Settlement of the area that would later be known as Orange County and afterwards Rockland County by Europeans and individuals of African descent in the 1680’s. Pioneers from Manhattan and New Jersey settled on a large area of land that lay within the borders of New York and New Jersey in the area of today’s Tappan, New York. The settlers, who were mostly Dutch received permissions and rights to settle the area from Governor Dongan, of New York and, by treaty, from the local Indians. “Records designated three of the sixteen shareholders of the patent as “free Negro,” these being John) De fries (De Vries II,) his son John, III, and Nicholas (Claes) Manuels Emanuels). The free men of African descent had lived on the outskirts of the New Amsterdam north of an area referred to at the time as the “fresh water”. This area is known today as Greenwich Village. Little is known about the Black Tappan Patent holders, the lives that the led or why they left the freshwater area. Historians note that families of African descent eventually migrated away from the freshwater area because of the strict polices the British imposed against Blacks. The Tappan Patent families both white and Black were pioneers who had the very difficult task of creating farms that would support their families on undeveloped harsh and rough terrain.
When the Dutch briefly took over New York and renamed it New Orange in 1673. During this time, according to historian David Cohen, Claes Manuels (Emanuels) and John De Fries (De Vries) were neighbors and lived on the outskirts of New Amsterdam. Their names are found on a list with other Blacks that aligned themselves with the Prince of Orange. The Dutch permanently surrendered New Netherland by treaty to the English in November of 1674. By 1680, Claes had married “Lucreticia Lovyse or Lowries, both Claes and Lucreticia where from Peter Stuyvesants Bouwery (farm). The couple had five children who were all baptized in the New York Dutch Reformed Church. Claes and his family moved to upper Hackensack Valley, the area of the Tappan Patent after the British gained control of the island that was hereafter known as New York City. Surely, these families were in search of a better life away from the restrictive laws that the British began to impose upon free and enslaved Black people. In addition, perhaps moving away from English controlled New York City was a fitting choice for those whose loyalty remained with the Dutch.
John De Fries (De Vries) was the child of Dutch Captain, Johan (Jan) de Fries and a Black women name Swartinne (from the Dutch word zwaart meaning Black). “When Johan de Fries died his son Jan de Vries (John De Vries II) was then only a child, his property was held in trust by Paulo de Angola and Clara Crioole, both former slaves of the captain.” When John became of age, he married Ariaentje Diercks who was from Albany. “They lived aen de Groote Kill (on the Big Creek) on the outskirts of New York. John and Arientje had four children.
The Black Tappan patent holders were farmers just like the other holders. They 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 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.
The settlers on the Tappan Patent introduced slavery into the county; however, neither the Manuels (Emanuels) or De Fries family are shown to have owned slaves during this time. In a census taken in 1702, 33 slaves were recorded. As more settlers ventured into the area they increased the African population by bringing with them their slaves. According to historian, Carl Nordstrom it took very strong men to clear the land. It was very difficult and dirty work. Enslaved Africans were used to help clear the land and to do assist with the many tasks necessary to run the farms. Outside of family members, the enslaved people of African decent were the only labor force that settlers could depend upon.
By 1704 when formal agreements and releases of the Tappan Patent were signed both Claes and John 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 because eventually the plots of land owned by individuals became too small to farm at a profit.