THE WHITE WHALE

"A certain fish appeared snow-white, round
of body, and blew water up out of his head." 

- From the memorandum book of Antony de Hooges, 1647
 

Pen and ink drawing by L.F. Tantillo

In the early spring of 1647, an unusual sight startled the inhabitants of Rensselaerswijck. As they watched from the shore in "great amazement," a mysterious creature of "considerable size" made its way up the river and back whence it came. Several weeks later, a similar creature appeared, "[blowing] water out of its head like the one before." Eager to document the unusual events, Antony de Hooges, secretary of the patroonship, recorded his thoughts in his memorandum book among the humdrum proceedings of ordinary business. De Hooges speculated about its meaning, only God knew, and the possible connection to the first thunder and lightning of the year, which occurred on the evening of the second sighting. The memorandum book is in box 31 of the "Van Rensselaer Manor Papers" held by Manuscripts and Special Collections of the New York State Library. 

Translation

[52] On the 29th of March in the year 1647 a certain fish appeared before us here in the colony, which we estimated to be of a considerable size. He came from below and swam past us a certain distance up to the sand bars and came back towards evening, going down past us again. He was snow-white, without fins, round of body, and blew water up out of his head, just like whales or tunas. It seemed very strange to us because there are many sand bars between us and Manhattan, and also because it was snow-white, such as no one among us has ever seen; especially, I say, because it covered a distance of 20 [Dutch] miles of fresh water in contrast to salt water, which is its element. Only God knows what it means. But it is certain, that I and most all of the inhabitants [watched] it with great amazement. On the same evening that this fish appeared before us, we had the first thunder and lightening of the year.

[53] On the 19th of April in the year 1647 another fish appeared here around noon before Fort Orange with the high water (seafaring men who have sailed to Greenland judged it to be a whale). It was of considerable size as the previous one (we estimated it to be over 40 feet long). It was brown in color like a [ ] with large fins on its back and blew water out of its head like the one before. He swam upstream against this extraordinary current. It seemed strange to me because it has been several years since a tuna has appeared here. It caused great amazement how the fish had swum so far and [ ] in this spring two such large fish should appear, [ ] is unheard of, for reasons stated about the previous fish.

Trancription

[52] Den 29en Marty Anno 1647 heeft sich voor ons alhier inde Colonie een seeckere Vis vertoont, die naer wij houden bemercken van een sonderlinge grootte was; hij quam van beneden, ende swom een stuck weechs voorbij ons naer boven tot aende droochte ende quam tegen den avont wederom voorbij ons naer beneeden passeeren. Hij was snee-wit, sonder vinnen, rondt van lijff, blies waetter boven uyt sijn hooft, gelijck de walvisschen ofte tonijns. Het docht ons heel vreemt, uyt oorsaeck, dat boven dat tusschen ons ende de Manhatans veele droochten sijn, ende daer beneven sneewit was, soodanige onser geen oijt heeft gesien, dat, segge ick, hij het varsche waetter is gepasseert boven de spatie van 20 mijlen, sijnde het varsche waetter het soutte contrarie, dat gelijck als haer element is. Wat het sij, Godt de Heere weet het, dit staet vast, ick, ende meest alle de I[nwoonders] hebben het met groote verwondering ae[ngesien] op de selve stondt, dat dese vis hem voor ons vi[nt] hadden wij de eerste donder ende blixen van dit jaer.

[53] Den 19 Aprilis anno 1647 met dit hooch [waetter] vertoonde sich wederom omtrent de middach een Vis (wiert geoordeelt van zeevaerende Luyden, die op Groenlandt hadden gevaeren een Walvis te [sijn)] alhier voort Fort Orangien, was van meerdere grootte als de voorno[emde] was bruyn van coleur gelijck een [ ] met grootte vinnen op de ruch, blie[s] waetter uyt het hooft als de voorig[e.] Hij swom tegen dese extraordinary afw[aette]ringe naer bovene. Dit dunckt mij vreemt, doordien hett voordesen over eenig[e] Jaeren is geschiet, dat sich alhier een Tonijn heeft vertoont, twelck haer te di[ ] tijdt groot wonder gaff, hoe de Vis soo verre verseylt was, ende m[ ] in dit eene voorjaer sich 2 soodaen[ige] grootte visschen vertoonen, [dat] ongehoort is, om reeden, als vande vo[ornoemde] Vis verhaelt is.

Translator's note:
In the margin is written

Wij achten dat hij over de 40 voeten lank was

About the New Netherland Institute

For a quarter century NNI has helped cast light on America's Dutch roots. In 2010, it partnered with the New York State Office of Cultural Education to establish the New Netherland Research Center, with matching funds from the State of the Netherlands. NNI is registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Contributions are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. More

The New Netherland Research Center

Housed in the New York State Library, the NNRC offers students, educators, scholars and researchers a vast collection of early documents and reference works on America's Dutch era. Directed by Dr. Charles Gehring. More

 

find_us_on_facebook_logo.gif    Marcurius_Heading_Linear.jpg 

Shop Now

Visit the NNI shop for books, maps, notecards & More

Subscribe Now

Subscribe to NNI's email list to receive information about events, activities, conferences, and research. More

Join NNI

Members allow NNI to support the New Netherland Research Center and to undertake research and educational programs