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The Slechts

Kingston, NY (circa 1695)

Cornelius Barentsen Slecht was born about 1616 in the municipality of Woerden in Utrecht, Netherlands. He was mentioned in records of 1640-1653 as a distiller and brandy maker. Records show the Slecht family were substantial landowners in Holland. Most of the emigrants from Holland and the Netherlands to New Netherland were financially well off.

Cornelius' near ancestors had adopted the surname "Slecht", a nickname they had been given for the foibles of a few relatives , even though "Slecht" or "Slechten" meant "naughty", "bad" "evil" in Dutch. This may have doubtless been done in a good-natured humor as an inside joke in the small community who knew them. Cornelius retained the name in America. Cornelius was known to be hot-headed, quick , resentful, and troublesome to civil authorities.

However, those immigrants in America would not know the circumstances and would not understand the context of having a surname meaning "bad". The Slecht name did not, therefore, survive beyond his children, because later generations changed it to Sleight or Sleght to eliminate the "bad" definition.

In 1640, Cornelis took over the land of his father in Snelle . In 1645, he paid 500 guilders for a bordering parcel of land. A few tile makers had purchased the rights to remove the clay. In July 1649, he sold the feudal rights to the land to the orphanage in Amsterdam. In January 1650 , he paid 2100 guilders for a house on the Voorstraat in Ijsselstein, paying half in May 1650 after taking possession and the rest in 1651, but he actually stayed in Woerden. In December 1651, Cornelius, identified as a brewer and and distiller of brandy, gave an IOU of 612 guilders 10 stuivers with the brothers Rietvelt against the delivery of lean pigs. He would pay his bill from the delivery of 29 pigs the he had fattened up. Cornelius then made arrangements with a solicitor in Leiden, giving him power of attorney on 19 March 1652 to collect his claim from this buyer of his pigs. The last mention about him in Woerden was an action from 17 March 1653, where he, as partner of Tryntje Tysse Bosch, gave power of attorney to Jan Corszoon Rietvelt, one of the previously named brothers, to collect the receipts and titles of her portion in the sale of goods from the estate of her father, an indication that she was not going to be around as she and her husband were planning to emigrate to New Netherland.

Cornelius immigrated to America with his wife and at least four of his children after March 1652/1653. They arrived in New Amsterdam but did not stay long. They likely sailed up the Hudson to New Orange (now Albany) and shortly afterward settled as one of the original families in Esopus, now known as Kingston, New York. Esopus which was one of the nation's first settlements and as Kingston was the first capitol of New York, which was later moved to Albany due to threats from the British Army during the Revolution. From the beginning, Cornelius took a prominent and active part in the affairs of the New Reformed Dutch Church and the new settlement. His wife served the community as a midwife.

At first, the settlers did a good business with the local Indians. For just a few colored beads a trade could be made for fine pelts of mink, beaver, bear, deer, etc., as the Indians were fine hunters. However, they eventually had trouble with the Indians for several years over such matters as settlers' farm animals destroying Indian gardens of corn and such and be shot, whereupon the settlers would become angry. Director-General Peter Stuyvesant advised the settlers to band together in a permanent town within a protective stockade and arranged to have soldiers help build the stockade. Several sources say Cornelius was a sergeant of the military company and is said to have supervised the construction. The palisades stood eight feet above the ground and protected what is now an area of about eight square blocks.

In 1659, several settlers came upon some Indians lying drunk in a meadow and shot some of them, causing the Indians to retaliate with an attack on the settlement. Cornelius, being intelligent and a leader, as well as one of the few who was literate, wrote a letter to the Director-General which was signed by himself and the Dutch burghers. He wrote that his son Jan was killed during an attack on the town stockade. Some histories claim that Jan was among those captured by the Indians outside the stockade and subsequently tortured, forced to run the gauntlet, and killed, but this is not so.

A truce was arranged and an uneasy peace with some skirmishes was maintained until another war erupted, the Second Esopus War. After winning the war, the Director-General made an agreement with the Indians to move further away from the settlers to avoid further bloodshed. The Director-General chose Cornelius and three others as Commissaries (civil magistrates) to administer law and justice for Wiltwyck and they were so appointed on 5 May 1661. He stood for nomination in 1664, 1666, and 1671 and was again named in 1671 . In 1663, he was granted a lot for a brewery and bakery. His house stood at the mill gate and his brewery was on the south side of the mill gate. In the Spring of 1664, Wiltwyck was renamed Kingston by the English, who took New Netherlands in a treaty with the Dutch government after winning the war with Holland and the subjugation over the whole of the Dutch colony was a foregone conclusion. The Dutch, traditionally loyal to their fatherland and indomitable in spirit, resisted this as much as was in their power. An English garrison was at once established at Warwick under the command of Captain Daniel Brodhead and the Dutch community was harassed and mistreated by the British. This created an unfortunate situation and disorder, fighting and rioting ensued.

On 4 February 1667, the people of Kingston took up arms against the English in revolt (the British called the revolt against tyranny a "mutiny") against their authority in response to the imprisonment of Cornelius after he was brutally and severely beaten for defending himself and his family against a small detachment of British soldiers under the command of Captain Brodhead who had entered his brew house and harassed his family.

During the confrontation, Captain Brodhead threw a dish at Cornelius and threatened to draw his sword on him, whereupon Cornelius struck him down with a blow to the head, drawing blood. He was then beaten severely by the soldiers and thrown in the guardhouse. The Dutch burghers marched on the British garrison, demanding Cornelius' release and the court ordered his release, but Captain Brodhead defied them all, saying he would keep Cornelis "as long as he wished," and implied the threat of violence from his soldiers should the matter be pressed. He even threatened to burn the village.

On 28 April 1667, a petition, signed by a large number of the inhabitants, was forwarded to the Governor, reciting that "upon the 4th day of Feb last, upon the doleful cry and lamentation of the children of Cornelis Barentsen Slegt, that their father was miserably beaten and wounded by Capt. Brodhead," they had repaired to his house and ascertained that the complaint was true. This was soon followed by another petition which stated "That Cornelis Barentsen Slegt is beaten in his own house by his soldier George Porter, and after this by the other soldiers, and forced to prison, and at his imprisonment used very hard...and his arms by force taken out of his house which still do remain by said Capt Brodhead."

A Commission was appointed by Governor Nicholls and sat at Esopus for three days. During the hearings on the "Esopus Mutiny," Captain Broadhead admitted his actions, but insisted that the offense was a sufficient justification for the treatment administered. He was suspended from his command for disobeying the orders issued by the British governor of New York forbidding harassment of the Dutch citizens. He died in Kingston three months later on 14 July 1667.

A few "mutineers" were banished for a short time, but Cornelius was not among them, contrary to some histories. The actual court records show that Cornelis Bransen (or Brantsen, Barnson) Vos, who was not a relative, and apparently a farmhand of Cornelius Slecht, was the person banished for violent actions during the uprising and who is the person confused with Cornelius by both scholarly historians and subsequently, family historians who relied on the erroneous in formation. Cornelius was exonerated by his declaration that he was defending himself.

Cornelius died in Kingston in 1697.


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