6. The Exotic Ariaentje Births (Polhemius and Bleijck)

The Polhemius and Bleijck families highlighted in this post, and their connections to the Barth, Bodine, Boles, Brown, Ellis, Foster, Hickey, Nevius, Russell, Sebring, and Slack families, are covered in The Omnibus Ancestry, available for download through Lulu.com.

Ethnically speaking, I’m about what you’d expect as a product of 18th-century European immigration. My ancestors were predominantly from Germany and England, with a few from Scotland, Holland, Wales, and France. Technically Ireland entered in as well, though mostly as a waystation for the Scottish on their way to America.

My wife’s ancestors, many of them somewhat later immigrants, were mostly German, Swedish, English, and Irish — real Irish, the kind presumed to have been in Ireland for hundreds to thousands of years.

None of this is particularly unusual, but in the last few years two exotic ancestral births have surfaced, one on each side of our family. Both cases were the product of 17th century Dutch colonialism, and both involved ancestors named Ariaentje.

Ariaentje Polhemius

The first, Ariaentje Polhemius, was an ancestor on the Barth side of the family, through my wife’s grandfather Russell Hickey [1]. How she came to be born in Brazil about the year 1640 involves a little-known piece of history.

Brazil, many of us learned in grade-school geography class, was colonized by the Portugese from the dawn of the 1500s. This was the result of a 1494 treaty between Portugal and Spain establishing a line of influence that in effect ceded eastern portions of South America to Portugal and western ones to Spain. It received the endorsement of Pope Julius II in 1506, becoming known as “the Papal Line of Demarcation” [5].

Although wrapping the treaty in a religious robe seemed a good idea at the time, nations were about to arise that rejected papal authority. One of them was the Netherlands, whose member provinces formed a republic in 1579 and declared independence from Spain two years later [2]. Predominantly Protestant, and seeking American colonies of its own, the country simply ignored the Pope-endorsed treaty. By the 1590s it had begun to settle along the Essequibo and Amazon rivers in what is now Guyana and northern Brazil [3]. In 1630, a large Dutch military fleet arrived at the present-day site of Recife, placing control of the region firmly in Dutch hands [4].

It was within this context that in 1636, Count John Maurice, of Nassau, mounted an expedition to Brazil to install himself as the duly appointed Dutch Governor General at Recife. The fleet departed in Oct 1636. On board one of the ships was a little-known German minister named Johannes Theodorus Polhemius [1].

Johannes, whose family originated in the Rheinland-Pfalz region of today’s Germany, had matriculated as a divinity student at Heidelberg University in 1620. In 1624 he began the first of two ministries in Drenthe, Netherlands, but in 1635 applied to the church authorities in Amsterdam for overseas service. Thus it was that he became part of the expedition led by Count John Maurice to Brazil [1].

Arriving with the expedition in Jan 1636/7, Johannes stayed temporarily in Recife, where he preached in French and Portugese while also presumably drawing on German and Dutch. In 1638 he located on the nearby Island of Itamaracá, Pernambuco, Brazil. Subsequently he accompanied the army in the field, and preached to the Indians in their own language. About 1639 he wed Catharina Van der Werven on Itamaracá. And about the next year, his wife gave birth on the same island to their daughter Ariaentje [1].

Dutch control over Brazil was short-lived, and in 1654 the Netherlands surrendered the colony to Portugal. Johannes and his wife took separate ships with the intent of meeting in Holland. They might therefore have never become my wife’s ancestors, except for repeated acts of piracy. For outside Recife, Johannes’ ship was captured by a Spanish privateer. Then both the captured and the capturer were seized by a French man-of-war at Barbados. From there Johannes was conveyed to New Amsterdam, the present New York City, where he became an (undoubtedly surprised) American immigrant. Soon he was the minister at Midwout (Flatbush), Brooklyn, and Gravesend. He sent for his wife and children, among whom was his Brazilian-born daughter Ariaentje [1].

So it was that about 1660 she came to marry Jan Roeloffsen Sebring, a “schepen” (magistrate) at Midwout. Their daughter in turn would marry a Bodine, and in a sufficient number of generations would become the ancestor of my wife. The descent would run Polhemius > Sebring > Bodine > Brown > Russell > Hickey > Barth [1].

Ariaentje Bleijck

For a tale involving sheer tenacity of will, however, it is difficult to beat that of the mother of Ariaentje Bleijck, the other exotic birth and my own ancestor through my grandmother Audra Foster Boles. The mother, Swaentje Jans, was born about 1605 in Emden, Ostfriesland, Netherlands. She accompanied her husband Cornelis Adriaens Bleijck to the distant Dutch colony of Batavia sometime prior to 1627. Batavia, now known as Djakarta, Java, Indonesia, was an 8-month voyage away from Holland, which included an extraordinary 4000+ mile dead-reckoned sailing leg from mid-Atlantic across the Indian Ocean to Asia [1].

L0038153 The Church of the Cross, Batavia (Jakarta)Cornelis, a mason, was no doubt in demand as a laborer at Batavia, and the family seems to have prospered, with several children baptized locally through 1635. Unfortunately he died about 1638, and Swaentje’s trials began. A Batavian law required all widowed immigrants to remain for 5 years after their remarriage (and, no doubt, remarriage was expected). As events would show, she manifestly did wish to return to the Netherlands, and so she dutifully remarried in 1640 to Tobias Clouck. And after his death, in 1641 to Joris Felten. And after his death, in 1643/4 to Cornelis de Potter. Fortunately after three dead husbands, the fourth “took”. Finally released under the 5-year provision, she left Batavia with her family about 1649 [1].

They were in Amsterdam by March 1651. That would have seemed enough to satisfy any world travelers, but they soon took ship once again and were in New Amsterdam by July. They initially settled in Manhattan, but left for Brooklyn in 1660. There they lived at the ferry operated by her son-in-law and her daughter Ariaentje, that takes much the same route as the Brooklyn-Manhattan ferry today [1].

And what of Ariaentje? My Indonesian-born ancestor, whose exotic birth about 1637 escaped local recording but whose birthplace is given in New Amsterdam records, married in 1653 to Joannes Nevius, the City Secretary of New Amsterdam (see 1. John Slack of Mason County, Kentucky: Poverty Hiding a Glittering Past). In time they would become my ancestors, the line running Bleijck > Nevius > Slack > Ellis > Foster > Boles [1].

The Polhemius and Bleijck families highlighted in this post, and their connections to the Barth, Bodine, Boles, Brown, Ellis, Foster, Hickey, Nevius, Russell, Sebring, and Slack families, are covered in The Omnibus Ancestry, available for download through Lulu.com.


[1] Boles, D.B. (2016). The Omnibus Ancestry. Ebook available from Lulu.

[2] Information retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_Republic (2015).

[3] Information retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_colonization_of_the_Americas#Guyana (2015).

[4] Information retrieved from http://www.zum.de/whkmla/military/17cen/dutchbrazil16301654.html (2015).

[5] Information retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Tordesillas (2015).

Picture attribution: Wellcome Library, London. The Church of the Cross, Batavia (Jakarta) Wellcome L0038153.jpg, retrieved from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Church_of_the_Cross,_Batavia_(Jakarta)_Wellcome_L0038153.jpg. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.


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