Monday, April 4, 2016

Tjerck (the Jerk?) Claussen DeWitt

     John Pawling's wife was Aagje DeWitt (1684-1725), whose family members were also early settlers in New Amsterdam (later to become New York).  Her father, Tjerck Claussen DeWitt came to America in 1653.  He married Barbara Andriessen, from Amsterdam, on April 24, 1656, as recorded in the Register of Marriages of the Reformed Dutch Church of New York City. Soon after his marriage, he moved to Albany, then Kingston, New York.  His oldest daughter, Taatje, was kidnapped by the Indians on June 7, 1663, when she was just four years old, but was later returned.  Aagje was one of Tjerck's younger children (he had 13!), born about 20 years after the kidnapping of her sister.  Aaghie's baptism is recorded on January 4, 1684 at the Reformed Dutch Church.

     Tjerck's home in Kingston was built in 1699 and is still used as a private residence:

     There are many court records to trace Tjerk's life in New York.  He served as a "commissary," which I understand to be like a court mediator, but he was in court more often for his own disagreements and lawsuits.  In the book Invading Paradise: Esopus Settlers at War with Natives, 1659, 1663 by Andrew Brink, many instances of Tjerk's disagreements are listed:

      February 1, 1656---Tjerk was fined sixty guilders for having fought last Sunday with Wille Tellier, and also for having killed a goat belonging to Sander Leendertsz.  Having confesser, Tjerck was fined two and a half beavers, plus expenses.  (Beaver pelts were one of the early settler's most profitable exports to Europe, where they were in high demand for felting and making into men's hats.

     November 20, 1663--neighbors reported that Tjerck, armed with a knife, openly quarreled in his house, acting as if he wished to kill every man, woman and child."

     In 1667, Tjerck opposed the British occupation of Kingston, he was beaten and threw him in prison for celebrating Christmas Day on the customary Dutch day instead of the English day.
     In 1668, Tjerck refused to take the British oath of allegiance.

    September 8, 1671--Tjerk was in a knife fight with Henry Pawling (one of the Henrys in his wife's family).  If I read the court account correctly, Tjerck accused Henry of shooting his pig, a knife fight ensued, which resulted in one of the men cutting at the other until his trousers came down!

     February 11, 1679--Tjerck was one of the signers of the Treaty with the Indians mentioned in an earlier post.

     Other court records tell of Tjerck killing a neighbor's pig, a neighbor's goat, and beating his employees.  The book states that "DeWitt was argumentative and stubborn, quick to differ with other settlers. 

   Many of Tjerck's descendants served in the Revolutionary War.  His great-grandson, Jacob, was a captain of a militia company who gave his stone house as a refuge for women and children during the battles in New York.  It later became known as Fort DeWitt, and is still standing, though not really recognizable.  It has been enclosed in  a wooden frame.  It is located on Highway 209, near the Never sink River, in Ulster County, New York.  Another descendant, Simeon DeWitt, marched with George Washington, serving as his topographic engineer and map-maker.

     Tjerck's will is dated March 4, 1698.  It is written in Dutch.  He left all his property to his wife, with it to be divided into 12 equal shares after her death, for all his surviving children. There is a tombstone in the Reformed Dutch Church cemetery that says Tjerck C DeWitt, but that is for our Tjerck's grandson:

Sources available on the internet for your reading pleasure:

The DeWitt Family of Ulster County, New York by Thomas Evans
Invading Paradise: Esopus Settlers at War with Natives, 1659, 1663 by Andrew Brink
The Westfall and Coleman Family History by Clarice Koester Coleman
Genealogies of the First Settlers of Albany by Peerson
History of Ulster County by N. Sylvester
First Record Book of The Society of the Daughters of Holland Dames

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