Teunis in the Dutch Republic

The Y at Amsterdam, seen from the Mosselsteiger (mussel pier) by Ludolf Bakhuizen

The Dockworker
 

"Hey—you there—get out of the way or come help us!" A couple of large men rudely interrupted Teunis’ reflections. And before he was even aware of it, Teunis found himself pushing some big barrels and carrying some large chests. The men certainly did not waste any time or effort! Sweat poured down his face after just a few minutes, but he did not mind a bit. He actually enjoyed the work! All afternoon he was carrying, pushing, rolling, and running from the warehouse to the dock. He even went aboard the ship a few times. Before he knew it, it started growing dark. His mother did not know where he was and would become worried. He said goodbye to the men and went home.

Later in bed that night, he could not sleep. Master Jan had come to talk with his mother, and they agreed that Teunis would have one more chance to work in the smithy. Mother did not cry, but she looked sad and worried. Teunis tossed and turned. He felt sorry about worrying his mother. And yet, while he did not like working with the blacksmith, he had enjoyed working with those men at the harbor. The work made him feel important, like he was one of them. Oh, if he were only sixteen! When Teunis finally fell asleep, he dreamt about a new phase in life.

The next morning he got up early, had breakfast with his family, and told them that he was going to the dock again. His mother saw the excitement in his eyes and smiled, sadly.

The men were there, and they welcomed him as a friend. Again, Teunis worked all day. Without any protest, without complaints, he did work that sometimes was almost too heavy for a boy his age. Toward the end of the afternoon, Cornelis, one of the men, put his hand on Teunis’ shoulder and looked at him: "Here boy, you deserve a reward," and he put two guilders in Teunis' hands. Teunis looked up, not believing what he saw. But he only saw two friendly eyes and a smile. “Tell me something about yourself. Why were you sitting there, yesterday? You seemed unhappy." And Teunis told of his father’s death, his mother’s sorrow, and how he hated working in the smithy with Master Jan. "But I didn’t come to the harbor looking for work. It just happened. All of a sudden I was helping you, and I liked it!" "I can see that you enjoy this work. And besides, you are a good worker. We would not have been able to do all this without your help. But, tell me, do you know how to read and write?" And Teunis told him about his education and about how his plans for the future had fallen through, when his father died. "Maybe I can give you something to think about. Do you know where this ship is going?" Cornelis told him that the ship was heading to a settlement called Rensselaerswijck, across the ocean in New Netherland. "There are many opportunities there for boys like you. You are familiar with trade, you can write, and you are a hard worker!" Cornelis told Teunis about other people who had already gone as employees of the patroon. They became wealthy. "And you know from what? Not from gold, or silver, or spices, but from beavers! You know, Teunis, that is where the gold is—in the beaver!"

When Teunis arrived home that night, his mother could see that something had changed. Something had come back on his face, an expression that had been gone since his father died. She remembered the same expression on her husband’s face, when he sailed off on business to those faraway places. Teunis' mind was made up. He would find the patroon and tell him how strong he was and how hard he could work. He would tell the patroon that he knew how to read, write, and calculate. Cornelis promised to help Teunis. He would tell the patroon that the boy was just the kind of person the patroon wanted for his settlement.


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

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. More

 

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