outside source possibly purchased in the New York area. Considering the quality of the clock construction, we might conclude that Peter may have been a master carpenter although based on the rather elaborate construction of the clock and the special tools that would have been necessary to cut and trim the wood, it is more logical to assume that he hired the construction of the clock from a local furniture maker. Family history [“Memories” written by Asbury Baker] records that our clock builder was “an intelligent man with more than average education for that period, and his services were in frequent demand to draw up contracts, wills and other legal papers.”

Peter Rappleye married Mary Covert in 1799 and following the lead of his father, cleared some land, erected a log house, and reared a large family of five sons and two daughters. Peter Rappleye lived to the age of 82. He left to his children fertile farmlands, and to Farmer Village he gave lands on which were erected churches, the town hall, and a school. Our clock builder, Peter Rappleye, is credited with being the founder and original trustee of the Dutch Reformed Church in Interlaken. He donated the land for the church. The church was constructed in 1831 and still exists today. He and his wife who survived him by 12 years and died in 1870 are buried in the Lakeview Cemetery in Interlaken (see adjacent photograph.) When we visited Lakeview Cemetery in 2004 we could not help but note that there were 100 burial plots under the name Rappleye and/or Rappleyea.

To his eldest son, Joshua Wyckoff, my great-great grandfather born in 1814, Peter left his log house and the farm as well as the grandfather clock. Joshua and his family (he had three wives, outliving two) spent their entire life on the farm. Sometime around the 1850s Joshua had a new log home built near the site of the original log cabin, and it is probable that this is the first time that the clock was moved since its construction in 1815. Interestingly enough, the clock was later inherited by Peter’s granddaughter, Helen E. Rappleye (rather than one of Joshua’s sons), who married Asbury Harpending Baker from Elmira, New York in 1893. The clock at this point passed to the Baker branch of our family and made its second move to Elmira, New York probably sometime in the early 1890s. Following the death of Asbury Baker in 1933, the clock was inherited by his oldest son, Charles Schenck Baker, my grandfather, and it was moved to his home in Corning, New York. In the early 1950s, Charles S. Baker moved into his son’s home in Niagara Falls, New York and the grandfather clock moved as well. In 1956, the son, Charles A. Baker, my father, moved the clock again to his new home in Lewiston, New York. There it remained until his death in the year 2000. It was then relocated to Savannah, Georgia and later to our home in Estero, Florida in 2003. The clock was serviced in July 2003 and again in November 2006. As of 2006 the grandfather clock is in working condition.

Shortly after the birth of their son, Joshua Wyckoff Rappleye on November 15, 1814, Peter Rapaleye started construction of the clock. We believe that the clockworks within the clock, which Peter purchased when Joshua was only three days old, are the original clockworks. This has not been verified although it was suggested by a professional restorer of old clocks that we talked with in Florida, that the clockworks appear to be from the period of the early 1800s. It is noted that the changing of the moon dial has not worked in many years (since the early 1900s) and it is thought unlikely at this point that we will be able to find anyone who can restore the clock. Furthermore, it is probably better not to repair the moon dial if the repair work includes installing new, modern clockworks. Installing new parts verses restoring the original mechanisms, would probably greatly devalue the clock.

The grandfather clock has remained in the family since its construction in 1815 It is not know what damage if any has occurred during the clock’s many moves nor do we know what repair work has been performed as a result of any past damage. We do know that the clock was tipped over in 1950 damaging the glass and wooden parts of the clock’s hood. Obviously some repair work was done at that time although as we learned later, the quality of the repair work was inferior such that it could not be considered as a proper restoration job. For example, the loose wood pieces were reinstalled using modern finish nails and without glue. We also must report that some damage to the clock’s wood finish and veneer at its legs occurred when the clock was in storage in Savannah in 2002 and early 2003.

In early January of 2004, the wooden hood of the clock was given to Jim Freshwater of North Ft Myers, Florida for restoration. Mr. Freshwater is a specialist in the restoration of old clocks and he came highly recommended. Basically, he reglued all of the loose wood pieces on the clock hood, plus he applied new putty around the glass pieces and installed a new brass knob on the door to the clock face. During his inspection of the clock Mr. Freshwater made the following observations. He stated that the clock was obviously handmade and constructed by a skilled craftsman. He doubted that Peter Rappleye actually made the clock wood cabinet himself and suggested that Peter was probably a well-to-do farmer (which was true) and he most likely hired a local tradesman to build the clock’s cabinet. Since some of the frame pieces are attached using tongue and grove jointing he suggested that the tradesman was most likely a furniture builder since this type of jointing was not standard in the construction of clocks. All of the wood pieces in the clock would have been constructed using a planner rather than saws, since saws were not in use in the early 1800s. The veneer on the front and two sides of the clock are made from cherry wood all glued to pine wood. Even the door to the weights and pendulum is made from two glued pieces of pine and cherry. He noted that screws were not in use in the early 1800s. Cut nails were used to hold some of the pieces together although most everything was attached using only glue. The pinewood was obviously cut from the center of the tree so that warping would not occur. He did observe the crack in the bottom front piece and pointed out that this was not unusual in a piece of wood this size. He noted that the cracked section had a spline piece across it backside which may have actually been installed at the time the clock was constructed. He noted that neither the glass nor the pendulum were original. He was not sure that the clockworks were original although he noted that the clockworks were old and may be from the early 1800s. In summary, he stated the clock was wonderfully built and basically in good condition. He suggested rubbing the clock with #0000 steel wool and applying lemon oil. This treatment was done in late January 2004. He strongly recommended against refinishing the clock since this would reduce the value of the clock. He also stated that he believed that the existing finish was the original finish.

As I write the final words in this Chapter, I can not help but ponder the fate of our grandfather clock one hundred years after my death. Will my great-great grandson or granddaughter be still lifting the lead weights each week? I hope so. It would be a terrible loss to lose something so valuable in our Family’s History.

1 comment:

TeaLady said...

This was a fascinating read. I am a Rappalye descendant as well, but had never read this type of info on the family. Thanks.