|Portrait of Kateri by Fr. Chauchetiere|
I have long been fascinated by Kateri's story, partly because she was a contemporary of some of my Dutch ancestors who were also closely connected with the Mohawks. This afternoon I took a ride out to the Kateri shrine west of Fonda in the Mohawk Valley, lit a candle for Kateri, and walked up the hill to the excavated "castle" of Caughnawaga, where she spent much of her early life. Rather than repeat what has been written about her in the several hundred books about her, I thought it interesting to compare the timeline of her lifespan with events connected with my own ancestors of the same era. I am still left wondering whether her path ever crossed with any of theirs. I may never know, but it's entirely possible since the time and place were so close.
Timeline:1634 - Cornelis Van Slyke emigrates from Breucklen in the Netherlands to Nieuw Nederland on the ship the Eendracht. Some time later, he marries a Mohawk woman named Otstoch, from the village of Canajoharie.
ca. 1640 - Jacques Van Slyke, son of Cornelis and Otstoch, born in Canajoharie.(The couple had several other children, but Jacques is the one who is my ancestor.)
|Kateri statue at the shrine|
1660 - Smallpox epidemic at Ossernenon: Tekakwitha's parents and baby brother die of the illness; she is scarred and left with impaired sight, taken in by aunt and uncle.
1661 - Cornelis and his son Jacques are among the first settlers to establish Schenectady.
1664 - The English capture Nieuw Nederland from the Dutch.
1666 - A war party composed of French and their Huron allies attacks the Mohawk villages on the south side of the river, including Ossernenon. The surviving villagers move to the north side of the river and rebuild, naming their new village Caughnawaga, "the place near the rapids." Following their defeat by the French, Mohawks are compelled to allow Jesuit missionaries to live among them.
1673 - 1674 - The Dutch recapture Nieuw Nederland for a brief period.
1676 - Having been instructed in the Catholic faith by the missionaries, Tekakwitha is baptized on Easter, April 18, 1676. She is given the Christian name Kateri (Catherine).
1676 - Cornelis Van Slyke dies. His son Jacques and daughter Hilletie continue to reside at Schenectady, where Jacques is the first tavern keeper in the village. The Van Slykes maintain contact with Mohawk relatives in Canajoharie.
|Path up the hill to the village|
1680 - Kateri becomes ill and dies on April 17, 1680, shortly before her 24th birthday.
1690 - On February 8, Schenectady is attacked by a combined force of French and their Native American allies, who had swooped down from Montreal. Sixty settlers are killed in the massacre and many more taken prisoner, but Jacques and his family are not harmed. Later that spring, Jacques dies of an unknown illness, having dictated his will on his presumed deathbed.
When one walks up the hill from the chapel near the roadside to the excavated village at the top, it is hard to think of all the bloodshed and sickness that roiled around this area three hundred fifty years ago. The woods are peaceful now, the quiet only broken by the crunch of our feet on the fallen leaves and the cries of geese heading south.
|Site of excavated village of Caughnawaga|
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In Mohawk Country: Early Narratives about a Native People. Dean Snow, Charles T. Gehring, Wm. A. Starna, eds. Syracuse University Press, 1996.
Kateri, Lily of the Mohawks. Jack Casey. Staff Picks Press, Albany, NY. 2012.
The Reason for Crows: A Story of Kateri Tekakwitha. Diane Glancy. State University of New York Press, Albany, NY. 2009.
National Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine. http://www.katerishrine.com/kateri.html . Accessed October 20, 2013.