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Who Was Jan Peeck?

What do we really know about the person is part of Peekskill's name?

Jan Peeck (spelled and pronounced in various ways) was the first European to land in this region that indentifies his “creek or stream” (“kil or kill” in Dutch). Thus, we have “Peek’s kill” as Jan Peek’s creek.

He arrived in the mid 1600s at what is now at Annsville Creek (later named for Ann Van Cortlandt). Jan landed at the Roa Hook land of present Camp Smith. While here, Jan Peeck acted as merchant with the native tribe of Kitchawank, as they called themselves.

Jan Peeck lived with his wife Marie on the lower portion of Manhattan Island then identified as New Amsterdam. They owned a house on Pearl Street, and a tavern on Maiden Lane. Marie was a 33 year old widow with four children from her former husband. After her 1650 marriage to Jan Peeck (then in his early 20s), they produced another four children. Marie was French by birth. We still don’t know where, or when Jan was born.

Dutch control of their New Netherland region lasted less than 50 years. Its territory included what is now Albany, parts of New Jersey, and both sides of the river. Commercial purposes were the interest and motive of the Dutch West India Company in America. Their weak control and small scattered settlements became an easy target when the English took over in 1664. They named the river for English sea captain Henry Hudson.

Jan Peeck and Marie du Trieux struggled to take care of their large family.  There were four general occupations in early New Amsterdam; farming, building, government employment, and commercial trading. The people available for trade were those already living here, generally misnamed as “Indians.”

We do know that Jan took advantage of every opportunity for income that came his way. As an enterprising individual, he paid the 20 guilders required to be approved as a “Small Burgher,” or citizen allowed to conduct a business in New Amsterdam. Jan Peeck benefitted from his knowledge of Dutch and English languages. He received official permission to act as a translator in New Amsterdam. His rate for merchants was 1.5% of each transaction accomplished with his help.

We can see the small number of total community residents from Jan Peeck’s service with the “Burgher Corps” of citizen militia protecting Fort Amsterdam. Jan is one of only 220 names listed in the muster roll for 1653. Jan Peeck also contributed in person a voluntary tax to governor Petrus Stuyvesant to build the “plank curtain,” or wooden barrier across Manhattan east to west that later became known as Wall Street.

Evidence of Jan Peeck appears in church and official records for only 10 years between his marriage of 1650 to a land deal in 1660. There no indication in any document or scrap of evidence when Jan first made contact with the Kitchawanck people along Peek’s Creek. Such dates are entirely guesswork.

One of the rights given burghers was “to trade at and go to other places.” The Dutch territory was declared open with these words: “The inhabitants shall be at liberty to build for themselves… all descriptions of craft, either large or small, and with such vessels, ascend and descend all rivers, and prosecute their lawful trade and barter.” A further regulation was issued from Fort Amsterdam in 1647. The authorities “forbid and command that none of our inhabitants shall go inland with his cargoes, but shall carry his trade at the usual trading place.”

It seems that Jan Peeck took advantage of the official encouragement to explore the river areas in his own vessel, to barter with the natives, and not go inland. It is clear from many accounts that the Kitchawank and other tribes wanted guns and alcohol in exchange for their furs and food. Dutch governors repeatedly warned against this type of barter.

Time after time, the result was aggressive armed natives attacking farms and settlements. The Dutch responded with harsh counterattacks. These cultural wars persisted through the 1640s and 50s. In one such encounter the Dutch lost 100 killed, 150 taken prisoner (only 42 returned) and 300 residents lost all their possessions.

Legal confirmation of items bartered between Europeans and natives are listed in the 1685 “Ryck’s Patent” deed that established the original Peekskill territory. In this deal, Kitchawank representatives were given by six Dutchmen: “8 fowling pieces, 3 pistols, 5 bullet moulds, 40 bars of lead, 2 swords, 40 knives, 4 vats of beer, 1 anker of rum,” and “1,000 fish hooks.” This is when the Lent family enters the local story.

Trading with natives along the rivers was not a method of secure income or wealth for individuals out on their own.  Jan returned to his wife and family in New Amsterdam. Together they operated a public tavern, engaged in land deals, and often got into trouble with clients and the authorities.  Marie inherited the tavern from her previous husband, Cornelis Volkertsen. He had been part owner of the  transatlantic ship “Fortune.”

The rowdy activities at their tavern led to two arrests for Jan Peeck. One event involved fighting with a soldier who threatened his wife with a sword. Another arrest was for serving alcohol and dancing after hours on Sunday. These events may have been too much for Jan Peeck.

By year 1660, he went north to Rensselaerwyck near Albany where he negotiated the ownership of two houses.  He then drops from the public record. After his departure, Marie did the best she could with so many children, but was finally exiled from Manhattan for selling brandy to Indians. She went north to Schenectady, New York.

All the rest is speculation except that Jan’s two sons and two daughters married well. They together produced 28 grandchildren. Jan Peeck’s descendants through several generations blended to create the new American culture and national identity.

*Researched and written by John J. Curran

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Jill Gertz January 04, 2012 at 10:03 PM
Jan is the Dutch version of John. It is pronounced "yahn" as if it rhymed with John. It is not pronounced "Jan" as in "Jan Brady". Think of the famous Northern Renaissance painter Jan Van Eyck. You always hear it pronounced "Yahn Van Eyck" - and not as if he was a girl in the Brady family. Its alway cringe-worthy to see Peekskill politicians etc on TV saying the name wrong. Audio example on this link: http://inogolo.com/pronunciation/text/d1348/Jan_van_Eyck
C. Anderson January 04, 2012 at 10:34 PM
Henry Hudson sailed up the Hudson River in 1609-10. By 1624 the first colonists had arrived. It took only nine years for the first smallpox epidemic to hit, between 1633-35. Since the Lenape people, like all Native Americans, had no immunity to European diseases, these epidemics proved fatal. Although there are no statistics for this epidemic, it is safe to assume that a large number of Lenape people died from this first epidemic. It was common for epidemics to eliminate entire villages. This was the first in a long series of events that would deplete the numbers of the Lenape. In 1643 the Mohawks (part of the Iroquois Confederation) made a peace treaty with the Dutch and shortly thereafter attacked a band of Wappingers Indians. When this group fled to a Dutch shelter at Pavonia, they were executed. This atrocity, often referred to as the Pavonia Massacre, resulted in the deaths of 80 men, women, and children. After they were beheaded, the Dutch soldiers responsible for their deaths played kickball with the severed heads.
Spruce Bringsteen January 05, 2012 at 09:23 PM
They should put a statue of Jan Peeck at Peekskil Landing as part of its restoration. Or maybe put one at the train station holding a sign, "Welcome to Peekskill". Jill is right. It's pronounced "yahn". There is a theory that the word "Yankee" comes from "Jan Kaas", a derogatory slang term literally meaning "John Cheese" that was used by the English towards the Dutch.
Spruce Bringsteen January 05, 2012 at 09:31 PM
"After they were beheaded, the Dutch soldiers responsible for their deaths played kickball with the severed heads." Talk about adding insult to injury. Still, it explains why the Dutch are always contenders at the World Cup.

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