Tjerck Claessen DeWitt emigrated from near Esens in Ostfriesland (today the northern coast of Germany) in the early or mid-1650s. (See related page of discussion on his origins.) Three siblings, including Ida/Tette, joined him over the next few years. Others remained in Ostfriesland, on his family’s farm.
Jda/Ida/Tette may have been with Tjerck in North America from the start. In 1661, her husband, Jan Albertsen van Steenwyck, is described in court papers as Tjerck’s brother-in-law.
In August 1658, Ida Claessen (the name Tette uses in North America) is named in Fort Orange court documents. This is one of the few times she is named while she is still alive, although she is referred to in multiple other documents as the wife of Jan Albertsen van Steenwyck. It appears that in 1658, she is not yet married; the court records mentions no husband.
The court case apparently arose from an expedition she made with six other people to New England (“up north”) or at least Long Island. At Fresh River (today the Connecticut River), on their return, one of their number complained that there was a thief among them. They searched each other, and three lace ribbons were found on Ida. At least that’s the story her accusers tell. She has five people she knows sign affidavits saying that she is an honorable woman; she wins the case. (For more details on the case, see Sources below; the translations are both available either in print or online.)
Curiously, one of the people swearing to an affidavit against Ida Claessen is Gerrit Visbeeck, who very possibly is also from Ostfriesland. In 1556, Gert Vischbecke had a farm in Nordorf (Herd *2*), two or three miles from where Ida grew up. (See Heyken, Weinkaufsprotokolle des Amtes Esens von 1554 bis 1811, Vol. I, p. 242, among other references.) Gert had a son Claes; Claes had a son Meint; in 1626 Meint died, leaving behind a seven-year-old son and two daughters. It’s worth noting that Visbeck (Fischbeck) here is a family name, not a patronymic. Gerrit was probably descended from the original Gert, but was a cousin of the ones who inherited the farm. Other Visbecks are documented in the same area, part of the same clan. This is the family, incidentally, that brought the Protestant Reformation, in the form of Lutheranism, to the area. (See here and here for more on Johann Fischbeck, first Protestant minister in St.-Magnus-Kirche in Esens, in 1538.) The Nordorf connection is speculation at this time (September 2014), until more spadework can be done on Gerrit Visbeeck of Fort Orange, but it seems likely.
In North America, Tette/Ida seems not to get along well with Mr. Visbeeck. On April 22, 1659, she is in court again with a complaint against him; he apparently does not show up, so the judgment goes against him by default. The record does now show what her complaint was.
We know from ship manifests that Tette/Ida and her husband and a toddler daughter sail to North America in November 1662 aboard the ship The Fox (De Vos), together with her younger sister and brother Rinelt (Emmerentje, Amarens) and Jan. It appears that for her this is a return to North America; for her siblings, it is their first trip.
On June 7, 1663, Kingston and Hurley were almost entirely destroyed by the Indians; Tjerck fought valiantly in their defense, and his daughter Taatje was kidnapped, along with three other children. She was soon rescued. Tette/Ida was killed in this attack, together with her husband Jan Albertsen van Steenwyck, a shoemaker, and probably two of their children. (Contemporary accounts describe her as great with child, and say one of her daughters was killed right next to her, probably in front of their combined home and workshop.) More than one minor child may have survived; extensive records were kept from the administration of the estate, but the children’s names do not appear in these records. A guardian is appointed to look after the interests of surviving minor children, but there may not have been any; the appointment may be strictly pro-forma.
This account has been pieced together from several sources, which are not listed here yet, though I hope to post an exhaustive list soon. All that will have to wait until there's more time to write it (do watch this space). For a closer look at where the family came from, have a look at my 1998 trip to Ostfriesland, Germany, in search of the family’s Old World roots. (This set of pages includes a page with links to lots of other sites for research into De Witts, Ostfriesland and other Dutch ancestors.)
For a closer discussion of some possible family relations, have a look at my excerpts from the record of baptisms in early Manhattan (the page will take a few moments to load; it's big) and at my very cursory excerpt of public records from Albany, NY, regarding Tjerck Claessen DeWitt and possible relatives.
A few links for the time being:
TCDW deposits with court an inventory of estate of “his brother-in-law” Jan Albertsen van Steenwyck, requests guardian over minor children. (11/20/1663)
Mattheus Capito (court secretary) demands from Tjerck Claesen 852 guilders for goods bought from estate; TCDW self-identifies as a joint heir of the estate, offers to pay if his share ends up being less than amount owed (1/29/1664)
Marten Hoffman power of attorney to collect debts; identifies him as co-heir (4/17/1665)
TCDW offers security for Marten Hoffman for 256 guilders (drawn from the estate) for a cow, and for 64 guilders rent for the cow, which Jan Albertsen received while he was alive from Amerens Claesen De Wit, now the wife [Amarens, not the cow] of Marten Hoffman. If Marten Hoffman has received the money unfairly, TCDW will make the estate whole. (3/16/1666)
Final closure and settlement of estate, 1921 guilders, plus odds and ends. 960 guilders to Jan’s peeps; 960 to Ida’s peeps. TCDW and Marten Hoffman are present and named as heirs; MH is identified as husband and guardian of Amarens. Not many other family names here. More financial details: interest, debts, splits. (3/13/1666)
TCDW acknowledges debt to children of Faelde Claesen De Wit, Grietje Claesen De Wit, Tjaetje Claesen De Wit (178 guilders each, 534 guilders total) from estate’s obligation to “line” of Ida Claesen De Wit. He will pay by April 1667, with interest (10% per year, commencing 3/13/1666) (4/12/1666)
I’m just beginning to list sources here. Apologies for not being more complete. I will continue to add to this list as I have time. There are many sources of information on the family named Claessen DeWitt, some better than others.
Record of baptisms and marriages from Kingston, New York.
Minutes of the Court of Fort Orange and Beverwyck, 1657-1660, Vol. II, translated and edited by A.J.F. Van Laer, 1926, Albany. Full text and PDF version available online here. (See pp. 146-148 for Ida Claessen records.)
Fort Orange Court Minutes, 1652-1660 (New Netherland Documents Series Volume XVI, part two), translated and edited by Charles T. Gehring, Syracuse University Press, 1988. Full PDF version available online here. (See pp. 397-398 and p. 429 for Ida Claessen records.)
Tjerck Claessen DeWitt in Court
Record of early marriages in the Dutch Reform Church in Manhattan, available in printed form or online
Record of early baptisms in the Dutch Reform Church in Manhattan, available online
English translations of Dutch colonial records, also known as “The Kingston Papers,” available online. These are the Dingman Versteeg translations. The originals are available on microfilm from the Ulster County archivist, who can be found through the same link. A cross-reference indexing the archive pages to the microfilm frames to the pages in the printed translation can be obtained from Donald Lockhart, dlockhart at rcn dot com, who includes an entertaining introduction about the misadventures of the original manuscript records in the 1800s, before they were at last safely ensconced with the Ulster County archives.
Wills of Tjerck Claessen DeWitt and his brother Jan, who died unmarried in Kingston, 1699 (1906 Anjou edition)
Very cursory look at public records from Albany, NY, regarding Tjerck Claessen DeWitt and possible relatives.
The Peltz Record (1948)
The History of Ulster County, New York
The Oberholtzer Genealogy