Anthony Janszoon van Salee

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Van Salee was the first grantee of Conyne Eylandt (Coney Island), pictured here from space[1]

Anthony Janszoon van Salee (1607–1676) was an original settler of and prominent landholder, merchant, and creditor in New Netherland. Van Salee is believed to be the son of Jan Janszoon (Jan Jansen), a Dutch pirate who after 1619 served a Moorish state on the Barbary Coast.[2] His mother Margarita was Moorish and Van Salee was a Muslim; he may have been the first of this background to settle in the New World.[2]

A Qur'an said to have belonged to van Salee was auctioned in the late 19th century,[3][better source needed] after having been owned by a descendant, Robert Bayles, a one-time president of The Market and Fulton National Bank of New York.[2]


1736 Herman Moll map, Cartagena in red

Anthony Janszoon van Salee was Jan Janszoon's fourth child, born in 1607 in Cartagena, Spain,[4] as the second child of his second wife, Margarita, a Moorish woman. Janszoon is believed to have been captured in 1618 by one of the Moorish states on the Barbary Coast. He "turned Turk" and served as a pirate, known as Admiral Murat Reis, for Moulay Zaydan in the port of Salé (now Morocco).[5] In 1624, Anthony was living in Salé with his father. In 1627 he moved to Algiers with his father and family.[1]

Van Salee was living near the harbor in Amsterdam when he obtained a marriage license on December 15, 1629, to marry Grietse Reyniers, a 27-year-old German native, two days before his ship left for the New World.[4] In 1630, at the age of 22,[4] Van Salee arrived with his wife in New Netherlands, as a colonist of the Dutch West India Company.[2]

Van Salee's pirate father may have provided him a considerable fortune. By 1639 Anthony had become one of the largest landholders on the island, as well as a prosperous farmer.[6]

In 1638, Van Salee acquired a farm on the island of Manhattan which was named "Wallenstein", in memory of Albrecht von Wallenstein, supreme commander of the armies of the Habsburg Monarchy.[7] The plat was located on the north side of the defensive stockade across Lower Manhattan, along present-day Wall St. The bouwery was surveyed from Broadway to the East River between Ann Street and Maiden Lane. Van Salee transferred the deed the following year.[7]

Following numerous legal disputes, including with representatives of the Dutch Reformed Church, whose council reprimanded Van Salee and his wife for not behaving as "pious Christians",[5] he was ordered to leave New Netherlands. But, after he appealed to the Dutch West India Company, Van Salee was allowed to settle on 200 acres (0.81 km2) in what would become New Utrecht and Gravesend, Brooklyn, at the southwestern end of Long Island. He became one of the largest and most prominent landholders on the island. In 1643 he purchased a house on Bridge Street in New Amsterdam, in defiance of the court order excluding him from that settlement. He became a successful merchant and creditor in New Amsterdam, while owning several properties throughout the region.[6][page needed]

Social legacy[edit]

Van Salee reportedly was a defender of minorities in the colony,[8][better source needed] and aroused controversy among other settlers. He was engaged in many legal disputes, which ranged from demands for compensation because his dog attacked the hog of Anthony the Portuguese (described as a black townsman), to charges that he had pointed loaded pistols at slave overseers from the Dutch West India Company.[8][better source needed][9][page needed]

He was the first grantee of land on Conyne Eylandt (Coney Island). Van Salee helped found Long Island settlements including New Utrecht and Gravesend. In 1660 he founded Boswijck (now known as Bushwick), along with twenty-three other settlers, including free blacks Francisco and Anton.[10]

Van Salee was known for frequently reading his Qur'an.[11] He petitioned to have Christian missionaries assigned to new settlements. Once he was fined for housing an English Quaker at his home on Bridge Street, as they were excluded as Dissenters from the English colony; the man was there to repair a Dutch church.[12][page needed]

Van Salee appeared to be on good terms with his neighbor Lady Deborah Moody,[12][page needed], the founder of Gravesend. John Edwin Stillwell wrote that Van Salee had disputes with her husband Sir Henry Moody,[13] but he had died in England. Lady Moody was a widow by 1629, a decade before she left England for the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where she lived before settling in New Netherland.[14]

Marriage and family[edit]

He had married Grietse Reyniers in 1629 in Amsterdam; she was born in Germany.[4] The couple had four daughters together. They married into respectable colonial commercial families:[9]

  • Eva Antonis, married Ferdinandus van Sycklin, an early immigrant to New Netherlands and the namesake for Van Siclen Avenue in Brooklyn.[15] She is an ancestor of Robert Bayles, the last descendant to own Van Salee's Qu'uran. According to Van Dyck Roberts, she was baptized.[16]
  • Cornelia, who married William Johnson[17]
  • Annica, married Thomas Southard. Their daughter Abigail was the great-great-grandmother of Cornelius Vanderbilt[18]
  • Sara, married John Emans.[19]

In the early 21st century, some popular accounts, published in a blog and a provocative book, emphasized colonial rumors about the controversial behavior of both Anthony and his wife Grietse. She was described as the previous mistress of Wouter van Twiller.[20][better source needed] She had encountered him while an employee of the tavern belonging to Pieter de Winter.[9][page needed] Grietse is considered a legend of American colonial history because of her wild, sexual ways. In his early 21st-century blog, Bill Greer referred to her on his blog as the "Carrie Bradshaw" of colonial Manhattan, alluding to the star of the Sex and the City TV series.[21][better source needed] Grietse is quoted as having said, "I have long been the whore of the nobility. From now on I shall be the whore of the rabble."[9][page needed][20][better source needed] She was known to have measured the penises of bar patrons with a broom stick.[20][better source needed]

Between 1638–1639, the couple accounted for fifteen of ninety-three recorded court cases. During this period, many private quarrels were brought to the Dutch colonial court. The charges against the couple included petty slander, brought by Anneke and Dominee Bogardus (a minister) after Grietse accused of them of lying; Grietse's display of private parts to the naval fleet, and Van Salee's occasions of drunkenness.[12]

Grietse died in 1669. The widower Van Salee married Metje Grevenraet, an ethnic Dutch woman.[17] He passed his final years at his home on Bridge Street, dying in 1676. Metje was a Quaker who helped Van Salee tolerate the church.[12][page needed]


Van Salee's physical appearance and race have been the subject of much debate. The consensus is that he was of mixed ethnic background, Dutch and Moorish.[citation needed] He was described as unusually tall, with superior strength. He was known as "a 'Turk'" or "semi-Dutchman from Morocco",[22] of "tawny" complexion.[23] He was credited with the "first dwelling erected by Europeans" in what became New Utrecht, about 1643.[24]

He was described as a "mulatto", in recognition of his mixed-race ancestry.[6] Some descriptions include ethnic attributions, such as "half-Moroccan",[25][better source needed] "Turk",[24] and "Berber".[26]

In court records, Van Salee was noted as "Turk", suggesting that record keepers classified him by appearance or culture.[27][24][28] Janszoon was known to be the wealthy heir of a former European native head of state, even if his father was associated with privateering on the Barbary Coast. Gomez notes that historic collections devoted to African-centric history have been similarly unable to reach consensus on his appearance, race, or origin.[6][page needed]

Notable descendants[edit]

Van Salee's notable descendants include the Vanderbilt dynasty in the United States and Europe.[29]


  1. ^ a b The University magazine, Volume 8, Harvard University, 1898, p. 372
  2. ^ a b c d GhaneaBassiri, Kambiz (2010). A History of Islam in America: From the New World to the New World Order. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge university Press. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-521-61487-0.
  3. ^ "The Van Salee Family", PBS-WGBH. Accessed September 10, 2011
  4. ^ a b c d Fulfilling God's Mission: The Two Worlds of Dominie Everardus Bogardus, 1607-1647, Willem Frijhoff, Myra Heerspink Scholz. BRILL, 2007. ISBN 978-90-04-16211-2. p. 461
  5. ^ a b GhaneaBassiri (2010), A History of Islam in America, p. 10
  6. ^ a b c d Gomez, Michael Angelo (2005). "Muslims in New York". Black Crescent: the Experience and Legacy of African Muslims in the Americas. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 128–42. ISBN 978-0-521-84095-8.
  7. ^ a b New Amsterdam and Its People: Studies, Social and Topographical, of the Town Under Dutch and Early English Rule, John H. Innes. C. Scribner's sons, 1902. pp. 312-313
  8. ^ a b "Anthony van Salee, the Turk", Bill Greer. 2009. Accessed 10 September 2011
  9. ^ a b c d The Island at the Center of the World: the Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America, Russell Shorto. Random House Digital, Inc., 2005. ISBN 1-4000-7867-9, ISBN 978-1-4000-7867-7. pp. 85-86, 299
  10. ^ Root & Branch: African Americans in New York & East Jersey, 1613-1863, Graham Russell Hodges. UNC Press Books, 1999. ISBN 0-8078-4778-X, 9780807847787. p. 35
  11. ^ Portrait of New Netherland, Ellis Lawrence Raesly. Columbia University Press, 1945. p. 149
  12. ^ a b c d Pirate Utopias: Moorish Corsairs & European Renegadoes, Peter Lamborn Wilson. Autonomedia, 2003. ISBN 1-57027-158-5, ISBN 978-1-57027-158-8. pp. 206-211
  13. ^ Historical and Genealogical Miscellany: Data Relating to the Settlement and Settlers of New York and New Jersey, Volume 5, John Edwin Stillwell. Genealogical Pub. Co., 1970. p. 223
  14. ^ Cooper, A Dangerous Woman: New York's First Lady Liberty, Heritage Books, 1995.
  15. ^ American Ancestry: Embracing Lineages from the Whole of the United States, Thomas Patrick Hughes, Frank Munsell. 1888. p. 56
  16. ^ Van Dyck Roberts, p. 17
  17. ^ a b The Washington Ancestry, and Records of the McClain, Johnson, and Forty Other Colonial American Families: Prepared for Edward Lee McClain, Volume 3. Charles Arthur Hoppin, Edward Lee McClain. 1932. p. 86
  18. ^ Nexus: the Bimonthly Newsletter of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, Volumes 13-16. New England Historic Genealogical Society. 1996. p. 21-23
  19. ^ Leaves From the Tree, an American Heritage: a History of the Ancestral Families of Robert Bone Hutchinson and Jack Thomas Hutchinson. Jack Thomas Hutchinson. Anundsen Pub. Co., 1989. p. 295
  20. ^ a b c "New York's First Whore", Bill Greer. 2009. Accessed 9 September 2011
  21. ^ "Sex and the City", Bill Greer, Retrieved 1 oct 2009.
  22. ^ Mrs. Schuyler Van Rensselaer, "Better Prospects", History of the City of New York in the Seventeenth Century: New Amsterdam, New York: Macmillan, 1909, p. 161
  23. ^ Gad J. Heuman, "From Creole to African", The Slavery Reader, Vol. 1, p. 455
  24. ^ a b c C. Benjamin Richardson, "Was Anthony Jansen van Salee a Huguenot?", The Historical Magazine, and Notes and Queries Concerning the Antiquities, History, and Biography of America, New York: Charles B. Richardson, 1862, pp. 172-173; Retrieved 30 Sept 2009.
  25. ^ "The Gentenaars of Nieuw Nederland" Archived 2010-04-26 at the Wayback Machine, Flanders House, Retrieved 30 Sept 2009.
  26. ^ Michael A. Gomez, Black Crescent: the Experiences and Legacy of African Muslims, Cambridge University Press, 2005, p. 182
  27. ^ "Etchings", The Century Illustrated monthly magazine, p. 776, Retrieved 30 Sept 2009.
  28. ^ Frank Allaben, "The De Rapaljes", The Ancestry of Leander Howard Crall, New York: The Grafton Press, 1908, p. 279
  29. ^ Nexus: the bimonthly newsletter of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, Volumes 13-16. New England Historic Genealogical Society. 1996. pp. 21-23