Simon Congo (approx 1600/1608 – 1667/1668) was one of the first African men to be brought to New Amsterdam. He was born in the Congo and brought over with Paul d’ Angola, Anthony Portuguese, John Francisco, and seven other males in 1626. Their names indicate that they may have been slaves on Portuguese or Spanish ships captured at sea.
Mr. Congo, along with the other men, served the Dutch West India Company in New Amsterdam for around 22 years. The Company released these slaves on a “half‑freedom” plan which gave the Company the produce and periodic labor that it required without the responsibility of superintending and maintaining the slaves. Simon chose to become a farmer for himself and was given land in the area we know as Greenwich Village.
His “freedom” was granted “on condition that they . . . shall be bound to pay for the freedom they receive . . . annually . . . to the [Dutch] West India Company . . . thirty skepels of Maize or Wheat, Pease or Beans, and one Fat hog, valued at twenty guilders.” If the tribute were not paid, their freedom was forfeited. They were also obligated to work for the Company for wages whenever their services were required.
Unfortunately, any children the men had would be required to serve the company as slaves for 35 years before “freed”. This became a very controversial caveat in the community. Many families bought the freedom of their children when possible.
Anthony Janszoon van Salee (1607–1676) was an original settler of and prominent landholder, merchant, and creditor in New Netherlands. Van Salee is believed to be the son of a Dutch pirate and a Moorish mother. He was likely raised as a Muslim; he may have been the first of this background to settle in the New World. Though upon settling in New Amsterdam, he and his wife practiced Christianity.
He was born in Spain and captured off the coast, becoming a pirate before returning to his family and moving to Morocco. He married a German woman in 1629 and they moved to New Amsterdam the next year as colonists for the Dutch India East Company. By 1639 Anthony had become one of the largest landholders on the island, as well as a prosperous farmer. It is believed much of the money to purchase the property came from his pirate days. He moved to the Gravesend Brooklyn area after a dispute with the Dutch Reform church on the island of Manhattan and held over 200 acres.
Van Salee reportedly was a defender of minorities in the colony. Sometimes this included waving pistols at slave overseers. Janszoon is credited, in 1643, with building the first “European” settlement in New Utrecht. His notable descendants include the Vanderbilt dynasty and President Warren G. Harding.
Sarah Jansz Roelofs was an interpreter with the various Native American tribes in the Dutch occupation days of Upstate New York and New Amsterdam(which eventually became New York City). She married 3 times and had over 11 children. She was born in Europe around June 1621. She was the daughter of New Netherland pioneers Roeloff Jansen and Anneke Jans. It is believed her parents emigrated to America and settled in New Amsterdam.
At her wedding reception with Hans Kierstede, her first husband and the first surgeon in New Amsterdam, “after the fourth or fifth round of drinking”, guest de Vries used the event to circulate subscription paper. Signatures, pledging the willing signers to contribute towards the fund for building a stone church. New Amsterdam secured the means to build it’s much-needed stone church. The church was a Dutch Reform Church. It eventually became the Marble Collegiate Church in NYC, now the oldest continually operating congregation in the city. The Stone Church in the fort, was built in 1642. It was seventy-two feet long and fifty feet wide, and the cost twenty-five hundred guilders. For purposes of security from any sudden attack of the Indians, it was built within Fort Amsterdam, near what is now the Battery. It remained nearly a century, until 1741, when it was destroyed by fire.
In May 1664, Ms. Jansz was among those identified as interpreters in New Amsterdam who witnessed a peace treaty between Governor Stuyvesant and other officials and the “Esopus savages.” She was very proficient in the Indian language and acted as interpreter in negotiating the treaty between Gov. Pieter Stuyvesant and the Hudson River Indians.