Break Throughs and Curious Finds

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It’s been about three weeks since I’ve submitted any posts, and I apologize for the wait. The reason I’ve been holding off on writing about my research is because information is never cut and dry, especially, especially, when dealing with primary sources. Therefore, I was hesitant to put forth any sort of analysis of some of the new information I found – and I still am. It’s extremely important to have a context to put this all in, and though I’m familiar with New York history, I lack the in-depth knowledge required to speculate confidently on what our heroes, Peter Mesier Jr. and his father, Peter Mesier, were like. Thus I’ve been spending a lot of time with Professor Lou Roper, who does have that knowledge necessary for fair speculation. Mulling over my recent finds, we’ve had a great time trying to understand Peter Mesier Jr (1733-1805, Homestead’s namesake) and his motives as a merchant. I deeply appreciate his mentorship!

The past few weeks I’ve set out to answer some questions:

1) What was Peter Mesier, Jr., trading in? (Which goods, imported from where? Was he exporting, etc?)

This is an important question, as noted by a good friend of mine, for it would shed some light on Peter’s political interest, which we are very curious to know since he was operating businesses at the onset of the American Revolution.

2) Therefore, we want to know: was he a Tory?

The Historical Society maintain the idea that he indeed was, given the court minutes which detail the “Tea Party” during which two continental soldiers and a group of women raiding the store run out of his home in which he told tea. This information seems to suggests that the community believed him to be a Tory. Further, we have Maria Mesier’s short history of the family in which she writes that her grandfather, the Peter Mesier at hand, was a Tory, “though a very quiet one.” But there are contradictions with this idea.

New York City was under British control for mostly the whole of the Revolution and was a haven for refugees with Patriot sympathies. Beyond the City, much of upstate New York was in rebellion. During the time, Fishkill (Wappingers) was a contested town. It bordered those cities and towns loyal to the crown and those north who favored the rebellion. This sparked Professor Roper’s and Dr. Jaap Jacobs skepticism that Mesier was indeed a Tory. Why would a Tory flee where he was safest? Given his own example, life beyond the city for Tories was unsure! He would certainly have known this.

Thus the question is an important one, and one we can answer by way of the first question.

3) Who were Peter Mesier’s associations (i.e. who was he working with, his partners, etc.)?

Associations are very important, especially during this time. By understanding the circles Peter ran in, we can understand Mesier himself, of course! We can also find new leads – discover more questions in this way. I’m also hopeful that perhaps by uncovering Peter’s ‘friends’ we see if their family papers still exist (letters, indentures, petitions, etc) and maybe find some mentions of Peter there. A significant quest!

I’ve also been working on research regarding Peter Mesier, Jr.’s father, Peter Mesier, but information from this period (after the colony at New Netherland and before the Revoltion (1700-1770, which is ironically the dates which are Mesier’s birth and death), is very obscure. This can perhaps be owed to the fire at the archives in Albany in the year 1911 (learning this I was deeply affected, knowing that some essential information I could have found may no longer exists). But there is hope, and anything elusive is certainly worth finding, never mind how long it may take – this is the nature of research.

I want you to know that these past few weeks, in regards to these questions, have been extremely productive and eye-opening. I am ecstatic with the information recently found, for it has allowed me to start answering these questions were are vital to the project. Peter Mesier, Jr. is one our biggest focuses, and given the new information, I’m certain he is a curious and interesting case!

I am, though, holding off on sharing the exact documents found and what they may mean. The blog, as noted earlier, is raw – it follows my research, my errors, my ‘guesses.’ Given the significance of some of this information, I want to be sure of the ideas I put forth for you all. Moreso, I want to present it in its entirety, as it’s surely better appreciated in a comprehensive form. Thus everything will come in a full, finished package which will hopefully be published for the homestead. I’m very excited for this!

Clearing Things Up

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Good morning!

Last week I received in the mail from Andrew Hendricks, the Mesier descendant I was able to get in contact with, some of his genealogical research on the family and on the Mesier Mill. He also sent me his proposal to reconstruct the mill at Ground Zero as a memorial of the 9/11 attacks, as the mill was the first structure to be built on the site.

I was eager to read what research Hendricks had done in regards to the mill since it has been a big curiosity of mine since I learned of it last month. I’m happy to say that Hendricks has cleared a lot of confusion of mine when it came to the mill, and I finally feel settled about the matter.

I’ll explain what my initial concerns were, and why they came about.

When I first learned that the Mesier’s built/owned a mill in New Netherland, I looked for maps and the map keys that would label the sites and landmarks on them. I used Hugo Allard’s map, of course, as it’s one of the only topographic maps of early New Netherland. This particular map claims to depict the settlement circa 1660.

1673, From the Map of Matthew Seutter,

This version of Allard’s map was published by Matthew Suetter in 1673. The sites and key are the same. Here is the key:

Allards map key

You can see on the map to the far right a windmill with corresponds to the key, Q. In a book titled Views of Early New York, a description of Q, the windmill, is given:

Map key Q

**There’s an issue with this description in itself, which I’ll come back to later on in this post.

My mistake, which would lead to further contradictions, was assuming that this mill depicted on Allard’s map was the same mill on Castello’s Plan, located on the bluff just outside of fort New Amsterdam:

CastelloPlanOriginal

The information was at first non-controversial for me until I came to learn that the mill depicted on the Castello Plan was built around 1658. That wouldn’t make any sense if it were Peter Mesier who built it, since he arrived in New Netherland around 1661. I spent a lot of time confused about this matter. When I sat down with Dr. Jaap Jacobs and explained what I knew about the mill, he was hesitant to believe that Peter Jansen Mesier built the mill on Castello’s Plan and that he even built a mill in 1662.

Dr. Jacobs suggested Peter’s ownership of this particular mill would not have been likely given the context. Peter would have only been about 22 years old, and other documents which Dr. Jacobs has access to suggest that Peter may have been a solider (likely for the West India Company – this still has to be confirmed). In which case, coming to New Netherland would have been a “fresh start” for him. There are also sources which reveal that Peter was petitioning for an ancestor’s inheritance, perhaps insinuating a want/need of money? We can’t be sure, but it did seem unlikely to Dr. Jacobs that Peter had the means to erect this mill.  Thus this became my own hesitation, and I tried to overcome the contradictions by proposing that though the mill was erected by someone else, Peter Jansen Mesier and his family came to own it at a later time.

Don’t be confused – the end of all this is that was mistaken! Peter Jansen Mesier did in fact erect a mill. He did so around 1685 near Cortlandt and Wall Street. The street it was built on was appropriately named Windmill Lane. Dr. Hendricks is to thank for his research and clarification. He included a short description from The Tip of the Island: The Saga of Lower Manhattan  by David Allgeyer:

“Mesier’s windmill stood at the end of Windmill Lane near the bank of the North River. Built in the days of the early colony in 1686, the big windmill became a landmark for ships and river craft, as its tall “sails” could be seen for great distances. It was relatively easy to navigate by both land and water around the tip of the island in the days of early settlers by simply becoming familiar with the locations of the great windmills.

Mesier’s windmill prevailed for almost a hundred years before becoming run down, and it was finally torn down about 1780. By about the end of the 1700’s all of the city’s marvelous windmills had vanished.”

Here is a map I found that notes the mill in 1695:

new_york_1695It’s #24, “A Windmill”

On a few maps the landmark is designated as “Mesier’s Mill.” This was the future site of the World Trade Centers; the South Tower stood almost directly on the site of the windmill.

I’m happy to have cleared this up, thanks so much to Dr. Andrew Hendricks! The find is very cool and important! My end goal in all of this is to have a comprehensive “Mesier” history, but also to put their history into context, sharing how the Mesier’s history is very indicative of American History. This last point is what has made the project so fascinating for me. I love it.

Everything being said about the windmill, I’m happy to have settled the discrepancies! Now on to the next chapter!