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 The Black Sheep of my Family


For some strange reason, my family seems to have an unusual number of black sheep in its proverbial closet. A few would not be considered scoundrels today, but others would be doing 25 years to life! Here is a small sampling of my dastardly doers.


1-The ENTIRE Slecht family. With a surname meaning "bad evil, naughty, of low origin," what would you expect! In the 16th and 17th centuries, this Dutch family earned its name, when various relatives 1- dragged a naked woman across some fields, 2- tried to kill various town officials, 3- attempted to murder in-laws (every mans dream?), and 4- were at the center of a mutiny against the British in 1667!


2- As long as we are on the subject of murder, who can forget Martynas Gudelis. In the 1920's, this man, probably a first cousin, and certainly a relation of my great grandmother, was involved in a conspiracy to shoot the Secretary of State or Prime Minister of Lithuania. The bullet missed, and Martynas ended up editing a Socialist newspaper in Chicago.


3-Christoffel Davits, who lived in Ulster County NY from about 1638 on, was in court all the time for selling liquor to the Indians. In one notable case, he told an Indian Cheif that the whites were coming to kill them, whereupon the Indians "took some prisoners and commited great outrages."


4-Debra Davits might as well be mentioned as long as we are on this family. She had an affair with Dirck Wooden Leg (no joke, that was his name!) and had a child by him. There was a scandalous divorce, in the late 1600's, a very unusual happening!


5-Albert Heymans Roosa was, in 1667, a leader of the Esopus Mutiny against the tyrannical Captain Broadhead. The governor called him a "great incendiary and dissaffected person." The military commander at Esopus referred to him in his journal as a "boor." Need I say more?


6-Back during the days of the Crusades, one of the Sires De Jeux, probable ancestors of Christian Deyo, the American immigrant, had his wife thrown in a tiny dungeon after she had an affair. The only window was blocked by the severed head of her former lover.


7- Then there was Jacobus Roosa, a cousin several times removed. He was hung in 1777 after he turned from being a Captain in the American Revolutionary Army to being a tory...


7- Let us not forget old Francis Weeks who was hauled before the court in the 1600's for "entertaining Quakers." Amazing what was a crime back then!


8- Finally, there was Coenradt Van Ceulen, my great uncle many times over. In 1639, he was the cabin boy on the ship "Raven" visiting New Amsterdam. Sailing was three days away, and our friend Coenradt wanted a souvenir of his trip. Nowadays, there would have been plenty of hawkers around, willing to sell him everything from the Brooklyn Bridge to a plastic replica of the Statue of Liberty. In 1639, all Coenradt could find was an Indian woman with a wampum purse. There must have been some kind of misunderstanding- a translators error perhaps- because Coenradt never paid the woman for her purse. The sentence: one day in the public stocks. Thus Coenradt was the first of a long line of Manhattan purse snatchers. In later years, he and his brother operated a yacht that was involved in running guns to the Native Americans.


After all this, I begin to wonder if there were any "good guys" in my family!

For more on "Black Sheep Ancestors" visit the homepage of the IBSSG- The "International Black Sheep Society of Genealogy", of which I am a proud member, or join their mailing list on rootsweb.

COMING SOON: THE UNSAVORY TALES OF EVEN MORE BLACK SHEEP, INCLUDING ELSJE JANS VAN BREESTEDE WHOSE ELOPMENT SCANDALIZED ALL OF NEW AMSTERDAM (AND THAT WAS A FEW WEEKS AFTER SHE REFUSED TO MARRY HIM!).


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