In the dim-gray light of winter, on the morning of January 23, 1825, The Nederlandse Koning, an aging Dutch packet ship was nearly finished loading and boarding. Below decks, kegs of Gin, Brandy and Scots Whiskey were secured to the fore side of the mainmast while the densely filled casks of east Indian spices – from red hot chiles and peppercorns to cumin, leaf of Bay – and immense stores of cinnamon, clove and coriander – were secured sternward . . . well behind the ship’s center of buoyancy.
Excerpted From Robert Butche’s forthcoming Novel — Home Is My Heart
By Robert W. Butche
Copyright 2016 Greenbrier House Publishing
All Rights Reserved
Haven van Amsterdam | The Netherlands | January 23rd 1825
Atop the barrel goods, the ship’s most valuable cargo, cash, coin and gold in fire-resistant safes was secured. Below were the finery goods — secured in layers – heaviest on the bottom. And finally, ship’s provisions, including a small cadre of live animals meant to sustain 197 passengers and a crew of 27 for at least a week longer than the usual westbound transit time – a full three weeks.
Above the steerage levels, the ship’s First Class passengers were finding their sparse rooms at quarterdecks. Some arrived dockside by carriage in the bitter cold while others had to be flushed out of their dockside hostels – some with family, others with East Indian servants in tow. No matter their rooms were no warmer than their carriages, they were outfitted with beds and clean linens.
Unlike the underclass who had neither bed space, linens, nor prepared meals, First Class rooms came with night jars while others, including crew, had to evacuate themselves over the rails – astern, if possible. As if such indignities were not enough to keep everyone ill-at-east, those traveling steerage were made to sleep on the filthy deck flooring and cook in one of 10 small cooking areas, whatever foot stuffs the chief steward provided for them from cold stores.
In the confusion before setting sail that morning, steerage passengers, the last to board, muddled about below-decks in search of personal space in open compartments. Everyone was responsible for securing their own floor space – and defending it against trespassers, interlopers or malevolent crew members, until arriving at New York. It may have been inconvenient to lose one’s floor space, but losing one’s cookware, money or personal goods in the bedlam of steerage put at risk one’s survival.
Near half-past ten that fateful morning, in blowing snow and a building gale, Captain Ryer Schermerhoorn, a former slave trade officer, ordered ropes ashore. In what were roily waters in the Haarlemmermeer – North Holland Bay – seven pilot boats slowly worked the Koning into the main channel. Then, a strong wind off the stern, the first silk was carefully raised.
Soon the Koning was bound for The Straight Of Dover – the first of many way points on a long winter’s voyage to the former Dutch Colony at Nieuw Amsterdam along the river Hudson. There, in what the brash Americans had proclaimed to be The United States of America, the Koning would deposit its low profit people load for a long list of mercantile goods eagerly sought after in 19th century Europe – Virginia tobacco, sugar, molasses, rice, fabrics and raw cotton bound for European spinning mills.
Whether one was passenger or crew, the Atlantic crossing on a wooden sailing ship was so daunting and tenuous as to border upon being insane. What mattered to those aboard the Koning that morning, 12 newly married couples and an infant in First Class cabins, and 175 men, women and children in steerage, was that their destination, should they reach it in the dangerous month of January, was a place of refuge from the tribulations of 19th century Europe.
Among those in steerage were two scrawny teenagers, having met and married dockside once family negotiations settled on terms. Their names were Albet Wouter Talbert, of Driebergen and Miss Isa Hootenstall, whose family were Prussian peasants, displaced by the Napoleonic wars from Oldenburg to Westphalia. After two hours of spirited negotiations between several families, the Hootenstall’s agreed to what was little more than a token dowry – albeit it one that would take peasant farmers anxious to rid themselves of an unwanted female, two or more years to recoup.
About the only thing the families agreed upon was a traditional Calvinist wedding – accomplished by the Talbert’s Dutch Reformed Church pastor, Sebast Hüule, a follower in the model of Calvinist Augustus van Raalte, who was present specifically to make young Albet’s marriage a Holy Union in the eyes of God, even if a bit untidy in the rush for the newlyweds hellbent boarding the Koning before it left them behind.
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All Rights Reserved