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George Woolsey, First Fireman and Militia Man of New Amsterdam


George Woolsey
First Fireman and Militia Man
New Amsterdam

By Wilford Whitaker

From the records, it appears that George Woolsey came to New Amsterdam as early as 1643. In the short record that indicates that he was in New Amsterdam in 1643, George crosses over into mainstream American Colonial History.

In 1662 Gysbeert van Opdyck brought a suit claiming his ownership of Coney Island. Three Englishmen and one English woman made a deposition before a Notary Public of New Amsterdam, Salomon Lachaire, concerning when Lady Deborah Moody settled Gravesend, a part of Brooklyn. The Englishmen were Thomas Hall, one of the soldiers and secretary to the governor general of New Amsterdam, our own George Woolsey, John Lawrence (either Senior or Junior, but probably Senior, and the English lady was Sarah Bridges, wife of Charles Bridges. Does anyone recognize her? This is Sarah Cornell, sister of George Woolsey's wife [Rebecca Cornell], thus was sister-in-law to George Woolsey. Sarah Cornell married (1st) Thomas Willet and as his widow married (2nd) Charles Bridges [Carel van Brugge]. Sarah Cornell Willet Bridges married (3rd) John Lawrence, Jr. who was later declared "insane" by the court.

[Scott, Kenneth & Kenn Stryker-Rodda. New York Historical Manuscripts: Dutch - "The Register of Salomon Lachaire, Notary Public of New Amsterdam, 1661-1662." Translated from the Original Dutch ... by E. B. O'Callaghan. 6 Jan 1662.] ". . . before me Salomon Lachaire, appeared Thomas Hall, George Wolsy, John Laurence and Sara Brigies, wife of Carel van Brugge, of this city . . they certainly known, that Lady Debora Moedy, and her associates did in the year 1643 come to dwell in the place now called Gravesend, with the consent of the late Honorable Director General Willem Kieft, of laudable memory . . . Joris Wolsy signed with the others. "at the house of Joris Wolsy" 5 Jan NB. "for my journey to Joris Wolsy fl. 1.-.-. p. 101. 5 Jan 1662. suit regarding claim made by Gysbert van Opdyck to Coney Island, fees for going with them to Joris Wolsey fl. 1.-.-. 20 Oct 1662. p. 221. George Woollsey witness to a suit over a ship and a witness over tabbaq kaske (tobacco casks). [Could we infer from this that George Wolsy was here no earlier than 1643? No other record has been found that would indicate he came earlier than 1643. www]

[Dewan, George. A 'Dangerous' 1600s Woman. Long Island - on-line.] "Nobody knows where Lady Deborah Moody is buried, but an appropriate epitaph would have been what one official wrote about her in 1644: "She is a dangerous woman."

Dangerous to the religious establishment she certainly was. This widowed, middle-aged English immigrant also was a most remarkable Long Island woman of the 17th Century. Moody was the founder of Gravesend, the only permanent settlement in early colonial America planned and directed by a woman.

The town patent granted to her by [the heavy-handed director general William Kieft and] the Dutch in 1645 was unusual in that it gave Moody and her colleagues absolute freedom of conscience.

Moody was christened Deborah Dunch in London in 1586. She came from a wealthy family . . . but also one that believed strongly in civil liberties and religious non-conformity. She married Henry Moody, a well-connected landholder who was later given a knighthood, and thus she became Dame Deborah,, or Lady Deborah. Her husband died in 1629, when she was about 33. . . . She sailed for the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1639.

Moody was attracted to the Anabaptists, who rejected infant baptism, saying that baptism should only be administered to adult believers. However, she found the New England Puritans just as oppressive as their counterparts in England. John Winthrop, the governor of Massachusetts, wrote in his journal:

The lady Moodye, a wise and anciently religious woman, being taken with the error of denying baptism to infants, was dealt withal by many of the elders and others, and admonished by the Church of Salem (where she was a member), but persisting still, and to avoid further trouble, etc., she removed to the Dutch against the advice of her friends. Many others, infected with anabaptism, removed thither also. She was after excommunicated.

The [detested] Quakers came to New Netherland in 1657, infuriating the new director general, Peter Stuyvesant. In one of her last acts of dissension, she invited them to Gravesend, and the first Quaker meeting in the colonies was held in her house that year.

This "dangerous woeman" died about 1659, at age 73, not living to see the English take over New Amsterdam from the Dutch in 1664. "It was a quiet ending for the life of a woman whom the historian Flick called "The Grand Dame of Gravesend." And George Woolsey had his brush with fame.

Even before his marriage, George Woolsey was recognized by Governor Stuyvesant as one of the up-and-coming Englishmen in New Amsterdam. As an agent of Isaac Allerton, George was well-known to the business and ruling men of the town. Although English by birth, his removal with his father and family from Yarmouth to Rotterdam, with his subsequent Dutch education, put him in a rather unique position, being fluent in both English and Dutch, of becoming a "bridge" between the Dutch and the English.

[Court Minutes of New Amsterdam: Vol. 1:5:] "Done at Ft. Amsterdam 23 Jan 1648 - Appointed by Peter Stuyvesant as one of four fire masters . . . George Wolsey" . . . to inspect the houses of New Amsterdam.

[Costello, Augustine E. OUR FIREMEN. A History of the New York Fire Departments, Volunteer and Paid. First pub. 1887. Knickerbocker Press. New York. FHL # 974.71 U2c. p. 8 & 9.] "The preamble to this ordinance declares that 'it had come to the knowledge of his excellency, the Director-General, that certain careless persons were in the habit of neglecting to clean their chimneys by sweeping, and of paying no attention to their fires, whereby lately fires have occurred in two houses.' . . . From this time forth it is ordered no wooden or platted chimneys shall be permitted to be built in any houses between the Fort and the Fresh Water, but that those already standing shall be suffered to remain during the good pleasure of the fire wardens. To the end that the foregoing may be duly observed, the following persons were appointed fire wardens: From the Council, the Commissary Adrian Keyser; and from the Commonalty, Thomas Hall, Martin Krieger, and George Woolsey. They, in their turn, it is stipulated, shall visit all the houses in the city, between the Fort and the Fresh Water, and shall inspect the chimneys whether they be kept clean by sweeping, and as often as any shall be discovered to be foul they shall condemn them, and the owners shall immediately, without any gainsaying, pay the fine of three guilders for each chimney thus condemned - to be appropriated to the maintenance of fire ladders, hooks, and buckets, which shall be provided and procured the first opportunity. And in case the houses of any person shall be burned, or be on fire, either through his own negligence or his own fire, he shall be mulcted in the penalty of 25 guilders, to be app. afrsd." [Thomas Hall and George Woolsey were Englishmen, q.v.]

Besides his duties as one of the four Fire Marshals, whose announced responsibilities included visiting "all the houses in the city, between the Fort and the Fresh Water" and inspecting "the chimneys whether they be kept clean by sweeping", George volunteered for the New Amsterdam Militia.

The Indian Threat on Long Island

The early Dutch, in New Amsterdam [Manhattan Island] and on the west end of Long Island, and the early English settlers, to the east of the Dutch, on Long Island, had to deal not only with the constant threat of attack by the various Indian tribes in their own vicinity, but also from the threat of attack from Indians further away, from the north and from the east. On top of that, which was a real threat, they had to deal with the constant bickering, threatenings and fighting among the Indian tribes themselves.

Another better-known English-born religious dissenter, one whose life paralleled that of Deborah Moody, was Anne Hutchinson. In the summer of 1643, about the time that Moody arrived in New Amsterdam, the widowed Hutchinson, 52, and "all" but one of her six children were murdered by Indians at a new colony at Pelham Bay, now in the Bronx, the northern- most borough of New York. Called by Gov. John Winthrop the "American Jesabel," Hutchinson was banished from the Bay Colony in 1638 for her antinomianism, the belief that the individual could experience God's grace directly, without a need for a church or a religion. [Dewan, George. A 'Dangerous' 1600s Woman.]
This and other stories would be fresh in the minds of the early Dutch and English settlers as they nervously tried to keep track of all the Indians' movements and activities.

In the spring of 1653, a party of Niantic Indians attacked [the Indian Sachem] Wyandanch's village on Montauk Point, killing more than 30 in a place known for years after as "massacre valley." Prisoners were taken, one of whom was Wyandanch's daughter. [Steve Wick. The Settler and the Sachem. Long Island, on-line. (A short story of Lion Gardiner rescuing the daughter.)]

This further alarmed the Dutch in New Amsterdam and the "Burgher Corps" was beefed-up, consisting of four companies of armed men, who supplied their own muskets, swords and horses. These companies, numbering between nineteen and twenty-four men each, were made up principally of Dutch farmers and settlers, although an Englishman can be picked out once in a while.

It is here that we find "Joris Woolsey" as a member of the Second Company of the Burgher Corps of New Amsterdam. He and his small family still had the property in New Amsterdam on the lot he had purchased just a few years before from his brother-in-law, Thomas Willets. But they may have been living at the farm in Flushing which George bought from Robertson on 10 Aug 1647, most likely in preparation of his wedding in December of that year, the farm to which he would take his young bride. At this time [1653], they only had the two oldest children, Sarah and George, Jr.

Muster roll
of the several Companies of
the Burgher Corps of New Amsterdam - 1653

Company 1

Company 2

Captain Arent van Hattem Lieutenant Paul. L. van der Grist
Sergeant David Provoost Sergeant Gerrit Loockermans
Corporal Claes Carstensen Corporal Johannis Verbrugge
Lance Corporal Willem Pietersen Lance Corporal Conrad ten Eyck
Cadets Claes Bordingh Cadets Abr. Clock
Isaac Kip Joris Woolsey
Andries de Haes Isaac Foreest
Albert Coninck Marcus Hendricks
Privates Hage Bruynsen Privates Pieter Pietersen
[Erasure] Ansdries Edwarts
Jan Gerritsen Mason Cornelis Jans Seent
Hendrick Egberts Barent Jacobs Crol
Hans Stein Auke Jansen
Teunis Fredriks Jacob Tys van Heide
Andries Hopper Wynand Gongelmans
Ary Jacobsen Stoffel Elbertsen
Harmen Bilderbeeck Roelof Jansen Vouck
Jacob Bakker Harmen Thunisz
Thomas Lambertsen Cornelis Hendricksen
Geurt Coertsen Jacob van den Bos
      Dirck Jansen tot Loockermans
       Egbert Gerritsen
       Fredrick Hendricksen
       Carsten Malys

Company 3

Company 4

Ensign Van Beeck Senior Sergeant Daniel Lush [Litschoe?]
Sergeant Arent Dircksen Corporal Pieter van Naerden
Corporal Abr. de la Noy Lance Corporal Lodewyck Pots
Lance Corporal Abr. Pietersen Cadets J. de Peyster
Cadets Nicholaes Boot Egbert Woutersen
Jan de Cuyper Math. de Vos
Michl. Pouwelsen Anthony de Moor
Cors Pietersen Privates Pieter Jacobsen
Privates Hendrick Hendricksen Egbert van Borsum
Jan Hutsen Albert Jansen
Roelof Jansen Jan Dircksen
Claes Hendricksen Claes Tysen Cuyper
Andries Jochemsen Cornelis Willemsen
Johannes Withart Claes van Elsland
Abr. Martensen Jacob Vis
Pieter Loockermans Harmen Rutgers
Gerrit Gerritsen Cornelis Jansen Coelen
Andries de Kuyper Adriaen Blommaert
Hendrick Gerritsen Jan Peeck
Willem Albertsen Lowris Cornelissen
Lucas Andriessen       
Bernard Wessels       
Adam Roelantsen       

Source of Militia list: O'Callaghan, E. B. The History of New Netherlands Vol. 2. D. Appleton, 1848, p. 569.


Bibiography Dutch Colonial History Centuries XVII-XVIII - by Marco Ramerini

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