A Narrative of the Life of Claes (Nicholas) Manuel

A Narrative of the Life of Claes (Nicholas) Manuel

Original Signer of the Tappan Patent

Claes (Nicholas) Manuel one of the African American signers of the Tappan Patent, was born mid seventeenth century and was baptized on August 22, 1649, in New Amsterdam (New York).  Claes was a free Black man.  Though it is likely that his parents had been enslaved, there is no documentation that he was ever enslaved.  Claes was also a landowner in New Amsterdam’s “Fresh Water” community, an area situated on the outskirts of New Amsterdam and heavily populated by free people of color who owned land.  He married a Black woman named Lucretia on March 31, 1680.  Fellow “Fresh Water” resident and patent signer John de Vries II was a witness to his oldest daughter’s baptism.  

Like many landowning Blacks in the area at that time, Manuel moved away from the “Fresh Water” community and settled in the upper Hackensack River Valley.  It is thought among historians that this move of free Blacks away from the Rockland area had to do with the British taking over New Amsterdam.  Under British rule strict policies were imposed on Blacks.  Racial tensions and increasing taxes would have made selling their land to their white neighbors and moving away desirable. Manuel purchased one share in the Patent that bought him approximately 112 acres of land.  In today’s standards, this land purchase would make the Manuel family middle class.

Much of the upper Hackensack Valley, the area of the Tappan Patent, where the Manuel family moved was rocky area was uncultivated.  The initial work that would have been done upon Claes’ arrival was clearing the rough terrain.  According to historian, Carl Nordstrom, it took very strong men to clear the land.  It was very difficult and dirty work. 

By 1704 when formal agreements and releases of the Tappan Patent were signed, Claes Manuel had died.  As customary within Dutch culture, the land would be divided between the surviving spouse and the children.  This practice proved detrimental to many holders of land during this time.  Eventually, the plots of land owned by individuals became to small to farm at a profit.

Claes Manuel was descended from Africans who were brought to this country against their will.  These ancestors were a key component of the labor force that helped to build the colony now known as New York City.  They were part of the embryonic Black community that supported one another.  This eventually led to free communities of Black families that prospered. Manuel and his family are a representation of the continuation of that progress. 

© 2009 The CEJJES Institute
Written by Jamila Shabazz Brathwaite and Marie Doucet 
Researched by Jamila Shabazz Brathwaite
Edited by Wylene Branton Wood

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