There is an incessant stream of cars on their way across the Willis Avenue Bridge. The giant forest trees, the beavers and even the humble marsh hay all are gone, as are his house and barns. The fields where he pastured his livestock and grew tobacco are no more – replaced by asphalt and stained gray cement. You can’t help but wonder what Jonas Jonasson Bronck would think of the old neighborhood if he could see it today!
Jonas was a part owner and Captain of the sailing ship Fire of Troy which made port at New Amsterdam in late spring of 1639. On board were his wife Teuntje Joriaens, indentured servants, livestock, commercial goods and household furnishings – in short everything the couple would need to prosper in the Dutch commercial colonie of New Netherland. Jonas purchased 700 acres of land near the confluence of the Harlem River and a second stream that would come to be known as the Bronx River. As fate would have it Jonas’ time in the colonie was short. He died in 1643 leaving no children to inherit his land. Within the year, Teuntje made a brilliant second marriage, sold Jonas’ land, and joined her new husband upriver. While Jonas is, of course, considered to be the founding father of the Bronx, he did not succeed in establishing his family in America – that task fell to the next Bronck to arrive in New Netherland.
Pieter Bronck, Jonas’ younger poorer cousin, and his wife Hilletje Jans had settled at Beverwijck (Albany) by the mid 1650s. Pieter appears to have been an impatient pragmatist with larcenous tendencies. A difficult man who felt rules and regulations could be bent or, if necessary, broken, he dabbled in the fur trade, opened a rowdy tavern and developed a brewery. The family’s finances were at best unstable, and their business practices irregular. Pieter borrowed often and repaid infrequently. By 1662 creditors had seized Pieter’s tavern, brewery and a dwelling house.
Badly in need of a fresh start, Pieter expended a portion of his remaining assets to acquire a parcel of land nearly 20 miles south of Beverwijck on the west side of Hudson’s River, near present day Coxsackie. In the spring of 1663, Pieter, Hilletje and their son Jan left for their Coxsackie land. Pieter had already located a small clearing in the dense forest near a shallow stream as a suitable site for their new home. In that clearing he built a solid square stone house that would be left to his son Jan, as Jan in turn would leave it to one of his sons. That square stone house became home to Pieter’s direct descendents. Generation after generation they worked his land, made his house larger and more comfortable, and raised children there to know and value their family’s history.
Family ownership ended in 1939 with the death of the eighth generation owner. The Bronck House was left to the Greene County Historical Society with the provision that it continue to be preserved and be operated as a museum. So it has come to be that three-and-a-half centuries later Pieter’s square stone house still stands beside that small creek and on summer afternoons the story of the family he founded is still being told.
To learn more about the Bronck House, and its 350th Anniversary year, visit www.gchistory.org and watch the pages of Mercantile for monthly feature stories leading up to the kick-off of the anniversary celebrations in May.