Early trade in Beverwyck/Albany

While I can’t really go back much further up the family tree with our Brooks of Albany, New York, I have been able to learn interesting things about John Brooks’ probable mother’s line, the Wendells.

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It is believed, at this time, that John Brooks, Senior, who died during the War of 1812 was the son of Frances Wendell and Peter Brooks who married in Albany, New York, probably in November 1771. (They applied for their license November 7 of that year, according to Dutch Church records1)

Frances was the great great granddaughter of the emigrant ancestor Evert Jansen Wendell. It is thanks to Evert and his progeny that people interested in such things, can learn much not otherwise known about early trading in Albany as regards the local Indigenous people.

Evert was born about 1615 in Emden, Germany, a town located at the mouth of the River Ems in Hanover. He came to New Amsterdam about 1641/2 in the service of the Dutch West Indies Company, and made a living as an import merchant, fur trader, tailor and cooper. He stayed in New Amsterdam until about 1651, at which time he moved his family of wife, Susanna du Trieux, and 3-4 children to Beverwyck/Albany.

Evert was active in Albany’s community as an elder in the Dutch Church, an orphan-master, and a magistrate. He and his first wife, Susanna, eventually had 8 children together*. Our Brooks descend from their son Jeronimous.


Evert and his sons were heavily involved in the fur trade, which would not be unusual, as it was a major industry in this time period.  The family also made its fortune trading, and when the pelts started becoming rare, due to the indiscriminate slaughter of the animals who were wearing them, they moved on to other types of trade. Much of which was tracked by Jeronimous’ son Evert, who kept an account book that has survived to this day, and is used to help those who study these things, learn more about the anthropological details of early trading in the Albany area. This account book has been translated from Dutch and studied in great detail.

To Do Justice to Him & Myself: Evert Wendell’s Account Book of the Fur Trade with Indians in Albany, New York, 1695-1726, by Evert Wendell

Map of the fur trade.

According to the introduction to this volume the Wendells also made money (and acquired land) by acting as interpreters, and were called in by both Indians and Europeans to assist in negotiations of all kinds. Including making trips to Canada to act as interpreters on military expeditions against the French.

This account book contains information on commercial trade on the Hudson with the Indigenous populous. Giving researchers details that were completely unknown previous to its publication. Things like the use of native agents, how credit was used, the type and quantities of goods traded, the origins of the native customers, and the level of native women’s trade participation, among many other bits of interest. Details specific to the Indigenous people themselves like types of tattoos they had and their naming practices are of particular interest also.

This account book’s greatest value is in the fact that it is the earliest known surviving fur trade record of colonial Albany, New York. I highly recommend this gem of a book, although the introduction is the most interesting part. The tables that finish the book off are mostly of interest to real researchers who love the nitty-gritty of this kind of stuff. I am afraid that’s too much detail for me.

The Wendell’s were a prominent family for quite a while in Albany and their success was largely due to the fact that they learned from their progenitor, Evert, that the best way to stay well-heeled, was to diversify. Which is why when the fur trade started to decline as a feasible way to make lots of money they stayed well to do. The sons and grandsons traded in many items (not just fur), lawyered, made shoes, interpreted, and tailored. One of the grandsons also began selling the first products from a chocolate mill! Mmmm…chocolate.

I find it fascinating that there are ancestors on both sides of our family that have so much history with Albany/Beverwyck and New York/New Amsterdam. And the more I read about these cities’ very early beginnings, the more fascinating I find them.

*Interesting side note regarding Evert and Susanna Wendell’s children — Elsje and Johannes: Elsie married Abraham Staats; Johannes married Elizabeth Staats. Both of these Staats were the children of Abraham Staats and Catrina Jochemse Wessels. Catrina is the daughter of the same Joachim Wessels, who married our ancestress Geertruy Hieronimous, of the ‘Warmongering Wessels of Albany’[see post], and is in fact their daughter. This gives a connection between both my mother’s and father’s side of the family in America, although only a cousin connection, as neither side descends directly from Elsje or Johannes Wendell.


  1. Holland Society of New York (1926/7); Records of the Reformed Dutch Church of Albany, New York, 1683–1809

Is Almira’s mother Cornelia?

In my ever vigilant search for information on Almira Johnson Brooks’ parents, I have come across an interesting puzzle.

Almira’s death certificate/registration indicates that her parents were Catherine and Samuel with no last name (we do not know who gave the information). Almira and John Brooks’ son John, jr. has his mother listed as Almira Johnson on his death registration, with no indication of who gave the information. Another child of theirs has Almira’s surname as Johnston. So it has always been assumed by me that Almira’s mother was Catherine _____ Johnson/Johnston.

Something interesting popped up when I was looking into this matter recently. In the 1840 and 1841 city directories for Albany, New York, Diana/Dinah (Smith) (Brooks) Little is living at the same address as a Cornelia Johnson. Cornelia is also found in the 1840 census and, as would be expected as they are living in the same household, she is listed right after Diana Little in the entries.


Then Cornelia disappears. Meaning I can find no further record of Cornelia in Albany. At all.

When I first created my ‘directory’ database for all the relevant surnames of my Albany ancestors, I was looking for patterns, and I did this by sorting the information on different parameters. That’s when I found the entries for a Cornelia Johnson at the same address as Diana Little (along with her son John and his wife Almira). My first thoughts were that Almira Johnson Brooks, had a sister Cornelia who was also living with the Little/Brooks family. And these thoughts stayed pretty much the same until recently, when I decided to check the 1840 census for Cornelia.

When I found her entry, I was a little taken aback, because both Diana, and Cornelia are listed as 50-60 years of age, a little old to be a sibling to Almira. Could this mean that Cornelia is actually Almira’s mother? Why else would an elderlyish women with the surname of Johnson be living with Almira’s mother-in-law?

If Cornelia is Almira’s mother, then her father Samuel probably had died before 1839 and it is possible that Cornelia died by 1842, as no further record can be found for her after 1841 (yet).

It is an interesting puzzle waiting to be solved.

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.

Off to Academy…

According to John Brooks, jr.’s obituary, printed in the 1898 Albany paper, another item of interest was mentioned: that he had attended the Albany Academy.

The Albany Academy was chartered in March of 1813 “to educate the sons of Albany’s political elite and rapidly growing merchant class” (according to wikipedia). In the case of John this would appear to be true because his occupation and trade was cigar manufacturer,  definitely of the merchant class.

As the Academy is actually still a functioning school, I was able to contact the archives to try to find more information regarding its academic program, and if there were any record of John Brooks having attended.

Unfortunately at this time, no records have been found that can corroborate this claim. I don’t doubt that it is true, but can’t confirm. According to the gentleman who contacted me in response to my inquiry:

“The youngest students of the 1820s were about 10 years old. Their programs were anywhere from a few quarters to eight years. They selected either a classical or “English” program.”

This the original building, which is now used as the Joseph Henry Memorial.

A copy of the Academy Statutes was provided to me and it makes for some light amusing reading regarding expected behavior of the students. Below is a page pulled from the statutes giving an example to some rules. They seem pretty consistent with rules for students today, with some exceptions, of course.


John probably took the mercantile course which lasted four years and included the basics along with mercantile studies – ex.: accounting, book-keeping, etc.

Here is the page covering the 4 year Mercantile course. The whole Academy pamphlet makes for interesting reading.

The family was in the business of cigar manufacturing until John passed way in 1898. His son John was a saloon and pool hall owner. I don’t think he was much interested in continuing the trade. His daughter Almyra married a furniture manufacturer and had moved to Ohio. The other children had died before John, or were daughters who married and moved away, so the business pretty much died when he did.

Fun little note: Andy Rooney attended the same academy as did Theodore Roosevelt III.

Albany Burgesses Corps…

When John(2) Brooks (John1) died in 1898 in Burlington, Vermont, his obituary appeared in two cities, his hometown of Albany, New York and his adopted home of Burlington.

It was only recently that I found John’s Albany obituary and in it were several very interesting items. Neither mention anything about his parents (too bad), but the Albany paper did have this to say:

John Brooks, a former tobacco merchant of this city and the last surviving charter member of the Albany Burgesses Corps., died in his home in Burlington, Vt., Tuesday morning, aged 83 years.

“Last surviving charter member of the Albany Burgesses Corps.” What on earth was that?


The Albany Burgesses Corps was organized in October of 1833 as an independent, volunteer member, quasi-military unit (militia), complete with elaborate uniforms. The name ‘Burgesses’ was in honor of the original governors of Albany. The organization participated in civic ceremonies and acted as parade escort to visiting dignitaries. They were, for many years, a familiar site in the Albany city parades. Its membership consisted of many of the local merchants and professionals, several of whom held political office. The organization was similar to modern service organizations, in that it raised money for various causes all the while providing political connections for merchants.

Th following was found in the Annual Reports of the War Department, United States. War Department: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1908:

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If John was a charter member then he joined in October of 1833 when they first organized or shortly thereafter. He would have been about 18 or 19 years old at the time. And his membership is confirmed in a February 1838 issue of a local paper:

February paper The Albany Evening Journal, unknown page, unknown date.

In the above notice from the Albany Evening Journal, John Brooks is mentioned as one of the managers of the upcoming 3rd Annual Ball being given by the Burgesses in honor of George Washington’s birthday.

The first parade the Corps participated in was July 4, 1834 their contingent consisted of 45 muskets and 5 officers. On July 25th of the same year, the Corps assisted in the torchlight obsequies of General Lafayette. The pall-bearers were his revolutionary war companions. The ordinance captured by Lafayette from Yorktown was also in the procession.
The Albany Burgesses Corps uniform, which was changed from blue to scarlet in 1841 (apparently after much lively debate). I don’t know how those boys kept those things on their heads.

Although the Corps spent much time entertaining visiting Corps and dignitaries, and visiting other corps themselves, they were, for all intents and purposes, a militia organization. It was in this capacity  that they were used to help quell the anti-rent riots in 1839. The Corps along with several other military companies from Albany and Troy marched to Helderberg Mountain, under command of Major Bloodwood. The formidable appearance of the troops in their colorful uniforms had the desired effect of intimidating the rioters. The Corps also participated in the 2nd Helderberg War.

In 1844 the Corps acted as escort at the dedication of Albany Rural Cemetery, where several of our ancestors are now buried. There is a whole section in an Albany History book on the Corps many activities through the years. On a fun side note, the Corps also had a song commissioned as a tribute for its officers and many members.


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The Brooks family left Albany for Burlington around 1852. But John did return to his home town in 1883 to help celebrate the “Semi-Centennial” of the Corps, which occurred October 8th and 9th. There were balls, parades and banquettes, even Governor Grover Cleveland attended with his staff. Maybe they played the quick step.

Bi-centennial History of Albany: History of the County of Albany, N. Y., from 1609 to 1886, edited by George Rogers Howell, Jonathan Tenne: W. W. Munsell & Company, 1886 – Albany (N.Y.). Vol. 4, Page 714-716.