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Catalyntje’s Brave New World

Fort Orange, Manhatten Island 1623

theserpentHere’s one for the ladies, especially for the next time a shopping trip to The Big Apple NY is planned. You have flown into La Guardia or JFK, even Newark, and the humourless immigration officer asks whether you have anything to declare. Rather than considering the immortal words of my favourite playwright Oscar Wilde, who replied in the same circumstances, “Nothing but my genius” try, “Actually my ancestor Sarah was the first child born to European settlers in this fair city of yours”.

But, before I tell this tale I give you a word of caution, as I did in the tale of Grace O’Malley. Every tale must always include some conjecture, but when it comes to family history research, particularly in ‘the old world’ of Europe, but particularly anything to do with stories from our American cousins, conjecture and indeed, false, unfounded and elaborate claims abound. As a genealogist, sometimes I think Adam and Eve, indeed even the serpent that gives this website its name, may have been American, but, as half American, I’ll take what I want and proceed… but you have had the warning… This chapter is a great story about Sarah’s mother, Catalyntje Trico, one of the first European immigrants of North America, hence – a Brave New World.

To be the proven descendant of a truly remarkable woman from the 17th Century is quite hypnotic; there are many of us! In fact during her own lifetime she had as many as 150 progeny; imagine how many descendants she has today!  Catalyntje Trico, the daughter of Joris Jan Jeronimus Trico Tricault (born 1573), of Paris, France and his wife Michele Sauvagie (born 1585), was born in 1605 in the tiny hamlet of Pry or Pris or Prische, Waesland, Dept. of Nord, France. This is now a part of  Belgium, the home of the Walloons within the then Spanish controlled Netherlands province of Henault.  She lived a full 84 years of the 17th Century and, in the new and challenging world of that era, surely must have a story greater than I can tell. Honestly, if I had to chose one ancestor to sit down and have a chat with, it would be Catalyntje Trico.

On 21 Jan 1623 Catalyntje Trico married Joris Jansen Rapelje (born April 1604), at The Walloon Church, Amsterdam, Netherlands [1]. Joris, or to use the Anglicised name George, came from Valenciennes a town in Hainaut; he was said by some to be the son of a renowned painter named Abraham Janssen, and also thought to be a descendant of the French noblemen Gaspard Colet de Rapalye [2] of Rochelle in France, who had fled from France during the latter part of the Sixteenth Century, a period when many Protestants – Huguenots – sought refuge in The Netherlands due to religious persecution. Information about earlier generations of these family trees would be full of speculation [3].

Four days after their marriage the 18 year old Catalyntje and her new husband the 19 year old Joris embarked on the long voyage across the Atlantic Ocean under charter of the Dutch West India Company on the ship ‘Eendraght’, or Unity, commanded by Arien Jorise. Crossing the Atlantic Ocean may have taken as long as two months and conditions would have been pretty grim as the ships were not equipped to take passengers; they were more designed to carry trading goods. On board were about a dozen families, plus 30 unaccompanied men. Some saw their journey as an opportunity to escape religious persecution, travelling to a New World where they could freely practise their religion; many more were embittered younger sons looking for adventure and fortune; some were destitute people hoping to start a new life as contract labourers. The initiative for American colonization did not stem from European governments but from the will of privateers and individual companies like the Dutch West India Company who had been trading in The Americas… now the time was right for setting up communities to farm the wealth of land and it was agricultural colonists that were now needed [4].

Nova Belgica et Anglia Nova dated 1635 by Willem Blaeu.
Nova Belgica et Anglia Nova dated 1635 by Willem Blaeu.

The Unity arrived at the foot of the Hudson River next to the wooded and rocky island, The “Mannatans”, now called New York [5]. Two families and six men were sent to east to The Harford River, two families and six men south to the Delaware River, eight men were left at New York, and the rest of the passengers including Catalyntje and Joris and 18 families, stayed with the ship as it slowly tacked north, before they were transferred to a smaller vessel left by previous traders. More than 130 miles up the river they sailed, as far as a point called Beverwyck where they dropped anchor, near present-day Albany. Here construction started on a small log stockade settlement – Fort Orange – offering little more than minimal protection from the weather and the Indians. The settlers built huts of bark. This was a region rich in farmland, forests and animal life and clearing the land of timber for construction produced areas suitable for cultivation; planting their first crops, with seed brought from Europe, was of vital importance to their survival. Beasts of burden were in very short supply but crucial to the work of the commune.

They were always under the watchful eye of local Indian tribes who had lived in these lands for thousands of years. These tribes had freely traded with European explorers, merchants and marketers for many years – the trade was in furs, which were in great demand in Europe, and the reward were items of the advanced technology of The European settlers – domestic tools, knives, cooking pots, iron kettles, duffel cloth, axe heads, hoes and drilling awls.  Enterprising settlers soon learned the benefits of producing the currency of choice – wampum, beads made from clam and whelk shells, plentiful along Long Island Sound, on discovering that it was a highly prized unit of exchange among tribes and it was mass-produced in workshops.

Later in 1688, Catelyn Trico attested [6] that The Mahikanders or River Indians, The Maquase, The Oneydes, The Onnondages, Cayougas & Sinnekes, together with The Mahawawa or Ottawawaes Indians all came to make covenants of friendship with Commander Arien Jorise. The Indians, some with a rudimentary knowledge of the settlers’ language, brought presents of beaver pelts and poultry, to barter. Catalyntje or Catelyn concluded,’ desirous to have constant free trade the said Nations came daily in great multitudes to trade with the Christians. Ye said Indians were all as quiet as Lambs and came and traded with all ye freedom’.

Catalyntje and Joris were to live at Fort Orange for three years. It was there, in a dirt-floored room of a small cabin inside the stockaded fort, that their daughter Sarah de Rapelje was born on 9 June 1625. Importantly and according to early Dutch records Sarah was the first child born to European settlers in what is now New York State [7].

In 1626 Peter Minuit was appointed the third director-general of New Netherland and on 24 May 1626, on behalf of the Dutch West India Company he purchased the island of Manhattan from a Metoac band of Algonquian-speaking Lenape known as the Canarsee Indians. Inevitable and increasing conflicts with the Native Indians at the isolated Fort Orange, generally over issues of encroachment of lands, but also differences in culture, plus an overall plan by the ‘company’, resulted in the relocation of the families at Fort Orange to the new development – Fort Amsterdam, at the southern end of Manhattan Island. Here, a grid of roads was being laid out, farms established, houses, a church and large warehouses were being built. The term ‘company’ refers to the Dutch West India Company and it is important to realize that they were the masters. Settlers were indentured to ‘the company’. Many had travelled free to the colonies on specific undertakings, specifically to pursue ‘the company’s’ endeavours and so, in 1626, all farmers were ordered to go to Manhattan so that the uplands could be cleared for farming. Catalyntje and Joris had little choice in their move. A small garrison was left at Fort Orange.

Catalyntje and Joris Rapelje were to thrive in Fort Amsterdam, no doubt though personal endeavour. They were allocated a plot on the north side of Pearl Street, abutting the fort and there Joris opened the first tavern, or tap house, as they were then called. There they remained until after the birth of their youngest child Daniel in 1650. Of children, there were eleven, an achievement of survival and the times. After their first born Sarah in 1625, Catalyntje and Joris bore Marritje (b.11 Mar 1627), Jannetje (b.16 Aug 1629), Judith (b.15 Jul 1635), Jan (b.28 Aug 1637), Jacob (b.28 May 1639), Catalyntje (b.28 Mar 1641), Jeronimus (b.27 Jun 1643), Annetje (b.8 Feb 1646), Elizabeth (b.26 Mar 1648) and Daniel Rapalje (b.29 Dec 1650), the youngest and last named of which is our ancestor.

Besides the inn on the lot at Pearl Street, Joris Rapelje was, as were all early settlers, a farmer and probably (whilst totally unproven), again like most, a fur trader – there was a thriving and profitable smuggling trade in furs [8]. In Colonial records of 1647 he was also referred to as a chief boatswain and may have been a seaman before migrating. On June 16, 1637 he bought a tract of one hundred and sixty morgens, roughly 335 acres of land, called ‘Remegakonck’, from Indian Chiefs Kakapeteyns and Pewichaas of the Canarsee Indians; it was on Long Island and referred to as Weggle Bogth or Walleboght Cove and he was later given a patent from Governor Kieft on the property exactly 6 years later, in line with the protocol of the time.

In August 1641, Joris Rapelje was one of the famous Council of Twelve Men representing Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Pavonia, elected to confer with Governor William Kieft to suggest means to punish the Indians for a murder they had committed. This led to what was called The Kieft War (1643-45), which resulted in a disproportionate conflict between the settlers and native Indians; more than 1,600 natives were killed at a time when the European population of New Amsterdam was a mere 250. Settlers were forced to abandon their farms and flee to the protection of Fort Amsterdam. Cattle were killed, houses destroyed, women and children taken captive and men tomahawked. Joris and Catalyntje’s 4 year old son Jacob was amongst those killed by Indians, said to have been arrowed in the doorway of their homestead. It was an ongoing conflict of different cultures. As a senior ‘first’ settler Joris would have had good right and reason to accept the appointment.

On 22 June 1654, Joris Rapalje sold his property on Pearl Street to Hendrick Hendrickson and he, his wife Catalyntje and his family moved to their farm at Wale bocht on Long Island. Between 1656-1662 he was a Schepen or Magistrate of Breuckelen, modern day Brooklyn. He was also elected to the office of deacon in the Reformed Dutch Church there in 1661. He died at an election of church officers on 21 Feb 1663, about the time of the end of Dutch rule. His land passed to his eldest son Jeronimus. The Rapeljes were now Long Island farmers and Rapeljes would remain there for 300 years [9].

Catalyntje Trico, of whom this chapter is really about, must have been a remarkable woman. She bore eleven children over a 25 year period, in sparse and hazardous living conditions, in a New World. She wasn’t just moving to another town in another county,  another city in another state,  her life was played out almost beyond the edge of civilisation as we know it – walking a tightrope blindfolded. How can that really be appreciated in the twenty-first Century?

A number of writers mentioned her in contemporary journals. Henry Stiles wrote,’ ‘Thus peacefully and pleasantly passed the later years of this ‘Mother of New York’, who with her mission fulfilled, still active and with habits of industry begotten by her pioneer life, now reposed contented amid the love and respectful attentions of her kindred and her descendants.’; ‘Catalyntje Trico was a most vigorous and energetic woman, who was very well educated’. She is also described as, ‘the old Walloon from Valenciennes’ [10]; Dankers and Sluyter, two Labadist travellers, visited Catalyntje Trico on 30 May 1680. They said, ‘This old Walloon lived in Brooklyn in a little house by herself. She is worldly minded, living with her whole heart as well as body, among her progeny which now numbers 145 and will soon reach 150. Nevertheless, she lived alone by herself, a little apart from the others, having a little garden and other conveniences with which she helped herself.’

And so, Catalyntje, described as the ‘old Walloon from Valenciennes’, survived her husband by 26 years. It her latter years she lived at Wallabout in a little house by herself with a garden and other conveniences. She was evidently regarded by all as a distinguished historical personage. Her eight daughters married well, as did two of her three sons and her progeny numbered 150 when she died on 11 Sep 1689 at the family farm, aged 84. Quite how many of us can count ourselves as a descendant of hers today is beyond imagination. Certainly Catalyntje had a very great life, one of unsurpassed achievement in every sense, especially for the Seventeenth Century.

Numerous internet sources are available for research in this story; we acknowledge at least the following:

The Arms of de Rapelje

[1] According to some sources another marriage took place of Joris and Catherine Triko – Bans were posted in the New Amsterdam Dutch Reformed Church 13 January 1624 for a marriage between Joris “from Valenciennes boart-worker age 19 residing on ‘t Vaelepadt and Catherine triko from pris in Walslant accompanied by mary
Fla(m)engh her sister residing in the Flask age 18 years.” It is believed that “boartworker” means weaver of a certain kind of cloth.

[2] Arms of Joris Jansen Rapalje

ARMS- Azure, three bars Or. CREST- Issuing from a ducal coronet or, on a high hat of dignity azure, three bars of the first. The hat surmounted with six ostrich feathers or and azure.


The Rapelje family in America is well documented. Searching for European roots is confusing. One source, Louis P. DeBoer in 1917, claimed that The Rapeljes were descended from Jean Raparlier or Raparier born in Valenciennes in 1490. It appears that this claim is based on nothing more than the similarities in the names. This is unsound and, as most people have taken this at face value, the tenuous connection has spread throughout the LDS files. Raparier is however an ancient noble family but there is no indication that it is connected.

[4] In 1623, the only other Europeans colonists along the East Coast of America were English settlers south at Jamestown Virginia and north at the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts.

[5] For maps of the colonies – view Fordham University Libraries & The New Netherland Project – featured Nova Belgica et Anglia Nova dated 1635 by Willem Blaeu.

[6] The sd Catelyn Trico made oath of ye sd Deposition before me at her house on Long Island in ye Wale Bought this 17th day of October 1688.
William Morris, Justice of ye pece

[7] Volume III of the 19th Century Documentary History of New York

[8] …beaver skins and wampum. The settlers did, however, conduct a thriving smuggling trade in furs.

[9] Sarah Rapelje (nee Eldert) widow of Henry Lott Rapalje kept the farm until Brooklyn became a part of New York City. At that time the city divided the neighborhood into streets and began building tenements. The neighborhood deteriorated so fast that she had to sell her much loved home and move to Queens in 1924, shortly before her death aged 80.,0,7732489.story?page=1

[10] Ancestors of Thomas Byron Brodnax –

Various – The Ancestry of Leander Howard Crall 1908 by FRANK ALLABEN