A Demon Seed? by
(58 Stories)

Prompted By Genealogy

Loading Share Buttons...

/ Stories

Court Records of Wildwyck: Extraordinary Session: Friday, October 2, 1665:

The schout whereupon demanded that the defendant "shall be punished as a tumultuous and seditious person . . . "

William Beeckman, “schout” (the administrative officer whose duties included prosecution of offenses) laid out the case founded on the complaint of defendant’s’ mother-in-law.  The defendant stood accused, among other charges, of “maltreating his wife and threatening to shoot her on account of which she fled to the street”, and when his wife was in the last stage of pregnancy “beating her and throwing her out of the house, so that she was taken up for dead and was taken to her mother’s house where she was again nursed like a child.”  Further the defendant took the complainant, the mother-in-law, “by the arm and without reasons, pushed her out of his house, while calling her an old hog and beast, and further, before this, jumping on [her] in her own house for the purpose of stabbing her with some sharp object in the hand.” The schout whereupon demanded that the defendant “shall be punished as a tumultuous and seditious person, viz. to be banished during three years out of the boundaries of this village and there besides to pay a fine of 500 guilders.” Defendant was fined.  In a later case, upon complaint of defendant’s wife “on account of his greatly abusing her every day by pushing and beating and chasing her and her children out of the house, and further threats to kill her, .  .  the honorable court, having considered many complaints which have been several times made that resulted in fines, . . . orders the [defendant] shall be arrested till the arrival of a ship or yacht, and then shall be sent away from here for the time of one year and six weeks.”

The defendant, Jan Jansen van Amersfoort, is my great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather. He was indeed banished from Wildwyck* for a time.  Fortunately for me he subsequently lived again with his wife, Cataryn, and they begat a second son, their last child, Mattys, my great, great, great, great, great great grandfather.  Eight generations of sons later I was born.  I do not hold that the sins of the father, or in this case the great, great, great, great, great, great great grandfather, are visited on the son, but what of the traits that gave rise to those sins?  My “y” chromosome descends from him.  Might some or all of those traits be present in me?

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

* Renamed Kingston by the British, the third settlement along the Hudson after New Amsterdam (Manhattan) and Beverwyck (Albany).


Profile photo of Tom Steenburg Tom Steenburg
Retired attorney and investment management executive. I believe in life, liberty with accountability and the relentless pursuit of whimsy.


  1. Laurie Levy says:

    I’m sure they don’t Tom. This is a very interesting story. How do you know this information?

    • Just makes for an interesting hook. Re the information, the Dutch were meticulous record keepers and fortunately there has been a terrific translation effort over the years. It also helps that Jan Jansen was such a rascal; he is named in about 70 different lawsuits over the years. It’s also helpful that my family stayed in just a couple of places: Jan Jansen had been city carpenter of New Amsterdam (Manhattan) before moving to Wildwyck (Kingston) to hold the same position. I wonder whether his move was entirely voluntary given his disposition. Settling in Kingston he and Cataryn were the first couple married in the Dutch Reformed Church there, in 1660. The next six generations were baptized in Kingston or in neighboring Hurley. My great great great grandfather then moved to the Southern Tier of NY sometime around 1835 and subsequent generations, including mine, grew up there. That said only the more recent family history has been passed down; the balance is accessible via research.

  2. Marian says:

    Tom, how amazing that you were able to discover this. The Y chromosome does come down from father to son, but genes aren’t destiny, thank goodness. Jews generally are not so fortunate in their hunting–because of our history of persecution, records often have been destroyed, but I’m intrigued, and one never knows what one will find.

    • Yes, Marian: the chromosomic inheritance is really irrelevant, but as I said to Laurie, it makes for an interesting hook in the family narrative. Also see my reply to her re my sources. The New Netherland Institute and the Holland Society of New York also have treasure troves of information.

  3. John Shutkin says:

    Fascinating, if horrific, story Tom. Would love to know how it has been passed on from generation to generation.

    More fundamentally, do you cite it as exculpation for your own sins or as evidence that, despite possession the demon seed, you nobly overcame your genetic predisposition? Inquiring minds want to know…..

    • Thanks John. To your first point: it has not been passed down, except for the most recent generations. All the rest comes through research.

      As to your second point, I seek no exculpation. I wasn’t there. I never did it. It’s fake news. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Adapting Mae West’s line I used to be as pure as the driven snow but I drifted.

  4. Suzy says:

    Wow, what an amazing story, Tom. And what a dastardly ancestor to have! My husband is descended from John Billington, who was on the Mayflower, and was also a dastardly character – the first white person to be tried and executed in the New World. Years ago, when we went to the Plymouth Plantation, where they have actors playing the colonists, we came upon a man standing outside the Billington house, and asked if he was John Billington. He replied, “No, thank god!” My kids got a big kick out of it.

  5. Tom, How far from the the tree does a ninth-generation acorn fall? Just checkin’.

  6. Wonderful tale, Tom! Remarkable to have found the authentic text! Good to know domestic violence had its comeuppance back then. May the same be said for today!

Leave a Reply