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NOTE: What follows is some background/history of the Dutch settlers in Manhattan and of the Van Kouwenhovens. A lot more, I'm sure, than you EVER wanted to know, but included just in case you're a history buff and are really interested in knowing this! And it does have some rather interesting tidbits! MW

At the time of the Dutch settlement on Manhattan Island there was no letter "C" in the pure Dutch alphabet, so the head of our immigrant family spelled his name van Kouwenhoven.  Very shortly after his arrival the Dutch adopted the letter "C" and many of the family made a change to the new form, and at about the same time dropped the "van" thus spelling the name Couwenhoven.

Many persons are under the impression that a family, to be worthwhile, must have descended from royalty.  After reading histories of the old royal families and following the newspaper accounts of the present possessors of titles, we are glad to report that we have yet to find any royal taint in the Kouwenhoven blood.  Beekman, in referring to the descendants of Wolfert Gerritsz says, ". . . .I do not know of any of this name who have been convicted of any infamous crime.  Their family history is remarkably from from all dishonorable stains."  To us that is much more to be desired.

Wolfert Gerritsz Van Kouwenhoven, the founder of the American family, was at times called "Van Amersfoort" (VRBM, 161) and sometimes "Van Kouwenhoven," although usually only by his patronymic "Gerritsz."  It is certain that he came from an estate named Kouwenhoven in the neighborhood of the city of Amersfoort in the Netherlands.  The late G. Beernink, a genealogist of Nykerk, the Nertherlands, published in 1912 in Volume 12 of the Werken of the Society Gelre, certain references to the settlement of the Colony of Rensselaerswyck in which he said:  "Wolfert Gerritsen, a man in his fifties, has already been at the Manhattans and was to be head-farmer.  From an estate last occupied by him under the jurisdiction of Hoogland, near Amersfoort, his descendants adopted the name 'Van Couwenhoven,' although his family name was Sube, Zuben, Supen, which appears even before 1400 in the Veluwe (Province of Gelderland).  Although of equally good ancestry as Van Rensselaer and Van Slichtenhorst, fortune had temporarily turned its back on him . . . . His father, Gerrit Wolferts Suype, having married Styne Roberts, was, as a prominent citizen, buried in the chancel of the church at Nykerk, on December 12, 1604.  His son, Pieter Wulpherts, who like another son, Jacob Wulpherts, afterwards lived in America, declared his intention to marry at Amersfoort in 1639."  (Translation by A..J.F. van Laer, New York State Archivist.)  Mrs. Van Laer further attached a note calling attention to the fact that, while of the work of the late Mr. Bernink was as a whole reliable, no references had been given and until further researches were made one should use caution before accepting his findings as final.

Although Wolfert Gerritsz was long believed to have first come to this country in 1630, it is certain that he was here earlier.  The publication in 1924 of the so-called Van Rappard Documents under the title New Netherland Documents showed that "Wolffaert Gerritsz," unquestionably Van Kouwenhoven, was one of the five "head-farmers" first sent out by the Dutch West India Company.  The literature on the subect of the first settlement of Manhattan Island is extensive and is summarized in Stokes' Iconography of Manhattan Island and DeForst's The Settlement of Manhattan in 1624 (1935).  Stokes has this to say:  "The author believes that enough evidence has now been presented to convince even the most scepticalsic)that the Fongersz-Hulft expedition, which sailed shortly after April 22, 1625, with the five 'head-farmers' and the cattle, settled permanently on Manhattan Island; that Verhulst's expedition, which arrived a few months earlier, brought over the 'hired-farmers'" (ICON, 5:xvii).  It is known that the first farms on Manhattan Island were occupied in 1624 by leases which ran for six years and since Wolfert Gerritsz occupied one of these farmers, it would seem reasonable that he arrived in 1624.  But the "special instructions" from the West India Company of April 22, 1625, seem to state that the "head-farmers" were leaving the Netherlands at that time and Wolfert Gerritsz was certainly one of that group.  His arrival may therefore be given as in the year 1625 and it may be considered as certain that he reamined there for several years, probably until late in 1629.  The farm he occupied during those years as the original Bouwerie No. 3 (VanW.,5)

The second phase in the activities of Wolfert Gerritsz came with his entrance into the employ of Kiliaen Van Renssalaer, first Patroon of the Colony of Rensselaerswyck.  Van Rensselaer, an absentee landlord, had realized from the beginning of his entry as a colonizer that the success of his experiment depended on self-sustaining farms and that a mere trading post was unlikely to survive as a profitable enterprise.  Consequently he forbade his agents and employees to enter the fur business and urged them to establish families on farms.  Wolfert Gerritsz was in the Netherlands in 1630, following the close of his tenancy of a farm on Manhattan Island.  He was not only familiar with conditions in New Netherland but he was an experienced farmer.  Van Rensselaer engaged him and sent him out with his first settlers, the party sailing on the ship de Eendracht, which cleared the Texel on March 21, 1630, and arrived in New Amsterdam on May 24th of that year.

The contract between the patroon and Wolfert Gerritsz was dated at Amsterdam on January 16, 1630.  It was to last for four years, but Van Rensselaer could cancel it after one or two years.  Wolfert Gerritsz was to give his time to Van Rensselaer from April to November, when the winter planting would be finished.  If it proved necessary he was to remain during the winter.  His pay was to be twenty guilders a month, but he was to provide his own board.  Upon arrival in New Netherland all the Van Rensselaer  employees were to go before the Director and his Council and formally promise that they would not engage in trade with fur or skins.  Wolfert was to devote special efforts to securing cattle - horses, cows, heifers, sheep and hogs.  Moreover, Van Rensselaer took over one of the West Indian Company's farms on Manhattan Island and placed Wolfert Gerritsz in charge, chiefly in order to get possession of the animals there, so they could be transported north.  This was Bouwerie No. 7, which had been leased to Evert Focken, who died in January 1630.  While Rutger Hendrizzsen Van Soest was the actual farmer on this place for Van Rensselaer, Wolfert Gerritsz  acted as the Patroon's manager on Manhattan Island, his "commis at the Manhatans."  (VRBM.-VanW.-ICON.)*  Van Rensselaer's instructions to Krol, Commissary at Fort Orange, written January 12, 1630, stated that Wolfert Gerritsz had been engaged "to direct provisionally all my affairs concerning the farms and purchase of cattle."  Not the lest of Wolfert's duties was to build a house of Van Rensselaer in the northern colony, a house to be "plain and simple, large and tight (VRBM)."

Van Kouwenhoven on his return to New Netherland in 1630, took up his home on Manhattan Island, and set about his business there at Rensselaerswyck.  By September, he had ploughed (sic) the Fort Orange land.  He took farm animals up the river.  Yet he was soon dissatisfied.  Perhaps it was because his wife and children would not move to Rensselaerswyck, as is know from the patroon's letters.  But it seems more likely that he was already anticipating the ownership of land like many of his friends in New Amsterdam, and Van Rensselaer  would only give leases, although Van Rensselaer  was inclined to be generous with Wolfert Gerritsz .  On January 9, 1632, Van Kouwenhoven wrote to Van Rensselaer in Amsterdam, asking to be released from his contract.  The schout Coenraaet Notelman, a cousin of the Patroon, recommended to Van Rensselaer that the arrangement with Wolfert be brought to an end, and Van Rensselaer did it with a friendly letter, dated July 20, 1632, addressed to "honorable, discreet Wolfert Geritsz:  "I had hoped that you would have settled in my colony, but, as I am told, your wife was not much inclined thereto"  (VRBM: 218).

Van Rensselaer, however, did not abandon hope of again securing the services of Wolfert Gerritsz.  In 1634 he was willing to offer him and his son half or two-thirds of Castle Island on lease, which would make a farm of eighty or ninety morgens, while the other farms in the colony were only forty morgens (VRBM).

During all this time, 1630-1632, when Wolfert Gerritsz was a manager for Van Rensselaer at both Rensselerswyck and on Manhattan Island, he had another contract in force.  When in Amsterdam on his visit of 1630, he signed on January 8, 1630, a lease for Bouwerie No. 6 on Manhattan Island.  This was one of the original West India Company farms and had been held from 1624 to 1630 by Geurdt Van Gelder.  At least Van Gelder held it in 1630 and no earlier occupant is known.  When Van Gelder yielded it to Van Kouwenhoven, the farm had six mares, ten cows, and a bull.  During the time Wolfert Gerritsz had to manage affairs at Rensselaerswyck, the patroon's cousin, Coenraet Notelman, seems to have been in charge of Bouwerie No. 6.  But in July, 1632, Wolfert Gerritsz took full charge and he held the place until July, 1638.  His lease must have expired in 1636 and it was in that year that he acquired the property on Long Island where he was to spend the rest of his life. (VRBM.-ICON-VanW)  As for Bouwerie No. 6 it was released on March 31, 1639, to Jan Van Vorst, and on March 18, 1647, patented to Cornelis Jacobsz Stille (CDM).

Bouwerie No. 6 was on the East River, which formed its northern boundary.  It was south of the present Division Street, east of Catharine Street, and west of Montgomery Street.  The house, which appears on the Manatus Maps showing Manhattan Island and environs in 1639, was east of Chatham Square (ICON, 2:189; 6:134).

On the Manatus Maps also are noted the Long Island lands of Wolfert Gerritsz, which marked his entrance into the land-holding class and in a very large way indeed.  The first record in the long history of this property was made on June 16, 1636, when Van Kouwenhoven and Andries Hudde, an officer of the New Amsterdam government, received an Indian deed for a tract called "Kestateuw."  Another large lot or flat, lying to the east, was deeded by the Indians on July 16, 1636, to Wouter Van Twiller, and a third, between the two others, went to Jacobus Van Curler on the earlier date of June 16th.  Hudde, Van Twiller and Van Curler were all important figures in New Amsterdam and Van Kouwenhoven's association with them is evidence of his good standing.  Of the four men the only serious settler was Wolfert Gerritsz; the others being speculators.  Wolfert Gerritsz promptly moved on to this property, constructed a dwelling and began to farm.  The tract was, of course, far beyond his needs, apparently being about 3600 acres.  His place was first call "Achterveldt," but later became the settlement of New Amersfort - possibly named by Wolfert Gerritsz after his old home - and even later the town of Flatlands.

Wolfert Gerritsz appears to have been an industrious, peace-loving man, for aside from his difficulties over the Long Island lands, he is seldom mentioned in the court records, whereas many of the early Dutch settlers seemed to have spent many days in the presence of a judge.

He was admitted to the Small Burgher right on April 18, 1657, one of the first to receive this dignity (CNYHS, 1885:24).

It is know that the wife of Wolfert Gerritsz came over with him because Kiliaen Van Rensselaer mentioned her, but we have found nothing on the New Netherland records to give her name or even note her existence, until her death.  However, a manuscript, "The Van Couwenhoven Family in the Netherlands and in New Netherland, 1440-1530," by L. P. de Boer, prepared by him after extensive research in Holland says:  "In the marriage record of the Dutch Reformed Church at Amersfoort, which begins with the year 1583, appears the following entry (Translation by de Boer0: Banns registered, 9 January 1605, Wolfer Gerrit's son and Neltgen Jan's daughter, both from Amersfoort, married 17 January."  On December 6, 1656, Peter, the son of Wolfert, asked for an injunction against the execution of a judgment obtained against his brother Jacob. It appears that the father, Wolfert, had guaranteed a debt of Jacob's, and Peter objected to any collection against his father until his mother's estate had been distributed to him and to the estate of his deceased brother Gerrit.  On August 27, 1658, when Peter was himself a schepen and a member of the court, he again mentioned his father's guarantee and said that his mother's property "is not yet divided"  (CDM, 177; RNA, 2:425)

As for the death of Wolfert Gerritsz Van Kouwenhoven, it must have occurred between March 2, 1662, when an action was recovered against him, and June 24, 1662, when his heirs were sued for non-performance (HSYB, 1900, 142).  The estate was still unsettled as late as May 27, 1664, when Govert Loockermans sued for debt and was informed by the New Amsterdam Court that nothing could be done as the money and property "do not rest here in this place" (RNA, 5:67)

Riker in his Annals of Newtown names five sons to Wolfert Gerritsz , but the records clearly show that there were only three interested in the estate of either parent (CDM, 177, 260; RNA, 2:425; Rec., 65:241).

Wolfert Gerritsz Van Kouwenhoven had only one wife, so far as is known, and that all his children were born of that one marriage is certain from the suit brought by the son Peter in 1658 as told above.  These children were Gerret, Jacob, and Pieter, all born in the Netherlands presumably and all certainly brought over from there.

Willem Gerrets, on behalf of his first wife, was one of the three heirs to the Brooklyn grant of hi father-in-law, Joris Dircksen Brinckerhoff, and joined with the other heirs in selling this property on January 16, 1661.

The existence of the original bible of Willem Gerretse, with his own record of his marriages and the births of his children, greatly assists in determining his twleve children.  He states that he married "Altieu Yoris" in the year 1660.  She was Altje, daughter of Joris Dircksen Brinkcheroff, and was the widow of Cornelis Mattys (Matthews).  She died on June 3, 1663 and Willem Gerretse married, secondly, on February 12, 1665, "Jannetie Peters", who was Jannetje,  daughter of Peter Monfort.  She was baptised as Jaannetje on May 8, 1646, in the Dutch Reformed Church of New Amsterdam.

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