Breukelen and Brooklyn: The Dutch Village and American City


The Indian name of the territory of Brooklyn was "Meryckawick," or "the sandy place." The name was probably first applied to the bottom land or beach, and what is now known as the Wallabout, was called the "Bay of Meryckawick." Long Island was called Seawanhaky, or the "Isle of shells." It was in the year 1636 that the first land was purchased from the Indians on this particular part of Long island. At that time William Adriaense Bennet and Jackques Bentyn purchased a tract of 930 acres of land at Gowanus. The next year John Jansen de Rapalie bought 335 acres of land in the "bend of Meryckawick," or Wallabout.

The land thus purchased was mostly low land or flats, devoid of trees, and having a dark colored surface soil. It had undergone some rude cultivation by the Indians, who had raised maize on it, and was ready for the plough. On this account it was most sought for and purchased by the original purchasers, who being natives of the low and level lands of Holland and Belgium, were inexperienced in the clearing of forests.

This occupation of land thus begun by Bennet and Bentyn steadily progressed until in ten years nearly the whole water front from Newtown Creek to the southerly side of Gowanus Bay was in the possession of individuals who were engaged in its cultivation. Small hamlets, or settlements, also grew up at the original centres of settlement, and were known as "the Gowanus," "the Wallabout," and "the Ferry." About a mile to the southeast of the ferry, and between the other two settlements named, on the road that led to Midwout, or Flatbush, the FIRST SETTLERS OF THE VILLAGE OF BREUKELEN, from which the city of today derived its name, located. They were Jan Evertsen Bout, Huyck Aertsen, Jacob Stoffelsen, Pieter Cornelissen, and Joris Dircksen, and others of less note. They settled on either side of the road which is now Fulton street, near Smith and Hoyt streets. They called the settlement Breukelen after the ancient village of that name in Holland, about eighteen miles from Amsterdam. The settlers of Breukelen chose Jan Evertsen, Bout and Huyck Aerttsen, as Schepens, or magistrates, and expressed to the Colonial Council their intention to "found a town at their own expense,"

The following was the text of the commission:

"We, William Kieft, Director General, and the Council residing in New Netherland, on behalf of the High and Mighty Lords States General of the United Netherlands, His Highness of Orange and the Honorable Directors of the General Incorporated West India Company, to all those who shall see these presents or hear them read, greeting:

"Whereas, Jan Eversen Bout and Huyck Aertson, from Rossum, were, on the 21st of may last, unanimously chosen by those interested of Breukelen, situate on Long island, as Schepers to decide all questions which may arise, as they shall deem proper, according to the exemptions of New Netherland, granted to particular Colonies, which election is subscribed by them, with express stipulation that if any one refuse to submit in the premises aforesaid to the above mentioned Jan Evertsen and Huyck Aertson, he shall forfeit the right he claims to land in the allotment of Breukelen, and in order that every thing may be done with more authority, we, the Director and Council aforesaid, have therefore authorized and appointed, and do hereby authorize the said Jan Evertsen and Huyck Aertsen to be Schepans of Breukelen, and in case Jan Evertsen and Huyck Aertsen do hereafter find the labor too onerous, they shall be at liberty to select two more from among the inhabitants of Breukelen to adjoin them to themselves. We charge and command every inhabitant of Breukelen to acknowledge and respect the above mentioned Jan Evertsen and Huyck Aertsen as their Schepens, and if any one shall be found to exhibit contumaciousness toward them, he shall forfeit his share as above stated. Thus done in Council in Fort Amsterdam, New Netherland."

Shortly afterward Jan Teunissen was appointed schout or constable of the village. The Dutch village thus started continued to be a slow going Dutch village for about one hundred and fifty years. Its population in 1738, ninety-two years after its settlement, was only 721. It was not until about 1800 that it began to look like an English or American town, and its great growth has been within fifty years. Its population is now estimated at 450,000.

Breukelen In Holland

It was thus described by Hon. H.C. Murphy, Minister to the Hague, in a letter to the Eagle, in 1859:

"The village lies for the most part between the main road and the stream, and consists of three or four hundred houses, accommodating about 1,500 inhabitants. It is a very old place. The houses are small and dull with age, the few streets which intersect it are very irregular and the people apparently without enterprise or thrift. There are a few large houses, especially three or four, intended for refreshments or for resorts for the village topers. The Reformed Church is rather a commodious building with a handsome spire. But upon the whole the impression of the interior of the town was not pleasing. We went through the main road in both directions, for as we were probably the first natives of Brooklyn who had ever visited it at least so far as any known record goes we determined to see it thoroughly. We found, when we got out to the folds, snug residences surrounded with flowers and duck ponds, and everything around them in perfect neatness and order. On one side of the village we entered a little covert of shrubbery, laid out in walks and containing perhaps half an acre of ground. This was the village park, a sign of living taste, and we began to have a better feeling about the place. We at length crossed the bridge which spans the Vecht, and connects the two communities of Breukelen Nijenrodes and Breukelen St. Pieters. It is in the former that the village of Breukelen is situated; the latter is entirely a rural district.

The view from the point we had now reached was charming. Nothing can exceed the quiet beauty of the scene. The Vecht is about an hundred yards wide, and its waters flow sluggishly along an unchanged level from one end of the year to the other, meandering through green meadows and in front of plain but substantial country house, which show every sign of comfort as well as antiquity. The village reposes upon it a picture of perfect indolence. All along the margin of the river are kispels or the houses belonging to the dwellings of the town; though these Summer houses are the least ornamental, as a whole, that we have seen anywhere, being, without exception, plain square buildings, ten or twelve feet either way. A little garden connects them with the houses, which are not much larger, and in the midst of which, towering high over all, rises the church spire. I have before alluded to the practice of giving a name to every residence which can raise a kispel. It prevails here as elsewhere, and each one has its designation accordingly painted upon it, such as Vredo Veche, Vechten dorp, Vechten hof, Boom en bosh, and the like. Some have names of a Greek origin apparently, as Hodorama and Potorama. On the side of the river the east side, which we had now reached and directly opposite the village, stands the ancient Castle of Gunterstein, the abode formerly of Oldenbarnweld, venerable martyr to parly vengeance. It has been modernized, the towers and turrets have been removed, and it now presents a perfect pattern of one of that class of buildings in our country which delights in white paint and a cupola in the middle of the roof. It is, however, surrounded still by a moat, and has fine large trees in the park behind it.

Breukelen cannot be considered a celebrity, unless it may acquire a reflected luster from its greater namesake. it has given birth to no genius whose name is great even within the circumscribed limits of these provinces. It is, however, famous for its antiquity, if we may credit the marvelous, but still, well authenticated fact, that in rebuilding the tower of the church, 150 years ago, they discovered, under the foundation, coffins of stone, eight, ten and twelve feet long, containing the bones of a gigantic race of men, whose existence is mere ancient than tradition. The town lies in the midst of a marshy district, and hence its name, for Breukelen, pronounced Brurkeler, means marsh land. And on this point I may quote a writer, with whom all the Dutch authorities on the subject concur, inasmuch as our home chroniclers have labored under a misapprehension upon the subject.

"In all probability," says the author of the 'Kabinet van Nederlandsche en Kleefsche Outheden, 'the name has the same origin as Manvssen_namely, from its marshy and watery turf lands; and although the name is spelled in ancient documents and letters Bracola, Broecke, Broeckede, Broicklede, and Brocklandia, they all indicate one and the same origin.'

"There are some curious points of coincidence, both as regards the name and situation of the Dutch Breukelen and our Brooklyn. The name with us was originally applied exclusively to the hamlet which grew up along the main road now embraced within Fulton street and between Smith street and Jackson street, and we must, therefore, not confound it with the settlements at the Wallabout, Gowanus and the ferry, which were entirely distinct and were not embraced within the general name of Brooklyn until after the organization of the township of that name by the British colonial government. Those of our citizens who remember the lands on Fulton street, near Nevins street and Dekalb avenue, before the changes which were produced by the filling in of those streets, will recollect that their original character was marshy and springy, being, in fact, the bed of the valley which received the drain of the hills extending on either side of it from the Wallabout to Gowanus Bay. This would lead almost to the conclusion that the name was given on account of the locality, but though we have very imperfect accounts as to who were the first settlers of Brooklyn proper, still reasoning from analogy in the cases of New Utrecht and New Amersfoort, we cannot probably err in supposing that Brooklyn owes its name to the circumstance that its first settlers wished to preserve in it a memento of their homes and Fatherland. After the English conquest there was a continual struggle between the Dutch and English orthography. Any one who will take the trouble to consult the Colonial laws and our county records will find quite as great variety of spelling the name in them as in the Dutch chronicles of Breucklen. Thus it is spelled Bruckylyn, Breuckland, Brucklyn, Broucklyn, Brookland, Brookline, and several other ways. At the end of the last century it settled down into the present Brooklyn. In this form it still retains sufficiently its original signification of the marsh or brookland."

Website: The History
Article Name:  Breukelen and Brooklyn: The Dutch Village and American City
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


Brooklyn Daily Eagle September 5, 1872
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