Sunday, February 15, 2015

52in52: John Seals / John Soales / Jan Celes and his daughter Phoebe

Birds Eye  View of Trinity Church from the public domain

Good deeds can be taken several different ways. Great land deeds, heroic feats, or people who do good things. Well, I'm going to take it a different way: a scoundrel's line gets redemption through his deed. I'm sure this story has been told a hundred times before, but it was new to my family. My father's grandmother had no idea that she had Dutch ancestors on her mother's line.

John Seals was born in 1594 in Little Waldingfield, Suffolk, England. Some say Lavenham, Suffolk, England, but its not entirely clear either way which town is correct. I suspect John would enjoy that fact that we cannot find a confirmed place of birth for him! In fact, most of John's early days in Little Waldingfield are unproven, though the family generally accepts that John married Phillip or Phillippa Soales in 1625, and little Phoebe was born first in 1626. They had a second daughter, Sarah, of which it is debated whether or not she died young or was left with a relative in England to live. 

They immigrated to the US in 1630 as a part of the Winthrop fleet, sailing with 1,000 other immigrants (they are listed on the Winthrop Society website as a recognized settler), immigrating to Charlestown in 1630.

This all sounds pretty normal, right? It sounds like a normal family immigrating to a new life of religious freedom. However, John's behavior starts to get him into trouble in Charlestown almost immediately. In 1632, the town records indicate “...the first known thief that was notoriously observed in the country, his name was John Sales who having stolen corn from many people in this scarce time was convicted thereof before the court and openly punished [whipped] and all he had by law condemned and sold to make restitution." Oops...embarrassed (hopefully) John picks up and moves to Boston with Phoebe in 1633.

Except his bad habits get him in trouble again. From the Boston records:

 ”John Sayles (Sales) being convicted of feloniously taking away corn and fish from diverse persons the last year and this, as also clapboards, etc., is censured by the court after this manner: That all his estate shall be forfeited, out of which double restitution shall be made to those whom he hath wronged, shall be whipped, and bound as servant with any that will retain him for 3 years, and after to be disposed of by the Court as they shall think meet. John Sayle is bound with Mr. Coxeshall for 3 years, for which he is to give him 4 pounds per annum; his daughter is also bound with him for 14 years [until she was 21].”

This time he brings Phoebe down with him. He tries to run away in 1634, and is severely whipped, then in 1637, he succeeds in getting away from the Puritans and surfaces in 1638 in New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island with Phoebe. He "Dutchifies" his name to Jan Celes and continues to stir up trouble in New Amsterdam, ranging from wounding the livestock of the neighbors to ordering farm supplies and not paying for them. In 1645, " “who, being wounded and lying sick abed”, Jan Celes writes his will and testament and passes on to the next life. From reading about him, I can only imagine that he must have had some sort of mental illness, illness, or addiction issues to do something like "cut the cow of little Manuel with a chopping knife", for example (from the records of New Amsterdam).

Phoebe, I'm guessing, was irritated by her father and his behavior reflecting on her. In 1637, she is released from her bond to Mr. Coxeshal (from the Boston records):

"In regard Phebe Seales was, by order of Court, put apprentice to John Coggesall, of Boston, merchant, who at this instant request of the Courte, accepted same and for that the said girle hath proved over burthesome to him, the Court, as formerly, so nowe, have thought it is just to ease him of it; and whereas the said girle was put by the said John Cossesall to one John Levins, of Roxbury, to be kept at a certeine [ ], it is now ordered, that M. Debutie, calling to him M Brenton and Will; Parks, chosen by the said 2 parties shall have power to end the difference between the said parties; and disposeing of the said Phebe, as they shall think equall. "

Just two years after coming to New Amsterdam (1640), she marries Teunnis Nyssen and is forever known as "Femmetje Jans", "Phaeba Faelix" (Daughter of Jan and Phebe Seals in the Dutch translation).

Which brings me back to the beginning. Just how did a deed redeem "Old Jan" as he was known? The map above from Early Manhattan History's Tumbler shows the area of the island that John Seals owned. South of number 11 and west of number 9, its not marked on the map, but it was there. John left in his will half his property to Teunis Nyssen and the other half to Maria Roberts. Maria's half was sold when she remarried, but Teunis' property stayed with him until 17 June 1651, when he sold it to Augustyn Heermans. Augustyn then deeded the land to Rutger Jacobsen, who deeded it to Trinity Church. Trinity Church didn't immediately use the land, leasing some to Abraham Mortimer. (from The Iconography of Manhattan Island)

So with one deed, the scoundrel John Seals unwittingly started a chain to one of the oldest and proudest monuments of virtue, piety, and good behavior in the USA, Trinity Church.


For further reading:
-Elder, Barnett, and Related Genealogies: Citations and Will of John Seals (#4614).
-History in the Headlines by the History Channel - contains a lovely 1660 map of New Netherland.
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