Monday, October 31, 2011

the first Muslim in America?

My possible* ancestor Anthony Jansen Van Salee was the first known Muslim to live in what is now New York City. Others have suggested that he could have been the first Muslim in the entire New World.

Anthony was born in about 1607 at an unknown location.  Anthony's parentage has not been definitively proven.  It is generally accepted though that his father was an infamous Dutch pirate named Jan Janszoon van Haarlem.  The identity of his mother has never been established, but she is usually believed to be of North African descent, the most prevalent theories being that she was from Morocco or Spain. 

The places where Anthony supposedly lived in his youth.
1. Sale, Morocco, 2. Fez, Morocco
3. Algiers, Algeria, 4. Cartagena, Spain
What we do know is that because he used the name Jansen, Anthony acknowledged being the son of someone named Jan.  Also, as an adult he used the toponymic last name "Van Salee", indicating that he was from SalĂ©, Morocco.  In later adulthood, he also indicated that he was from Fez, Morocco.  When he married in 1629, he was listed as being from Cartagena, Spain.  Many people have accepted this to mean that he was born in Cartagena, and raised in Salee.  Perhaps he was born in neither place, but had spent time living in both.

Contemporary records also indicate that Anthony was of a mixed-ethnic background.  The most common term used to describe him was "Turk."  Other terms were: "Mulatto", "Swarthy" (dark-skinned), "semi-Dutchman", and "Tawny".  There is also a story that when his wife gave birth to one of their children, she asked the midwife whether the baby looked like Anthony or another man (she was apparently having an affair).  The midwife supposedly told her that since the baby was a bit brown in color, that it was likely Anthony's child. 

Still, other researchers have proposed that Anthony was actually white and that contemporary records indicating otherwise was simply slander or an indication that he had lived in Morocco and was not literally mixed-race.  They also propose that mixed-race theory is not possible because of the timeline.  Jan apparently worked for the Dutch until becoming a Moroccan pirate in the late 1610's, apparently indicating that Anthony could not have been the son of a Moroccan mother.  Of course, that does not prove that Jan did not have children by a non-white mother beforehand.  Also, as is stated above, we do not know for sure that Jan was even his father.

As far as I know, Anthony was never identified directly as being a Muslim, but there is a lot of circumstantial evidence which points to it being likely.  1) Anthony was raised in Morocco, where Islam was practiced, and it is unlikely he would have practiced Christianity.  2) There is apparently proof that Jan Janszoon Van Haarlem (who was probably Anthony's father) had converted to Islam, after being captured by Muslim pirates.  3) He was frequently described as "Turk" in contemporary records, which some researchers indicate is a designation of religious affiliation and not necessarily of ethnic origin.  4) An old Qu'ran (Koran) had been passed down in the family for many generations, the story being that it was from a Dutch pioneer of New York who was Muslim. After researchers had discovered Anthony's probable Muslim origins, they identified the Qu'ran as belonging to him.  5) Anthony was frequently involved in disputes with the church in New Amsterdam and was often fined by them.

Anthony was probably raised in Salee, Morocco and also lived at times in Algeria and perhaps in Spain. In the late 1620's, he moved to Amsterdam, Netherlands, where he joined the Dutch West India Company and sailed to America in 1630.  Anthony was married to a woman named Grietje Reyniers in or after December 1629, either in Amsterdam or on board the ship en route to New York.  Grietje (or Margaret in English) was an acknowledged prostitute.  Grietje has herself become a legend of American colonial history and has been dubbed "the first lady of the night" of Manhattan and "Manhattan's first and most famous prostitute." 

In 1630, Anthony and Grietje settled in New Amsterdam (now Manhattan in New York City).  During the next nine years, Anthony and his wife had many legal disputes with the church and the town authorities and they were finally banished from New Amsterdam in 1639.  In that year, they settled on 200 acres in what is now Brooklyn (in the Gravesend neighborhood).  Because of this, he is acknowledged by some as the first European settler of Brooklyn.  The farm he settled in Gravesend was called "Turk's Plantation."  Because his farm apparently butted up against what is now called Coney Island, it was for many years called "Turk's Island."  Anthony died in 1676.

* It has not been proven that Anthony Van Salee is actually my ancestor.  My proven ancestor Jacques Barkelow was married to a woman named Jannetje.  It has been suggested (because of Dutch naming customs) that because their second known son was named Barent, Jannetje was the daughter of a man named Barent.  If that is true, one of the strongest candidates for her father is Barent Johnson, the great-grandson of Anthony Van Salee.

My possible descent from Anthony:
Anthony Jansen Van Salee md. Grietje Reyniers
- Cornelia Van Salee md. Willem Janse Van Borkulo
-- Jannetje Van Borculo md. Jan Barentsen Van Driest
--- Barent Johnson md. Maria Stillwell
---- Jannetje * md. Jacques Barkelow (*it is not proven who Jannetje's parents were)
----- William Barkelow md. unknown
------ James Barkelow md. Elizabeth
------- Flora A. Bartlow md. James Murray
-------- Mary E. Murray md. George F. Merriman
--------- Vera V. Merriman md. Benjamin H. Plymale
---------- Ben T. Plymale md. Patricia J. Bixby
----------- Barbara Plymale md. Randy Wadleigh
------------ Ryan Wadleigh


  1. Your Maria Stillwell's sister Rebecca Stillwell married Abraham Emans son of Jan Emans and Sarah Van Salee daughter of Anthony Van Salee are my ancestors.

  2. Hi Ryan, have you had any luck with confirming the Barkeloo - Van Salee connection?


  3. Hi Ryan, I descend from James Barkelow and Elizabeth Yager too, from their son James Jr. that married Anna Metlin. After her husband died, Anna and all of her adult children moved to SW Oregon. I have been trying hard to confirm that Jannetje Barensten that marries Jacques Barkelow (Cortelyou line) was in fact the daughter of Barent Janesen/Johnson and Maria Stillwell? If so, then they would be cousins, since Willem came with his brother Harmen, whose son married Jacques Cortelyou's daughter, Maria. It also gets confusing since some scholars use the name "Johnson" for Janse Van Borkulo, since some historical records do list him as "Johnson" sometimes. But it does not appear to be a different man, based on how they used surnames differently than now, and then after it became an English colony. So how confident are you? Thanks Linda (Portland,

  4. My Southard family line is out of Anthony Janzen van Salee through Thomas Southard and Annica van Salee. Their son Isaac was the lead of the line that goes through my mom's side to me. The Southards of Shenandoah Iowa are the relatives, coming from Ohio. I'm always fascinated to see another distant relative.