"Catalina Trico strutted up the plank. Joris Rapalje trailed behind. Catalina's smille screamed the pair had tied the knot. They were a matched set all right, a big-boned, broad-bottomed girl and a strapping youth sure to rut like a stag."
-- Jackie Lambert describing Catalina and Joris on their wedding day, forseeing their eleven children, in
The Mevrouw Who Saved Manhattan.
The Unity sailed from Amsterdam in 1623, first ship of the Dutch West India Company, Arien Jorise commanding. As soon as she reached Manhattan Island, the party split. Two families and six men headed for the Harford River to the east, another two families and eight men for the Delaware to the south. Eight of the crew stayed behind to take possession of Manhattan while the Unity continued up the North River, what would one day be called the Hudson.
Some ways upstream, the eighteen families still aboard transferred to a lighter boat left by the Dutchmen who had traded on the river the year before. They traveled again as far upriver as they had come until they landed at a spot on the west bank where a stream spilled into the main flow. Here they would settle. They built a small fort and huts of bark.
No sooner had they moved into their crude homes than the Indians came, the Mohicans who lived along the river, and the Mohawks. The natives brought great presents of beaver and other pelts and told Commander Jorise of their desire that they might come and have a constant free trade. And so they made a Covenant of Friendship with the new arrivals.
That's the way Catalina Trico remembered her journey to her new home, a newlywed, not twenty years old. By the time she looked back, she was over eighty. The years or her age had fogged her memory. The ship was more likely named the Nieu Nederlandt, not the Unity, and Cornelis Jacobsen May skippered her. She had sailed in 1624. She carried fewer people when she ventured up the Hudson. Eight families plus ten or twelve men would plant the settlement to be called Fort Orange. However garbled Catalina's memory, Commander May had left Arien Jorise to govern Fort Orange when he sailed back downriver. The Covenant of Friendship that Jorise concluded with the Mohicans and the Mohawks would lead to a prosperous start for the new community.
Before the ship that brought Catalina sailed away, the grain sowed in the fields offered by the Mohicans reached as high as a man. The gardens had grown green and a mill was turning on Nordman's Kill. Commander May filled his ship with 500 otter skins and 1500 beaver. By the end of 1624, he was selling his cargo in Amsterdam for 28,000 guilders. Before Christmas, the yacht Maeckereel arrived in New Netherland, bringing Daniel van Krieckebeeck to take over the command of Fort Orange. Three more ships followed in 1625 bringing cattle, horses, hogs, and sheep, plus equipment with which to build a dairy. And forty-five more people came to New Netherland, six families and several freemen.
Catalina Trico and her husband Joris Rapalje had a special reason to celebrate. Their daughter Sarah was born in June, the first Dutch child to open her eyes in North America.
Indeed if Catalina felt trepidation living in an uncharted wilderness surrounded by savages, she didn't mention it when she looked back sixty years later. The Covenant of Friendship Jorise had concluded upon the settlers' arrival endured. The Indians daily brought great multitudes of beaver, she remembered, and they were all as quiet as lambs and came and traded with all the freedom imaginable.
But Catalina's memory was fogged. She might recall a time of peace, quiet and all the freedom imaginable, but beneath the surface, trouble was brewing. The Dutch were not long satisfied with the land the Mohicans granted for their settlement of Fort Orange. Now headed by Daniel van Krieckebeeck, hailed as Beeck, the community asked the Mohicans for more in 1625. The Mohicans resisted, probably resentful of how the Dutch welcomed the Mohawks in and around Fort Orange. By now, the Mohicans themselves had all moved their homes across the river. The Mohawks were no happier with their lot. Too many Mohican allies from the north were carrying furs to the Dutch. The Mohawks' interference with that trade aggravated the tensions with the Dutch and the Mohicans.
The first trouble started in 1625 away from Fort Orange. The Mohicans ventured up the Mohawk River to attack a Mohawk village just across the boundary between the two tribes. They drove the villagers away.
Emboldened and with war flaring, the Mohicans decided on another attack in the summer of 1626. They asked Beeck to help them. He agreed, perhaps hopeful of receiving more land if he curried favor, and eager to punish the Mohawks for interfering with trade from the north, and confident Dutch guns would prevail. Beeck and six of his men set out with the Mohicans. A league from Fort Orange, they met the Mohawks - and disaster. The enemy flew boldly upon them with a discharge of arrows. The Dutchmen and the Mohicans turned to flee. Many Mohicans were killed. So were Beeck and three other Dutchmen. The Mohawks were brutal. They devoured one of the dead Dutchmen, Tymen Bousensz. They burned the others, except for a leg and an arm they carried home to divide among their families as a sign of their victory.
For the Dutch, the defeat was a serious setback. The new Director in Manhattan, Peter Minuit, sent Pieter Barentsen to assume command of Fort Orange. Barentsen's first task was to meet with the Mohawks. He got little satisfaction. The Mohawks simply pleaded that they had never before acted against the whites. Why had the Dutch meddled with them? Without that, they would never have shot them.
Barentsen's second task was to remove the families. They would leave for the colony on Manhattan. The settlement at Fort Orange was over, at least for now. Only sixteen men would remain to garrison the fort. The episode was not so disastrous as to abandon the trade.
Upon arriving in Manhattan, Catalina and Joris opened a tavern on Pearl Street. In 1637 they bought land on Long Island by Wallabout Bay, where they would operate a farm to supply the tavern. Around 1650, they moved to the farm. Catalina was living there as a widow in the 1680s when representatives of William Penn took two depositions from her about her arrival in America.
Catalina and Joris had eleven children and an estimated 150 descendants when she died. The farm on Wallabout Bay would stay in the family until the Revolutionary era. Their offspring includes tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt and CNN celebrity newsman Anderson Cooper.
For more on the early days of New Netherland, check out Broken Chain: How the White and Indian Worlds Remembered Henry Hudson and the Early Dutch.
The Mevrouw Who Saved Manhattan Reviews
"[A] romp through the history of New Netherland that would surely have Petrus Stuyvesant complaining about the riot transpiring between its pages ... Readers are guaranteed a genuine adventure that will evoke the full range of human emotions. Once begun, they can expect to experience that rare difficulty in putting down a book before they have finished."
-- de Halve Maen, Journal of the Holland Society of New York, Summer 2009
"Bill Greer has deftly blended fact and fiction in his humorous tale The Mevrouw Who Saved Manhattan. ... The characters are rowdy, raunchy, loveable, and sometimes despicable, but thoroughly believable. ... This is a thoroughly delightful story that brings the Dutch colonies to life."
-- Historical Novels Review Online, August 2009