|The Huguenot Cross|
The progenitor of our DeGraff family in America was a man named Jean LeComte who was born we believe sometime in the late 1630s. His birth location is usually listed as Picardy, France although there is no confirmation that we could find as to its accuracy. The first actual record that has been located lists Jean LeComte as a member of the Dutch Protestant church in Middelburg in the province of Zeeland in the Netherlands and marrying Marie Laurens on 12 December 1660. A subsequent church record dated 13 March 1661 records the baptism of their son Moses LeComte. After that, the only other confirmed record of Jean LeComte and his wife and son is when they landed in New Amsterdam in America in October of 1674. What needs to be examined at this point is why did Jean LeComte leave his French home and move to the Dutch controlled Netherlands, and then why did he subsequently move to America. Unfortunately the most common answer is that his moves were a result of the persecution of the Huguenots by the French authorities, and while this is certainly true, it does oversimplify what actually happened.
These civil rights initially included political rights, military rights, and religious rights. Unfortunately by the 1620s the French government pretty much destroyed the private armies of the Huguenot nobles and gradually removed any Huguenot influences within the government. While the Huguenots still retained their rights to worship as they pleased, where they worshipped and how many churches they could build was gradually brought under the control of the government. We do not know the exact year that Jean LeComte moved out of France and into the Dutch controlled Netherlands. We also do not know if he was moved by his parents when he was still young or he moved alone or with friends or relatives around the time he became an adult in his late teens or early twenties. Finally, despite the fact that almost all writings about LeComte state that he left France to escape religious persecution, we do not really know the real motivations behind his relocation. Frankly, if Jean LeComte moved to the Netherland sometime between 1648, when the Protestant Dutch regained control of the Northern Providences of Netherlands from Spain, and 1660, the wholesale persecution of the French Huguenots was not taking place at least not to the extent that it did during the late 1500s before the Edith of Nantes or after 1685 when King Louis XIV revoked the Edith of Nantes and went after the Huguenots.
|King Louis XIV of France|
As part of this same campaign, Louis XIV ordered in 1673 a portion of his troops to invade Germany including the Palatinate, home to many French Huguenots who had fled to this area and specifically the city of Mannheim in earlier years. This is significant to this discussion as two families, Nicholas deVaux and his wife Maria Sy, and Maria's father Isaac Sy and his family escaped to England before the invading French army. Here in England the deVaux family and the Sy family became acquainted with Jean LeComte and his family. We have seen in writing several times when describing these families that they were all related and while obviously the Sy (sometimes written as See) family and the deVaux family are related by marriage, there is no evidence that Jean LeComte was related to any member of either family. It has also been written that Jean LeComte lived in Mannheim for a period, but here again no one has provided any evidence to support this believe nor does it make any sense. Why would he have left one Protestant nation where he was able to freely worship, to move to another Protestant nation even further away from his original home.
|New Amsterdam around 1670|
Like the early history of my LeComte family, the early history of Claude LeMaistre is also somewhat of a mystery. His birth year is listed as somewhere between 1611 and 1620. There seems to be a consensus that he was born in the old province of Artois located just north of the province of Picardy in the northwest corner of France and that as a young man he moved possibly with his parents and siblings, to England around the years 1635 or 1636. They were Protestants and like so many Protestants before and after them they were moving away from the intolerable treatment that they were receiving from the Catholic Church and the government in France. Their move may also have been motivated by the onset of the Franco-Spanish War which began in 1635. By 1636 the Spanish forces in the Southern Netherlands were conducting raids in northern France where the LeMaistre family and many other Huguenots families lived. Claude was married in 1638 in Canterbury, England to a woman named Louise Quennell who also had come with her parents from France. Together they had two daughters both of whom died before Claude and Louise subsequently moved to Leiden in the Netherlands around 1643. The English were applying pressure on the Huguenots to join the Church of England which undoubtedly motivated the move. A male son was born to the couple in 1646. Unfortunately around a year later in 1647, Claude's wife Louise died. Sometime following his wife's death, Claude moved to nearby Middelburg were he met and married his second wife Jeanne de Lannoy in 1648. She too died after only two years of marriage in 1650. Claude LeMaistre married my 9th great grandmother Hester DuBois on 24 April 1652 in the Walloon Church in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Shortly following their marriage Claude and his new 26-year old bride Hester boarded a ship headed for America and the Dutch Colony of New Amsterdam.
Claude and Hester LeMaistre originally located in a new settlement called Flatbush (originally named Midwout and now part of Brooklyn) on Long Island where they lived from 1652 until 1662. During this period they had four children and Claude worked as a carpenter along with operating his farm. In 1662, they sold their home in Flatbush and moved to a new community in the northeast part of Manhattan Island known as Harlem. Here the couple had two additional children including our great grandmother Hester who was born shortly after the move in 1662. Claude DeMaistre (Delamater) apparently took an active role in his community serving three terms as a magistrate and in 1664 he and Hester joined the Reformed Dutch Church and for a short period Claude services as the Deacon of his church.
It is not really clear how Jean LeComte and his family ended up in Harlem after their ship landed in New Amsterdam in lower Manhattan Island in October of 1674. We have to suspect that since their onboard friends, Nicholas DeVaux and his family and Isaac Sy and his family all moved to Harlem, Jean and Marie LeComte may simply have followed them. It is also possible that DeVaux and Sy may have had old friends that they knew lived in Harlem. One of these friends may have been one David Demarest who while older than both Nicholas and Isaac, he did live in Mannhein, Germany (1651 to 1663) during the same time period as did Nicholas and Isaac. David Demarest also lived in Middelbury between 1642 and 1651 and while we believe that Jean LeComte did not move to Middelburg until the late 1650s, it is possible we suppose, that he did move earlier as a child with his parents and they may have known David Demarest. Very speculative and therefore very unlikely. Most likely perhaps is that they all believed and were motivated by the opportunities to purchase good farmland in the Harlem area and it was better than in the more crowded New Amsterdam area. Fortunately for my 9th great grandfather Jean LeComte and his family, one of the local Magistrates, David Demarest as it turns out, seeing that the LeComte family had no place to live, took them into his own home until that had a chance to locate or build their own home. On 13 December 1674 Jean LeComte and his wife joined the Harlem Dutch Reformed Church. Unfortunately for the LeComte family, Jean LeComte died on 24 May 1675. He was only in his late-40s and it is quite possible that the illness that killed him may have been easily cured by our modern doctors. Marie Laurens LeComte was undoubtedly devastated by the unexpected death of her husband. Unfortunately, although it is not unusual, history has not recorded what happened to my great grandmother after the death of her husband. Some have recorded that she died in 1687 in Canada however, this is most unlikely. What is likely is that she remarried and the records of the marriage and her thereafter have been lost. What has been reported if it is accurate is that David Demarest as the local magistrate, presided over the reading of Jean LeComte's will in July of 1675 and that at the court hearing Maria Laurens LeComte, my great grandmother, announced her intentions to marry a Charles Dennison. She was concerned about her son Moses and his future upbringing. Strangely it would seem, Nicholas DeVaux and Simon Courier were appointed to "care for and educate the child." What happened to my great grandmother thereafter is unknown. The lag time between her husband's death and her announcement of her new marriage was less than two months which has to make one wonder if perhaps she was having an affair . . . .
My 7th great grandfather, Jan DeGraff was born in Kingston County in the year 1687. The spelling of his name in the historical records is interesting in that it was beginning to reflect the trend towards converting the older Dutch names into the English language or at least into the English spellings of the names. His proper name of Jan was changed not unexpectedly to John. DeGraff is written in multiple ways from De Graaf as it is spelled in the church records, to De Grave as it is spelled in a 1714 census record, and to De Graeff as it is written in his 1733 Will. Spelling was not a great strength of any of the recording secretaries in the early 1700s but then obviously there probably was no absolute correct spelling of the family surname especially during a time period when most people could neither read nor write. Jan was around 19 years old when he married Marie Peacock (sometimes spelled Pekok) in 1707 or early 1708. Together Jan and Marie were to have nine children including their fifth child, Abraham DeGraff, my 6th great grandfather, who was born in 1718. In 1712 Jan DeGraff is recorded as having purchased land in Poughkeepsie in Dutchess County located near the Hudson River about 20 miles south of his parents' home in Ulster County. Considering that most of my ancestors when they left home moved westward to areas that were less crowded, it is a little unusual to find that Jan and his wife and their three very young children moved closer to New York City and into an area that was already developed. In 1713 when they actually packed up and moved, Dutchess County had just become its own self-administered County whereas prior to that time, Dutchess had been governed by Ulster County. There is no evidence that this change encouraged Jan DeGraff to move although perhaps the notoriety of the change influenced his decision. In any case in a 1714 census in Dutchess County (their first census), Jan DeGraff (actually scribed as "John De Grave") is listed as living there with six members in the family. It is not clear who the six person was as their fourth child was not yet born by 1714. In 1715, Jan DeGraff is recorded as serving in the Dutchess County Militia. In 1717 there is an historical court record of Jan DeGraff (John De Grave) appearing before the local magistrate apparently for some violation that occurred while he was the owner of a local tavern that sold alcoholic beverages. He was being fined 5 pounds for something he did wrong, perhaps not paying the proper taxes owed or not charging the required amount for the drinks he served. The laws governing the sale of alcoholic were very strict and the taxes were high. Fortunately the Magistrate waved the very high fine because he did not think that Jan could afford the fine plus Jan DeGraff was a "great family" man. His total assets at the time were around 11 British pounds. Fortunately Jan DeGraf must have been a good business man for his total wealth in 1722 had risen to 30 British pounds and when he prepared his will in 1733, his net worth including the value of the land he owned was even greater. My 7th great grandfather died in 1735 at the fairly young age of only 48 years old. His son, Abraham, my 6th great grandfather was only 17 when his father died. My 7th great grandmother Marie remarried shortly after her husband's death but her story thereafter is lost in history.
My 7th great grandfather Abraham Degraff spent his entire life living in or near Poughkeepsie, New York. On 17 April 1741 he married Marretjen van Wagenen whose great grandfather (my 9th great grandfather) Aert Jacobsen Van Wagenen was born in the Netherlands and emigrated to America around the mid-1600s. Aert is recognized as one of the earliest settlers in Ulster County arriving there in approximately 1661, back when it was still called Esopus. Abraham and Maria (Marretjen) were to have nine children in total including my 6th great grandfather, Moses, who was born in Poughkeepsie in 1748. Abraham's occupation was that of a cordwainer or in more modern terms, he was a shoemaker. He was probably a well liked and respected individual as in 1739 he was listed as being a Deacon of the Dutch Reformed Church in Poughkeepsie. Abraham died in the year 1775 at the age of 57. Unfortunately history records have been unkind to women for we do not know what happened to my great grandmother Marretjen after her husband's death.
Researching my 6th great grandfather Moses Degraff proved to be a little confusing in that there were several men named Moses Degraff living in Dutchess County during the same time period. They were understandably all related and all were named after the original Moses LeComte Degraff who immigrated to America with his parents in 1674. The two men named Moses who caused me the most confusion were actually first cousins. My Moses Degraff (1748-1828) ancestor was the son of Abraham Degraff (1718-1775) and Marretjen Van Weganen and the grandson of Jan Degraff and Maria Pekok. The other Moses Degraff (1742-1828) was the son of Abraham's brother, Moses Degraff (1713-1800) and his wife Annetjen Kip, and the grandson again of Jan DeGraff and Marretjen Van Weganen. There were a few other related Moses Degraffs but these two were the ones who were most often confused. Incidentally, Moses Degraff, my 6th great grandfather, married my great grandmother Mary Churchill around 1764 and his cousin Moses married his wife Antoinette Van Kleeck two years later in 1766. One has to wonder if they attended each others wedding. Moses and Mary were to have five children including my 5th great grandfather and their second child, Abraham, who was born in 1771. Unfortunately Mary died when she was around 50 and shortly following her death Moses remarried in 1809 this time to a much younger woman named Elizabeth Tabler and together they had four more children. Moses was around 60 years old when he married for the second time and we have to hand it to our great grandfather as he undoubtedly must have had a lot of stamina to father four more children after the age of sixty. He was 80 years old when he died after a long life and nine children. Actually we do not really know much about the life of Moses Degraff. He was born in Poughkeepsie and sometime during his life he moved to Hyde Park also in Dutchess County, New York where he died and was buried in the
My 5th great grandfather Abraham Degraff was born in 1771 in Hyde Park (which was part of the town of Clinton until 1821) in Dutchess County and he probably spent his entire life living not far from the place where he was born. He married my 5th great grandmother Elizabeth Tillow sometime in the mid-1790s. As with many of our ancestors living during the earlier years of our country it is not always possible to identify the names of all of the children. Census records prior to 1850 listed only the name of the head of the household and since birth certificates were not issued at this time, and church baptismal records were sometimes lost, we never know for certain the names of all of the children. Based on what records we could find including a review of the later US census records, we believe that the following is correct. Their first child was John A. Degraff who was born sometime between 1795 to 1798. Their second child was David A. Degraff who was born in 1799. Their third child was Maria Degraff born in 1808 and their fourth child was my 4th great grandmother, Jane Degraff who was born in 1814. Based on the 1820 US Census there may have been another daughter born between the births of David and Maria who may have died young or at least before the 1830 census or she may have married young, left the family home and then been lost to history. Unfortunately, we really know very little about the life of Abraham Degraff although he was undoubtedly a hard working farmer. Abraham died in January of 1832 at the age of 60. On January 21 of 1832, John A Degraff (Abraham's oldest son) and Jacob Degraff (Abraham's 1st cousin and who was about the same age as his cousin John) petitioned the court to appoint them the administrators of Abraham's estate. Witnessing the petition was Robert Degraff who was Abraham's younger brother. Signing the petition was Abraham's wife Elizabeth and Abraham's son David A. Degraff, and a relative named Abram Degraff whose exact relationship with the family we could not determine. The contents of his will if one did exist, we could not determine although hopefully he left his family and especially his widowed wife with some funds to live comfortably. Jane was 18 when her father passed away.
On 20 October 1835 my 4th great grandmother Jane Degraff married William Reynolds in Dutchess County and not long after their marriage they moved to Elmira, New York along with her brother David A. Degraff and his wife and their mother Elizabeth Tillow Degraff who would have been around 60 years old at the time of the move. Elizabeth, my 5th great grandmother died at the age of 74 and she is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira, New York. The story of my Reynolds' ancestors beginning with the son of Jane Degraff and William Reynolds, David Degraff Reynolds, is told in the preceding chapter 38.
More and more as I explore the lives of my distant ancestors do I begin to understand why my DNA test results revealed that my ancestral ethnicity is 63% western European. With so many French Huguenot ancestors on both my mother's and my father's side of my family, this high percentage of western European ancestry should not have come as much of a surprise despite the fact that my Baker surname is very English. But then it would seem that my Baker ancestors easily feel in love with French Huguenot women. Why else did my great grandfather Baker marry a woman with the surname of Rappleye (Rapalje), or my 2nd great grandfather Baker marry a woman named Hannah Harpending, or my 4th great grandfather Baker marry a woman named Sarah Bogart.