I thought perhaps I’d randomly spice up your life and let you learn about obscure people in history. Okay, so they’re my ancestors, and maybe I’m the only one who finds them interesting at all, but here goes:
Claes Corneliszen Swits (1580-1641)
Claes was the first wheelwright in New York City (then called New Amsterdam)
The wheelwright was, by several accounts, a harmless and well-liked old man. He knew many Indians by name. It wouldn’t have surprised him in the least, one day in August of 1641, precisely as Adriaen van der Donck was settling into his duties as scout of Rensselaerswyck, to find a twenty-seven-year-old Wickquasgeck Indian at his door with a few furs slung over his shoulder, who said he was interested in trading them for some duffel cloth. Claes knew the young man: he lived in a village to the northeast of the island, and had worked for a time for Claes’s son. The wheelwright invited him in out of the August sun, gave him something to eat and drink. And as the old man bent over the chest in which he kept his goods for trade, the young Wickquasgeck – who is unnamed in the records, which is unfortunate since he was at the center of what would beome a major event in the life of the colony – in a seemingly unpremeditated act, reached for an ax that Claes Swits had leaning against the wall, raised it high, and cut off the old man’s head.
Then he left.
As seemingly random as the murder was, there was an inevitability to it. The Indian had no quarrel with Swits, but fifteen years before, in 1626, around the time that Peter Minuit had purchased the island, a small group of Wickquasgeck Indians had ventured south to trade furs and were set upon by some Europeans, robbed, and murdered – all except a twelve-year-old boy, who had escaped. For fifteen years he had nursed his revenge, as the Europeans increased in numbers and spread out slowly over the island, and then it erupted when he killed Swits, perhaps surprising even himself.
Claes Swits was my ancestor, and this is just one example of startling history that can be found when you research your family tree.