From Riches to Rags

You know the story…poor man or woman comes to America and through sheer perseverance, sweat, and smarts, gets rich. Well, Franz Pietersen Clauw decided to buck that tradition. In fact, he came to this country poor and fate decided to pretty much keep him that way.

So why is this interesting, and why am I mentioning it? (Because, we have lots of ancestors who came to America poor, and stayed that way.)

Well, according to the local lore, Franz came from lots of money, but when he arrived in Beverwyck, he had nothing. Did his family back home disinherit him? Did he make bad investments? Did he drink, or gamble it away? Was it lost because of war? Unfortunately, the how if it never comes to light. But everyone in the area knew of his background, in fact his neighbors nicknamed him ‘Kind van Weelde’ or “Child of Wealth/Luxury.” Of course, it could have just been a story he told to make himself sound more interesting.

Franz arrived in Beverwyck by 1654, which we know because he shows up in local records regarding a court appearance. In his testimony Franz stated that he had been in Esopus for the fall harvest in 1654, so it is possible he arrived in that year.

Where he came from is mere speculation. Some say Holland, some say Brazil, but there is zero proof either way, at this time. The only thing we know for sure about him is that his father’s name was Peter, and he married Elsie, (origins and background also unknown).

The Clauws had two known children Jurrian and Hendrik. We descend from Jurrian (which is George in English), whose daughter Rachel, married Nicholas van Loon.

There are several references to Franz and his nickname in local histories, and in a journal kept by Jasper Danckaerts. The parts referring to Franz are entered below.

May 1st [1680], Wednesday. We began early to load, but as it had to come from some distance in the country, and we had to wait, we stepped ashore to amuse ourselves. We came to a creek where, near the river, lives the man whom they usually call the Child of Luxury, [Frans Pieterse Clauw] because he formerly had been such a one, but who now was not far from being the ‘Child of Poverty’, for he was situated poorly enough.

He had a saw-mill on the creek, on a water-fall, which is a singular one, for it is true that all falls have something special, and so had this one, which was not less rare and pleasant than others. The water fell quite steep, on one body, but it came down in steps, with a broad rest sometimes between them. These steps were sixty feet or more high, and were formed out of a single rock which is unusual. I reached this spot alone through the woods, and while I was sitting on the mill, my comrade came up with the ‘Child of Luxury’, who, after he had shown us the mill and falls, took us down a little to the right of the mill, under a rock, on the margin of the creek, where we could behold … crystal lying in layers between the rocks, and when we rolled away a piece of the rock, there was, at least on two sides of it, a crust or bark, about as thick as the breadth of a straw, of a sparkling or glassy substance, which looked like alabaster, and this crust was full of points or gems, which were truly gems of crystal, or like substance. They sparkled brightly, and were as clear as water, and so close together that you could obtain hundreds of them from one piece of the crust. We broke some pieces off, and brought them away with us as curiosities. (The rock was calcite, and of very little value.)

–Jasper Danckaerts Journal

Franz made his living as a carpenter and ran a saw mill. It appears that he made enough to feed and clothe his family. Whatever money he had before he came to America stayed gone for the rest of his life. Maybe, he became a better person because of it.

The thousands of sawmills in New England for about 200 years beginning in the 1630s used essentially a single technology—a wooden waterwheel with a crank connected by the ‘pitman’ arm to a wooden sash (frame) in which was mounted a straight saw blade. The reciprocating motion of the vertically mounted saw results in the characteristic straight “up and down” saw marks on boards and timbers cut on these sash-type saws. []

1. From the Journal of Jasper Danckaerts, p217-218
2. For more on Dutch saw mill history –

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