A Different Ship in a Different Time

Adriaen Gerritsen Van Vliet (vliet is dutch for a small stream and Van Vliet is a common surname in the Netherlands today) was a farmer who lived near Utrecht who emigrated with his family aboard De Trouw (The Faith) from Amsterdam on March 24, 1662, arriving in New Amsterdam on June 12, 1662.  On the ship was his son Gerrit who was about 13 at the time. Perhaps they were from the village of Vliet outside Utrecht and adopted the last name Van Vliet upon emigrating.

The Van Vliet’s quickly headed up the Hudson and settled in the Wiltwyck (renamed Kingston a couple years later) 90 miles north of the city when the colony was still New Netherlands (which became New York two years later). Adrian became owner of several land parcels in Wiltwyck/Kingston and adjacent parts of Ulster Co. In the Indian attack of June, 1663 (Esopus Wars), one of his daughters was captured with other settlers, but they were soon recovered.

Gerrit eventually married Pieternella Teunis Swart and after moving to Schenectady had their 10th child Teunnis (b 1702, an earlier Teunnis had died as a baby, reusing names was common practice then).

Teunnis’s great-great-great-granddaughter was named Emma Van Vleet (b 1885).  Emma had a daughter named Merle (b 1915) who later married Howard Chalsma (b 1913), the great-grandson of Sjoerd Tjalsma.

Sjoerd, of course, after leaving the Frisian side of the Netherlands, ended up part of the group that founded a different New Amsterdam about 200 years after the Van Vliet’s landed in the original.


New York Times – May 17, 1853

The New York Times had a number of stories, over about a 50 day period, about the ill-fated voyage of the William and Mary in 1853.  I will summarize each in turn (with direct quotes as needed).  I am sure if this had happened today you would be seeing it on TV and all across the Internet.  Attached are PDFs.  The Times claims these are still copyright so I am just saving these here for storage.  I can’t stop you from clicking.

In reading this first story, and thinking of what is to come, I keep thinking that I should do a screenplay treatment for this.  I would if I thought anyone would be interested in a tale tale of sea and settlement.  While an amazing and interesting tale, it doesn’t have light sabers or grownups acting like children.  Maybe I will write one up anyway (Terrance Mallick please!!!). Or a play, say, where Sjoerd is a sorcerer looking to regain the rightful place of his family or some such frippery.

PS no bylines back then.

May 17, 1853:  Disaster at Sea

nyt 05 17 1853

The Times interestingly starts off saying:

The ship William and Mary, of Bath, (me.) Stenson, Master, from Liverpool for New Orleans, with railroad iron and 208 passengers, arrived yesterday morning.

What, no editor?  What had really happened is that Stinson has arrived in NY on the ship that had earlier picked him up after the shipwreck.  Also they spelled the Captain’s last name wrong.  It is Stinson everywhere else.

The Times then goes on to describe the ship’s approach to the Bahamas and the wreck in detail (in a way that must have been typical back then).  I will go into this in depth in another post.  The captain reports that the ship,

At 8, found no bottom in twenty fathoms.  At 8:15, the same.  At 8:30 struck on a sunken rock and hung about midships, with ten fathoms water all around.

Almost a poem.

At 8
Found no bottom in 20 fathoms

At 8:15
The same

A 8:30

On a sunken rock and
Hung about midships

With 10 fathoms water
all around

The Times then recounts the Stinson’s account of the attempt at saving the ship (and lies that later would be exposed) then the escape of Stenson. The most important section in the article I think describes how at 7am the next day with the

ship going down; mates and crew in the boats, together with as many passengers as could be stowed in the long boat and life boat, the two other life boats having been stove after launching.

Until it was later discovered that the ship actually didn’t go down, and the captain abandoned the still viable ship, it doesn’t seem as what was recounted was bad form by the captain.  No captain going down with his ship here, but maybe that was OK and instead Every man for himself?

The Times closes with a recounting of the

206 passengers, including their cook and steward, who nearly all went down in the vessel, together with two of the seaman, and the ship’s steward-names unknown.

Shipwrecks with large loss of life were fairly common in the 19th century. If the William and Mary had truly been lost it would have made the Wikipedia list.  See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_maritime_disasters_in_the_19th_century

Wisconsin in 1853

Wisconsin had become a state only five years before Sjoerd arrived.  It was the last state east of the Mississippi to gain statehood, on May 29, 1848.

In 1850 the population was about 300,000, with about a third of the population born in New England, 20% born in Wisconsin, and most of the rest immigrants.

Here is an 1855 map of the La Crosse and Milwaukee Rail Road (and connections!).  This Mississippi wasn’t the only way to get there.

lacrosse and milwaukee

Here is a state map of Wisconsin from 1855.  New Amsterdam represented!
Wisconsin Township map 1855

Source of both maps:  Library of Congress

Sjoerd’s Kofschip Rental, 1838

From http://www.allefriezen.nl/, Minute-deeds in 1838, 1839, Notarial Archive

Date: 31-03-1838

Type: lease


Rudolf Durks North Werff residing in Woudsend
Amount: annual rent 87 fl

A kofschip
Apparently kofschips were for inland and coastal navigation.  Here is what a Kofschip looked like.  Pretty impressive.  The painting is in the Fries Scheepvaart Museum, a maritime museum in Sneek (the big town in the Tjalsma neighborhood).


Source:  http://www.geheugenvannederland.nl/?/nl/items/FSM01:2000-198

1860 Plat Map Holland Township, LaCrosse Co, WI

In the far lower left hand corner is New Amsterdam.  Zoom in there and you can see that Bonnema owns the area around the town, but right up river, Sjoerd’s place (now in the Van Loon Floodplain Forest State Natural Area).  Wish we had know this when we were going often so we could explore.

Scan around the map and you will see other familiar names.

1860 Plat Map Holland Township, La Crosse Co, WI

Below is satellite photo with an arrow pointing to location of Sjoerd’s property.  Given flooding, likely no evidence.  Perhaps nothing was even ever built there.

NA Satelite

Source:  Google

La Crosse Tribune, September 7, 1924

This is a translation of Haagsma, but not the one done at Calvin College, but instead done by Jewett Chalsma.  Jewett was the grandson of Sjoerd.

The article has a nice photo of Shouke Chalsma (Sjouke Tjalsma) who was Sjoerd’s son and the “Last survivor of the original settlers of New Amsterdam, who died July 20, 1924”.

Unfortunately the entire article wasn’t available.


Source:  Wisconsin Historical Society