Original Signer of the Tappan Patent
Jan (John) de Vries II was baptized on August 25, 1647, at the Dutch Reformed Church. He was the son of a Dutch army captain named Johan de Fries and a black woman named Swartinne. The name Swartinne is derived from the Dutch word Swart (Zwart), which means black. Upon his father’s death, John was awarded his father’s property, but since he was still a child the assets were held in trust for him by two former slaves of Captain de Vries, Paulo de Angola and Clara Crioole. When John was of age, the property was awarded to him.
John later married a woman named Ariaentje Dircks of Albany and together they had four children. “They lived aen de Groote Kill (on the Big Creek) on the outskirts of New York” (Cohen, 29). Strict regulations imposed by the British on free and enslaved blacks in New York, such as how many blacks could gather in one place at any given time or the imposition of excessive taxes, (Burrows, Wallace, 46) may have had an impact upon John de Vries’ decision to settle in the upper Hackensack River Valley. John de Vries became one of the original shareholders in the Tappan Patent. He and his family were among the first non-Indian settlers in the upper Hackensack River Valley. In 1687 he purchased two shares of land, one for himself and one for his son John de Vries III. This land amounted to approximately two hundred and twenty-four acres (224). John was one of the largest landholders among the settlers. Only two other families had purchased more land than John.
John de Vries was a farmer just like the other Tappan Patent holders. The family would have spent their days doing the tremendously hard work of clearing land to make planting fields, cultivating the land, planting, and harvesting crops, and tending to the livestock. Perhaps he grew some of the staple crops that the area became known for such as: winter wheat, oats, winter rye, buckwheat, potatoes, turnips, cabbage, apples, and strawberries.
By the time the formal releases for the patent were signed in 1704, John de Vries II had passed away. His son, John de Vries III, received his father’s share, and held it in trust for his mother and siblings.
It is important to note the significance of John de Vries to the black community during these early pioneer times. His noteworthy heritage, being the son of a prominent Dutch captain and a black woman, afforded John the label of a free man and the opportunity to purchase a substantial amount of land. His land holdings were impressive, yet he found a way to work hard and cultivate the lands without using slave labor. John de Vries was a part of the movement away from intolerable restrictions and became a free-holding landowner with the ability to create a stable existence for his family. His family, and families like them, helped to establish communities of free, hard-working African Americans in the Rockland County area, a tradition that carries on today.
Burrows, Edwin G, and Wallace, Mike, Gotham, A History of New York to 1898, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999)
Cohen, David Steven, The Ramapo Mountain People (Rutgers State University, 1986)
© 2009 The CEJJES Institute
Written by Jamila Shabazz Brathwaite and Marie Doucet.
Researched by Jamila Shabazz Brathwaite