Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Good old Cornelius.

Cornelius Melyn, born 1600, in Antwerp was my 10th great grandfather. He was born in a house called The Sack in the Rue du Sac (Zac Straat or Sack Street).
There is a a great deal known about this gentleman because he arrived in the New Netherland, aboard the Het Wapen van Noorwegen, on August 4, 1638. This was the first of 12 known voyages across the Atlantic he made.
To increase immigration the Dutch West India Company had offered large land grants with feudal authority to wealthy investors called Patroons.
If they were willing to transport, at their own expense, fifty adult settlers to New Netherlands they got the patroonship.
There were four Staten Island Patroons.

Cornelius applied for and received a patroonship and Manorial rights for the domain of Pavonia Hall on Staten Island from the West India Company on July 3, 1640. He was the Third Patroon. He was given the entire Staten Island, except the DeVries plantation.

Got to admit Cornelius was a busy man. He's making all these trips back and forth across the Atlantic while Janneken his wife is taking care of their eleven children.

So, Cornelius, sells half of his interest in Staten Island to finance his return trip. He goes back to Amsterdam to round up his forty willing adults,this time he is returning with his family and loads them and everything on a ship and a month after arriving he is back to America.

Unfortunately, his ship De Vergulde Hoop was captured by pirates. Not a good thing.
He returns to Holland before February 1641.
While Cornelius is rounding up another shipload of willing participants the Dutch farmers back in New Netherland are having a problem with the Native population. The problem being that they aren't treating them very nicely. They insist that they can permit their livestock to forage freely in the woods where the livestock wander through and invade the unfenced native corn fields.
General Willem Kieft sends 100 armed men to punish the Raritan Indians when some pigs disappeared from a farmers farm. His men manage to kill a sachem (chief) and on September 1st the Indians retaliated by killing four Dutch settlers and burning all the buildings, wiping out Staten Island first settlement.

Cornelius arrives about August 14, 1641. He organizes a group called The Twelve Men shortly after his arrival. In 1642 these men sent a petition to Director General Kieft designating themselves as "selectmen on behalf of the Commonality of New Netherland" hoping to establish a voice in the affairs of the colony.
Unfortunately, it is told that Kieft asked Cornelius to build the first whiskey distillery in what is known today as New Brighton.
Well, we all know what happens when you give whiskey to people that don't have a tolerance for it. The Indians got drunk, the Dutch farmers took advantage of them. The Indians got angry and the Governor Keifts War against about twenty local tribes happened from 1643-1645. Over 2500 lives were lost.
Keift had a real problem with the Native Americans to put it mildly. He decided to exterminate one tribe to set an example to the other Wilden (wild men) near Manhattan. On the night of February 25, 1643 his men made two surprise attacks on the sleeping villages near Pavonia and without regard for sex or age massacred at least 110. As the word of the Pavonia Massacre spread to the other tribes along the lower river they retaliated with continuous attacks on the outlying Dutch farms and settlements.
By October Cornelius' settlement on Staten Island was left in desolate waste and Cornelius Melyn took his family to Manhattan Island where he bough a home to be used as temporary lodging. He received a patent for 62 English feet along the road to the north and 88 feet deep to the river shore (now the end of Broad Street)
Cornelis assembled with most of the inhabitants of New Amsterdam to meet Peter Stuyvesant, the newly appointed director general when he arrived on May 11, 1647. Not one to waste time and furious, Cornelius brought charges against Kieft which :Stuyvesant refused to consider. Of course, Kieft charged Melyn with sedition.
On July 25, 1647 Cornelius was found guilty of treason, bearing false witness, libel and defamation.  He was sentenced to seven years of banishment and fined.

WAIT, WAIT, this story keeps getting more interesting.

In August 1647 the Princess Amelia sailed for Holland.  On board were Keift, Dominic Bogardus, the minister at Manhattan from 1633 -1647 and the victims of Kieft's and Stuyvesant's persecution.
Joachim Pietersz
Cornelius Melyn
An eyewitness account says they were brought on board like criminals and torn away from their goods, their wives and their children.
The ship was wrecked on the coast of Wales on September 27, 1647.
Kieft and Bogardus drowned along with about 80 others including Cornelius Melyn's young son, Johannes.
The survivors, including Cornelius Melyn, built a raft from the wreckage and used their shirts as sails to get to the English mainland.
He makes his way back to Holland. Consider this. He has nothing and he manages to get himself from the coast of Wales back to Holland. He petitions the government in Holland and all proceedings against him are suspended.
He gets a letter of safety from William II, Prince of Orange or as some might know him, William III, King of England and darn if he doesn't go right back to New Amsterdam. He leaves Holland in May 1649. This is a royally pissed gentleman.
Well, old Stuyvesant and his council have to permit him to reside in New Netherland because he is waving his safe conduct and court orders in their faces.

And, what does Cornelius do but hop on the next outgoing ship the Prins Willem in August of 1649 and go back to Holland. He returns on Nieuw Nederlandtsche Fortuyn with more colonists and he returns to Staten Island to build more farms. Now his colon on Staten Island is finally beginning to prosper.
Sounds like the place for a happy ending, right?
No, sadly, Stuyvesant has got this bee in his bonnet about Cornelius.  He has him arrested on trumped up charges and thrown into a dark hole in the prison. He confiscates about 2/3s of Cornelius property and sells it. It's only because of another Indian attack and the constant pleading of Jannetje and her children that Cornelius is released.

On one fall day in 1655, a farmer, Hendrick Van Dyke who lived on Manhattan Island, looked out his window and saw an Indian woman take a peach from a tree in his garden. Without hesitation, he shot her.

The Peach War cost the Dutch and 50 lives and Melyn's colony was destroyed and several of his family members were among those killed or injured by the Indians. Cornelius and his remaining family were among the 100 colonists who were taken hostage by the Indians.

It must have galled Stuyvesant but he ransomed them.

Cornelius must have been worn down by this time and I bet he was getting an ear full by Janneken.
He gave up his patroonship and left Staten Island. He moved to New Haven, Connecticut and put himself and his family under the protection of the English. He and his son Jacob took the Oath of Allegiance to the English on April 7, 1657.

That's not to say everything was rosy in Connecticut. Cornelius was in and out of cour in New Haven continually until his death.  His background did not mix well with the Puritan way of life.

So, my children and grandchildren, when you hear in school or read about the settling of New York, now you know that one of your ancestors played a part. Also, I want you to remember that my 10th Great grandmother was trying to keep house,feed, cloth and take care of 11 children on very little. Her husband was constantly going back and forth to the old country, leaving her to deal with the new colonists. Then he gets into trouble and her house and lands are taken. She's trying to get him released from prison during Indian raids, she gets captured by the Indians and STILL the care of the family is in her hands.

You come from stubborn, determined, resourceful people.

The photo is from the mural at Borough Hall in Staten Island in New York.


  1. And by golly you are all three of these characteristics!!! That is why we love you! Enjoy baby Rory! Peace, Mary Helen Fernandez Stewart

  2. I see my comments did not post again--so I will try again. I knew there was some Belgian or close blood. That explains the stubborness and resourcefulness.

    Great story! The truth is hard to imagine sometimes.