Author Gloria Waldron Hukle

New York Historical Book Series by Gloria Waldron Hukle



Seventeenth Century Interpreter

The testimony of three 17th Century black slaves

By Author Gloria Waldron Hukle


Generally it is understood Resolved Waldron who had arrived in New Amsterdam (later New York City)  in 1654, was a bit of a linguist. Waldron could speak fluent Dutch, English and Portuguese.  As a surveyor employed by the Dutch West India Company he accompanied the Dutch speaking, Czechoslovakian born map maker and merchant, Augustine Heerman, to resolve border disputes as far away as Maryland. Traveling the through the wilderness of those times, It would also be convenient to speak various Native American dialects. Of course, it is also said that in mid-17th Century Manhattan one could hear eighteen languages spoken when traversing the streets of New Amsterdam.

History tells us that Resolved Waldron was an assistant night sheriff when he first came to New Amsterdam from Holland, but early on he was also made overseer of the workmen and the workmen would probably have been slaves owned by the Dutch West India Company. This makes sense because Resolved and his family lived on the corner of today's Broadway and Wall Street which in those times was directly across the street from the Company Farm.

 Prior to living in New Amsterdam, Resolved Waldron had spent several years in Brazil where, no doubt, he picked up the Portuguese language.  Some Dutch West India Company slaves would have spent time on Dutch sugar plantations in Brazil before ending up in New Amsterdam and surrounds.

In 1662 Resolved acted as interpreter, translating Portuguese to English for three black slaves in a court case that involved a white tavern keeper who had kept his establishment open on a Sunday during the time of Sunday services.  Those who testified, i.e., the customers, were Matthew, owned by Cornelius Steenwyck,  Swan owned by Govert Lockermans and Frans owned by Thomas Hall. All swore they had not begun to drink until the church services had let out. Because of their testimony the tavern owner,  was acquitted.

Although we know next to nothing about these three men who saved the day for the tavern keeper, I was curious to know about the men who owned them.

 Dutch merchant Cornelius Steenwyck arrived in New Netherland 1652. He served two terms as Mayor of New York City.  He was Mayor from 1668 to 1670 and also from 1682 to 1683. Steenwyck died in 1684. He was an extremely wealthy man wealth in part acquired transporting tobacco and slaves from the West African coast to Virginia on the ships he owned.

Decades prior to Resolved Waldrons's arrival in 1654,  Govert Lockermans came to the New World as a boy of sixteen and went to work as a clerk for the Dutch West India Company. Lockermans was bravely outspoken against New Netherland Director General Kieft for his mistreatment of the local Indians.   As an Indian trader who traded with the natives as far away as Rensselaerwyck (today Rensselaer County, New York) and south to today's Delaware,  Lockermans was a ramrod pushing against provincial authority, and yet, because of his fair-mindedness, he would go on to be a wealthy trader and high ranking politician in New York municipal government. I suspect had he lived in more modern times he would have loved Frank Sinatra's song My Way. Govert Lockermans died in 1671.

Thomas Hall began his life as an indentured servant in New England and later ended up in New Amsterdam working as a hired overseer of farm workers for Jacob Van Curler. More than likely the workers were African slaves.  At one time he owned a Tobacco warehouse; a barn one hundred feet long and 24 feet wide.  His farm was located near Spruce and Beekman Street in New York City. (Today this lower Manhattan location is the site of several skyscrapers including one of the highest residential apartment buildings in the world Beekman Towers.) Later in life Hall owned a brewery. Like Lockermans, he also worked in municipal government and he was one of the first fire wardens in the Colony. Hall died in 1670.

Gloria Waldron Hukle is the author of Manhattan Seeds of the Big Apple, Souls of the Soil, Threads an American Tapestry and The Diary of a Northern Moon. She is currently at work on a 5th historical novel.

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