Teunis in the Dutch Republic

Map of Rensselaerswyck by Gillis van Scheyndel, 1631–1632

The Patroon

The next morning, Teunis went to Master Jan and told him about his plans: "I need to talk to those people, to the skipper, to the helpers of the patroon. Master Jan, this is my big chance! Can I take the day off?" Master Jan shook his head and looked at the boy. "You little rascal—do you realize how sad this will make your mother? And how dangerous this could be for you?" But he saw the expression on Teunis' face, and he knew that his words would have no influence. "It's okay boy; you take that time. If it doesn’t work out you can still come back here. But...remember: that will be your last chance!" Teunis looked surprised at the old grump, and then started smiling. "Thank you Master Jan! Thank you! And I really apologize for the other day, when I ran away again! I should not have done that, but sometimes it is so difficult... and then it seems that I just have to go to the harbor!" "It's alright boy, you better go and use your day well. Good luck to you!"

This time, as Teunis walked out into the sunshine, he noticed the pretty step gables and how Skipper Kees' weathervane reflected the sun. "Good day, Mrs. Vink! Your geraniums are beautiful!" Teunis said, as he walked by the bright red flowers. Mrs. Vink smiled, and thought: "What a nice boy!" At the dock, Teunis met Cornelis, who was waiting for him. Cornelis made an appointment for Teunis with the skipper and even with the patroon! Cornelis seemed even more excited than Teunis was: "Come on, Teunis! We have to hurry. The patroon is hiring, but we have to move quickly before he is done! I made an appointment for ten o'clock this morn­ing!"

Together the young men walked through the narrow city streets along the canals, where business went on as usual. They passed brawny men pushing wheelbarrows or carrying bags on their backs and heading toward ships docked in the canals. Above the canals, seagulls screamed, diving down into the water for food. They saw girls hard at work scrubbing stoops and polishing large brass door knobs. An important-look­ing man with a walking stick in hand lifted his high black hat as he passed the young servants: "Good morning Liesje, your stoop looks as clean as a mirror! Good morning, Marietje, you polished that door knob so well that it is almost blinding me when the sun shines on it!"

As they walked, Teunis quizzed Cornelis: "Do you know the patroon? Is he a nice man? Does he live in a big house?" Excited, Teunis rambled on and on, asking thousands of questions. "The patroon's name is Van Rensselaer. He lives in a big house on the Keizersgracht," Cornelis told Teunis. "The patroon is a wealthy merchant, and when you meet him you can't talk like this. He will ask the questions, and you must answer them; nothing more. He is a very precise man and may want to know many things about you. Make sure you are very polite, because he is well known in this city. He is one of the most powerful men in the West India Company! If he is your friend, you will have more friends." "But why do you think he would hire me? What would I have to do? Do you think he will hire me, Cornelis?" Cornelis told Teunis that one of the patroon’s interests was agriculture. "He has large estates in Het Gooi and elsewhere, and he hires people to work the land. He also owns land in New Netherland, and he wants to do the same thing there as he does here. You see, many people go to New Netherland for the beaver skins, but Mister van Rensselaer thinks that they need to grow grains and to raise farm animals to support the merchants and to support our warships. I think he is right. If there are people there, they need to eat. They need bread, and in order to get bread, they need to grow grains." Teunis understood: "I understand. In addition to bread, they need beer in New Netherland, as well as houses, shoes, clothing... just about everything. But, Cornelis, are there no people there who could do that work?" And Cornelis told Teunis about the people in America: "The Indians are not like us, Teunis. They speak a different language. They wear different clothes. They eat different foods. They don't have farms, like we do." "What do they look like, Cornelis, and what do they eat?" But Cornelis told him to quiet down: "We are almost there." They had come to the Keizersgracht. The patroon lived at number 118. Cornelis said, “Now, do as I told you. Be very polite and let him ask the questions. Now, straighten your stockings and follow me." Up the high stoop they went. "Ready?" and Cornelis rang the large brass door bell.

The sound of the door bell echoed in Teunis' head, and all of a sudden he became very quiet. So this was the big moment! His heart was pounding. The door was opened by a servant: "Hello Cornelis, how are you? I assume you have an appointment with Mister van Rensselaer?" She nodded in a friendly way at Teunis, who stood silently next to Cornelis. "Why don't you come in and wait in the fronthouse. I will let him know that you are here." They stood there waiting in the entrance hall. Amazed Teunis looked around. Wow, this was a wealthy merchant! Teunis and his family lived in a narrow and long house at the Prinsengracht, but compared to this.... This room was almost as wide as their whole house! Impressed he looked at the large paintings on the wall, the pendulum in a comer, a beautiful red wooden chest inlaid with black ebony, the marble floor. Cornelis laughed: "Okay boy; just be yourself, but at all times, be polite!" Teunis collected his courage.

The door opened, and the servant girl took them to Mister van Rensselaer's office. The patroon sat in a large chair at a large table and looked sharply at the boy: "So, you are Teunis, and you want to go to our colony in America?" "Yes Mister van Rensselaer." "Can you do heavy work?" "Oh yes sir, I have worked with Master Jan in his smithy, and he makes you work sir! Real hard!" "And have you been on a ship before?" "Yes sir, my father worked on De Meeuw and took me on the ship many times!" "Well, well; why don't you both sit down and tell me something about yourself." Teunis looked at Cornelis, who nodded at him, encouragingly. "Tell Mister van Rensselaer what you told me, Teunis!" And Teunis told the patroon about his family and his father’s recent death. "I think I have heard of your father. Wasn't he Pieter Davidsen, who sacrificed his life for an eighteen-year-old boy when the Spanish attacked their ship? Your father was a very brave man!" Despite his sadness, Teunis glowed with pride: "Yes sir, yes; he was very brave!" "Well, Teunis Pietersz, if you are as brave as your father, you will be a good addition to our colony. In the beginning you will have to work for a farmer in the colony, but if you do a good job, I will make sure that you will have chances to move up. And once in a while you can also send something back for your mother and your little brother and sister!"

Teunis did not know what to say. It all seemed to happen so fast. "The ship that you helped load, De Eendracht, is going over at the end of April. If you decide to go, there will be place for you. I will hire you for four years. You will be paid forty guilders for the first year of work, fifty for the second year, sixty for the third, and seventy for the fourth. After that, you can decide what you want to do. In addition, you will receive twenty-five guilders and a pair of boots for the passage overseas. You don't have to make a decision now. Talk this offer over with your family. But you must let me know what you want to do by next Tuesday. If you decide to go to North America, we will sign a contract." "Oh, but I don't need to wait until Tuesday!” Teunis exclaimed. "Well, boy,” the patroon responded, "that is what I want you to do. You should talk it over with your mother before signing a contract with me."

Mister van Rensselaer, then, offered to show Teunis a large map of the patroonship. The map was drawn on two pieces of parchment sewn together in the middle.  It was certainly almost two yards long! "See, this river is the North River, or the Mauritius River. This here is the West India Company’s fort, Fort Orange. This whole area"—he moved his hand over the black and white map—"is our colony, which I named Rensselaerswijck. See, the name is on it." There was much more on the map, including the names of the other owners, and Teunis read aloud that there were many deer, turkeys, and other game. The river was full of all types of fish. "You read very well, Teunis; that will come in handy, if you decide to go to the colony. If you can write as well as you read, I would like you to send me a report on how things are going."

As Teunis walked home from the patroon’s large house, the world looked different to him. He still saw how beautiful Amsterdam was, but on the horizon a new world beckoned him. A world with a great river and lots of creeks, with mountains and hills, with wild animals and all kinds of exotic foods....  No, Teunis did not have to think about the offer. He knew what he had to do.

And so it happened that on April 25, 1642, Teunis stepped aboard De Eendracht. His mother was sad to see him leave, but she understood that this was what Teunis had to do. Even though he was only fourteen years old, Teunis was old enough to decide his future. And the Old Grump? Master Jan came to see Teunis two days before the ship was set to sail. The blacksmith brought with him a large, strong chest. 'Here, I made this for you. It is a sea chest. You can put your belongings in it and keep them safe."

At eight in the morning the ropes were loosed, the gangway pulled in, and the ship separated itself from the dock. With tears in his eyes, Teunis watched his mother and two siblings grow smaller and smaller as they waved to him from the shore. He waved back at them until he could not see them anymore. First the ship would stop at the island of Texel and then, if the weather cooperated, he would be off to the New World!

About the New Netherland Institute

For over three decades, 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

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