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The Prince Maurice Shipwrecked in 1657


After the recovery of the South River territory by the forces of the West India Company under Stuyvesant, in September, 1655, the colonization of the re incorporated section was pushed with greater vigor than ever before.

As the Chamber of Amsterdam of the West India Company was in no condition to undertake the peopling and development of the South River Country on an extensive scale, the City of Amsterdam offered its welcome assistance, and part of the South River passed into the possession of the metropolis. Immediately, energetic measures were taken, large amounts of city money invested in the colonization of the newly acquired territory by Amsterdam's far-seeing government. By the end of 1656, four ships, the Prince Maurits, the Gelderse Blom, the Beer and the Bever were loaded with the necessaries for colonization. A force of 167 colonists had been recruited from among those desirous of bettering their condition in the new world. Strange to say, few, if any, farmers were among them.

Forty-seven of the men were soldiers, many accompanied by their families; ten were officials, and thirty-five were handi-craftsmen. Seventy-six women and children completed the contingent. As governor of the colony went Jacob Alrichs, able, faithful and energetic, in all essentials the exact counterpart of Director Stuyvesant.

The Prince Maurits was to convey the larger number of the colonists. Besides her crew of sixteen, she had on board one hundred and thirteen passengers bound for the City's colony on the South River. The Beer was to take thirty-three colonists, the Gelderse Blom and the Bever eleven each. The Bever seems to have left Amsterdam somewhat ahead of or a little behind the other ships. She did not sail in company with them, though she arrived at New Amsterdam at about the same time as the Blom and the Beer.

On December 25, 1656, the ships Prince Maurits, Beer and Gelderse Blom set sail from the Texel for New Netherland. The Gelderse Blom, whose Captain was acquainted with the route and the New Netherland waters, had been designated as the flagship.

After having sailed in company for only three days, a terrific storm arose during the night of the 28th, which separated the ships, and the Prince Maurits was obliged to make the trip alone. On her ocean voyage she met with very bad weather and storms, during which her sails were blown away, the cannons rolled out of the carriages, the ship was much damaged, while at one time six of the crew were almost swept overboard by the heavy seas.

For the sake of greater safety, a Southern course had been followed for about seven weeks, and on February 17, 1657, the direction was changed. The Prince Maurits then turned toward the North, and on March 8, land was sighted. This was believed to be in the neighborhood of Manhattan Island, and the ship's company hoped that soon they would be at the end of their weary voyage.

Unfortunately, neither the Captain, pilot nor any other of the vessel's officers was acquainted with the lay of the land, and Director Alrichs cautioned the ship's commander not to spare the lead. First 26, then 18, then 16 fathoms of water were sounded, then suddenly 8 and 9 fathoms only. Immediately orders were given to tack, but too late. The ship refused to answer to the helm, and shortly after, at eleven o'clock at night, the Prince Maurits struck bottom.

All efforts to get her off were futile. With every breaker, the ship's bow sank deeper into the sand. The heavy waves, washing over the vessel, continually imperiled the lives of all on board. The dark, stormy night was spent by the ship's company in the greatest anxiety. None could foretell what the outcome would be.

When, at last, day dawned, they found themselves about a gunshot from the shore in an exceedingly dangerous position between the shoals and the strand. Before them they saw a broken coast line, bare of any tree or vegetation, fully exposed to the blasting winds, yet offering greater security than their water-logged vessel.

The ship's boat was leaky, chilly water covered her bottom, and an icy wind was blowing. With great difficulty, the frail craft was manned and part of the passengers were lowered into her. Amid drifting ice, through dangerous breakers, the hardy sailors succeeded in reaching the shore with their precious freight, making the return trip as often as was necessary, till the last passenger had safely landed. Fortunately there were many strong men on board to take the places of those exhausted in the perilous and wearisome voyages of rescue. So perfect, was the discipline on board, that, notwithstanding the precariousness of the situation, not a single life was lost.

Arrived on the beach, not a single piece of driftwood even, was found, to build a fire by which the water soaked passengers could warm their benumbed bodies. The greatest sufferers were the half a hundred, or more, women and children. The men could, at least, keep somewhat warm by their efforts to save the ship's cargo.

Immediately after the women, children and infirm men had been safely landed on the inhospitable shore, most of the lighter cargo, such as dry goods, provisions, tools, though often wet and spoiled or damaged by water, were rescued from the ship. More could have been landed in good condition had the captain permitted the cutting of a hole in the vessel's side to let the water run out. The saved sails and spars could be utilized for the erection of tents.

When, a few days later, the Prince Maurits went to pieces, the heavier articles such as iron, bricks, tiles, lime, smith's coals, the bulkier agricultural implements, were washed away. Among the more immediately necessary parts of the cargo lost were barrels of hams, smoked beef and tongues, Spanish wine and oil. Many more useful objects such as wooden measures and other buoyant articles had been thrown overboard in the hope that they would wash ashore, but most of these were also lost.

Meantime, on March 12, some Indians visited the ship wrecked travelers and from them they learned that the place was called Secoutagh, Sichtewach, Sightewagh, the present Fire Island near Long Island's southern coast. Now they knew that help was near.

Two of the Indians volunteered to carry a message from Alrichs to Stuyvesant. Immediately upon receipt of the message, Stuyvesant sent a small sloop, and the following day the aged governor came himself to view the situation and extend whatever assistance was required. Fortunately, most of the trading sloops and yachts were still at Manhattan and as soon as the news of the wreck became generally known, nine vessels in quick succession hastened to the scene of the disaster.

The names of only two of the rescuing vessels are known. The Company's yacht De Eendracht, probably carrying Stuyvesant, Captain Dirck Claessen, was one of the first to arrive, and could be utilized immediately to convey to New Amsterdam the women and children and such of the men as were not absolutely needed at the beach. The other yacht was the Avontuur, Captain Jan Jacobs, who, likewise, rendered good service in the work of transporting the saved portion of the cargo to Manhattan, making several return trips.

When, on March 20, Captain Jacobs came back from New Amsterdam, he could inform Director Jacob Alrichs that the ships Bever, Gelderse Blom and Beer had safely arrived there with fifty-five additional colonists for New Amstel, on the South River. They, also, were loaded with provisions which were afterwards used to feed the reassembled colonists during the few days of their enforced stay at Manhattan.

Director Alrichs himself, though well advanced in yearsdid not leave the inhospitable shore of Secoutagh till all the saved cargo of the Prince Maurits had been taken off and conveyed to the West India Company's warehouse at Manhattan. He later complained that much had been stolen, and even that the sentinels, stationed at the provisions to guard them, had crawled under the barrels and surreptitiously partaken of the liquid refreshments contained therein. However, he does not state whether this happened at Secoutagh or while the barrels were in transit to Manhattan or even while they were lying on the wharf prior to being stored in the warehouse.

So careful was Alrichs, that he made out exact invoices of all the goods sent with every yacht, so as to guard against any attempt at pilfering, and prevent any cause for disagreement. He also had requested Stuyvesant to secure the proper discharge of the goods, according to the invoices accompanying them.

Before the end of the second week in April, Alrichs had joined his company at Manhattan. In place of the wrecked Prince Maurits, the Bever had been chartered to take the colonists and all the goods to New Amstel. On April 13, the Beer had left Manhattan for Amsterdam, and with her Alrichs had sent a circumstantial report of the wreck besides an account of his experiences during their stay in the country.

On April 16, the Bever set sail for New Amstel and arrived there on April 21, followed a few days later by the soldiers. They had marched overland from Manhattan to the South River because there was not enough room in the Bever. With them marched their Captain, Marten Cregier, the famous Indian fighter, and a number of young colonists whose spirit of adventure craved a greater measure of excitement than was likely to be met with during the short voyage by water.

On July 2, 1682, Niew Amstel Hoop, then a young man, 24 years old, married at Flatbush, Long Island, Catherine Van Marken. According to Bergen's Early Settlers of King's County, Jan Amstel Hoop, on April 12, 1683, bought of Rutger Alberts, a house and lot in Flatbush. Who was this Niew Amstel Hoop or Jan Amstel Hoop ?

Jan Barents, chief boatswain of the Prince Maurits, at the completion of the voyage, intended to settle at New Amstel. Consequently he had taken along his wife. Just when the Prince Maurits was making ready to leave Amsterdam for the Texel, Barents' wife gave birth to a boy. The Burgomasters of Amsterdam were informed hereof, and considering this birth a good omen, they requested the parents to have the child baptized Niew Amstel's Hoop (the Hope of New Amstel.) The request was complied with.

The little boy survived the difficulties of the voyage and the horrors of the shipwreck. After a brief stay at New Amstel, the baby's parents moved to Maryland, where both died prior to April 28, 1660. Hoop was thereupon sent to New Amstel and given in the care of his father's sister, who was married to a soldier of the local garrison. She appears to have taken good care of the boy and he grew up to manhood. He seems to have moved to Flatbush, married and settled there, a fortunate survivor from the wreck of the Prince Maurits.




The New Netherland Register, Vol 1, 1911







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