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July 11, 2014

52 Ancestors: Cornelis Van Slyke 17th Century Adventurer

52 Ancestors: Cornelis Van Slyke 17th Century Adventurer
In the early 1630s, a Dutchman named Van Rensselaer began to advertise for people to colonize his New World venture. Van Rensselaer envisioned the Patroon system of ownership with the landowner a feudal lord over his tenants. A tenant would be required to contract himself to the Patroon for a specified time, after which he could become an independent settler.

The colony of Rensselaerswyck was thus formed. By 1634, there were only twenty-six settlers living there. Rensselaerswyck lay in a wilderness surrounded by Mahicans on the east and Mohawks on the west.

My ancestor Cornelis Antonissen Van Slijk [sic] from Brueckelen,  Netherlands, left the Netherlands in May 1634 from the Texel on board De Endracht and sailed to the New World.  He was a thirty year old carpenter and mason, and his skills were desirable in a new colony.

During his lifetime in what was to become the state of New York, Cornelis met and married a Mohawk woman, had several children with his Mohawk wife (all of whom became valued interpreters between the Mohawk and the Dutch), and rose to a position of importance in the colony.

Cornelis Starts as a Farmer

Cornelis Van Slyke contracted to Kilean van Rensselaer as a carpenter and mason, but agreed to do farm work when necessary, for the fee of 180 florins a year. In the contract he signed on April 5, 1634 he stated he was 30 years of age.  Farmhands received 100 to 150 gl. per year so we can see that Cornelis' skills were highly valued. But what did that 180 florins per year buy, remembering that one florin equalled one guilder? In 1639 a mare was sold for 200 gl., a shirt for 3 gl., a pair of farmer's shoes for 4 gl. and a pound of butter or pork 6 stuivers, with 20 stuivers equal to one guilder.

Cornelis Gains Favour in the Colony

Between 1643 and 1648 Cornelis spent much of his time at Manhattan, as interpreter and negotiator with the natives. His absence did not always sit well with the authorities, and the Secretary of  Rensselaerswyck, Antony de Hooges, wrote to him in 1646 urging him to             "...come up the river to see how the harvest proceeds" and hinted that he might at least come to the Colony once a year to look after his farm.

Van Rensselaer was not happy with Cornelis by this time, and complained about his personal accounts and his service as representative, threatening to end their association if matters did not improve.

Cornelis as Interpreter and Representative

In September 1650 tensions increased with the natives and rumours of an impending attack on Fort Orange by the Mohawks were rampant. The settlers at Rensselaerswyck were anxious so they decided to send five trusted representatives into Mohawk country to renew old friendships and ensure peace.

On 23 September, 1650 Cornelis was one of those chosen to act as an ambassador to the Mohawks. He went on this important mission into what was called Maquas country. The mission was successful and the colony could relax.

Cornelis Marries a Mohawk Woman
By this date, Cornelis had already formed his liaison with Ots-Toch, a Mohawk woman, which produced at least four but possibly five children: Jacques, Marten, Hilletie and Lea, and  Cornelis.  Jacques and Hilletie occupied a very strategic position among the Dutch, English and Iroquois and became trusted interpreters for the state of New York.

By all accounts Cornelis was a much respected and trusted man. He would never have dreamed that his life could take such a turn from a simple carpenter in Holland to marrying a Mohawk woman  and becoming a fairly important man in the new colony.

Credit: This blog post was extracted from my book The Van Slyke Family in America: A Genealogy of Cornelise Antonissen Van Slyke, 1604-1676 and his Mohawk Wife Ots-Toch, including the story of Jacques Hertel, 1603-1651,Father of Ots-Toch and Interpreter to Samuel de Champlain REVISED EDITION published May 2010. Coil bound 8.5x11. 287 pages by Lorine McGinnis Schulze.

If you are a descendant and wish to purchase this book, Download an Order Form to pay by check or pay using Paypal


Michael Harris said...

Now I have an idea where Van Rensselaer Street in Buffalo, NY got its name.

Peg said...

My husband's family in NJ has Van Slyke's. You have reminded me to look at those roots.

Jessica Blair said...

Hey we could be related Ots-Toch is my 9X great grandmother!! nice to meet you. :-)

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Jessica - We are definitely related :-) Nice to "meet" you, cousin!

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Michael - yep, many of the streets in NYC are named after the Dutch settlers in the 17th Century

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Peg - have fun! If you get stuck, see my New Netherland pages (lots of church records are there) at