Cornelis van Tienhoven

New York's First Embezzler

 

"Crafty, subtle, intelligent, sharp-witted ... he is adept at dissimulation, and even when laughing intends to bite."

-- Description of Cornelis van Tienhoven in 1649.

 

Who better to siphon off funds than the bookkeeper? That's the position Cornelis van Tienhoven occupied when he arrived in New Amsterdam about 1633. But he had a long career and much notoriety ahead before he resorted to the theft that ranks him as New York's first embezzler.

A ruddy man of corpulent body, Van Tienhoven soon worked his way up to Secretary, a powerful post at the center of the colony's administration. He first earned the enmity of the people in the reign of Director Kieft, playing a key role in the Indian wars that nearly destroyed the colony.

In 1641, he led a party of soldiers to attack Indians accused of stealing pigs on Staten Island. The Indians denied responsibility. While Van Tienhoven claimed to believe them, his soldier's slaughtered several of the Raritan tribe, mangling dead bodies in their glee. The Pig War was under way, no matter Dutchmen taking on wood and water actually stole the swine.

Two years later, Van Tienhoven helped Director Kieft launch the Shrovetide massacre of the Weckquaesgeeks, the start of two bloody years that led to the recall of Kieft and the arrival of Peter Stuyvesant. In the aftermath, Van Tienhoven's mother-in-law reputedly kicked severed Indian heads like a soccer ball.

Though married, Van Tienhoven was an incorrigible womanizer. While he slaughtered Indian men, he chased after their women wearing nothing but a patch over his privates. So addictive was his lust for their flesh that no punishment from the Director could still his passions.

During a trip to Holland, Van Tienhoven seduced a basketmaker's daughter. He and his sweetheart Lysbeth set up house together, enjoying carnal conversation as the Dutch described the marital act. With the sheriff on his trail, Van Tienhoven proposed marriage and the couple escaped aboard a ship bound for New Amsterdam. Unfortunately for Lysbeth, Van Tienhoven's wife Rachel was waiting on the dock.

Upon his return, Van Tienhoven wormed his way back into Director Stuyvesant's administration, so sweetening the mouths of Stuyvesant and his Councillors that they could taste no bitterness toward him. As one observer noted, the sweetness was about to cause a heavy and severe purgation from those same mouths.

Van Tienhoven evidently dipped his hand in the till. Dismissed from his post, he wandered too close to the East River and drowned, or so Director Stuyvesant, eager to put the episode behind him, ruled when Van Tienhoven's hat and cane were found bobbing along the shore. In the people's view, the man had in fact absconded to Barbados with the embezzled funds.

 

"Lecherously Van Tienhoven smiled because he was the biggest womanizer in town, no matter how married or how ugly he was. The next time a woman resisted his charms, he'd spout his devil strategy to ease her mind over prying eyes. Don't worry, honey, he'd say, if anybody gossips it'll be a devil lying out their mouth."

-- Jackie Lambert in
The Mevrouw Who Saved Manhattan.
 
More New Amsterdammers

 

Bill's Books

The Mevrouw Who Saved Manhattan
A Novel of New Amsterdam by Bill Greer

Mevrouw

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

About the Book
_________________________
A DIRTY YEAR
Sex, Suffrage & Scandal in Gilded Age New York

A nonfiction narrative of 1872 New York, a city convulsing with social upheaval and sexual revolution and beset with all the excitement and challenges a moment of transformation brings.

Forthcoming from Chicago Review Press