Sunday, November 15, 2020

#85 - When New York Spoke Dutch - 9th great grandfather: Wolfert Gerritse Van Couwenhoven

When New York's Language Was Dutch

Dutch-American Heritage Day is this week, November 16. The Netherlands was one of the first nations to recognize the fledging American colonies as its own nation. Also, the Dutch sold Manhattan Island to the English for a song. Thank you...(I'll agree, the Lenapes got a raw deal).

Americans, at least the ones in New York, haven’t forgotten everything about the Dutch.

We sit on stoops (stoep). We will be spending our dollars (daalder) and will soon be waiting for Santa Claus (Sinterklaas)-and not Father Christmas as the English call him- to eat the cookies (koekje) we left for him. 

We are Yankees the world over, try to be the boss. And love those words like: booze, spook, coleslaw, quack, skate, landscape, cruise, frolic, pump, rucksack, roster, waffle, wagon, onslaught. Yep, all are words came from early Dutch settlers.

You know the team the New York Knicks?  When I first moved to Albany, NY the morning newspaper in town was The Knickerbocker News.  A knickerbocker is a descendant of the original Dutch settlers in New York. When I look in a mirror, I see a knickerbocker. 

"The Knick"

So I celebrate my New Netherlands Dutch ancestors who are more numerous than I thought. 

Let's start with a notable one I came upon when tracing the Tilton family of New Jersey. A woman named Conover married a Tilton, which took me back to Old New Amsterdam. I'll start with her gr-gr-gr grandfather and work my way back.

Wolfert Gerritse Van Couwenhoven

Wolfert Gerritse Van Couwenhoven [sometimes "Wolfert" is omitted] was an original patentee, a director of bouweries (farms), and a founder of the New Netherland colony (or New York).

Wolfert was born on 1 May 1579 in Amersfoort, Netherlands, one of three sons of Gerrit Suype Van Kouwenhoven and his wife, Styne Sara Roberts.

Career - Dutch West India Company

Wolfert ran a baking and clothes bleaching business, when in 1625 he was assigned as one of the first settlers to cultivate farms in the New Netherlands colony by the Dutch West India Company. (He was 46 in 1625, the Mayflower landed in 1620).

Director of Bouweries for Kiliaen van Rensselaer

In 1630, he returned to the Netherlands, where he entered into a contract with Kiliaen Van Rensselaer to return to the colony to manage his farms.  (He was 51).

Wolphert arrived in the colony aboard the ship "Eendracht", where he proceeded in his duties as director for van Rensselaer's farms in Rensselaerwyck and Fort Orange. [Near my house: today’s Renssealaer and Albany, respectively. Quite far up the Hudson River from New York City]

His contract was to run through 1636, but Gerretse requested it cancelled early so he could pursue his own interests. Rensselaer agreed. In 1632, Gerretse was released from his contractual obligations. (He was 53).

New Amersfoort

Shortly thereafter, he leased a bouwerie (farm) in New Amsterdam and managed it until 1636, when he was granted a patent of several hundred acres on Long Island. (He was 57).

He called his plantation "Achervelt"; later it served as the founding of the town of New Amersfoort, named after Gerritse's original home.

Today the area is known as Flatlands (which is in Brooklyn). His plantation was located near the current intersection of King's Highway and Flatbush Avenue.

Farm description

A 1638 inventory for the farm named Achtervelt, owned by Wolfert Gerritse and Andries Hudde in what is now Flatlands, Brooklyn, describes the estate:

" house surrounded by long, round palisades; the house is 26 feet long, 22 feet wide, 40 feet high with the roof, covered above and all around with boards..."

Hudde and Gerritse also had a 40 by 18-foot barn.

I found out a decade or more ago his deed of the granted land in Long Island was sold to a private collector for $156,000 becoming “one of the oldest Dutch documents in private hands.” The deed dated June 6, 1636 and was written in Dutch. It outlines the purchase of the land (3,600-acre) from the Lenape Indians.

Public service

In 1637, he became a Freeholder in Midwout, and again in 1641.

In 1653, he was sent by the colony to the States-General in the Netherlands as a Commissioner.

In 1654, Wolphert served as a Schepen (a kind of councillor) of New Amsterdam, and in 1657 was made a Burgher. (He was 78).

He served on the citizens council of Eight Men.

Marriage and children

A member of the Dutch Reformed Church, on 17 January 1605, he married Neeltje Jacobsdochter at the church in Amersfoort, Netherlands.

They had three sons:

1 *Gerret (1610–1648), a Representative at the Council of Eight in 1643 (my ancestor)

2 Jacob (1612–1670), assistant to Gov. Woulter Van Twiller, Representative at the Board of Nine in 1647, 1649–1650, sat on the Court of Arbitrators between 1649–1650, Delegate of New Netherlands to the Hague in Holland

Pieter (1614–1699), one of the first magistrates of New Netherlands, member of the Schepens Court 1653–1654,1658–1659, 1661 and 1663, delegate from New Amsterdam to the Convention of 1653, Lieutenant in the Esopus War, signer of the peace treaty 1664 with the Esopus Indians


Later variations on surname: Some descendants of Wolfert anglicized the surname "Van Kouwenhoven" to "Kouwenhoven," Eventually they descended to full Anglicization as they became:  "Kownover,"  and "Conover.

Death Gerretse died in 1662 at 83 (sometime between 2 March 1662 and 24 June 1662). Likely buried Flatlands Dutch Reformed Church Cemetery.

Note: The progenitor of the Vanderbilt family named Jan Aertszoon (1620–1705) (AKA Jan Aertson) a Dutch farmer from the village of De Bilt in Utrecht, Netherlands, emigrated to the Dutch colony of New Netherland as an indentured servant to the Van Kouwenhoven family in 1650. (And, we are co-incidentally descended from that family also)

 From their son Gerrit Woflert Van Couvenhoven to my family:

Son Gerrit Wolfertsen Van Couwenhoven  Abt 1610- abt 1648

His son: Willem Gerretse Van Couwenhoven 1636-1728

His son: Garret Van Couvenhoven  1716 – 1797

His son: Daniel Garretse Conover  1749 – 1823 (died New Jersey)

His son: Daniel D Conover of New Jersey 1800 – 1841 M. M Vanderveer

Their daughter Sarah Jane Conover (1831) married William Henry Tilton 1820 -1899

Their son: Henry Addison Tilton (b. in Brooklyn, died in Chicago)

Their son: William Henry Tilton (b. in Brooklyn, died in Butler, PA)

Their son: Charles B Tilton (b. in Butler, PA, died in VA)

His children included my Mother

As a nice bonus, today Wolphert Gerritse Van Couwenhoven's place is included in Dutch place names in NY:

Some Dutch place names in New York

Battery Island (a batterij or battery of cannons was once stationed here)
Beekman Street (after Willem Beekman)
Bleecker Street (the Bleecker family)
Bowery Lane (garden, Bouwerijlaan)
Bronx (Jonas Bronck)
Bridge street (after Brugstraat)
Broadway (after Breede Wegh which means broad road)
Brooklyn (after Breukelen)
Bushwick (in Brooklyn, after Boswijk)
Boerum Hill (in Brooklyn, after the Boerum family)
Coney Island ("Konijneneiland" means Rabbit Island
Dutch Kills (Queens) Names ending in kill are of Dutch origin in Beaverkill,Poestenkill, etc, and mean a creek or river
Dyker Heights (in Brooklyn)
Flushing (Queens, was Vlissingen)
Gansevoort Street (after Peter Gansevoort)
Gerritsen Beach (in Brooklyn, after Wolphert Gerritse)
Harlem (after Haarlem)
Hells Gate (called Helle Gadt, referring to dangerous currents in the East River)
Hempstead (after Heemstede)
Holland Tunnel, Holland Avenue
Long Island ("Lange Eylandt" named by Adriaen Block, 1614)
Nassau Street (in Manhattan)
New Dorp (in Staten Island, dorp means village)
Rhode Island (after Roodt eylandt which means Red Island)
Spuyten Duyvil Creek (after Spuitende Duivel or Spitting Devil, referring to dangerous currents)
Staten Island (after Staten Generaal in the Netherlands)
Stuyvesant Street (after Peter Stuyvesant)
Todt Hill (Staten Island, after Dodenheuvel which means hill of the dead)
Wall Street (after the city wall around Nieuw-Amsterdam)
Wyckoff Street (Brooklyn, after Pieter Claesen Wyckoff)
Yonkers (after Jonker, Jonkheer and jonge Heer)

FamilySearch: November 2020
2  Lincoln C. Cocheu, "The Van Kouwenhoven-Conover Family", 
New York Genealogical and Biographical Record Vol.70-71,81-83 (1939-40, 1950-52): 70:235. (accessed: WorldCat)
3 Internet Archive: Colonial Dutch Families
4  Holland Society of New York; New York, New York; Freehold and Middletown, Part 1, Book 61A ; Source Information: U.S., Dutch Reformed Church Records in Selected States, 1639-1989 Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014. with Original data: Dutch Reformed Church Records from New York and New Jersey. Holland Society of New York, New York, New York.
6 ~ Screenshot of "Knickerbocker News" from:

Other Resources:


  1. Replies
    1. Rich Bartholomew11 August, 2023

      I believe that William Henry Tilton.1820-1899 and Sarah Jane Conover.1861-1895
      were related to each other. My common ancestor with William was Adrian Matthys Laenen.1672-1738 and with Sarah it was Roelof Martensen Schenck.1630-1705


  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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