Meet The Ryersons

Like most of Brooklyn, Clinton Hill was originally farmland granted to early settlers.  With a name like Clinton Hill, you’d think that someone named Clinton was the original owner.  Wrong -- the first settlers in the Clinton Hill area were actually a Dutch couple, Marten and Annetje Ryerson. Marten emigrated from Amsterdam sometime in 1646, along with his brother Adrian; Adrian, the older brother, was probably married and brought his family along with him.  The two brothers settled in Brooklyn on two different farm plots – Marten settling in a plot alongside Wallabout Bay.  The site was a popular one for settlers; the first ferry between what is now Manhattan and Brooklyn docked in the bay.  The tiny colony, sponsored by the Dutch East India company, offered settlers a deal – settlers would pay the Dutch East India company a tenth of their earnings for ten years, and then would own their plots outright.  In fact, the very name “Brooklyn” refers to this deal – it comes from the Dutch words “Bruijk” and “leen,” meaning “to use” and “loan”.

It’s not clear when Marten settled on his plot, but he very well may have set up shop immediately.  However, he took his time getting married; it was another twenty years before he married Annetje, who was born in the “new world.”  Annetje was the daughter of Joris and and Catalina de Rapelje, another couple who emigrated to Albany via France.  It’s not clear whether Joris and Catalina married before they emigrated, immediately upon landing, or even on the boat – at the very least, they were on the same ship, arriving in time to give birth to their first daughter, Sarah, in 1625 in a fort on the site of what is now Albany. In fact, little Sarah Rapelje was the first colonial child born in that city.

Annetje was the sixth of the Rapelje’s eleven children.  It’s not clear when the Rapeljes moved to Brooklyn; it may have been sometime during Annetje’s childhood, as records show that Annetje’s older brother Jacob was “shot by Indians," an incident which may have been what sent the family from Albany to the comparatively safe Brooklyn colony.  Annetje had definitely been living in Brooklyn long enough for her to be listed in the records as “a young maiden from Brooklyn” when her marriage to Marten Ryerson was performed in 1663.

Marten and Annetje had eleven children themselves.  Their oldest son, Joris, only stayed until he was married at the age of 24; Joris then started his own farm on Manhattan Island, nearby the site of Trinity Church.  After 20 years, Joris moved even further, buying 5500 acres of land in what is now Bergen County, New Jersey, and eventually becoming a judge.  Another son, Jacobus, stayed on the family plot, tending to the Ryerson’s land along what is now Flatbush Avenue; his own son, Marten, took over afterward, and operated another ferry running to and from Manhattan that proved useful to troop movements during the Revolutionary War.

The Ryersons, of course, lent their name to Ryerson Street, running from DeKalb Avenue north to the spot where Marten Jr. operated his ferry.