The Van Laer Footnote

From New York State Library History Bulletin 10, Early Records of the City and County of Albany and Colony of Rensselaerswyck, Volume 3 (Notarial Papers 1 and 2, 1660-1696); translated from the original Dutch by Jonathan Pearson, late professor of Natural Philosophy in Union College; revised and edited by A.J.F. van Laer, Archivist, Division of Archives and History; published in Albany by the University of the State of New York, 1918.

A copy can be found on Google Books here.

Charles Gehring and Janny Venema in Albany have been doing excellent work at updating the old translations, filling in holes and extending the record in many directions. Furthermore, the original records are available in many forms from the State of New York and from Ulster County Archivist, in Kingston. But the old printed translation, outmoded in some ways, still contains notes from the sage mind of A.J.F. van Laer, who amended and extended Jonathan Pearson’s primary translation and was familiar with records on both sides of the Atlantic that shed further light on some of the documents.

On Page 61 of this edition, we find a “Contract between Tjerck Claessen de Witt and Volckert Jansen Douw for the lease of two horses to be used in the Esopus,” dated 1661. (It is interesting to note that as late as 1661, Tjerck is signing his name as “Tierck Clasen” and not “de Witt.” In a separate document from the same year, on the next page in this volume, also for the lease of horses, this translation shows his signature as Tierck Clasen, with his name written as “Tjarck Claes de With” in the body of the document.)

The footnote to this document, presumably written by A.J.F. van Laer, is a lovely condensed piece of scholarship on TCDW’s origins, bringing together most of the significant pieces of information that were available to van Laer at the time. This note, together with a few others, became for decades a launch point for much speculation on the origins of the De Witt family in North America. As much as anything else, it could be fairly said that this footnote, and the one noted immediately below, launched my own expedition to East Frisia in 1999.

The entire footnote:

Tjerck Claessen de Witt, the ancestor of the well-known De Witt family of Ulster county, whose lineage compiled by Sutherland De Witt, appeared in Olde Ulster, 1905, I:313-17, 345-49, 380-82, and 1906, 2:25-28, 58-60, 88-95, 280-86. The first mention of Tjerck Claessen occurs under date of April 24, 1656, in the register of marriages of the Reformed Dutch Church of New York, where he is given as from “Grootholt in Zunderlandt.” This place has not been identified. Grootholdt, or Groote Holt, is the name of a small place near Borkelo in the province of Gelderland and also of a forest near Assen in the province of Drenthe, but no district by the name of Zunderlandt is found near either place. G.J. Honig, in a note on Tjerck Claessen de Witt inserted in Algemeen Nederlandsch Familieblad, 1889, 6:47, for the purpose of eliciting information that might connect him with the family of Johan de Witt, the grand pensionary of Holland, suggests that Zunderlandt may refer to Saterland, a small district in Oldenburg, and Schoonmaker, History of Kingston, p. 477, says: “This place is supposed to be Saterland, a district of Westphalia, on the southern border of East Friesland.” Considering, however, that Tjerck Claessen, in a power of attorney to his brother-in-law, Jan Albertsen, of June 9, 1661, printed on another page [in van Laer’s volume], speaks of land inherited by him at “Oosterbemus in Oost Vrieslant,” and that he had a sister Emmerentje de With, who in the record of her intended marriage at New Amsterdam to Marten Hofman, in 1664, is described as from “Esens in Embderlt.”, it seems likely that “Zunderlandt” is a mistake for “Emderlandt” and that Grootholt was located not far from Esens in the northern part of East Friesland. Tjerck Claessen was an inhabitant of Rensselaerswyck in 1657 and in the spring of 1661 he moved to Esopus. According to Gustave Anjou, Ulster County Probate Records, 1:58, he died at Kingston February 17, 1700 [1700/1], his will, dated March 4, 1687, being proved on March 6, 1700/1; but according to the translation of the will in Olde Ulster, 1912, 8:18-22, it was dated March 4, 1697/8, and proved on December 26, [1710]. See also J.B. Holgate, American Genealogy, p. 103, where mention is made of a power of attorney from Tjerck Claessen to [Marten] Hofman to recover some property for him at “Ezen in Ostenbenzie,” apparently intended for Esens and Oosterbemus.

Further, see footnote on Page 69 of the same volume, with reference to Tjerck Claesen and the 1661 power of attorney he grants to Jan Albertsen van Steenwyck regarding land in Ostbense: “At first the text read: syn broeder genaemt pieter jansz Dewith; which was changed to: mede syn swager genaemt piter jansz, the name Dewith being crossed out. Oosterbemus refers probably to a village on the coast of East Friesland, opposite the island of Baltrum, which on the map of “Emden & Oldenborch Comit,” in Mercator’s Atlas of 1619, appears as Oosterbeus.

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