How far back can you trace your family tree? The Beekman family can trace its roots in New York City all the way back to 1647, when Wilhelmus Beekman arrived in New Amsterdam on the same ship as Director-General Peter Stuyvesant!
Wilhelmus Beekman was born on April 28, 1623 in Holland. As a young man he ventured to the New World on the Dutch merchant ship Princess Amelia, arriving in New Amsterdam in May 1647. Traveling by ship in the 1600s was often frought with danger. The Princess Amelia sank on its return voyage to Holland in September 1647. Only 21 of the 107 passengers on board the ship survived. What a close call for Wilhelmus Beekman and Peter Stuyvesant!
Peter Stuyvesant was the leader of the Dutch colony of New Netherland from 1647 until 1664. In 1655 Peter Stuyvesant conquered the colony of New Sweden, which was located along the banks of the Delaware River, in modern-day Delaware. In 1658 Wilhelmus Beekman was appointed the Vice-Director (Governor) of the Colony of the Swedes. Wilhelmus had nine children, including Gerardus Beekman, who briefly served as Governor of the Colony of New York!
Gerardus’grandson James Beekman was an ardent Patriot, and friend of George Washington. In 1763-1764 James Beekman built a beautiful mansion overlooking the East River, near what is now First Avenue and 51st Street. The mansion was occupied by British troops during the Revolutionary War. The spy Nathan Hale was tried by the British for treason in the Beekman’s greenhouse, and executed in a nearby orchard.
The Beekman family cherished their Dutch heritage, and preserved many family heirlooms. When the Beekman estate was demolished in 1874, the Beekman family donated their fireplace, which was lined with Delft tiles, to the New-York Historical Society. There are a wide array of Beekman family artifacts in the New-York Historical Society’s collection.
The Beekman family has featured prominently in New York City history. Beekman Street in Lower Manhattan, and Beekman Place in Midtown East bear the family name. The inclusion of Beekman artifacts in the New-York Historical Society collection helps preserve the family legacy for generations to come.
Learn more about the Beekman family by participating in a Beekman Family Scavenger Hunt! Search for artifacts that are hidden all over the New-York Historical Society. Copies of the scavenger hunt are available in the DiMenna Children’s History Museum’s display rack.
Aitken, William Benford. Distinguished Families in America, Descended from Wilhelmus Beekman and
Jan Thomasse Van Dyke. New York: Knickerbocker Press, 1912.
Groenveld, Simon. “New Light on a Drowned Princess.” The Holland Society of New York: De Halve Maen,
Volume 74, No. 2, Summer 2001.
Moscow, Henry. The Street Book: An Encyclopedia of Manhattan’s Street Names and Their Origins.
New York: Fordham University Press, 1990.
White, Philip L. The Beekmans of New York: In Politics and Commerce, 1647-1877. New York: New-York
Historical Society, 1956.