Sunset at Gowanus Bay

Sunset at Gowanus Bay
Sunset at Gowanus Bay, Henry Gritten, 1851

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Description of Gowanus, 1679

In 1679-1680, two representatives of the Labadists, Jasper Danckaerts and Peter Sluyter, traveled from Europe to the American colonies with the purpose of seeking out a suitable location in the New World for their community to settle. They traveled along the eastern seaboard visiting New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Boston, Massachusetts. During the course of his travels, Jasper Danckaerts kept a journal describing the locations he visited and the people he met. On Friday, September 29, 1679, he visited Gowanus, Long Island, and wrote the following:

 Here we crossed over, my comrade, Gerrit, our guide, and myself, in a row-boat, as it happened, which in good weather and tide, carries a sail. When we came over we found there Jan Teunissen, our fellow passenger, who had promised us so much good. He was going over to the city, to deliver his letters and transact other business. He told us he would return home in the evening, and we would find him there. We went on, up the hill, along open roads and a little woods, through the first village, called Breukelen, which has a small and ugly little church standing in the middle of the road. Having passed through here, we struck off to the right, in order to go to Gouanes. We went upon several plantations where Gerrit was acquainted with almost all of the people, who made us very welcome, sharing with us bountifully whatever they had, whether it was milk, cider, fruit or tobacco, and especially, and first and most of all, miserable rum or brandy which had been brought from Barbados and other islands, and which is called by the Dutch "kill-devil." All these people are very fond of it, and most of them extravagantly so, although it is very dear and has a bad taste. It is impossible to tell how many peach trees we passed, all laden with fruit to breaking down, and many of them actually broken down. We came to a place surrounded with such trees from which so many had fallen off that the ground could not be discerned, and you could not put your foot down without trampling them; and notwithstanding such large quantities had fallen off, the trees were still as full as they could bear. The hogs and other animals mostly feed on them. This place belongs to the oldest European woman in the country. We went immediately into her house, where she lived with her children. We found her sitting by the fire, smoking tobacco incessantly, one pipe after another. We enquired after her age, which the children told us was an hundred years. She was from Luyck (Li├Ęge), and still spoke good Wals [French of the Walloon variety]. She could reason very well sometimes, and other times she could not. She showed us several large apples, as good fruit of that country, and different from that of Europe. She had been about fifty years now in the country, and had above seventy children and grandchildren. She saw the third generation after her. Her mother had attended women in child-bed in her one hundred and sixth year, and was one hundred and eleven or twelve years old when she died. We tasted here for the first time, smoked "twaelft" [twelfth], a fish so called because it is caught in season next after the "elft" [eleventh] (ed. note: Striped bass and shad, respectively. The word "elft" has nothing to do with eleven, for elft = Fr. alose, or Eng. allice). It was salted a little and then smoked, and although it was now a year old, it was still perfectly good, and in flavor not inferior to smoked salmon. We drank here, also, the first new cider, which was very fine.
We proceeded on to Gouanes, a place so called, where we arrived in the evening at one of the best friends of Gerrit, named Symon
(Simon Aertsen DeHart). He was very glad to see us, and so was his wife. He took us into the house, and entertained us exceedingly well. We found a good fire, half-way up the chimney, of clear oak and hickory, which they made not the least scruple of burning profusely. We let it penetrate us thoroughly. There had been already thrown upon it, to be roasted, a pail-full of Gouanes oysters, which are the best in the country. They are fully as good as those of England, and better than those we ate at Falmouth. I had to try some of them raw. They are large and full, some of them not less than a foot long, and they grow sometimes ten, twelve and sixteen together, and are then like a piece of rock. Others are young and small. In consequence of the great quantities of them, everybody keeps the shells for the purpose of burning them into lime. They pickle the oysters in small casks, and send them to Barbados and the other islands. We had for supper a raosted haunch of venison, which he had bought of the Indians for three guilders and a half of seewant, that is fifteen stivers of Dutch money, and which weighed thirty pounds. The meat was exceedingly tender and good, and also quite fat. It had a slight spicy flavor. We were also served with wild turkey, which was also fat and of good flavor; and a wild goose, but that was rather dry. Everything we had was the natural production of the country. We saw here, lying in a heap, a whole hill of watermelons, which were as large as pumpkins, and which Symon was going to take to the city to sell. They were very good, though there is a difference between them and those of the Caribbee Islands; but this may be owing to its being late in the season, and these were the last pulling. It was very late at night when we went to rest in a kermis bed, as it is called (shake-down, bed on the floor), in the corner of the hearth, along side of a good fire.

Jasper Danckaert's journal was found in 1864 by Henry C. Murphy, corresponding secretary of the Long Island Historical Society. He found it in an old bookstore in Amsterdam. Included was a drawing of a view of New York City from Brooklyn Heights, made in 1679 by Jasper Danckerts.

New York from Brooklyn Heights, 1679

The journal itself was published in 1913. The above description of Gowanus mentions "the oldest European woman in the country." In 2011, Harry Macy, in an article published in the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, concluded that, although Jasper Danckaerts did not mention her by name, she could only be Aeltje Braconie, the mother of Maria Badie and grandmother of Magdalena Verdon, the wife of Adam Brouwer.

Bartlett Burleigh James and J. Franklin Jameson (editors), Journal of Jasper Danckaerts, 1679-1680, Original Narratives of Early American History (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1913), pp. xv-xxv, 52-54.
Harry Macy, Jr., "Some New Light on Aeltje Braconie and Maria Badie," New York Genealogical and Biographical Record Vol. 142 (2011), pp. 21-36).

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