Joshua Wyckoff Rappleye
Our Great, Great Grandfather
As I mentioned in the first paragraph it was not until fairly recently did I discovered that I was a descendant of this first Wyckoff immigrant to America. In my early studies of my ancestral tree I learned that my 2nd great grandfather was named Joshua Wyckoff Rappleye (see photo above.). His daughter, Helen Ely Rappleye, married Asbury Harpending Baker and they are both my great grandparents. Anyway, despite hours of research I could not figure out how and why Joshua Wyckoff Rappleye received the middle name of Wyckoff as clearly none of his recent ancestors carried that name in any of their lines. It was not until later did I discover that young Joshua was actually named after his mother's older step-brother, whose full-name was Joshua Wyckoff (1767-1841). Our Joshua's mother was Mary "Polly" Covert and she was the daughter by her mother's second marriage to a man named Abraham Covert. Mary's mother, AriAnn Coshun, was married first to Abraham Wyckoff who had died early at the age of only 32. The reason that Joshua's mother, Mary Covert, decided to name him after her step-brother who was ten years her senior, is purely speculative but I have to wonder if she may have had a "crush" on her older step-brother. In any case, Mary's husband, Peter Rappleye, accepted the name. It is highly doubtful that Peter Rappleye, my 3rd great grandfather, was aware that he himself was a descendant of Pieter Claesen Wyckoff, who just happened to be his great, great, great grandfather. With all of this intermingling of families in our ancestry, it is now time we believe to write a story about our 8th great grandfather, Pieter Claesen Wyckoff.
Map of Germany and Holland in 1678
Norden in East Friesland located just east of United Provinces (Holland)
Map of Hudson River 1656
Shows Fort Orange and Rensselaerswyck
Pieter and Grietje Claesen lived in a community known as Beverwyck located just north of Fort Orange on the Hudson River along with Grietje's parents, Cornelius Hendrickse Van Nes (1589-1684) and Mayken van den Burchgraeff (1602-1664), who lived nearby. Unfortunately in the year 1648 both Cornelius and his now son-in-law Pieter got into an argument and a subsequent and prolonged lawsuit with a man named Van Slichtenhorst who just happened to be the "Autocratic Director" of the Rensselaerswyck Colony. Not surprisingly considering his position, Van Slichtenhorst prevailed in the lawsuit which probably was the primary reason that our Pieter Claesen and his wife and by then two children abruptly left the Fort Orange area in June of 1649 and moved south down to the New Amsterdam area. In contrast, his father-in-law Cornelius and his family elected not to leave which in the end worked to their benefit, for in 1652 Van Slichtenhorst was arrested for defying the authority of Director Peter Stuyvesant and he was subsequently sent back to Holland. Cornelius Hendrickse Van Nes, my 9th great grandfather, then went on to become very active in the local government and to achieve a general financial success. In 1650 the family moved to a new home in Greenbush located southeast of Fort Orange (now Albany) where he opened a large and financially successful brewery.
|Wyckoff House Museum|
It was not until after 1645 that any serious settlement in the Dutch controlled western end of Long Island was considered. The land prior to that time was still occupied by the native American Indians although their population had gradually been decreasing what with the influx of the Europeans and their "purchasing" of the Indian lands plus the awful diseases such as measles and smallpox that were carried in by the Europeans to which the Indians had no immunities. Their population decreases were inevitable although they still greatly outnumbered the Europeans. What really drove the Indians to submission in this area however, was a two year war with the new Dutch colonists known as Kieft's War which took place between 1643 and 1645. The war resulted in the death (or perhaps massacre) of over 1,000 Indians. Fortunately what followed was a period of relative peace. Not surprisingly after the war the Dutch soon moved along with our ancestors, into the fertile lands of the future City of Brooklyn. The general consensus seems to be that Pieter and Grietje were granted as a tenant in 1652 the use of a farmhouse on Dutch West India Company land and therefore they never actually owned the house in which they lived for so many years. The fact that the Claesen family, later referred to as the Wyckoff family, continued to live in this same farmhouse for a total of eight generations up until 1902 would suggest that the house and the land surrounding the house was purchased at some point by Pieter. Historical records however, show that the house was not owned by the Wyckoff family until it was purchased by Pieter's grandson in February of 1737. The old Wyckoff House said to have been originally built in 1635 still exists today as a museum although it has changed considerable since it was first occupied by Pieter and his family. The photo above shows the Wyckoff house as it stands today. According to the Wyckoff House Museum website, Pieter and Grietje actually first occupied the house in 1652 and they describe it as follows: "The house they occupied was a simple one room structure with a packed earth floor and unglazed windows, with doors and both ends and a large jambless (open) hearth." The description was clearly not describing the home of a wealthy owner. Anyway, Pieter and Grietje Claesen continued to live at this home for the remainder of their lives. They were to have a total of eleven children including their fourth child, a daughter named Mayken who was born on 19th day of October in 1653. If indeed the Claesen family moved into their new home in Flatlands in 1652 as stated by the museum's website, then Mayken Claesen, my 7th great grandmother, would have been their first child born in this still surviving Wyckoff House. Pieter Claesen Wyckoff's old home was named New York City's first historic landmark back in 1965.
We were pleased to read this following sentence in one of the many biographies found online described the life of my 8th great grandfather, Pieter Claesen Wyckoff: "Peter Claesen prospered and became one of the most influential citizens of the little frontier settlement." While it would be easy to accept this statement as one of fact, the subsequent descriptions of his life do not really lend credence to this statement. Pieter is credited with being a local judge, like a justice of the peace, and he is credited with being "influential" in the establishment of the nearby Flatlands Dutch Reformed Church. There are also references in some of his biographies that he served on three occasions between the years 1653 and 1663 as a town Magistrate and in 1664, just prior to the English takeover, he was a representative at a convention. None of these functions however, would seem to place him in our opinion in the category of "one of the most influential citizens." And if Pieter "prospered" as a farmer it may have been due in large part to wealth that he received from his in-laws during his lifetime and even more so upon the death of his in-laws. While the details are not entirely clear, one interesting thing about the Van Nes family is that Grietje's mother had been left a sizable estate by her mother at the time of her death. In 1635, Grietje's mother, Mayken, prepared her Will leaving everything directly to her children and not to her husband, Cornelis. He had agreed with her decision probably because he was also wealthy. Mayken died in 1664 therein leaving Pieter Claesen and his wife Grietje with land and money. In 1664, Pieter and Grietje were 39 and 37 years old respectively and at this point we would then have to agree with the statement that "Pieter Claesen prospered. . ." We may sound like we are trying to downplay the life of my great grandfather. This is not really our motive. It would seem however, that most historical biographies on the life of Pieter Claesen Wyckoff have a tendency to exaggerate his wealth and status. It should be enough to simply state that our grandfather lived a good life and raised a great family and he was undoubtedly highly respected in his community. This is a remarkable fact considering that he arrived in America at a very young age as an indentured servant without parents or siblings.
When Pieter Claesen arrived in New Amsterdam in 1637 the western end of Long Island claimed by the Dutch was mostly wooded and unoccupied except by some local Indians. By the time that the Claesen family moved to their farm home in 1652 in New Amersfoot or Flatlands, the Indians were mostly gone or at least peaceful and the Dutch population of the area including Manhattan Island had grown to around 1,000. The future Brooklyn area however, was still scarcely populated by this time with no more than 250 people living in the Flatlands area and it consisted mostly of large farmlands still primarily owned by the Dutch West India Company and a few other wealthy landowners. In the year 1665, the Dutch lost control of New Amsterdam and western Long Island to the British who renamed the area New York. In 1687, Pieter Claesen and his five sons signed an Oath of Allegiance to the British and shortly thereafter the family adapted the surname of Wyckoff. By the time of Pieter Claesen Wyckoff's death in 1694 the population of New Amsterdam/New York had grown to almost 7,000 and the whole area had changed enormously in appearance. Many roads, homes, businesses had been built, including taverns, plus churches, schools, and other public buildings. For a man like Pieter who had come to America as a young teenager, the changes must have been truly overwhelming. When Pieter died in 1694, Pieter and Grietje had had eleven children, ten of whom survived to adulthood, had married, and given Pieter and Grietje around 60 grandchildren and even a few great grandchildren. Most of their children and grandchildren still lived in the Brooklyn area prior to Pieter's and Grietje's death and considering the enormous size of their family, they must have had a few massive family get-togethers. Wow! Obviously considering the small size of their family home, the family get-togethers must have been held outdoors only during the warm summer months. We are not surprised considering the size of the Wyckoff family that there are thousands of Wyckoff descendants alive today. The burial sites of Pieter and Grietje Claesen Wyckoff are unknown although it is assumed that they are both buried on the site of the Flatlands Dutch Reformed Church.
Unfortunately we know very little about the daughter of Pieter and Grietje Claesen Wyckoff and my 7th great grandmother, Mayken Wyckoff. She was apparently baptized on the 19th day of October in 1653 at the Reformed Dutch Church in New Amsterdam and one of the three witnesses listed on her baptismal record was none other than Judith Stuyvesant, wife of the then Director General or Governor of New Amsterdam, Pieter (Peter) Stuyvesant. Obviously our Pieter Claesen was already making a name for himself. If indeed the Wyckoff family was in 1653 living at their home out on Long Island, then apparently there were no churches yet built in the new community of Nieuw Amersfoort (Flatlands) and they had no choice if they wanted to get their daughter baptized but to return to Manhattan Island for the service. Perhaps it was this inconvenience that contributed to Pieter's helping to establish in the following year the congregation of the Flatlands Dutch Reformed Church located near his home. We have no idea when Mayken met her future husband, Willem Willemsen, who in 1657 had immigrated along with his parents and siblings to America from Holland. There is an old story that is often repeated that claims that Willem and his mother were actually born in Bermuda and that the family had left there and not from Holland to emigrate to New Amsterdam. Considering that Bermuda was controlled and occupied entirely by the British at the time, it would seem highly unlikely that a family who were obviously Dutch would have been living there and then left to travel northward to the Dutch Colony of New Amsterdam. Willem's father's name was Willem Gerritsen and the mother has simply been identified as "Mary" or sometimes "Maria," and they are of course, my 8th great grandparents. From what we could determine, Willem the son was born around 1652 which would have made him around five years old when he moved to America. If his parents located in Nieuw Amersfoort after their arrival, it is possible that Willem and his future wife Mayken had known each other as children. The fact that Mayken's younger brother, Marten Wyckoff, who was ten years younger than his sister, married the sister of William Willemsen, a girl named Hannah Willemsen, might certainly suggest that their families were close.
Mayken Wyckoff and Willem Willemsen were married around 1678 probably at the recently constructed Dutch Reformed Church in Flatlands. While surviving tax records show that Willem owned land in Flatlands in 1676 and as late as 1683, land that he may have inherited at the time of his father's death in 1662, we know that by 1680 the family had moved to Gravesend, Long Island located just south of Flatlands (again see map above.) Their first child, a son named Nicholas, my 6th great grandfather, was born in Gravesend in 1680. Furthermore, a 1683 tax record shows the Willemsen family owning land in Gravesend. There really are very few historical records about either of my 7th great grandparents. We know that they spent their entire lives after their marriage living in Gravesend and they both died less than a year apart, Mayken in December of 1721 and Willem in February of 1722. Willem's half-brother, Samuel Gerritsen (common mother) writes about the death of his brother: "In the year of our Lord 1722 the 2nd of February my brother William Willemsen fell asleep in the Lord on a Friday evening about 7 o'clock and was buried on a Tuesday after aged about 70 years." The few records that we have found show that Willem Willemsen was appointed as a town assessor in 1694 and a constable in 1698 and that their family were members of the local Dutch Reformed Church in Gravesend. One of the family historians states probably accurately, that Willem "owned considerable land and (cattle) stock" which would suggest that Willem's primary occupation was that of a farmer. From what we have read, conditions for farming in western Long Island were excellent during this period in history and once the English took control over the area from the Dutch in 1664, trading must have increased dramatically thus contributing greatly to Pieter's and Willem's wealth. One thing not mentioned in any of the stories about my great grandfathers living on Long Island during this period of history was whether or not they owned slaves. Slaves were first introduced to New Amsterdam by the Dutch West India Company back as early as 1626. It would seem highly likely that both Pieter Claesen Wyckoff and his son-in-law Willem Willemens were major slave owners particularly since the vast number of farms and the shortage of indentured servants and hired farmhands made owning slaves almost mandatory. It has been estimated that 15% of the population of this area during this time period were slaves and that by 1703, 42% of households in New Amsterdam owned slaves. Obviously slavery was not unique just to our southern states. It seems kind of stupid today when referring to a present day American whose ancestors may have arrived in America from Africa in the mid-1600s, over 300 years ago, as an "African-American." Just as stupid we suppose as referring to yours truly as a Dutch-American or an English-American or anything other than just an "American." Truly goofy. Anyway,
Willem Willemen's Last Will and Testament backs up somewhat our assumption of his wealth when Willem writes in his will that he had sold prior to his death all of his lands to his oldest son Nicholas for the sum of 600 pounds. He goes on to state that when he dies, Nicholas must share equally with his four brothers and three sisters, the value of the land given to him by his father, each sibling to receive a 1/8 share of the land value. Willem's will verifies two things about his life. First that he was fairly wealthy as 600 pounds was quite a sum of money at the time of his death in 1722, and secondly that as a Dutchman, he shared his estate equally with all of his children and not just with his eldest son Nicholas. Good man our great grandpa.
My relationship with my Claesen/Wyckoff and Willemsen ancestors is as follows:
Nicholas Willemsen (1680-1779) m Lucretia van Voorhees (1696-1733)
Willem Willemsen (1720-1787) m Geetje Hegeman (1722-?)
Sarah Willemsen (1748-1813) m Jeremiah Rapelyea (1742-1827)
Peter Rappleye (1776-1858) m Mary Covert (1777-1870)
Joshua Wyckoff Rappleye (1814-1888) m Jane Taft Campbell (1819-1891)
Helena Ely Rappleye (1860-1944) m Asbury Harpending Baker (1860-1933)
Charles Schenck Baker (1885-1952) m Helen Mary Spaulding (1887-1937)
Charles Asbury Baker (1916-2000) m Marian Coapman Patterson (1916-1973)
Charles Asbury Baker Jr (1942-?) m Kathleen Therese Mahar (1948-?)
And so ends another chapter of our ancestral blog.