Thursday, April 18, 2013

Jesse De Forest

When I first started researching the Montanye family  over a decade ago, I found that the name went through several different spellings and through some research and some luck, I found Lois Stewart who was the founder of the Society of the Descendants of Johannes De La Montagne.  Through her and her book on the family, I was able to establish my ancestral line.  However, I was really fascinated by Jesse De Forest, the father in law of Johannes De La Montagne.

Jesse De Forest was born about 1576 in Avesnes, Sedan, France to Jean De Forest and Anne Maillard.  He married Marie Du Cloux on 23 Sep 1601.  Jesse De Forest eventually ended up in Leyden, Holland which is where most of the Protestants moved to from various European countries. Holland seemed to be a bastion for those who were Protestants as is exemplified by the Puritans living there after English religious control.  Jesse De Forest was considered to be a Huguenot.  These were a group of Frenchman who were members of the Protestant Reformed Church of France who fled France in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s.  According to the birth dates and data of his children, Jesse De Forest and his family were in Leyden, Holland by 1615.
As has been explained to me, Jesse De Forest had a very valuable skill.  He was a “Dyer in Black” which during his lifetime was an impressive skill.  Only those who were experts were licensed to dye black material because of the difficulty in keeping the material black after washing.  Many times the color would leach out leaving the material gray.  So, he was considered to be a skilled craftsman and important member of the community.

Around the time of Jesse’s birth and during his lifetime, many of the European countries were establish edicts whose goal was to forcibly convert the Protestants back to Catholicism.  Some couldn’t leave the countries and were converted, however about 200,000 fled to places like Leyden, Holland so they could practice the religion freely.   Jesse De Forest was considered to be one of the leaders of the French Huguenot families living Leyden, Holland at this time.  In 1621, Jesse De Forest submitted a petition to the English Ambassador to the Hague to establish a colony in Virginia.  He agreed but said that the families couldn’t live together…which wasn’t what they desired at all.  The Dutch East India Company was founded in 1621 and after a year or so, Jesse De Forest got permission to emigrate with other Huguenot families to the West Indies.  In preparation for the immigration, Jesse De Forest left with several others to look for a place to establish a colony.  During an exploration of Guyana, Jesse de Forest died on the Oyapock River…never to see his efforts come to fruition. 
When the explorers came home, leaving Jesse De Forest’s body in Guyana, Johannes De La Montange married Jesse De Forest’s daughter, Rachel.  After their marriage, Johannes and Rachel first traveled to the West Indies and found that the weather and environment wasn’t to Rachel’s liking.  They went back to Holland and headed to New Amsterdam on 25 Sept 1636 on the ship Rensselaerswyck.   Not too long after their arrival in the New World…Johannes and Rachel took over Vrendal, a plantation that had been owned by Rachel’s brother Henry who had died shortly before.  He was able to grow a profitable crop of Tobacco but was soon chased off by the Indians.  Vrendal is what we know today as the upper half of what is now Central Park in New York City. 

Even though Jesse De Forest never made it to New Amsterdam or modern New York, he is considered to be one of the founders of the New Amsterdam and regarded as one of the main leaders of the Huguenots and Walloon’s.  There is a Walloon Settlers Memorial in Battery Park in New York City (http://www.flickr.com/photos/wallyg/331724758/) as well as monument in Avesnes, France that was erected at the same time as the New York City memorial (http://www.defreest.com/avesnesfrance.html)  It isn’t often that you find such an interesting historical personality as your 11th Great Grandfather .  The Montanye family were native to New York State from 1637 until 1908, when Jesse De Forest’s 8th great grandson (Ora Silas Gage) took his siblings and left for Nebraska after their parents death.  So, while I’ve never been to New York State – my genealogy roots are deep into that state’s history.