Women in Fort Casimir

From Women in New Sweden by Alf Åberg, Former Head of The Military Archives of Sweden
Orginally "Kvinnorna i Nya Sverige", Natur och Kultur, 2000
Translated by Jim Meek

The Dutch called their center on the Delaware River Fort Casimir. It lay in the old Swedish Fort Trinity and around the fort grew a little settlement with groups of small houses.

The Dutch governor Stuvesant decided after capturing New Sweden in 1655 that the big colony should be divided up into two parts. The land below Fort Christina would be controlled from Fort Christina while the land further up the river should obey the Dutch vice-governor that resided in the old Swedish fort.

Most of the Swedes and Finns lived in the upper part, and didn't need to trouble the governor in Fort Christina much since they had a well- functioning self government. Important family events such as baptism, marriages and burials were handled by their own priest, and other judicial needs could they generally take care of in their own court on Tinicum island. They tolerated the Dutch and earned a little money for them, otherwise their main wish was to be allowed to live as freely as possible from the authorities orders.

Many Swedish and Finnish farm families did live within the area controlled by Fort Casimir. The American researcher C.A. Weslager has calculated that their number was between 200 and 300 men, women and children. It isn't especially easy to identify them, since many of their names are spelled in Dutch in the census, but interpretation isn't too complicated if we know their ancestry.

Back of the name Jan Scheggen is hidden the free man Johan Thorsson. The nickname Scheggen or Scoggin means 'tobacco grower' which was his job. He was hired as a tobacco grower in Gothenburg and traveled to America in the Kalmar Nyckels' second voyage and lived at Fort Christina. After several years he became a free man, and married a young woman named Elisabeth of had two sons and two daughters with her. He took the name Scoggin when he became tobacco inspector in 1643.

The Dutch regarded Laurus Bors (who came from Veddige in Halland, Sweden) a "free man". He came over as a seaman to New Sweden and took the family name Boore, which was probably based on the the Swedish name for beaver (bäver, bjur). His wife's name is not known but she was Swedish, and lived many years as a widow with her son Lars Boore and his wife Elizabeth.

A portion of the inhabitants of New Sweden were unhappy with Governor Printz, and preferred therefore to move over to the Dutch colony. One such was the free man Måns Andersson who in Fort Casimir was called Mons Andries. He was good friends with Johan Scoggen and sought protection by the Dutch in 1653.

Of the first 36 people who signed allegiance to the Dutch capturers were nine or ten Swedes. Among the Dutch inhabitants in the fort were at least four Swedes. About 10 soldiers in the garrison were Swedes or Finns. The doctor in Fort Casimir was the barber-surgeon Timen Stiddem, and the only Lutheran minister Lars Lock, who served as minister on Tinicum island, but sometimes came to Fort Casmir for baptisms, marriages or burials.

Half of the male inhabitants of Fort Casimir, were not Dutch. It was a cosmopolitan city, a foretaste of the American society in the 1800's. In addition to the Dutch, Swedes and Finns, there were Englishmen, Scots, Germans, Frenchmen and a few individuals of other nationalities.

The many marriages that took place contributed to make the society more pluralistic. Women married at an early age and often survived their husbands. Widows in general did not remain unmarried long. It was easy to find a man who was interested in having a working partner in the home. Religion played an important role for the women. She would marry with someone who shared her beliefs. The mans nationality seemed on the other hand to have less importance.

A good example is Anna, wife of the free man Anders Hansson. They had both come over in the ship Charitas in 1641. Anders was hired as a tobacco planter at Fort Christina, and when his 6 years of indenture were over he had earned enough money combined with a loan from the company to buy a small piece of land and become a free man. They had five children, but the oldest child Christina died and was the first child buried in the cemetery on Tinicum.

Anders Hansson signed the complaint against Governor Printz in 1653 and therefore had to leave New Sweden and settle down in a farm outside the colony. He died two years later and Anna bore his seventh child some months thereafter.

Already within the year Anna married a Spaniard Andrew Elena and moved into his farm with his five children. She had two children in this new marriage. Then the Spaniard died and Anna married the Englishman Malcomlm McKenny. With him she had a son. Then he also died and she married for the fourth time with another Englishman John Dubb. He was the father of her last child that was born about 1667. Altogether Anna had nine living children of four fathers of different nationality.

Women must have learned various languages and customs under their marriages with men of another nationality. A Swedish woman (name not known) married the Dutch indian interpreter Alexander (Sander) Boyer whose fluency was used by the Dutch in their negotiations with the Lenape indians. Despite the fact that Governor Rising thought that he was "nasty and hateful", he was allowed to stay in New Sweden because he had a Swedish wife. The pair had a daughter and two sons. Perhaps she learned not only Dutch but indian language during the long marriage.

We know that another Swedish woman Endel Melis (perhaps Vendel Mellows) was married to a Jurrien Hanouw in Fort Casimir. He had come from Upper Poland (the northwest part of Poland). Perhaps they spoke German with each other.

The courts also got involved in questions of marriage. In January 1656 the Swedish woman Catryn Jans (perhaps Katarina Johansdotter) came before the court. She was only 19 years old. With her was Frenchman Jan Picolet. The court had no objections so gave them permissions and a certificate signed by witnesses.

They had to wait until Minister Lars Lock turned up, so it dragged out. In May Jan Picolet appeared before the court and asked that the marriage should be declared null and void. He said that a month after the wedding contract was signed he asked Catryn if she had earlier been together with another man. She had denied it and he assured her that he would have married her if a minister had been available.

But now three months later anyone could see that Catryn was expecting and he pointed to her. As an honorable man, after this discovery he had kept from her since as he declared "he couldn't understand how such an obvious sign of pregnancy could appear on an honorable woman in such a short time".

Catryn was now called forward. She declared that she still was willing to marry him. She acknowledged she had been engaged the year before to a seaman named William that was on board the Dutch warship Vågen. She had been with him various places and occasions thereby was pregnant. She regretted that she had not confided to Jan this indiscretion and declared that she was willing to free him from his promise of marriage.

The court urged Catryn to beg God and the court for forgiveness and promise to behave better in the future. The now voluminous Catryn fell on her knees and gave this promise. The court emphasized that if she continued as she had done she would be judged by the laws of her native country.

The connection with Jan ended, but the lack of women in Fort Casimir helped her. Later in the year Catryn married Dutchman Louwern Pieters who was a servant for Englishman Thomas Brown. If Jan Picolet found a woman to his liking, he did not notify the courts.

Widows didn't have much difficulty in finding a new man. The Swedish woman Gertrude Jacobs was the widow of the Dutchman Gerrit Janszen and married a Norwegian whose name in Dutch spelling was Roeloff Jansen de Haes. She had three children with him in New Sweden. He died in 1654, and when the colony was later captured by the Dutch, she moved to Fort Casimir with her children Here she married the Dutch barber and barber-surgeon Jacob Crabbe. She also survived him. As far as is known, she didn't marry again but cared for her children. Son Johannes became a prominent citizen, a judge and member of William Penn's council.

If one asked Gertrude which nationality she belonged to, she truthfully would have been uncertain. Perhaps she would have given the natural answer "I am an American".