Claes Corneliesen Swits

M, d. August 1641
     Claes was born in Switzerland. Claes married. Claes left his homeland of Switzerland in all likelihood with his family, probably in the early 1630’s and journeyed down river, so journed on the island of Schouwen in Zeeland at the inn of Peter De Winter, before leaving the Old World and immigrating to New Amsterdam. He arrived there circa 1633 and settled on the island of Manhattan. He built a home there at Turtle Bay, on land known as the Otter-spoor in the southeast portion of Harlem. His property was on the East River at what is now West 45th Street. Along with farming, he also became known as a wheelwright (in the Dutch language, Rademaker). He was a man of some education and considerable skill and is referred to as having been involved in projects in his community outside of his vocation.1,2,3 Claes was killed in August 1641 at his home on Manhattan Island, New York, by a Raritan Indian who was seeking revenge for the murder of family members years earlier when he was a boy, slew Claes at his home on Turtle Bay by taking an ax to the back of his head, Claes having no reason to suspect trouble from a man whom he was well acquainted. This horrific deed was the spark that began a bloody retaliatory chain of events, that left many dead, English, Dutch and Indian.4,5




  1. [S111] James Riker, History of Harlem, Its Origin and Early Annuals - The Revised Edition, page 132 - A mortal enmity was brewing between the white and the red man, in
    the face of every interest which should have bound them in friendship.
    Though the responsibility lay not with the colonist, but with the
    authorities, the effects fell heavily on the former. In 1639 Director
    Kieft was guilty of a most impolitic act, in attempting to levy a tax upon
    the several Indian tribes, sending his wily agent Tienhoven to demand
    their corn, furs, and sewant. The demand was indignantly spurned, and
    served only to arouse a hostile feeling toward the Dutch. Montagne's
    prediction was well made when, seeing the folly of his measure, he said,
    "A bridge has been built, over which war will soon stalk through the
    land." Some petty depredations being committed soon after, which were,
    in part falsely, charged upon the Raritan Indians, the hotheaded Kieft
    dispatched a body of soldiers to demand satisfaction. They too well
    executed their mission by a wanton attack on the Indians, July l6th,
    1640, killing several, and burning their maize.
  2. [S524] Door: Fabian Mol, , Zie Claes Smits alias Claes Rademaker en Gerrit Jansz.; knecht van de Heer van Nederhorst.
  3. [S525] , ...from the region of Lake Lucerne, emigrated in 1626. Wheelwright and one of the first farmers in Manhattan...
  4. [S111] James Riker, History of Harlem, Its Origin and Early Annuals - The Revised Edition, page 138 - The next year, I64I, brought retaliation from the Raritans, who,
    on September 1st, swept off the settlers upon Staten Island, while
    Manhattan Island was already smarting under the first stroke of savage
    vengeance. A Wickquaskeek who from boyhood had harbored a grudge
    against the Dutch, because at that time three of Director Minuit's men
    had slain his uncle and stolen his beavers, could no longer restrain his thirst
    for revenge. On a day in midsummer he entered the house of Claes Swits,
    at Turtle Bay, "on the road over which the Indians from Wickquaskeek
    passed daily." Assuming a friendly air, and being known to Swits, for whose
    son he had worked, he was "well received and supplied with food." Then he
    wanted to trade some furs for duffels; but while the unsuspecting old man
    was bending over the chest in which his cloth was kept, the savage, with an
    axe that lay near, struck him upon the neck, when "he fell down dead by the
    chest" He then stole all the goods and fled into the forest. This cruel
    murder, at their very doors, aroused the authorities, and a yacht was sent
    to Wickquaskeek to demand satisfaction from the sachem. He not only
    refused, but justified the action. "He wished twenty Swannekins (i.e.,
    Dutchmen) had been murdered."
  5. [S523] Robb Ellis, The Epic of New York City, page 37 - One summer day in 1641 a wheelwright, named Claes Smit(Switz or Swits), was busy in his lonely house on the East River far above New Amsterdam at what is now West Forty-fifth Street. An Indian appeared and asked to buy a piece of coarse cloth. When the unsuspecting Dutchman turned to get it, the redskin seized an ax and killed him. The murderer was the same Indian who, as a lad of twelve, had seen his uncle killed by Dutchmen near the Collect. Sixteen years later, a grown man, he got his revenge."