For this is what America is all about. It is the uncrossed desert and the un-climbed ridge. It is the star that is not reached and the harvest that is sleeping in the un-plowed ground.
~ Lyndon B. Johnson
The optional theme for Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors 52 Weeks Challenge, “Plowing Through”, brings to mind the many generations of farmers that grace my family tree. Pieter Claessen Wyckoff, my 9th great-grandfather, fits this bill rather nicely.
Pieter Claessen was born circa 1623 in Norden, Ostfriesland (East Frisia) near Marienhafe. Pieter’s birth would have taken place during The Thirty Years War time, a time of great unrest and changing of borders in Europe. Marienhafe was located not far from the bay of the Ems River near the southeastern shores of the North Sea. East Frisia has long been associated with the sea-faring trade and with farming (think Holstein cows). This area now lies in the Lower Saxony region of Germany.
Meanwhile, back in the New World, Kiliaen van Rensselaer, diamond merchant and director of the Dutch West India Company, had his eye on the area around Fort Orange (now present day Albany, New York) and after a deal was struck with a handful of Mohican Indians, Kiliaen commenced to setting up a patroonship (of which he had control) on that newly acquired land. After hostilities with the natives and many set-backs and delays concerning the company, the patroonship of Rensselaerswijck was ready to be farmed and settled. When Kiliaen had not obtained the required fifty people to settle the colony by 1633, it seemed as if Rensselaerswijck might cease to be. In 1636, with three farms within Rensselaerswijck producing and Kiliaen needing supplies and the balance of the required number of people to settle, he and two other merchants, purchased, financed, and equipped a ship – De Rensselaerswijck.
This is where our very own Pieter Claessen enters the picture. Pieter is among the passengers and supplies that set sail from Texel on 8 October 1636 bound for the New World and, in particular, Rensselaerswijck, along with Simon Walischez – who would be overseeing Pieter as a laborer in the patroonship. The journey did not go as well as planned and after stormy weather and five weeks of floating, the ship finally arrived at Plymouth where it was forced to remain until January 9th. By March 4th, the ship had reached Manhattan, where it lingered for three more weeks until the ice in the river had broken up enough for passage up the Hudson. The ship finally arrived at Rensselaerswijck on 9 April 1637.
After Pieter worked off his contract, approximately six years, he rented a farm for himself and his new bride, Grietje Cornelis van Ness, in that area where their first two children were born. It appears that Pieter and Grietje relocated south to New Amsterdam during the years 1649 through 1655 after which time they signed a contract with Peter Stuyvesant (yes, THAT Peter Stuyvesant!) fellow Frisian and last Dutch Director-General of the colony of New Netherland, infamous for his wooden leg and handing New Netherland over to the British in 1664.
Pieter’s contract with Stuyvesant was for superintending the bowery (farm) belonging to Stuyvesant in New Amersfoort, an area located currently in Flatlands, Brooklyn. The home that they moved into is currently known as the Wyckoff Homestead and is a National Historic Landmark. This is where Pieter and Grietje raised their family of eleven children (6 boys and 5 girls) and where they lived out the remainder of their lives. Pieter never owned the house that the family lived in, but he did purchase and own other land in the area.
At the time of the British take-over and the renaming of New Netherland to New York. It was required that families take surnames that they could be identified with. It was at this time that Pieter Claessen and family assumed the surname of Wyckoff. The why of how this particular surname was chosen, contrary to popular belief, can be explained no better than by M. William Wyckoff in his book “What’s in a Name? History and Meaning of Wyckoff”.
“If one looks for the history of the compound wyck + hof, only in Dutch, it will not even be found. It will be found in Swedish and Frisian. Unfortunately, the false etymology for Wyckoff is the one that is most frequently encountered in the literature of 20th-century America and now on internet. It has been accepted by many, but it is false. The surname actually came from Friesland and was not created in America. Whether the immediate proximal meaning was a household, or settlement on a bay or waterway, or a place of refuge, it was surely not located in the Netherlands, but in Friesland where it was usually written Wyk- (not Wijc-, Wijk, or Wyck-). As all types of evidence indicate, the name Wykhof, no matter how it is spelled or how it is interpreted, is Frisian rather than Dutch. The fabricated meaning of Wijk + hof being a Dutch word interpreted as a “town clerk” was neither an established meaning in any speech community nor a correct and true meaning.”
The above passage excerpted, with permission, from:
Wykoff, M. William. What’s in a Name?: History and Meaning of Wyckoff. Rochester, N.Y.: CreateSpace Independent Platform, 2014. 44-45. Print.
It is quite clear that Pieter Claessen Wyckoff’s origins are Frisian and, at this point in time, his parentage is not known. It is quite probable that Pieter was an orphan given the history of war and disease at the time of his birth. It is also quite likely that he may have been an illegitimate child. What we do have a lot of documentation of are his descendants here in The United States. His and Grietje’s marriage record is believed to have been lost in a fire, but they were probably married in Beverwyck before 1646. Their first born son, Nicholas, was born circa 1646 in Beverwyck. This is the line that I am descended from. Pieter died on or before 30 June 1694. Grietje died between 1699 and 1703. Both are buried in Flatlands, Long Island.
There are thousands of Pieter and Grietje Wyckoff descendants spread across The United States today. I suggest that you might check out the blog of one the descendants, Denise Dahn, at:
Here you will find her striking watercolor renditions of the history of the Wyckoff story. For those of you who would like to know more about the very well-researched and documented history of the Wyckoff surname, I highly recommend M. William Wyckoff’s book, “What’s in a Name? History and Meaning of Wyckoff” that can be found at Amazon. This little book is a treasure!
Wykoff, M. William. What’s in a Name?: History and Meaning of Wyckoff. Rochester, N.Y.: CreateSpace Independent Platform, 2014. 23;44-45. Print.
Venema, Janny. Beverwijck: A Dutch Village on the American Frontier, 1652-1664. Hilversum, the Netherlands: Verloren, 2003. Print.
Venema, Janny. Kiliaen Van Rensselaer (1586-1643): Designing a New World. Hilversum, the Netherlands: Uitgeverij Verloren, 2010. Print.
Shorto, Russell. The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America. New York: Doubleday, 2004. Electronic, Kindle.
The Wyckoff Family in America: A Genealogy in Two Volumes. Third ed. Vol. One. Baltimore, MD.: Gateway, 1980. Print.