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The De Witts


DeWitt House, Marbletown,NY (Haviland-Heidgerd Historical Collection)

This farm is one of the oldest in the Esopus Valley and tradition tells that it was transferred prior to 1700 by Tjerck Claessen DeWitt to his son Captain Andreas DeWitt. A stone embedded in the East front of this house bears the figures 1689.


The first mention in this country, of Tjerrck Claessen De Witt, the ancestor of the De Witt family, is found in the "Trouiv Boeck" or Register of Marriages of the Reformed (Collegiate) Dutch Church, of New York City, where it was recorded that on 24 April 1656 that "Tjerck

Claessen De Witt van Grootholdt en Zunderlandt" married "Barbara Andriessen van Amsterdam." Zunderlandt has not been definitely located, but it is probably Saterland, a district of Westphalia, on the southern border of East Friesland. Whether or not any of his family emigrated to America with him has not been ascertained, but it is probable that they did, for in 1662 his sister Emmerentie De Witt married Martinus Hoffman at New Amsterdam, and in 1699 his brother Jan Claessen De Witt died unmarried at Kingston.


Tjerck Claessen De Witt was the son, as the name would Indicate, of Claes or Nicholas De Witt, and, judging from the custom prevalent at that time of naming children after grandparents, it is probable that his mother's first name was Taatje. for his eldest daughter bears that name, as does also a daughter of Emmerentie Hoffman, his sister, and furthermore he had a sister named Taatje, living in Holland.


The Sunderlant, or as it it was more frequently called, "The Sauerland or Surland," was the most southerly of the three natural divisions of the the old Duchy of Westphalia, and is described as "consisting of hills and vales, and having fine woods and meadows, suited for grazing and the dairy." In those respects, it was distinguished from the other two divisions, which were more useful for growing grains. Grootholt is situated a little east of the Rhine Rivers, between the Lippe and the Limster, and not far from the manufacturing town of Essen.


For a short time after his marriage Tjerck lived in New York where his first child, Andries, was born. In the spring of 1657 he removed to Albany, where he had purchased a house and lot. In September, 1660, he exchanged his Albany property with Madame de Hutter, for land in Wiltwyck (now Kingston), "possession to be given May 1, 1661." He probably took possession at that time, as in September 1661, he appeared as a plaintiff in an action at law before the Schepens Court of Wiltwyck, and on 11 October the same court ordered the

Sheriff, Roeleff Swartwout, to pay him three and a half schepels of wheat in eight days and seven more in one month.


From this time until his death, Tjerck resided in Kingston and Hurley, and some of the land which he purchased was still in the hands of his descendants through the 1800s. That he was a man of considerable means was shown by the fact that in 1661 he was taxed 125 guilders (about $50) to pay for building a church in Esopus.


In 1662 he owned No. 28 of the "new lots." On 7 June 1663, when Kingston and Hurley were almost entirely destroyed by the Indians, his eldest daughter, Taatje, was taken prisoner, but was soon rescued.


"During the winter of 1664 there was much sickness in Esopus (Kingston). Fever took hold of the people and prostrated half the place. But this did not prevent men from gathering their money. Roeloff Swartwout sold a horse to Tjerck Claessen De Witt, which was taken to the latter's barn, but the ex-sheriff, becoming dissatisfied, took it away secretly. He was sued for the property."


In 1667, when the British sent Captain Broadhead and thirteen soldiers to take posession of Kingston, Tjerck was one of those who opposed the British occupation. Among the complaints made afterward by the townspeople was that "Captain Broadhead has beaten Tjerck Claeszen DeWitt without reason and brought him to prison." The reason given for the abuse was because Tjerck observed Christmas day according to Dutch tradition and not English.


On 8 April 1669, he was granted permission to build a house, barn and stables on land between Kingston and Hurley.


On 25 June 1672, Governor Lovelace deeded Tjerck "a parcel of bush-land, together with a house, lot, orchard, and calves' pasture, lying near Kingston, in Esopus." On 8 October 1677, Governor Andros deeded him a piece of woodland, containing about fifty acres, at Kingston in Esopus to the west of the town. He was one of the signers of a renewal of the Nichols Treaty with the Esopus Indians on 11 February 1679.


In 1684 he signed "the humble petition of the inhabitants of Esopus in the County of Ulster," praying that there might be "liberty by charter to this county to choose our owne officers to every towne court by the major vote of the freeholders." This petition was addressed to Colonel Thomas Dongan, the Governor-General. It greatly offended the authorities and the signers were arrested and fined. Thus, early in the history of the country arose the questions of local self-government and the right of suffrage. They were easily answered then.


On 13 February 1685 one hundred and eighty-nine acres of land were conveyed to Tjerck by the Trustees of Kingston. On 6 June 1685, he claimed two hundred and ninety acres of land lying on the north side of Rondout Kill, and known by the name of "Momboccus" (in the town of Rochester) in Ulster County. This was laid out for him by Phillip Welles, surveyor, and was granted to him by patent on 14 May 1694.


He was chosen one of the magistrates of Ulster County on March 4, 1689, having previously held other offices.


The records of Ulster County also showed that he had two sloops which sailed the waters of the Hudson River and along the Atlantic Coast, carrying on trade at various points. He sold one of the sloops, named "Ye St. Barbara," to Captain Daniel Hobart, from Barbados, to be taken to that island to be used for commercial trade.


Tjerck Claessen De Witt died at Kingston on 17 February 1700. By his will, which was dated 4 March 1698 and was written in Dutch, he left his property to his wife for life; at her death one-half to go to his oldest son, Andries, and one-half to his youngest son, Tjerck, in trust, "provided that the same shall be appraised by impartial persons on oath," and divided into twelve equal shares, one share to be given to each of his children, their heirs or assigns. Barbara Andriessen De Witt died on 6 July 1714 and after her death the property was appraised according to the provisions of the will.



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