The Dutch Vrouws,
page 4 of 9
Heilke Pieterse was the wife of the foremost blacksmith of New Amsterdam; and as he monopolized the whole business of Long Island, he died very rich, — worth at least ten thousand dollars. Not overwhelmed or puffed up with the inheritance of such opulence, Heilke carried on her husband’s business for many years with success.
Margaret Backer was another successful business woman. For years she acted as attorney for her husband while he was in foreign countries attending to that end of his great foreign trade. Rachel Vinje, involved in heavy lawsuits over the settlement of an estate, pleaded her own case in court, and was successful. Women were constant in their appearance in court as parties in contracts and agreements.
The Schuyler family did not lack examples of stirring women-kind. Margaret van Schlictenhorst, wife of the first Peter Schuyler, being left a widow, managed her husband’s estate in varied business lines with such thrift and prudence that in her will, made at eighty years of age, she could assert that the property had vastly increased. She was not out of public affairs, for during the Leisler troubles she was the second largest subscriber to the fund in support of the government; and she also lent money to pay the borrowed soldiers. Her niece, Heligonda van Schlictenhorst, a shrewd spinster, was a merchant, and furnished public supplies. The daughter of Peter Schuyler married John Collins. A letter of his, dated 1722, shows her capacity. I quote a clause from it:—
“Since you left us my wife has been in the Indian country, and Van Slyck had purchased what he could at the upper end of the land; she purchased the rest from Ignosedah to his purchase. She has gone through a great deal of hardship and trouble about it, being from home almost ever since you left us; and prevailed with the Indians whilst there with trouble and expense to mark out the land where the mine is into the woods. Mrs. Feathers has been slaving with her all this while, and hard enough to do with that perverse generation, to bring them to terms.”
The picture of these two women in the wilds, treating and bargaining and trading with the savages, seems curious enough to us to-day. Women seem to have excelled in learning the Indian languages. The daughter of Anneke Jans was the best interpreter in the colony, and served as interpreter to Stuyvesant during his famous treaty with the Six Nations.