My Favorite Ancestors

My empty-nest syndrome took a hit when I discovered genealogy research in the late ‘90s. Researching was addicting, even with the old dial-up online access! The end result was about 650 pages of research documentation for all of my mom’s ancestors, including side branches, to get the full gist of the era. I had enough information to write and publish three articles in the New York Genealogical & Biographical Record. My articles delineated ancestral lines not previously documented, and corrected previously published and long-accepted errors in my lineages. 

And I had my favorites! One of them was Pieter Claesz/Pieter Claesen who emigrated as a young teen from East Friesland to Rensselaerswyck Plantation in New Netherlands. Supposedly born 1625, tradition notes Pieter was over 6 feet tall as an adult, large in proportion, with blue eyes, tawny yellow hair, high and prominent cheekbones, a broad face, and a firm square chin. 

Ships records note a Pieter Claesz (sz notes son of Claes/Nicolaes) sailed on the ship “Rensselaerswyck” out of the Dutch seaport Texel on Oct. 8, 1636. The crew and passengers dealt with severe storms, windless calms, going off course near Spain before reversing the ship, limited food supplies, illnesses, and a fatal stabbing, not exactly a pleasant trip. But Pieter survived, sailing into New Amsterdam (New York City) on March 4, 1637 as an illiterate indentured servant. 

When the North/Hudson River was ice free on March 26th, the ship set sail again, arriving at Fort Orange (Albany) on April 7, 1737. Pieter was one of 38 laborers assigned to various farmers on the Rensselaerswyck plantation owned by Killian van Rensselaer, a Dutch diamond merchant. After Killian’s death, Pieter settled with the van Rensselaer estate at age 18, rented his own farm, married Grietje Van Ness between 1643-1646, with two children arriving in due time.

Grietje Van Ness was daughter of Cornelis Hendrick Van Ness and Maycke Hendrieux van der Burchgraeff. They were contemporaries of Killian van Rensselaer in Holland. Cornelis Van Ness and family arrived in Rensselaerswyck August 1641. A man of education and ability, he was influential on the Council of Rensselaerswyck, also serving as magistrate under the title Rechtsperzoon (law/justice person). It is believed that with the prominence of Cornelis Van Nes, his daughter Grietje was likely an educated knowledgeable woman, an asset as wife of Pieter Claesen. 

Removing to Amersfoort (Flatlands area of New Amsterdam) in 1649, Pieter began buying farmland, becoming the largest landowner, a very rich man. In 1655, he took charge of the tobacco plantation for the governor of Amersfoort. He was magistrate of said town in 1655, 1658, 1662, and 1663, and one of the patentees of the same town under Patents of 1667 and 1686.

Old documents note that “in 1655, while still a young man, he [Pieter Claesen] was made manager of the bouwery (farmstead, now the area of New York City called the Bowery) of Governor Pieter Stuyvesant at Flatlands. In February 1664 he was a delegate to the convention held at Midwout (Flatlands), which met to consider sending a petition to Holland to lay before the States General and the West India Company, ‘the distressed state’ of the Dutch Colonies.” 

In 1655, Pieter signed a contract “to superintend the Bowery and cattle of Peter Stuyvesant in New Amersfoort”, and moved into the house now known as the Wyckoff Homestead/Museum, though he never owned the house. The house was apparently built by Gov. Wouter van Twiller between 1636-1639, before he was recalled to Holland in 1640. The Wyckoff family moved in about 1652. The Wyckoff House is in Breuckelen, named after a village of same name in Utrecht, Netherlands, or Brooklyn as we know it today. The Wyckoff House Museum is at 1586 Clarendon Road, Brooklyn, NY. For further information on tours and more, see: The Wyckoff House (wyckoffmuseum.org

Pieter Claesen is believed to have founded the Dutch Reformed Church of Flatlands, organized in 1660, and is believed to be buried under the altar. Pieter was often appointed Arbitrator by the Burgomaster Court in New Amsterdam to settle lawsuits on Long Island. He was apparently a man of great influence and power in the colony under both Dutch and English governments, elected several times to represent the town in various assemblies to protest shortcomings of the government.

When the British took over the Dutch colony in 1664, they renamed New Amsterdam as New York City. Having difficulty with Dutch names, they demanded Dutch families take surnames by which they would be better identified. This was when the surname Wyckoff first came into use in America, with his and his sons’ signatures on the “Roll of Those Who have taken the oath of Allegiance [to the English crown]: … the 26, 27, 28, 29, and 30th day of Sept. 1687 … Wijckoff, Pieter Claesen, 54 yrs”. 

Pieter Claesen Wijckoff/Wyckoff died 1694, Grietje died between 1699-1703. They had 11 children, all of whom married into families of importance. When doing my research, I was amazed to find so many old records available from the original Dutch Reformed Church of New Amsterdam, helping to identify and plot family growth.

*My ancestor is Pieter Claesen’s son Cornelis Pieterse Wyckoff, b. abt 1656 Amersfoort, New Amsterdam, married Geertje (Charity) Van Arsdalen on Oct 12, 1678.

*Their son Peter Cornelis Wyckoff married Elizabeth Van Pelt on Sep 15, 1709. 

*Their son Simon Wyckoff, baptized Apr 19, 1730 married Altje Van Doren on June 10, 1756.

*Their son Christian Wyckoff, born March 22, 1760 married Frances Hill on August 11, 1782.

*Their daughter Sarah Wyckoff, born May 29, 1793 married George Hutton on May 29, 1813, son of Lt. Timothy Hutton and Elizabeth Deline, residing during and after the Revolutionary War in Carlisle, NY just up the road from the farm where my mother was born and raised, farm now owned by my relatives.

*Their daughter Eliza/Elizabeth Hutton, born Aug 9, 1815, married Jacob Tillapaugh born April 22, 1813 on The Homestead (farm now owned by my cousins, sons of my mother’s older brothers), son of Martin Dallenbach/Tillapaugh and Eva/Eveline Barlett.

*Their son Stephen Amenzo Tillapaugh, born August 8, 1844, married Mary Kniskern on March 14, 1867. Her Kniskern family is the Genesgern family with extant records in Germany dating back to 1575 as one of the oldest fully documented pedigrees in ancient church records per Henry Z. Jones. He wrote me back on my thanking him for the extensive research he did as author of “The Palatine Families of New York 1710” which includes early records of many of my mother’s German/Swiss Palatine ancestors.

*Their son Leo Jacob Tillapaugh married Laura Eliza McNeill on Jan 4, 1911, 12 children, including my mother.

Linda Roorda writes from her home in Spencer.

Photos used in this column are courtesy of The Wyckoff House Museum Facebook Page.

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