Why on earth would anyone want to travel from Holland to Brazil in 1636? Yet that is exactly what our first American Polhamus ancestor did. The answer lies partly in the Sugar War between Holland and Brazil. “Dutch merchants were already at Recife in Pernambuco, and in 1630 the Dutch fleet occupied Recife and Olinda. They conquered Arraial do Bom Jesus, Paraibe, and the Nazaré fort in 1635 during the Sugar War as the Portuguese Brazilians and the Dutch tried to destroy each other's sugar mills. Count Johan Maurits (Maurice) of Nassau arrived in 1637 and took over Pernambuco. “ (Beck, Sanderson: Ethics of Civilization, Volume 11, America to 1744, 2006).
Johannes Theodorus Polhemus (born about 1598, probably in Bavaria) attended the University of Heidleberg, receiving a Divinity Degree and then served churches in both Germany and Holland. He applied for overseas missions and was accepted into Maurits' expedition that was then being prepared for travel to Brazil. He was originally to be in charge of the spiritual care of soldiers and settlers on the island of Recif, but after moving to Itamarca he also preached to the Indians in their own language.
So how did this missionary, now in Brazil, end up in America? While in Brazil Rev. Polhemus married (there is evidence of an earlier marriage in Netherlands with a daughter baptized in 1629) and had several children. Although the Netherlands continued to rule in Brazil for some time, the rulers had become corrupt and inefficient to the point that when the Portuguese revolted in 1654, the Dutch were overcome and given 3 months to leave. Rev. Polhemus sent his wife and children on a ship back to Holland, and he took another ship which was hijacked by the Spanish, then captured by a French ship which landed him in New Amsterdam in September, 1654. He was about 56 years old at the time- no spring chicken- I can't even imagine going through that ordeal as a younger person, but to suffer the trip, the hijacking, the separation from family only to land in a strange land must have been quite an experience.
It is presumed that Polhemus is the ancestor of all the Polhemus/Polhamus Americans in their various spellings because of how our name came about. Originally surnamed Polheim, Johannes Theodorus was entitled to add “ius” at the end of his name after his graduation from university. Eventually the Polheimius name lost an “i” or two and became Polhemus. Some of the lines, ours included, changed the long a sounding e to an actual a. As Rev. Polhemus worked for the church we've been fortunate to have numerous records about his work and life. Once in America, Johannes was the first regular minister to the Dutch: “In 1654 came Dominie Johannes Theodorus Polhemus from Brazil, now about 56 years old, to serve the churches then formed to Midwout and Amersfoort, continuing here till his death on June 8, (9) 1676; and serving also at Breuckelen (Brooklyn) 1656 to 1660 and again from 1664 till his death at the age of about 78 years." (S. J. Voorhies: Historical Handbook of the Van Voorhees Family in the Netherlands and America”, 1935). His wife was finally able to join him 2 years later and they raised their children on Long Island.
Most of the residents of the western end of Long island had to attend church in New Amsterdam. One church had been organized at Midwout in 1654, but had no minister. It was agreed that Rev. Polhemus would preach there, provisions for housing and salary were begun. He also preached at times at New Amsterdam. As expenses were shared by the congregations at Breuckelen and Amersfoort, Rev. Polhemus was also expected to provide services for these communities. Rev Polhemus had to walk between the congregations. These were not his only difficulties.
Having finally made the trip from Holland to join her husband, it was imperative that Mrs. Polhemus and family be adequately housed, but it seems nothing was done without a struggle. Mrs. Polhemus had great difficulty getting her husband's back pay while she resided in Holland, and now there was difficulty raising the monies for family housing. Mrs. Polhemus arrived in September, shortly after which the cold began to set in and the housing was not finished. In addition Rev. Polhemus was still having difficulty getting paid and sent a letter to church officials in Holland reporting the lack of payment and the lack of a carpenter, stating that he and his family were required to sleep on the bare ground!
The next problem came in the form of a complaint from the congregation at Breuckelen. Their complaint was that they were slighted in the attentions of the minister. He offered a short prayer instead of a sermon. They were not wishing to be critical of the Dominie, but felt that his age and faculties were no longer sufficient to continue to serve multiple congregations, so they refused to add their financial support to his living. It was a two hour walk (each way) between two of the congregations (Midwout and Breuckelen) that Rev. Polhemus served when he turned 62, which could explain the Breuckelen congregations' complaints. He had a short reprieve when another pastor served Breuckelen from 1662-1664, but was given that congregation again when the new minister returned to Holland. During his final time of ministry there, in 1666, the first Reformed Church in Breuckelen was built, and continued to be in use for 100 years. Johannes Theodorus was 78 or 79 when he died in 1676, having served long and faithfully.
Rev. Polhemus had, during the course of his time in the New World, been given a parcel of land, and had managed to purchase an adjacent lot. Unfortunately, after his death, there was a protracted dispute concerning the boundaries of this land. Mrs. Polhemus became quite angry, and refused to partake of communion. The new pastor was dragged into the controversy which took years to settle, it finally being resolved between 1681 and 1695. When Catharina Polhemus died in 1702, the heirs agreed that the land would be given to son Daniel Polhemus.
As the Polhemus family became quite large, only the first generation of children will be listed individually here. The entire family is well documented in the work of I. Heyward Peck in The Rev. Johannes Theodorus Polhemius and Some of His Descendants. Christina, the child with the first unknown wife in Holland was baptized in 1629. The other children were: Adrianna, b Brazil about 1644; Theodorus, b Brazil about 1646; Lammetje b Brazil about 1648; Anna b Brazil about 1649; Maragrietje b about 1660, probably in Midwout; Elizabeth, b about 1661, probably in Midwout; and Daniel b about 1662, probably in Midwout. These children went on to live and serve in the New World, most joining in the Revolutionary War, serving in local offices and some going into the ministry. Some, including first born son Theodorus, bought land in New Jersey, where there are still numerous members of the Polhemus family.
It's now time to introduce one of our line's “brick walls”. We can trace our line back to my great great grandfather Eldred Nelson Polhamus, with good documentation. Eldred died, based on census records somewhere between 1905 and 1910. As far as I know, no one has yet found any evidence of a death record for Eldred and his parents are not known. Why we can't find any evidence of his death at that late date is another mystery. Although good genealogy practice dictates moving from the known to the unknown, that has not proved successful in this case. Based on naming traditions, it appears that we should concern ourselves with the line stemming from Rev. Polhemus' oldest son, Theodorus, although this is not a certainty.
Theodorus was, according to Peck, a brewer, wheelwright and cooper, residing in Flatbush and then in
Jamaica on the land he had received from his father. Information comes from his time as a church elder and from court and tax records. He was an overseer in Flatbush and he was involved in land buying both on Long Island, and, together with some other Dutch natives, in New Jersey. Theodorus died about 1722, which would make him about 76. Two years before his death he began to dispose of some of his land, giving some to sons Teunis, Abraham and Johannes. Theodorus had 8 children with wife Aertje Bogert ( our one claim to a connection with Humphrey Bogart!). Johannes, baptized 20 July 1685, was in the middle of them. He remained in Jamaica, Long Island. He married twice, but the identity of the first wife is not certain. His second marriage was to Styntje/Marytje Bergen. She was a daughter of Hans and Antje Lucasse (Eldersen) Bergen (this appears to be the source of the name Eldred, which has led to the possibility that this is the line our Eldred stems from).
When I tell my sons about their ancestors, they always ask me, “Where's the money?” This is the story I tell them. In 1761 Johannes sold to his two sons, John and Eldred, “for love and affection and five shillings”, a tract of land of about 150 acres in the west end of Jamaica according to Peck. This was in addition to some meadow and woodland acres that belonged to Theodorus and 10 acres of salt meadow in Jamaica and 22 acres of meadowland in Newtown. This appears to be shortly before Johannes' death. The same day Eldred sold his portion to his brother John and he later sold to John additional land that he had inherited upon his father's death. Interestingly, these are the two sons Johannes had with his second wife. He had 4 children with his first wife, although there is little record of the third and fourth children. The first two had further records, including marriage and children.
Now here's what happened to the money: When the Revolutionary War came, John became a Loyalist, going to Novia Scotia, where he died in 1816. Before going to Nova Scotia he actively served in the war on the side of the British. He attempted to save some of his property by selling it before going to Canada, but much was forfeited to the government as the property of a Loyalist and sold. John was able to receive quite a bit of land through a land grant in Nova Scotia. Can you imagine what that land in present day Brooklyn would be worth today?
Eldred, after selling his property to John moved to Dutchess County where he remained until about 1794 when he returned to New York City, being listed in directories as a carpenter and shipwright. He had married Sarah Carpenter who also moved to Dutchess County from Jamaica, Long Island with her family. While in Dutchess Eldred entered the Revolutionary War as a Patriot. In the 1790 census Eldred is in Dutchess County with 2 males over 16, 3 males under 16 and 4 females. This is interesting because Peck only reports 3 named children, John, who apparently never married, Mary and Eldert (we'll call him Eldred 2). Who the other people are in the census and what happened to them is unknown, but we have to wonder if any of these folks are the ones leading down the line to our Eldred. Eldred 2 married Ann __? , lived in New York City where they had a son (Eldred 3) who was living in New York City on the 1850 census at the same time great great grandfather Eldred was farming in Esopus in Ulster County. Cousins? Possibly.
Now, when the first Eldred went to Dutchess County before the Revolutionary War, he was not the only Polhamus there! His cousins, Cornelius, Daniel and John, brothers and sons of Daniel Polhamus, grandsons of Daniel Polhamus (brother of Theodorus) were also there. This is another possible line for us to follow. Rev. Polhemus had a son, Daniel, who had a son Daniel 2. Daniel 2 had a son John who ended up in Marlboro, Ulster, New York, where our folks came from. He had an unnamed child who was baptized in the Marlboro Presbyterian Church in 1795. That child, if a boy, would be about the right age to have a child in 1820, so could possibly be the father of our Eldred. Another connection there is that a brother of the unnamed child was Jordan. Jordan's line led to Abraham Polhamus, who had the farm across the road from our Eldred for many years and there were marriages with the Relyea family on both sides of the road.
|Willis Polhamus Family 1920|
So, whether we follow Theodorus' line through the first Eldred, and contend that our Eldred stems from one of the unnamed males from the 1790 census, or follow Daniel's line through John and his unnamed son, we are surmising. What is known is that there was an Eldred Polhamus, born 1820/21 who lived for most of his life in the town of Esopus in Ulster County, New York and he had a son Willis who also farmed in Ulster County. Willis married Martha Jane Schoonmaker, a descendant of one of the original Huguenots that came to New Paltz. They had 10 children, 6 boys and 4 girls, one of whom, Earl, was my grandfather. Eldred came from somewhere and the above scenarios appear to be
the most likely.
Earl helped his father Willis farm in Marlboro until his marriage in 1920 to Mary Edna Rhodes. After their marriage they purchased a farm in the Town of Shawangunk, next to the current Magnanini Winery on Strawridge Rd, outside of Wallkill. They had 2 girls, Elsie and my mother Ethel. The girls attended the one room schoolhouse on Plains Road until eighth grade. Since a one room school was a little more flexible, they were able to skip a grade. As the one room school was located between Wallkill and Walden, the students had their choice of high school. Elsie chose Wallkill and Ethel chose Walden, where she graduated at age 16. She pursued a post high school secretarial course then worked as a secretary at the Walden School, boarding in Walden, until she married in 1947.
Additional Reference: Peck, I. Heyward: The Rev. Johannes Theodorus Polhemius and Some of His Descendants in The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, July 1959-July 1961.