Anthony Janszoon van Salee

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Van Salee was the first grantee of Conyne Eylandt (Coney Island), pictured here from space Coney Island from space.jpg
Van Salee was the first grantee of Conyne Eylandt (Coney Island), pictured here from space

Anthony Janszoon van Salee (1607–1676) was an original settler of and prominent landholder, merchant, and creditor in New Netherland. Van Salee is believed to be the son of Jan Janszoon (Jan Jansen), a Dutch pirate who after 1619 served a Moorish state on the Barbary Coast. [2] His mother Margarita was Moorish and Van Salee was a Muslim; he may have been the first of this background to settle in the New World. [2]


An old Quran said to have belonged to van Salee was sold in the ca. 1886 estate sale of Joachim Rule, [3] as documented by another descendant, Robert Bayles, a one-time president of The Market and Fulton National Bank of New York [2] (later merged into the Irving Trust), who acquired some of the other heirlooms passed down through the Van Siclen and Gulick families. [4]


1736 Herman Moll map, Cartagena in red 1736 Cartagena detail West Part of Barbary map by Herman Moll BPL 14639.png
1736 Herman Moll map, Cartagena in red

Anthony Janszoon van Salee was Jan Janszoon's fourth child, born in 1607 in Cartagena, Spain, [5] as the second child of his second wife, Margarita, a Moorish woman. Anthony was born only two years before the Expulsion of the Moriscos from Spain, which would have affected many people in his mother's community. His father Janszoon is believed to have been captured in 1618 by one of the Moorish states on the Barbary Coast. He "turned Turk" and served as a pirate, known as Admiral Murat Reis, for Moulay Zaydan in the Republic of Salé city-state (now Morocco), [6] which had itself been founded a few years earlier by a group of Moriscos who had anticipated the expulsion. In 1624, Anthony was living in Salé with his father. In 1627 he moved to Algiers with his father and family. [1]

Van Salee was living near the harbor in Amsterdam when he obtained a marriage license on December 15, 1629, to marry Grietse Reyniers, a 27-year-old German native, two days before his ship left for the New World. [5] In 1630, at the age of 22, [5] Van Salee arrived with his wife in New Netherlands, as a colonist of the Dutch West India Company. [2]

Van Salee's pirate father may have provided him a considerable fortune. By 1639 Anthony had become one of the largest landholders on the island, as well as a prosperous farmer. [7]

In 1638, Van Salee acquired a farm on the island of Manhattan which was named "Wallenstein", in memory of Albrecht von Wallenstein, supreme commander of the armies of the Habsburg Monarchy. [8] The plat was located on the north side of the defensive stockade across Lower Manhattan, along present-day Wall St. The bouwery was surveyed from Broadway to the East River between Ann Street and Maiden Lane. Van Salee transferred the deed the following year. [8]

Following numerous legal disputes, including with representatives of the Dutch Reformed Church, whose council reprimanded Van Salee and his wife for not behaving as "pious Christians", [6] he was ordered to leave New Netherlands. But, after he appealed to the Dutch West India Company, Van Salee was allowed to settle on 200 acres (0.81 km2) in what would become New Utrecht and Gravesend, Brooklyn, at the southwestern end of Long Island. [9] [10] This property was popularly known as the "Turk's plantation". [11] He became one of the largest and most prominent landholders on the island. In 1643 he purchased a house on Bridge Street in New Amsterdam, in defiance of the court order excluding him from that settlement. He became a successful merchant and creditor in New Amsterdam, while owning several properties throughout the region. [7] [ page needed ]

In a surviving title deed from the settlement of Brooklyn, New York (then called "New Netherland"), where trades people leased or purchased land to plant orchards and produce gardens, Corielis van Tienlioven notes "that he had found 12 apple, 40 peach, 73 cherry trees, 26 sage plants.., behind the house sold by Anthony Janszoon van Salee to Barent Dirksen [Dutchmen],... ANNO 18th of June 1639." This is one of the first reference to cherry trees being planted in North America [12] His 1643 deed to land in Coney Island was acquired by the Brooklyn Historical Society at auction in 2019. [13]

Social legacy

Van Salee reportedly was a defender of minorities in the colony, [14] [ better source needed ] and aroused controversy among other settlers. He was engaged in many legal disputes, which ranged from demands for compensation because his dog attacked the hog of Anthony the Portuguese (described as a black townsman), to charges that he had pointed loaded pistols at slave overseers from the Dutch West India Company. [14] [ better source needed ] [15] [ page needed ]

He was the first grantee of land on Conyne Eylandt (Coney Island). Van Salee helped found Long Island settlements including New Utrecht and Gravesend. In 1660 he founded Boswijck (now known as Bushwick), along with twenty-three other settlers, including free blacks Francisco and Anton. [16]

Van Salee was known for frequently reading his Qur'an. [17] He petitioned to have Christian missionaries assigned to new settlements. Once he was fined for housing an English Quaker at his home on Bridge Street, as they were excluded as Dissenters from the English colony; the man was there to repair a Dutch church. [18] [ page needed ]

Van Salee appeared to be on good terms with his neighbor Lady Deborah Moody, [18] [ page needed ], the founder of Gravesend. John Edwin Stillwell wrote that Van Salee had disputes with her husband Sir Henry Moody, [19] but he had died in England. Lady Moody was a widow by 1629, a decade before she left England for the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where she lived before settling in New Netherland. [20]

Marriage and family

He had married Grietse Reyniers in 1629 in Amsterdam; she was born in Germany. [5] The couple had four daughters together. They married into respectable colonial commercial families: [15]

In the early 21st century, some popular accounts, published in a blog and a provocative book, emphasized colonial rumors about the controversial behavior of both Anthony and his wife Grietse. She was described as the previous mistress of Wouter van Twiller. [26] [ better source needed ] She had encountered him while an employee of the tavern belonging to Pieter de Winter. [15] [ page needed ] Grietse is considered a legend of American colonial history because of her wild, sexual ways. In his early 21st-century blog, Bill Greer referred to her on his blog as the "Carrie Bradshaw" of colonial Manhattan, alluding to the star of the Sex and the City TV series. [27] [ better source needed ] Grietse is quoted as having said, "I have long been the whore of the nobility. From now on I shall be the whore of the rabble." [15] [ page needed ] [26] [ better source needed ] She was known to have measured the penises of bar patrons with a broom stick. [26] [ better source needed ]

Between 1638–1639, the couple accounted for fifteen of ninety-three recorded court cases. During this period, many private quarrels were brought to the Dutch colonial court. The charges against the couple included petty slander, brought by Anneke and Dominee Bogardus (a minister) after Grietse accused of them of lying; Grietse's display of private parts to the naval fleet, and Van Salee's occasions of drunkenness. [18]

Grietse died in 1669. The widower Van Salee married Metje Grevenraet, an ethnic Dutch woman. [23] He passed his final years at his home on Bridge Street, dying in 1676. Metje was a Quaker who helped Van Salee tolerate the church. [18] [ page needed ]


Van Salee's physical appearance and race have been the subject of much debate. The consensus is that he was of mixed ethnic background, Dutch and Moorish.[ citation needed ] He was described as unusually tall, with superior strength. He was known as "a 'Turk'" or "semi-Dutchman from Morocco", [28] of "tawny" complexion. [29] He was credited with the "first dwelling erected by Europeans" in what became New Utrecht, about 1643. [11]

Abraham Janszoon van Salee, a fellow New Netherlands settler who was involved in privateering and was apparently Anthony's brother, was described as a "mulatto", in recognition of his mixed-race ancestry, [7] [2] and married a black woman named Fortuyn. [11] Some descriptions include ethnic attributions, such as "half-Moroccan", [30] [ better source needed ] "Turk", [11] and "Berber". [31]

In court records, Van Salee was noted as "Turk", suggesting that record keepers classified him by appearance or culture. [32] [11] [33] Janszoon was known to be the wealthy heir of a former European native head of state, even if his father was associated with privateering on the Barbary Coast. Gomez notes that historic collections devoted to African-centric history have been similarly unable to reach consensus on his appearance, race, or origin. [7] [ page needed ]

Notable descendants

Van Salee's notable descendants include the Vanderbilt dynasty in the United States and Europe. [34]

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