Sunday, May 8, 2011

Independent New York Businesswoman Margarieta Hardenbrook De Vries Philipse 1631-c1689

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Margarieta Hardenbrook De Vries Philipse (1631-1686-90), was not a typical Atlantic colonial women. While she does not appear to be the warm, friendly type of person one might grow close to or admire, she was financially independent & very successful as a merchant & shipowner. She sailed back & forth across the often harsh Atlantic to manage her financial affairs. There was nothing soft about Margarieta.

Much of her independence stemmed from the fact that she was part of the Dutch society that settled early New York. It was a culture which did not fear giving some independence to women & did not completely strip them of their capital & resources, when they married.

She was born in Elberfeld in the Rhine Valley of Westphalia in Germany, the daughter of Adolph Hardenbroook (Hardenbroeck) & his 2nd wife Maria Katernberg. She was living in the Dutch colony of New Netherland by 1659, when her brother Abel Hardenbrook signed an indenture to serve the Ten Eyck family in New Amsterdam.

Her parents & the remainder of her family followed, immigrating in 1660 on the ship De Trouw. Records of the German Reformed Church in Elberfeld show that by 1641, Margarieta’s mother had lost 4 children in infancy, but 3 of Margarieta’s brothers survived to reach New Amsterdam.

When Margarieta was 28, on Oct. 10, 1659, marriage banns were posted at the Reformed Dutch Church in New Amsterdam between Margarieta & Pieter Rudolphus De Vries (1603-1661), a wealthy, widowed merchant-trader. De Vries was 28 years older than his new bride & had actually married his 1st wife the year Margarieta was born. Within the year, the newlyweds had a daughter, Maria, who was baptized Oct. 3, 1660. During the same year, Pieter De Vries also died, leaving a considerable estate.

But even before De Vries died, as of 1660, Margarieta was already carrying on mercantile activities using her maiden name; as she did throughout her career. She apparently was a business agent for Wouter Valck, Daniel des Messieres, & other Dutch merchants trading with New Netherland.

When her husband died in May or June of 1661, she immediately took over his businees as a shipper, merchant, & trader. She shipped furs to Holland in exchange for ready-made Dutch merchandise, which she sold to settlers in New Amsterdam.

Over the next 2 years, Margarieta became embroiled in many legal actions arising from her late husband’s business & his estate. While her deceased husband was an astute businessman, he apparently did not enjoy record-keeping.

Not one to let any grass grown under her feet, she also found time to court & accept a proposal of marriage from Frederick Philipse, a rising power in the economic, social, & political life of New Amsterdam. And Frederick Philipse was only 5 years older than Margarieta.

On October 28, 1662, new banns of marriage were posted at the Reform Dutch Church just as the Court of Orphan Masters requested her to present an inventory of her child’s paternal inheritance. The wedding could not take place until she gave the Orphan Masters, who protected the inheritance rights of children who had lost a parent, a complete & accurate accounting of the financial affairs of her late husband Pieter Rudolphus de Vries. Records report that his interests were far flung & in "considerable disarray;" and Margarieta could not produce acceptable accounting.

The legal process dragged on. Margarieta was pregnant, & children born out of wedlock in the Dutch Reform church were baptised with a note in the church register announcing the indiscretion in a very blunt manner. Frederick Philipse, desperate to get the marriage performed, eventually signed a pre-nuptual legal document on December 18th, saying that he would make the child Maria De Vries an heir equal with any children he would have by Margaret Hardenbroek. They were finally allowed to marry, & their 1st child Phillip was baptised three months later, on March 18th.

In her 2006 book The Women of the House, Jean Zimmerman reports that Margaret chose to establish the partnership with her 2nd husband according to usus, crafting the age-old prenuptial contract that explicitly denied a husband unlimited power over his wife. As a she-merchant, who already ran an independent trading concern, Margaret needed the control of her finances. Entering into her marriage under usus ensured that the property she brought to the marriage, the house lots in Manhattan and Bergen; ships that now included the "New Netherland Indian", "Beaver", "Pearl" and "Morning Star"; and her furniture, plate and linens - would remain hers. She would continue as a 'free merchant of New Amsterdam', as court transcripts described her.

By his marriage Frederick Philipse became entitled to a community of property with his wife; but she did not relinquish the sole management of her estate, for which she seemed well-fitted by nature. On the contrary she personally supervised the business of her late husband, frequently sailing to Holland in her own ships acting as her own supercargo. As the owner of both the ship & its cargo, she exercised the superior authority over vessel, passengers, crew, & cargo. It was a power she clearly relished.

Using his wife’s inheritance from her late husband, Frederick Philipse was able to expand his mercantile endeavors, until he soon was one of the wealthiest men in New Amsterdam. Philipse had arrived in New Amsterdam in the early 1650s, as carpenter for Governor Peter Stuyvesant. Through trade, land acquisition, & his strategic marriage, Philipse amassed a fortune. In 1672, Philipse purchased the Yonkers' Nepperhan mill site. This was the beginning of what would become a 52,500-acre estate established by a royal patent in 1693, as the "Lordship or Mannour of Philipsborough."

Throughout her lifetime Margarieta independently continued her own extensive overseas trading activities, frequently traveling across the Atlantic to oversee the business on both ends. A Dutch deposition of 1660, described a financial contract between merchant Wouter Valeck & Margarieta Hardenbroeck, “living in the Manhattans in New Netherland who is at present married to Pieter Adolphus (Rudolphus De Vries), merchant there.”

Other records place her back in Amsterdam in January of 1664 & in the winter of 1668/69, when she was petitioning the King of England to permit the more frequent sailing of the ship King Charles between Amsterdam and the now English colony of New York.

A decade later Labadist missionary, Jaspar Danckaerts & a fellow missionary traveled across the Atlantic on one of Margarieta’s ships, the King Charles. On this voyage, Margarieta was actually serving as supercargo on board her own vessel.

Danckaerts took the measure of the formidible woman. In a rather unforgiving tone for a Christian missionary, he declared that Margarieta was full of “unblushing avarice” & “excessive covetousness.” He told of her ordering her beleagured crew & the passengers to search the rolling seas for a lost mop, which had accidentally slipped overboard. “We, with all the rest, must work fruitlessly for an hour or an hour & a half, & all that merely to satisfy & please the miserable covetousness of Margarieta.”

Accompanying Margarieta on this less-than-restful voyage was her daughter Annatje (Anna), who eventually married English merchant Philip French. Margarieta & Frederick Philipse also had 4 other children: Philip, Eva (who may or may not have been Maria De Vries), Adolphus, & Rombout, who died in infancy. Adolphus, who never married, followed in his father’s business assuming control of his overseas trading operations.

Their son Philip was also involved in cross-Atlantic shipping & trading. Philip was sent to Babadoes in the West Indies by his father, because of his "delicate constitution." In Barbadoes, Philip married the daughter of the governor of the island. His wife died shortly after the birth of their only child, a son. Frail Philip died the following year. Their young son Frederick was sent back to New York, to be raised by his relatives; where he would eventually receive the Philipse estate, when his batchelor uncle Adolphus died in 1719. Eva married Jacobus Van Cortlandt.

Perhaps exhausted by her voyage in the company of the gossipy Danckaerts & his cleric companion, Margarieta Hardenbrook De Vries Philipse seems to have retired from business after her memorable & controversial crossing on the King Charles. Margarieta was dead by 1690.

Much of the information in this posting is from Notable American Women edited by Edward T James, Janet Wilson James, Paul S Boyer, The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1971
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