Tuesday, May 8, 2012

"In den Name Godes -- Amen": May 8, 1690

In the spring of 1690, Jacques Van Slyck lay ill at Albany. He was an early ancestor of Minnie, being the son of Cornelis Van Slyck, who had arrived in New Netherland from Breukelen in the Netherlands in 1634. It was from his sickbed that the 50-year-old Jacques dictated his last will and testament.

Jacques and his family were survivors of the infamous Schenectady massacre of February 8, 1690, and in the aftermath were refugees in Albany. Sixty settlers were killed in the massacre and many more taken prisoner, by a combined force of French and "praying Indians" (converted by French Jesuits), who had swooped down from Montreal.

We don't know what ailment Jacques suffered from, but quite possibly it was either smallpox or dysentery (known as the "bloody flux"), as suggested in Mohawk Frontier, by Thomas E. Burke, Jr.

It is interesting to note that the will, which is preserved at the Albany County Hall of Records, is in Dutch, although the Colony had been under English control since 1664.* An English translation of the document can be found in the Early Records of the City and County of Albany and the Colony of Rensselaerswyck, by Jonathan Pearson. The will begins thus:

"In the name of God, Amen. Know all men whom it may concern, that on this eighth day of May in the Year of Our Lord sixteen hundred and ninety, being in the second year of the reign of William and Mary, king and queen of Great Britain, Jacques Cornelisse van Slyck, residing at Schennechtady, lying here in the city aforesaid sick abed . . . "

Jacques then commits his immortal soul into the hands of God and appoints his wife Gerritje Ryckman as the sole and universal heir of all his estate and effects, directing her to give a gift of land to their eldest son Harmen upon the latter's marriage. If Gerritje remarries, she is to distribute property as well to the couple's other eight children: Susanna, Grietje, Cornelis, Geertruyt, Marten, Helena, Fytie, and Lydia.

The will appoints three men, including Albany Mayor Pieter Schuyler, to be guardians over the minor children, along with Gerritje, in case of any disputes about the distribution of the Van Slyck land holdings. The will also recorded Jacques' desire that the Van Slyck land holdings should always remain in "his future blood and lineage"; ironically, some of this land now lies beneath a parking lot on the campus of the Schenectady County Community College.

Jacques' signature on the document, "ACKES," gives an indication of his level of literacy; he knew enough to write at least his own name. 

The exact date of Jacques' death is not known, but perhaps he died when the tulips and lilies imported by the Dutch colonists were blooming  in late spring, as they are now in Albany.

Tulips, Washington Park, May 2012

There are obviously no photos or other representations of Jacques in existence, but a daguerreotype of one of his descendants, David Van Slyke, probably taken in the late 1840s, gives an indication of what he may have looked like. Jacques was half Mohawk, and the features of his great-great grandson David still clearly show this heritage.

David Van Slyke, 1840s

Gerritje did indeed remarry following Jacques' death, to Adam Vrooman, whose wife had been killed in the massacre. Over the next three hundred years, descendants of the Van Slykes and the Vroomans continued to move west into the Mohawk and Schoharie Valleys.

*Except for a brief year 1673-1674, when the Dutch regained control of much of what had been New Netherland.


  1. David looks so serious in this picture, and I know that's typical of pictures from that era. His wife Betsy looks serious in her picture too. Someday when we have time, we ought to research her branch of the family.

  2. Yes, I think they had to sit still for so long and stare into the camera, because the exposure took so long. It must have been hard to hold a natural smile for too long.