Jonas Bronck (died 1643) was an immigrant to the Dutch colony of New Netherland after whom the Bronx River, and by extension, the county and New York City borough of The Bronx are named. A mural at the Bronx County Courthouse depicting Bronck's arrival was created in the early 1930s by James Monroe Hewlett.
There are different theories as to Bronck's origin.
In Tórshavn in the Faroe Islands there is a street bearing the name Jónas Broncksgøta ("Jonas Bronck's St.", translated). One theory holds that Jonas Bronck was born ca. 1600, son of a Lutheran minister, Morten Jespersen Bronck, and was raised in Tórshavn. The family may have originated from the Norwegian district of Elverum. (At the time, the Faroe Islands were part of a political entity also comprising Denmark & Norway, and Greenland.) In 1619 the younger Bronck went to school in Roskilde, Denmark, and eventually made his way to Holland.
A number of sources published in the early 20th century state that Bronck was Danish, an idea espoused by A.J.F. van Laer, archivist at the New York State Library. Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for History, also parenthetically claims Bronck to be a Dane. A 1908 publication states that Bronck was a Mennonite who fled the Netherlands to Denmark because of religious persecution. In a 1977 pamphlet commemorating the founding of the borough a publication of the Bronx County Bar Association states that it "is widely accepted that Bronck came from Denmark, but claims have also been made by the Frisian Islands on the North Sea coast and by a small town in Germany."
In 1981, the Manx-Svenska Publishing Co. released a 19-page pamphlet The Founder of the Bronx authored by an employee G.V.C. Young O.B.E., after he had conducted research in the Netherlands, Sweden, and New York. The work is currently out of print. Young reported what he considered crucial references: Bronck’s betrothal certificate dated June 18, 1638 and Bronck’s document of guarantee from April 30, 1639. Recent reports of Bronck’s Swedish origin cited below fundamentally rely on Young’s interpretations of two key words found in these Dutch documents. In conjunction with John Davidson of Tórshavn in the Faroe Islands and Eva Brylla from the Ortnamnsarkiv in Uppsala, Sweden, the archival texts were transcribed from their traditional script. Young tells us words referring to Bronck’s birthplace were spelled “Coonstay” and “Smolach”. He adds: “… it was decided that it was most likely that “Coonstay” was Komstad in Jönköping and that “Smolach” was a misrecording of Småland.
Young concludes Jonas Bronck was born circa 1600 in Komstad, Småland, an historic province of Sweden adjacent to the then Danish province of Skåne. Regarding another town named Komstad located in the Simrishamn municipality of southeastern Sweden, the region which previous to 1658 was part of The Kingdom of Denmark, Young is silent. The Founder of the Bronx speculates Bronck made his way to the coast on the Baltic Sea where he became a sailor in the Danish merchant marine, and later transferred to the Dutch fleet. The theory that Bronck was a Swede has been adopted by the official historian of the Bronx, Lloyd Ultan, the Bronx Historical Society and other publications.
On June 18, 1638 Bronck signed his banns of marriage as Jonas Jonasson Bronck. This patronym indicated that his father's name was Jonas. He and his Dutch wife, Teuntje Joriaens, married at the New Church in Amsterdam on July 6, 1638. In June 1643, shortly after Bronck's death, Teuntje remarried. She and her new husband, Arent van Curler, soon thereafter departed for Beverwyck, a settlement on the North River near Fort Orange.
Immigration to New Netherland
Jonas Bronck’s decision to relocate from Europe was prompted by a number of factors.
During the late 1630s events in both Holland and America induced significant changes in the governance of New Netherland, territory controlled by the Dutch West India Company (WIC) between the Delaware and Connecticut rivers and north along tidewaters of the Hudson. At its heart was the trading facility of New Amsterdam on the southern tip of Manhattan Island.
Following spectacular collapse of the Tulip mania in 1637, Holland’s government contemplated the idea of taking control of New Netherland from the Company and using the colony for resettlement of individuals impoverished by failed tulip bulb speculations. There was also vexation over the West India Company’s failure to develop New Netherland much beyond its original function, facilitating the fur trade. By contrast, English enclaves in the region were rapidly expanding in territory, population, and viability.
New Amsterdam’s inhabitants then numbered only about four hundred, a count that hardly had increased during the previous decade. Company properties in the colony showed signs of physical neglect and conditions of law and order were less than ideal. Faced with possible government expropriation, the company appointed Willem Kieft as director of New Netherland with a mandate to increase the territory’s population and vitality. Arriving in 1638, Kieft promptly purchased additional Lenape lands in the environs of Manhattan and encouraged private settlement by enterprising colonists of diverse backgrounds. It also liberalized the previous Charter of Freedoms and Exemptions so that settlers were no longer encumbered with excessive responsibilities to the WIC. Previously, most real estate and commercial activity in New Netherland had been under its direct control.
These vicissitudes did not escape Bronck’s notice. He was among the first to recognize promising opportunities and along with various emigrants from Europe he crossed the Atlantic to settle in New Amsterdam’s hinterlands. Vriessendael and Colen Donck were established around the same time.
In the spring of 1639 Jonas Bronck and a party of other emigrants, including his good friend the Dane Jochem Pietersen Kuyter, departed the Dutch port of Hoorn on the Zuiderzee. In addition to passengers and crew, their ship “De Brandt van Troyen” (Fire of Troy) was laden with numerous cattle. On June 16 the vessel was seen in the harbor of New Amsterdam.
Site of homestead
Bronck and Kuyter navigated up the East River to land was within the territory of the Siwanoy and Wecquaesgeek groups of Lenape who inhabited it at the time of colonialization. It is said that Bronck wrote of his new home: "The invisible hand of the Almighty Father, surely guided me to this beautiful country, a land covered with virgin forest and unlimited opportunities. It is a veritable paradise and needs but the industrious hand of man to make it the finest and most beautiful region in all the world." While Kuyter chose land on the west bank on the island of Manhattan. Teuntie and Jonas Bronck’s house was built by a promontory at the juncture of the Harlem River and the Bronx Kill across from Randalls Island and was constructed like "a miniature fort with stone walls and a tile roof". Bronck's farmstead consisted of about 274 hectares (680 acres), which being a religious man, he named Emaus. (Emmaus, according to the The New Testament, is where Jesus appeared before two of his followers after his resurrection.) The site ( in ).Mott Haven is about 1,000 feet south of Bruckner Boulevard and 500 feet east of the Willis Avenue Bridge, on a tract now part of the Harlem River Intermodal Yard though which runs the Oak Point Link.
Relations with Lenape tribes
On April 22, 1642 a peace treaty was signed at Bronk's homestead between Dutch authorities and the Weckquaeskeek sachems Ranaqua and Tackamuck. This event is portrayed in a painting by the American artist John Ward Dunsmore (1856–1945).
On February 23, 1643, Director of New Netherland William Kieft launched an attack on refugee camps of the Weckquaesgeek and Tappan. Expansionist Mahican and Mohawk in the North (armed with guns traded by the French and English) had driven them south the year before, where they sought protection from the Dutch. Kieft refused aid despite the company's previous guarantees to the tribes to provide it. The attacks at Communipaw (in today's Jersey City) and Corlaers Hook (lower Manhattan) in what is known as the Pavonia Massacre. The slaughter led to retaliation and attacks on many settlements outlying New Amsterdam, including some in what is now The Bronx, such as that of Anne Hutchinson. It is unknown if Bronck's death was related to the skirmishes.
Saturday May 6, 1643, not long after Jonas Bronck’s death, his widow Teuntie Jeuriaens together with Peter Bronck conducted a formal inventory of the Bronck farm which was then known as Emaus. This procedure was done in the presence of the Rev. Everardus Bogardus, pastor of the First Reformed Dutch Church of New Amsterdam and Bronck’s friend Jochem Pietersen Kuyter. According to official records of the State of New York, the latter two were identified as guardians of Bronck’s widow.
The inventory lists contents of the farm Bronck and his family had built in the wilderness during the period of less than four years following his arrival in America. Buildings on the property were a stone house with a tile roof, a barn, two barracks for farm employees, and a tobacco house. The tally of Bronck’s livestock was 25 animals of various kinds, plus an uncounted number of hogs, said to be running in nearby woods.
During the early 1640s it was not uncommon for Bronck’s New Amsterdam contemporaries to identify themselves on legal documents with graphic marks that were also symbols of illiteracy. By contrast, Jonas Bronck’s personal library provides evidence he was literate in four languages, suggesting his education might have been as high as university level. His library was an impressive archive for its place and time, and is regarded as the earliest for which there is a detailed account in the colonial records of New York.
The following materials were listed in the inventory of Bronck's library: one Bible, folio; Calvin's Institutes, folio; Bullingeri, Schultetus Dominicalia, (Medical); Moleneri Praxis, (Moral and Practical Discourses), quarto; one German Bible, quarto; Mirror of the Sea (Seespiegel), folio; one Luther's Psalter; Sledani, (History of the Reformation), folio; Danish chronicle, quarto; Danish law book, quarto; Luther's Complete Catechism; The Praise of Christ, quarto; Petri Apiani; Danish child's book; a book called Forty Pictures of Death, by Symon Golaert; Biblical stories; Danish calendar; Survey (or View) of the Great Navigation; a parcel of eighteen Dutch and Danish pamphlets by divers authors; seventeen books in manuscript, which are old; eleven pictures, large and small.
Bronck's becomes Bronx
Bronck's farm, a tract of 274 hectares (680 acres), known as the biblical Emmaus, Bronck's Land, and then just Broncksland, or simply Bronck's, covered roughly the area south of today's 150th Street in the Bronx in what is today Mott Haven.
Following Bronck's death, and the dispersion of the few settlers, the tract passed through the hands of successive Dutch traders until 1664, when it came into the possession of Samuel Edsall, (who had also acquired large tract on the North River known as the English Neighborhood) who held it until 1670. He sold it to Captain Richard Morris and Colonel Lewis Morris, at the time merchants of Barbados. Four years later, Colonel Morris obtained a royal patent to Bronck's Land, which afterward became the Manor of Morrisania, the second Lewis (son of Captain Richard), exercising proprietary right.
Despite Bronck having lived there for only four years, the area was known as "Broncksland" through the end of the 17th century. The modern name of the borough does not come directly from that farmland. However, the river which runs north to south through the area, and which his farm abutted, kept the name Bronck's River, eventually being abbreviated or misspelled Bronx River. This name stuck, and it was this river (which splits the modern borough in two) after which The Bronx was named.
Descendants and relations
Pieter Bronck was also known as Pieter Jonasson Bronck. Given the relative closeness in age and same father's name indicated by the patronym (Jonas was born about 1600, Pieter, born in 1616) it has been claimed that Pieter was a brother or cousin to Jonas Bronck, and not a son as had been surmised. He has been described as the "poorer cousin", and is believed to have emigrated to Beverwijk in the Hudson Valley around 1650. The Pieter Bronck House a registered historic place in Coxsackie, New York. The American poet William Bronk reported that he was a descendant of Pieter Bronck. The American biophysicist (and president of Rockefeller University) Detlev Bronk was a descendant of Jonas Bronck.
There is a street in Tórshavn in the Faroe Islands that is named "Jónas Broncksgøta." The Jonas Bronck Academy and Public School 43 Jonas Bronck are located in the Bronx. A local brewery produces Jonas Bronck Beer.
|New Netherland series|
|The Patroon System|
|Charter of Freedoms and Exemptions|
|Directors of New Netherland:|
|People of New Netherland|
- Deutsch, Kevin (November 9, 2010), "Seventy-year-old mural depicting Bronx founder Jonas Bronck damaged in courthouse construction", The Daily News (New York), retrieved 2012-02-07
- Evjen, John Q. (1972) , Scandinavian Immigrants in New York 1630-1674, Genealogical Publishing Company, ISBN 0-8063-0501-0, "Jonas Bronck, who arrived at New Amsterdam in 1639, and whose name is perpetuated in Bronx Borough, Bronx Park, Bronxville, in New York, was a Scandinavian, in all probability a Dane, and originally, as it seems, from Thorshavn, Faroe Islands, where his father was a pastor in the Lutheran Church. Back then the Faroes belonged to Denmark-Norway and had been settled by Norwegians. The official language of the island in Bronck's days was Danish. For a long time, writers were diligently searching for the antecedents of Jonas Bronck. Bronck may have been a Swede if we judge by the name alone, for the name of Brunke is well known in Sweden. This possibility receives some support in the fact that a relative of Bronck, likely his son, Pieter Jonassen Bronck, made mention of a Swedish woman in his will, Engeltje Mans. He gave her husband, burger Joris, power of attorney to collect some debts. There thus appears to have been ties of relationship or friendship between Engeltje Mans and the Bronck family. (see articles Pieter Bronck, Part II., and Engeltje Mans, Part III.) Of course the fact that Engeltje Mans resided in Sweden does not necessarily made her Swedish, though we have classified her as such. As to the first Brunke in Sweden - he died in 1319- Swedish annals regard him as a foreigner. Brunkeberg, north of Stockholm has been names after him. Jonas Bronck, again judging by the name, may have been a Norwegian. According to O. Rygh, "Norske Gaardnavne," I., p 48, documents of 1612 and 1616 mention Brunckeslett, a place in Smaalenenes Amt in Norway. Noway [sic] has also a river called Bronka, entering Elverum (98 miles from Christiania)."
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