Over the years much has been written about Pieter and Jonas Bronck. Pieter is responsible for the erection of the Bronck House in Coxsackie, Greene County, NY, 351 years ago. Jonas is considered the founder of the Bronx.
Over the years there has been much confusion about the relationship of these two individuals – father and son, brothers or cousins. Both were Swedish and there is strong evidence that they were related. I prefer to accept research done by Shelby Mattice, Curator of the Bronck Museum. Ms. Mattice has concluded that the two men were first cousins and shared the same grandfather. Today I would like to focus a bit on Jonas Bronck because this year the Bronx is commemorating the 375th anniversary of the year Jonas first settled there.
Most sources are in agreement that the newly married Jonas Bronck and his wife arrived in New Amsterdam (now New York City) in June, 1639. He purchased about 500 acres from the Native Americans on the southern tip of what is now the borough of the Bronx – hence the derivation of the name. Here he built a stone house and began to clear the land for farming. Unfortunately Jonas died in his mid-40s around May of 1643, less than four years after acquiring the property.
An inventory of his processions at the time of death has survived which tells something about the man. Buildings on the property were a stone house with a tile roof, a barn, two barracks for farm employees, and a tobacco house. The tally of Bronck’s livestock was 25 animals of various kinds, plus an uncounted number of hogs, said to be running in nearby woods.
Jonas and his wife Teuntie Jeuriaens had no children. Shortly after Jonas died, she married Arent Van Corlaer, Commissioner of Rensselaerwyck and moved with him to what is now the Albany area.
The area of the borough of the Bronx in New York City comprises over 50 square miles. How the borough got its spelling is somewhat of a mystery. One explanation is contained in the September 18, 1897 issue of the New York Daily News which reads as follows: “The termination of ‘x’ merely indicates the possessive case. Instead of writing Bronck’s River, or Bronck’s farm, the Dutch took the phonetic short-cut and made ‘X’ do the duty for the fushion of ‘k’ and ‘s’; extremely simple and a space-saver too.” Of course they also dropped the ‘c.’
Recently, in a post about The Bronx by Peter Feinman at The New York History Blog, I learned something new about Jonas Bronck. It seems that Jonas is not only revered in the United States, but Sweden as well. In Sävsjö, Sweden there is an organization and center dedicated to the memory of Jonas Bronck. Their website says: “…we keep the memory of Jonas Bronck alive in Sweden. Jonas Bronck Center is a non-profit organization. We promote tourism and create new jobs in this part of Sweden, called Småland. We aid and we foster the historical research about the region. Americans looking for their Swedish roots can contact us and we will assist them when it comes to research, travel, guidance and sleepovers. The organization is housed in a massive three story building with the words “Jonas Bronck Center” across the front.
The website points out that this year “The Bronx will be 375 years old – an anniversary that will be celebrated in New York as well as in Sävsjö! The celebration in Sävsjö takes place August 29 – 31, 2014, with a delegation from New York City — and the Jonas Bronck Center will be officially inaugurated.”
Another interesting thing about the website is a full page devoted to what they call the “Coxsackie Declaration of Independence.” Actually it is correctly known as the “Plan of Association” and the signers were not declaring independence – only that they would support decisions made by the resistance movement. That aside, the site presents the full document along with all the signers’ names which includes five members of the Bronck family. Other than the one page, there is no mention of Pieter Bronck or the rest of the family that ended up in Coxsackie.
While the website mentions a delegation from New York City visiting Sweden this summer, it does not say if Sweden will send dignitaries to join planned festivities in the Bronx. If there are visitors, it might be nice if they stopped by the Bronck House as well. I may check into that.
David Dorpfeld is Historian for Greene County. This essay first appeared in The Greene County Historical Society‘s Greene History Notes.