Teunis in the Dutch Republic

Blacksmith at His Forge by Le Nain Brothers

The Blacksmith's Apprentice

The sun was shining and the air was filled with spring, but Teunis did not notice the weather. He wandered, with his head down, through the narrow streets of Amsterdam toward the harbor. The water drew him like a magnet. As he walked, his thoughts went back to earlier that morning. Master Jan had been in such a bad mood. Everything Teunis did was wrong, according to his master: the fire Teunis built was wrong; he did not hold the hammer properly. "You will never become a good blacksmith!" Master Jan growled at him. "You and your dreams about the sea! Drown, that is what will happen to you. You’II drown, just like your father did. You had better pay attention and learn how to keep a good fire and how to handle the hammer! Then at least you know that you will have an honest and decent living in the future!"

Growling and muttering, Master Jan continued his work. Meanwhile, Teunis daydreamed: instead of a hammer and anvil, he saw wild waves, bright colors, and palm trees from faraway countries. These were the countries about which his father had told him so much. Strange people with colors on their faces, dancing to the beat of drums.... Unknown animals and birds with brilliant feathers.... But nobody wanted to hire a fourteen year old boy to work on their ship. "Ha ha, you, little boy? Come back when you are sixteen!" was the usual response to his request for work on one of the big ships. Even the whalers did not want him. It looked like he still had two years to work for this old grump! The old grump noticed that Teunis was dreaming again, and hollered, outraged: "Look what you have done, you forgot the bellows, you rascal! The fire is out!" Holding the hammer high up in the air, Master Jan slowly approached the boy. "I will teach you how to work!" But Teunis jumped aside and ran out of the smithy into the fresh spring day. And there he was, running away from Master Jan for the umpteenth time, wandering again in the harbor. "You darned boy! I'll talk to your mother and we will break the contract!! I can get a better apprentice than you!" were the last words he had heard from Master Jan.

Because his head was lowered, Teunis did not notice how brilliantly the gold weathervane on Skipper Kees' house shone in the sunlight. He did not notice the pretty the step gables or Mrs. Vink’s geraniums, the first of the season. How would his mother respond, when Master Jan came to talk with her? All Teunis could think of was her worried face, which had gained so many wrinkles since his father’s death. Would she cry? He knew she tried to hide her sorrow that from the children.

About half a year ago his father had died in the war with the Spanish. First there was all the sorrow and the grief, but now that he, his mother, and his siblings had become used to the idea. And another reality became more and more apparent. The reality was that they needed money for food and clothes. Before, he had never even thought about that; there was always plenty. But now... how things had changed! And now his mother would be so disappointed with him, Teunis, her oldest son, who had promised to help his mother and learn a good trade.

In the Dutch Republic, many people became wealthy, some very wealthy. The ships of the country wandered throughout the seven seas. They acquired grain and wood from the Baltics, wine and salt from the Mediterranean, spices from the Far East, silks from China, and in Africa, they purchased slaves. Trade was the most important source of Dutch prosperity. Many traders became wealthy. They ate well. They bought beautiful clothes, commissioned paintings, and built beautiful houses. Of course that meant work for many other people: bakers, brewers, tailors, artists, masons, carpenters. Dutch farmers also benefitted from this growing wealth, because city people were willing to pay high prices for produce. But not everybody was fortunate. The widow of a drowned sailor still had to find a way to feed her children. In such circumstances, she might have to rely on charity from the wealthy, the government, or the church.

Teunis worried that his family would have to rely on charity. They were far from poor but not very wealthy. The children ate well and dressed well. He and his brother and sister were well educated. They were apprenticed and went to evening school. At school, they learned how to read, write, and calculate. If his father were still alive, Teunis would soon have started helping him. But that all changed in a time of war. The family could not continue to live as they had before his father’s death. Yesterday his mother and he had had a long talk. He had never before seen her cry...

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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