Everything’s been moving along pretty well! It seems like every day I find more clues that complicate the Mesier’s story a little further (contradictions, misinformation, etc.). This keeps the research alive – and it definitely reminds me to be cautious of “absolutes.” Everything’s simply a clue towards a bigger picture, and in the end, when it comes to history, the bigger picture is mostly speculation. That’s not to say that the historian’s speculation is just a guess; it’s important to make these judgments in the most educated respect possible (to the point where we can say we are reasonably sure it may have happened this way).
This week I met with Doctor Jaap Jacobs, the leading historian on the colony of New Netherland. I could not have been more happy to have his time, and I could not thank Professor Roper enough for arranging it. Jacob’s has written many books, articles, etc., on the political, economic, and social climate of the New Netherland colony and, this goes without saying, has thoroughly researched the topic. So, you can imagine how eager I was to ask him some questions about our Peter Jansen Mesier!
The first thing I wanted to know was, given the resources I’ve gathered about Peter’s mill, how sure could we be that the mill was in fact built by him, and if the mill we’re speaking of is the one depicted on numerous maps/drawings of the bluff. It was amazing to see how Jacobs went about answering this question. First we started with the genealogy. Peter J. Mesier was born in Europe sometime around 1640. The mill was built in either 1661 or 1662, making Peter only around twenty years old. This already raises the question: would a twenty year old really have the means to erect a mill, immediately upon settling in the colony (which he did in 1660)? It’s not impossible that he did, but given the stock of Europeans that came to New Netherlands, it’s not likely that he similarly came with much money. It was a “fresh start” for most.
Jacobs has his own private database that he’s assembled from doing his own research in the Netherlands, which was fascinating. Further, he has documents that I’m not able to find online, or, to my knowledge, anywhere in New York. (This was very upsetting, because as it turns out, Jacobs was able to find a few curious documents pertaining to Peter Mesier – but he did put notes on the documents that I would be interested in, and said when he gets back to the archives he would scan them!). Thus, the next step Jacobs took was to search his database for any documents mentioning Peter Mesier. He found that around 1669 Peter petitioned for an inheritance from a distant relative, suggesting Peter might have been in want/need of money. Another record from early 1670s reveal that at that time, Peter was back in Amsterdam.
I was taken aback by this new information. Jacobs didn’t seem too surprised by this, and explained why Peter would have left for Amsterdam around 1670 and be back at the settlement (our records show) by 1673. He said this would suggest that Peter was a solider, and likely came to the colony on duty and was recalled back to Amsterdam around 1670. This would make sense because 1650s began the tension between England and the Dutch Republic which would, in 1652, result in the Anglo-Dutch Wars (domestically and in the colony). Thus we can imagine Peter being sent to New Netherlands in 1660 and then called back to Netherlands at the end of the decade to defend the country at home. The wars didn’t end, but we can speculate that Peter’s service ended and he, having witnessed all the opportunities that New York offered (and weren’t available to him back home), decided to return to the colony like many soldiers did.
Our one question about the mill led to all of this – and still did not resolve the question of the mill. That’s just how it works sometimes. When it comes to the mill, Jacobs suggested that it’s possible Peter may have bought the mill from someone at a later period (likely after his return from the Netherlands). We still want to know for sure, so I’m going to follow the next lead, which is getting in contact with L. F. Tantillo, the local artist who painted those two first paints I share on my first blog post. Jaap Jacobs is familiar with Tantillo and his work, and let me know that Tantillo is very thorough with his research and is involved with the New Netherland Institute in Albany.
If you want to know more about Jaap Jacobs and his work, you can follow this link: http://st-andrews.academia.edu/JaapJacobs
Goodbye for now!