Tjerck Claessen DeWitt emigrated from near Esens in Ostfriesland (today the northern coast of Germany) in the early or mid-1650s. (See related page of discussion on his origins.) Three siblings, including Ida/Tette, joined him over the next few years. Others remained in Ostfriesland, on his family’s farm.
Jda/Ida/Tette may have been with Tjerck in North America from the start. In 1661, her husband, Jan Albertsen van Steenwyck, is described in court papers as Tjerck’s brother-in-law.
In August 1658, Ida Claessen (the name Tette uses in North America) is named in Fort Orange court documents. This is one of the few times she is named while she is still alive, although she is referred to in multiple other documents as the wife of Jan Albertsen van Steenwyck. It appears that in 1658, she is not yet married; the court records mentions no husband.
The court case apparently arose from an expedition she made with six other people to New England (“up north”) or at least Long Island. At Fresh River (today the Connecticut River), on their return, one of their number complained that there was a thief among them. They searched each other, and three lace ribbons were found on Ida. At least that’s the story her accusers tell. She has five people she knows sign affidavits saying that she is an honorable woman; she wins the case. (For more details on the case, see Sources below; the translations are both available either in print or online.)
Curiously, one of the people swearing to an affidavit against Ida Claessen is Gerrit Visbeeck, who very possibly is also from Ostfriesland. In 1556, Gert Vischbecke had a farm in Nordorf (Herd *2*), two or three miles from where Ida grew up. (See Heyken, Weinkaufsprotokolle des Amtes Esens von 1554 bis 1811, Vol. I, p. 242, among other references.) Gert had a son Claes; Claes had a son Meint; in 1626 Meint died, leaving behind a seven-year-old son and two daughters. It’s worth noting that Visbeck (Fischbeck) here is a family name, not a patronymic. Gerrit was probably descended from the original Gert, but was a cousin of the ones who inherited the farm. Other Visbecks are documented in the same area, part of the same clan. This is the family, incidentally, that brought the Protestant Reformation, in the form of Lutheranism, to the area. (See here and here for more on Johann Fischbeck, first Protestant minister in St.-Magnus-Kirche in Esens, in 1538.) The Nordorf connection is speculation at this time (September 2014), until more spadework can be done on Gerrit Visbeeck of Fort Orange, but it seems likely.
In North America, Tette/Ida seems not to get along well with Mr. Visbeeck. On April 22, 1659, she is in court again with a complaint against him; he apparently does not show up, so the judgment goes against him by default. The record does now show what her complaint was.
We know from ship manifests that Tette/Ida and her husband and a toddler daughter sail to North America in November 1662 aboard the ship The Fox (De Vos), together with her younger sister and brother Rinelt (Emmerentje, Amarens) and Jan. It appears that for her this is a return to North America; for her siblings, it is their first trip.
On June 7, 1663, Kingston and Hurley were almost entirely destroyed by the Indians; Tjerck fought valiantly in their defense, and his daughter Taatje was kidnapped, along with three other children. She was soon rescued. Tette/Ida was killed in this attack, together with her husband Jan Albertsen van Steenwyck, a shoemaker, and probably two of their children. (Contemporary accounts describe her as great with child, and say one of her daughters was killed right next to her, probably in front of their combined home and workshop.) More than one minor child may have survived; extensive records were kept from the administration of the estate, but the children’s names do not appear in these records. A guardian is appointed to look after the interests of surviving minor children, but there may not have been any; the appointment may be strictly pro-forma.
Worth tracking: In the colony at the time, we find Albert Jansen van Steenwyck, a tailor (Kingston Baptisms and Marriages, p. 501), who may be a grown son from a prior marriage of Jan Albertsen’s. Frequently his name is written just as Albert Jansen. He sails to New Netherland on De Trouw (the Faith) on 24 March 1662, just before Jan Albertsen van Steenwyck and family return to New Netherland (31 August of the same year; see Ship Passenger Lists, pp. 128-129). He is old enough to marry on 27 January 1664 (where he is described as tailor and also a soldier for the WIC); he marries Hilletjen Hendricks, who is from Meppel, in Drenthe, near Steenwyck (widow of Andries Barentsen). (Another WIC soldier from Steenwyck is Albert Gooversen, who marries Neeltjen Vreericks in Wildwyck 6 January 1664.) Presumably he would not be counted among the “minor children” of Jan Albertsen, if he is old enough to marry, but there may be other siblings around. See, for example, the 20 November 1661 baptism of Pieter, son of Pieter Winnen and Jannetje Albertz; sponsors are Nicolaus and Rabecca Albertz; a generation later, Albert’s daughter Eltje names a daughter Jannetje, and Albert Jansen sponsors the baptism. There are certainly other contemporary Albertsens in the Kingston church records who appear to have no familial connections to Albert Jansen.
(Albert Jansen’s wife Hilletje had baptized at least two children already with her deceased first husband: Anna, baptized 3 April 1661, possibly died early; and Annetjen, baptized 27 August 1662. Hilletje appears to have at least two siblings in Wildwyck, Femmetjen and Roeloff; see Hoes, pp. 4-5, 13 July 1664 and 13 September 1665; Femmetjen Hendricks sails to North America on De Trouw [The Faith] 22 December 1659; see Ship Passenger Lists, p. 122.)
Albert Jansen appears to live in the Wildwyck area at least for a short time: See e.g. Kingston Papers, Vol. 2, p. 564, where 2 September 1665 he is named as executor of the estate of Joost Adriaensen Vermeulen, from Pynacker; Joost is married to Femmetje Hendericks, so he is brother-in-law to Albert Jansen. On 12 February 1665 Albert Jansen Van Steenwyck is named as court messenger to replace Jacob Joosten (Kingston Papers, Vol. 1, p. 213); he also frequently serves as witness to various documents and agreements made between various parties (as late as 1675). He owns a lot in Wildwyck (possibly his father’s old lot?), which is mentioned in a few transactions regarding other people’s property (their properties are described as being adjacent to his).
On April 14, 1665, and again on 29 December 1665, Albert Jansen Van Steenwyck appears in Wildwyck court to push for payment of a debt stemming from the estate of Jan Albertsen Van Steenwyck (Kingston Papers, Vol. 1, pp. 228, 268). On 12 April 1666, Albert Jansen Van Steenwyck witnesses an affirmation by Tjerck Claessen DeWitt that he really does owe a total of 534 guilders, 9 stivers, to the East Frisian siblings of the deceased Ida Claessen: 178 guilders, 3 stivers each to Grietje Claesen, to Tjaetje Claesen, and to the children of Faelde Claesen, who died in 1663 (Kingston Papers, p. 600). On the same day, he is witness as Tjerck affirms also that he owes the heirs of Jan Albertsen Van Steenwyck an amount of 698 guilders, 2 stivers. The heirs are not named in the document (Kingston Papers, pp. 600-601).
We don’t find Albert Jansen’s name often in Kingston church records again until the mid-1680s.
Likely the same person, but perhaps not: Aelbert van Steenwyck on 2 August 1685 baptizes Pietertie; his wife is Pietertie Pieterz, and the witness is Aeltie van Steenwyck. On 10 February 1689 he sponsors the baptism of Jannetje, daughter of Aaron Jacobs van Oostrant and Altje (more often Eltje) Alberson, who is likely his daughter and has several children listed in the Kingston church records. (He baptizes Geertjen on 14 December 1664 and Andries on 21 November 1666; both times he is listed only as Albert Jansen.) See also 12 February 1696 in Manhattan (Manhattan Baptisms, p. 233), when Albert Van Steenwyck and Annetje Croesvelt sponsor the baptism of Albert, son of Aeltje Van Steenwyck and Aaron Van Noortstrant. (The mother and father as a couple sponsored on 17 September 1693 the baptism of Jacob, son of Jacob Van Noordstrant and Anna Croevelt; Manhattan Baptisms, p. 215.)
This account has been pieced together from several sources, which are not listed here yet, though I hope to post an exhaustive list soon. All that will have to wait until there's more time to write it (do watch this space). For a closer look at where the family came from, have a look at my 1998 trip to Ostfriesland, Germany, in search of the family’s Old World roots. (This set of pages includes a page with links to lots of other sites for research into De Witts, Ostfriesland and other Dutch ancestors.)
For a closer discussion of some possible family relations, have a look at my excerpts from the record of baptisms in early Manhattan (the page will take a few moments to load; it's big) and at my very cursory excerpt of public records from Albany, NY, regarding Tjerck Claessen DeWitt and possible relatives.
A few links for the time being:
TCDW deposits with court an inventory of estate of “his brother-in-law” Jan Albertsen van Steenwyck, requests guardian over minor children. (11/20/1663)
Mattheus Capito (court secretary) demands from Tjerck Claesen 852 guilders for goods bought from estate; TCDW self-identifies as a joint heir of the estate, offers to pay if his share ends up being less than amount owed (1/29/1664)
Marten Hoffman power of attorney to collect debts; identifies him as co-heir (4/17/1665)
TCDW offers security for Marten Hoffman for 256 guilders (drawn from the estate) for a cow, and for 64 guilders rent for the cow, which Jan Albertsen received while he was alive from Amerens Claesen De Wit, now the wife [Amarens, not the cow] of Marten Hoffman. If Marten Hoffman has received the money unfairly, TCDW will make the estate whole. (3/16/1666)
Final closure and settlement of estate, 1921 guilders, plus odds and ends. 960 guilders to Jan’s peeps; 960 to Ida’s peeps. TCDW and Marten Hoffman are present and named as heirs; MH is identified as husband and guardian of Amarens. Not many other family names here. More financial details: interest, debts, splits. (3/13/1666)
TCDW acknowledges debt to children of Faelde Claesen De Wit, Grietje Claesen De Wit, Tjaetje Claesen De Wit (178 guilders each, 534 guilders total) from estate’s obligation to “line” of Ida Claesen De Wit. He will pay by April 1667, with interest (10% per year, commencing 3/13/1666) (4/12/1666)