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Jan Juriaensen Becker
First Notice as Clerk and Seller of Brandy at
New Amstel, 1656-1660
Tapping and Teaching at Manhattan, 1660
Teaching at Albany, 1660-1684
Notary Public at Albany, 1684-1698
Treasurer and Justice of the Peace, Albany, 1689-1697
Commission as Notary Public
Will of Jan Juriaensen Becker
Rationale for Favoring Daughter
The first information we have about Jan Juriaensen Becker is contained in a petition of 24 August 1656 in which he prays the director general and council for a salary as clerk at Fort Casimir, afterwards called New Amstel, on the South or Delaware River. Though this petition was granted, Becker seems tempted to add to his income by engaging in the lucrative business of selling brandy to the soldiers of the garrison and to the Indians. This brought him into trouble with the authorities. In a letter of 8 November 1659 to director Stuyvesant, Wilhelmus Beeckman, vice director of the colony of New Amstel, writes:
Coming back to Altena with our sergeant from the aforesaid court-martial I found most of our soldiers intoxicated. I was told that Jan Becker has at different occasions offered liquor to the fellows upon their accounts, which I have forbidden. Yesterday, an hour after evening the neighbors of Jan Juriaensen came and complained of the great noise made by drunken savages.
Again, on 14 January 1660, Beeckman writes:
I have to inform your noble worship again of the irregularities of Jan Juriaen Becker in selling strong drinks. He incites the soldiers to drunkeness, as he offers to sell them brandy on account or to give them credit and some, principally of the new men, have already spent for drinks 2 or 3 months' wages, before they have been here 6 or 7 weeks, while he takes their bond, wherein is set forth, that he had advanced such a sum for the necessaries of life. I have secretly warned him not to do it, whereas they often come to the Fort at night singing and boisterous, also several times quarrels among them have been caused; nevertheless it was continued and I have finally been compelled to forbid him not to sell any more strong drink by the small measure. Yet it goes on still, though recently.
On 1 March 1660 fiscal Nicasius de Sille was sent to the South River to prosecute the persons guilty of a murder committed upon three savages and in connection therewith he was instructed to inquire into the conduct of Becker and his wife and to examine commissary Beeckman "why the said Jan Juriaensen is not, for his assistance, employed as secretary or clerk, for which he was expressly sent and engaged. If he discovers any evidence, proof and sufficient reason for the one or the other he is to bring here the said Becker that further proceedings and measures may be taken against him according to law and his deserts." The answer to this had already been given in the above-mentioned letter of 14 January 1660 in which commissary Beeckman says:
I dare not let him come near to my papers, especially to copy letters and other things, for he is only a tell-tale: he does not perform any other service here than to read aloud on Sundays, which I can have done by the sergeant or any other. If your honor required him at another place, I can, under correction, miss him here very well.
De Sille evidently found sufficient evidence against Becker to warrant bringing the latter to New Amsterdam, for on 1 April 1660 Becker was indicted there for selling brandy to the savages, the fiscal demanding "that Jan Juriaensen beckker be brought to the place where sentences are usually executed, be put there into the pillory with a brandy-measure around his neck and also be sentenced to pay a fine of five hundred guilders according to the placats and to be banished this province, but be kept in prison provisionally until your honorable worships' sentence or finding shall be executed." On 12 April 1660 the defendant denied
upon the true word of a man, that in contempt of your noble honorable worships' placats he has sold brandy to the savages, much less made a profession of it, whereby he should, since a long time, have become notorious.
He also offered a joint affidavit of three witnesses setting forth that liquor was openly sold to the savages in the colony of New Amstel as well as in and near Fort Altena and "that if the poor inhabitants of the colony did not sell or barter liquor to the savages for Indian corn, meat, or other things, they would perish from hunger and distress."
The director and council do not seem to have been very deeply impressed by this defense for they kept Becker provisionally imprisoned and on 26 April sentenced him to the payment of a fine of 500 guilders and degradation from his office as clerk and reader, at the same time ordering him and his wife as quickly as possible to break up their household and to remove from the South River, and furthermore to pay the costs of the trial.
This sentence, however, like so many others found in the court
records of New Netherland, seems to have been passed largely 'in
terrorem', for when on 3 May Becker presented a petition stating
that this sentence would cause his total ruin, it was decreed
that for reasons the petitioner was "relieved of the fine,
provided that he arranges with the honorable fiscal for the costs
and mises of the law." This marks the end of the first
period of Becker's career.[top]
In accordance with this sentence he was forced to leave the South River and established himself at New Amsterdam, where on 19 August he presented to the Director General and council the following petition to keep school.
To the right honorable, the valiant Director General, and the honorable council of New Netherland
Jan Juriaensen Becker, with due reverence, humbly shows, that owing to recent changes of fortune, he, the petitioner, not knowing what else to do, has engaged in the business of a tapster, in which he has invested nearly all his real and personal property for himself and his family; therefore the petitioner applies to your honors, humbly beseeching and praying that your honors may please to look with compassion upon your petitioner (being a former employee of the company) and employ him as a clerk in the service of the company, either at the Esopus, here, or elsewhere, wherever your honors may think it advisable; or in case your honors for the present can not employ him in the service, that the petitioner may then be permitted to keep school, to teach the youth reading, writing, etc., Upon which he awaits a favorable decision.
your honors' willing servant, J: Becker
done at Amsterdam, in New Netherland, this day, 15 August 1660 voted to make this apostil: fiat schoolkeeping. Done at Fort Amsterdam in New Netherland. Date as above.
Although thus authorized to keep school, Becker seems for a while to have continued in the business of a tapster, for on 31 August he was fined 30 guilders for having entertained people in his tap house after nine o'clock and tapped during the sermon and 10 guilders for "having behaved offensively to the officer." [top]
Not unlikely, Becker never opened school in New Amsterdam, but came immediately to Beverwyck (Albany) and there succeeded van Ilpendam who is last mentioned as a schoolmaster under the date of 1 September 1660. At all events, Becker seems to have taught school at Beverwyck before the surrender of the province to the English in 1664, for in a license granted to him by Governor Lovelace on 16 May 1670 it is stated the "whereas Jan Jeurians Beecker had a graunt to keep ye Dutch school at Albany for ye teaching of youth to read & wryte ye which was allowed of and confirmed to him by my predecessor Coll. Richard Nicolls," implying that Nicolls found Becker in possession of a grant to teach school at Albany. The same license of 1670 provides that Becker "who is esteemed very capable that way shall be ye allowed schoolmaster for ye instructing ye youth at Albany & partes adjacent he following ye said imployment constantly & diligently & that no other be admitted to interrupt him it being to be presumed that ye said Beecker for ye youth & Jacob Joosten who is allowed of for ye teaching of ye younger children are sufficient for that place."[top]
Meanwhile Governor Lovelace had on 1 November 1669 also granted to Jan Juriaensen Becker a commission to be public notary at Albany, which reads in part as follows: "whereas it is thought convenient that there should be a publique notary at Albany as formerly in which place at present there is no person to execute that office..." How this statement is to reconciled with the known fact that Adriaen Jansen van Ilpendam practised as notary public at Albany as early as 12 July 1669, it is difficult to explain unless we assume that Governor Lovelace's commission merely quotes Becker's petition of an earlier date.
Nothing seems to indicate that Becker exercised the functions of a notary public before 10 September 1684, when he was commissioned as such by Governor Thomas Dongan. The supposition is therefore not unwarranted perhaps that, as long as van Ilpendam remained in possession of the principal notarial business, Becker found it necessary to support himself by teaching school.[top]
That he was judged thoroughly capable we have seen from Lovelace's commission, but evidence is not lacking that also in other ways he had gradually won the respect and confidence of his fellow citizens. On 29 September 1689 he was chosen treasurer of the city of Albany, to succeed Jan Bleecker who was named in the Dongan charter of 22 July 1686 "to be the present chamberlain or treasurer." On 27 May 1691 Jan Becker was sworn as justice of the peace of the City and County Albany and on 14 October 1692 he was once more sworn as city treasurer, in which office he was succeeded the next year by Johannes Appel. Becker was again sworn as treasurer on 14 October 1696 and 14 October 1697. He died in 1698.
His wife died before 1694 since her death is mentioned in his will which follows.[top]
Governor Lovelace's commission appointing Jan Becker public notary at Albany reads as follows:
Whereas it is thought convenient that there should be a publique notary at Albany as formerly in which place at present there is no person to execute that office & having conceived a good opinion of ye capacity and fittness of Jan Jurians Becker upon ye recommendations given of him to me I have thought fitt to nominate & appoint & by this my present commission I do nominate constitute & appoint him ye said Jan Jurians Becker to be publique notary for ye town of Albany, Rensselaerswijck, Schanectade & places adjacent. By virtue of which commission he hath power to attest any deeds, instruments, wills testaments codicell, contracts, agreements or any other acte or actes and publique notaryes have usually power to doe as also to take & receive such privileges & advantages as to ye office of publique notary doth any way belong or appertaine he taking ye oath in ye lawes appointed for ye due perfourmance of ye trust reposed in him. Given under my hand & sealed with ye seale of ye Colony at Fort James in New Yorke this 1st day of November in ye 21st year of his majesties raigne Anno Domini 1669 [top]
In the name of God, Amen. In the year of Our Lord 1694, the 31st of August, at Albany, being in the sixth year of the reign of William and Mary, King and Queen of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, defenders of the faith, I, the undersigned, Jan Becker, senior, residing in the aforesaid city, considering the frailty of life and the unknown hour of death, have thought fit not to depart hence without first disposing of my temporal estate granted me by the Almighty. Therefore, being hale and sound in body, going and standing, having the full possession and use of my mind, memory, understanding, senses, and speech, as outwardly appears, and acting without the persuasion, inducement, or misleading of anyone, but of my own free will and motion, I commend first and foremost my soul to the gracious protection of the Most High and my body to a Christian burial and hereby canceling, annulling and rendering void all testamentary dispositions and bequests heretofore made, now make a new disposition as follows:
My son Johannes after my death shall receive first the sum of one hundred guilders seawan value, that is 50 shillings; he shall also have all my linen and woolen (clothing) that has belonged to my body, not comprehending therein anything My daughter Martina shall have all my other movable estate, including my bed, sheets, blankets, and other appurtenances; also all my credits and outstanding claims, nothing whatever reserved or excepted.
My garden lying behind the old Fort and now by me occupied shall be equally divided between my son and daughter, that is each to have one-half; the debts which I leave behind and my burial expenses and whatever is connected therewith shall be a lien upon my house and ground which I now possess, but it is my express will that my daughter shall not let the cost of the funeral and incidental expenses exceed thirty pieces of eight at the most. My daughter shall have full ownership of the afore said house and ground belonging thereto, to do therewith as she pleases, in all respects as I in my lifetime might do, without her husband or anyone else having anything to say in the matter or making her do ought but what she intends to do, the same as about all other things which she by virtue of this will of mine shall inherit, but she shall be holden to turn over to her brother one hundred pieces of eight within three years after my death, a third part to be paid every year, all my debts and funeral expenses to be also at her charge.
It is also my express will and desire that the aforesaid one hundred pieces of eight which I give to my son, shall not be taken, attached, claimed or received by any of his creditors under any pretext whatever, but that he shall receive and dispose of the same for his own benefit and use as he pleases.
Also, if either of my aforesaid children be not satisfied with the aforesaid provisions, he or she shall be deprived of what they otherwise would have had, the same to inure to the benefit of the one who is satisfied.
All that is hereinbefore written I declare to be my testamentary disposition and last will, which I desire to have full effect from the least to the most important article thereof, whether as will codicil, gift in anticipation of death or among the living, or any other bequest of whatsoever nature it may be, notwithstanding that all the formalities required by law or laws of this province may not be fully observed herein, desiring that said laws may be held not to apply and be not enforced in this case, desiring that the most favorable construction may be allowed for the maintenance of what is hereinbefore written. In witness of the truth of which I have deliberately signed, sealed and executed this on the said 31st of August 1694.
signed and sealed in our presence,
Laurens van Ale
Evert Banker, Aldn
Warner Castense [top]
The reason why I apparently give more to my aforesaid daughter than to my son is not that I bear less affection to him than to her, but because of the great service which from her youth onward she has faithfully rendered in the household and to her mother in health and sickness, yes, to the hour of her death, whereby she has saved much money, for which the mother (my wife) in her last hours promised a reward and recommended the same to me, and because since her mother's death she has, as occasion demanded, rendered me great service to this day and undoubtedly will continue to do so; yes, I am in truth bound to say that without her dilligence I could not have put my estate (small as the same may be) in so good a posture, all of which it is not necessary for me to particularize, but is best known to me and after my death it is very apparent her brother will not or very little take into consideration. Nevertheless, in consideration hereof, knowing that it is the truth and that through untoward circumstances I could not reward her according to her merit, I have given to her what is comprised in my aforesaid will.
Done in Albany, the 31st of August 1694.
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Updated 28 April 2002.[top]