The Warmongering Wessels…

I mentioned in an earlier post Willem Hoffmire, my Brazilian born German ancestor from the 1600s. Well, this is the story of his mother Geertruy Hieronimus and her second husband Jochem Wessels, Willem’s step-father.

Jochem was know as “Jochem Gijssen Wesselszen” and “Jochem Wesselse Backer.” Backer meaning baker, as that was his skill and trade. Geertruy, whom he married sometime before 1652, was his second wife. His first wife having died.

Number 22 on the map is the location of Jochem and Geertruy’s bakery and home in Albany, or as it was know when they lived there, Beverwyck [pronounced Bayvervike].
Thankfully the story of Geertruy and her second husband, Jochem can be told through court records, of which this couple have plenty in early Beverwyck, as they were very aggressive in pursuing personal justice from anyone whom they felt slighted or abused by.

Most of their court records start to appear in the spring of 1652, when Capt. Willem Juriaens decided to close up his baking shop, which happened to be located right next door to the Wessels bakery. No doubt the Wessels were quite relieved to be rid of the competition. Their sigh of relief was short lived however, as the Capt. sold the house and lot to Jan Van Hoesen, with the agreement that they would house and feed him. In return he would teach them the baking trade.

Jochem didn’t wait for the competition to steal his customers he went out and aggressively procured them. Geetruy’s reaction was more personal. She was concerned about being able to feed her brood of children, from both of her marriages, so didn’t appreciate having another bakery operating next door competing for business. She went out one April day found Van Hoesen’s wife Volckgen, and said,

“You’re a low women and I can prove it.” Then she doubled up her fist and struck the other women with everything she had.

The next day a deputy arrived at the Wessels’ home and told Geertruy she was to accompany him to court, which was in a two-story frame building with a pavilion roof close to Fort Orange. She went up the steep stair and entered through the trap door at the top into the one big room on the second floor. About six burghers from the town were sitting waiting. One of them informed her that she was in their presence because of the complaint of Volckgen Van Hoesen who was charging her with abusive language and assault.

Geertruy, whose method of solving problems was pretty much always the same, was surprised that this time it hadn’t worked. She became resentful and annoyed that she had to go through the court. So she stated pretty much the same to the burghers that she had to Volckgen, with much added colorful embroidery. Then she proceeded to threatened each of the burghers in the room personally if they tried “any nonsense with her.” The court record ends with the following statement:

“The defendant for her abusive language and assault and threats made here against the court condemned to pay a find of six guilders, with order to leave the plaintiff henceforth in peace.”

Things might have gone along peacefully if the court hadn’t decided shortly thereafter to assign the Capt.’s lot to the Van Hoesens permanently. This enraged Jochem so much he built a pigsty in front of the Van Hoesens’ front door. A few days later the court made comment:

“It is decided that whereas the said baker…had constructed an obstruction and nuisance to the house of the aforesaid Jan Van Hoesen it is ordered that he must within the time of three days tear down the said pigsty.”

Jochem had in mind a different way to solve the problem after hearing the courts decision. He went home, buckled on his sword, ran to the courthouse, and up the stairs waving his blade about, calling the Magistrate names and demanding he come out and fight like  man.

Several days later the court met in an extraordinary session to hear the Magistrate’s changes against Jochem, which they decided are serious enough for the authorities in Manhattan to handle. Later in the day they had to meet again because Jochem had been going around town, telling anyone who would listen, that they had rushed the morning session so that they could let Van Hoesen know what they had done to Wessels, his archenemy. The court decided that Jochem would have to prove this accusation or suffer an “arbitrary sentence.”

Geertruy, was not sitting idly by during Joachim’s bouts of insanity, she had been busy verbally harassing Volckgen. Again. The court fined Geertruy 50 guilders this time because she couldn’t prove any of her accusations against Volckgen. However, not at all daunted, Geertruy decided on another tact. This time she would bait Vockgen into attacking her, with no witnesses nearby to prove otherwise. The court was of course suspicious of Geertruy’s story and fined both women 12 guilders each, with the admonition that

“Parties on both sides are furthermore ordered to hold their tongues and to leave each other in peace, as otherwise the court will take such measure was shall be found necessary.”

By the beginning of the new year [1653] Jochem thought up a new charge for his neighbor, that they were occupying the house and lot illegally and it still really belonged to the Capt. But because he could not provide any evidence to this he had to withdraw the suit, but not without whispering it about that the chief magistrate had offered Van Hoesen ownership of the house for a bribe of 3 beavers. The Van Hoesens answered the attack by throwing hot ashes and glowing embers against the Wessels’ home. The court had to intervene to make them stop.

During this time, in Manhattan, rumblings were being heard about the quality and weight of the bread that Jochem was baking. These complaints being that they were making tasty baked goods for the Indians (things like sugar buns, cookies, pretzels), because they were willing to pay a higher price, and the rest of the townspeople are getting the bran. So of course the immediate response was to make it illegal to sell white bread and cakes to the Indians. The Beverwyck bakers complained but got no where, Stuyvesant sent a representative to make sure his regulation was enforced.

Jochem, of course, had no intention of obeying the law. He immediately went to work baking up some tasty goods, went outside the front of his shop and blew his big horn advertising to the Indians that his wares were ready for sale. (By the way, he still hadn’t pulled down the pigsty in front of his neighbor’s door.) He didn’t get away with this behavior though, the court fined him 50 guilders, but the representative from Manhattan was not satisfied with this fine. Jochem’s long list of crimes were enumerated to the court: slander, attacking a magistrate, false accusations, refusal to move the pigsty, charging chief magistrate with soliciting a bribe; the court added a fine of 100 guilders to the previous amount, and if this was not paid in 24 hours then the fine would double, etc.

All the animosity with the Van Hoesens ended unexpectedly. The Capt., who had promised to teach the Van Hoesens the bakery trade, had reneged on his deal. The Van Hoesens could no longer be competition as they really didn’t have a bakery to compete with the Wessels. Happy, happy, joy, joy.

But the Wessels were an argumentative pair, it wasn’t long before Jochem was in trouble again. Over chickens. Jacob Willemsz testified that he had seen Jochem chasing some sitting hens off their nests and had yelled at Jochem to stop, they were the Capt.’s hens. Jochem answered by calling on Jacob to come outside and fight, when Jacob prudently declined his kind offer, Jochem grabbed him but the throat and beat him. Jacob of course defended himself and responded blow for blow. Jochem was again fined. Another incident has him shooting and killing Hendrick Andreessen’s dog, no reason was given. But as he promised to have a young dog trained and delivered to the plaintiff, his only other fine in the incident was a beaver. Geertruy didn’t like this at all and became so angry she shouted “abusive and slanderous words” at the magistrates. She had to appear in court later for her abuse.

Gerrit Van Slichtenhorst, who had been in court for selling brandy to the local Indians, and against whom Jochem had testified, picked a fight with Jochem while they were gathering firewood. Gerrit went after Jochem with an ax, so Jochem ran home to get his sword and chased Gerrit up the street into the house of Thomas Paul. Thomas managed to get Jochem to give up his sword at which time Gerrit jumped on his disarmed foe. Jochem managed to get on top and attempted to mutilate and maul Gerrits ‘manly bits’ when finally onlookers were able to pull the men apart. Garret ran to his house to get a cutlass and chased after Jochem who was heading home. No one was badly injured and both were fined for their temper tantrums.

The last big flare up was when a Capt. Baker made reference to Geertruy as being a ‘loose women’. Abraham Staats was one of the gentleman on the court, Jochim and Geertruys son-in-law. Baker produced an affidavit from Claes Wip, the town drunk in support of his accusation. Jochem produced one from the same drunk, stating the complete opposite. The court decided that therefore the matter was dropped.

There were many other incidents in town regarding Jochem and Geertruy as they were definitely not pillars of society. They were both havey-cavey, cheats, sneaky, would do anything to make a buck, and liars. They were also definitely characters. I can just hear the sighs of the gentlemen at court when their names would come up, again, in the docket.1

So this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for those ancestors whose crazy lives make doing this research so much fun.

Source for the full details of the Wessels:
1. Carmer, Carl, Skinner, Constance Lindsay, and Wengenroth, Stow. The Hudson / by Carl Carmer; Illustrated by Stow Wengenroth. Rivers of America; Editor, Constance Lindsay Skinner. 1939. [chapter 5] UW Oshkosh Polk Library, Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

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