Frederic de Coninck Letters
Birth of Charles Crommelin; Overview of the houses from where the de Coninck/Crommelin letters were written;
Frederic is in Amsterdam looking for work; He has recurring symptoms of epilepsy; Deaths in the Oursel family
Catherine Crommelin (1632-1694)
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These are the icons used to depict principal characters that we will
read about in letters spanning the next 50 years...
Charles Crommelin (1676-1740)
1 January 1676 - Baptism of Charles Crommelin, son of Daniel Crommelin and Anne Testart at Charenton temple (Paris).The year 1676 happens to begin with the baptism of Charles Crommelin. All Crommelins alive today (except for the van Wickevoort-Crommelins) are descendents of this one child.
At this time Daniel and Anne Testart were living in Paris. They were married two years earlier in 1674 at Lehaucourt temple (St. Quentin). Daniel was the business partner with his older brother, Jacob, and Elizabeth Testart (sister of Anne). They had started a partnership in banking but after working together for only 8 months the partnership dissolved and Daniel went off to try other pursuits. He may have stayed in the banking business, but independent of his brother. Jacob carried on with the banking business in Paris but eventually lost a great deal of money. Years later he went back to the Crommelin Linen Works at St. Quentin which he still owned. He liquidated it shortly after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.
The letters in this project are primarily between Catherine Crommelin, an older sister of both Jacob and Daniel, and her son, Frederic de Coninck. Later, after Frederic died, we have some letters between Marie Camin, Frederic's wife, and her son, Jean de Coninck in Batavia. The letters begin in 1676 and end in 1724. They give us an intriguing glimpse of how one Huguenot family fared in a turbulent period of European history.
June-July 1676 - Two family-related baptisms at Lehaucourt temple (St. Quentin).
6 September 1676 - Marriage of Marie Crommelin, daughter of Jean Crommelin and Elizabeth Marin, to Jean de Nogarede at Lehaucourt temple (St. Quentin).
6 September 1676 - Marriage of Marie Rondeau, daughter of Jean Rondeau, banker, and Marie Crommelin, to Jacques Duvidal at Charenton temple (Paris). [Marie Crommelin was a sister of Jean/Rachel Tacquelet, and therefore Catherine Crommelin's aunt. Her first husband was Jean Rondeau, a banker in Paris (with whom she had 6 girls and 2 boys). Her second husband was Pierre Cadelan (with whom she had one girl), a financial advisor to Louis XIV who was sent to the Bastille a year later for unknown reasons - see 2 February 1678 Letter.]
Martelaarsgracht in Amsterdam circa 1670 by Adriaen Velde
In 1676, at age 16, Frederic de Coninck finds himself in Amsterdam, Holland - his first big trip away from his home in Rouen, France. Frederic is a son of Catherine Crommelin and her first husband, Francois de Coninck. Now that she's married to her second husband, Robert Oursel, there was likely some pressure to get her first batch of children out of the house to cut expenses, and so that Catherine could focus her primary attention on Robert's new batch of children. Now Frederic de Coninck is looking for a job and a place to stay without even having received his suitcase yet and a change of clothes. Winter is coming on, the weather is cold, and he's still dealing with a nasty illness that began 6 months ago in France. Catherine's cousin, Pradellis, lives in Amsterdam, as do one or two other relatives and family acquaintances, but otherwise Frederic is on his own. Hardly able to make himself understood in a strange land that speaks only Dutch, he's having a rough start in the big world around him and his mother, Catherine Crommelin, is understandably worried...
22 October 1676 - Letter #01 from Mother [Catherine Crommelin] at Rouen, France. Received [by son, Frederic de Coninck] at Amsterdam, Holland. Replied: 1 November 1676.
His 16th birthday...
Rouen 22 Octobre 1676
My dear son, [in Amsterdam]
I duly received yours of the 8th of this month. Since mailing a letter is expensive, I didn't send you the last one via the regular postal courier.
I'm very happy that you found lodgings with a respectable gentleman until you find a job with a merchant. I'm told that you still see our friends from time to time so I will get informed of that. However since you are with a school teacher try to learn arithmetic and to write well.
Always be polite to our cousins Pradellis and their daughters to whom you must extend my warmest greetings. I'll still write you care of their address for mail delivery. I hope you received your suitcase. I asked your uncle to write to his son about it. I'm rather annoyed that you've been without your clothes for so long and that you are so cold. You'll have to use your cape with the wide sleeves because in your suitcase you don't have a cloth jacket. Ask your cousin to kindly make you one which will keep you warm. Be as polite as possible about it because I know that the people in Holland are very stingy with their linen.
I'm trying to have a nice hat made which is currently in style. It is a cap with Louis d'or (coins). If you go walking around the city it should look quite smart. I hope you like it. I hope to send it with your oversleeves by Mr. Lucas who lives in Amsterdam. He is the brother of the one to whom we delivered the book for your uncle de Conincq. He'll be leaving in 15 days on a trip to England. Be sure to have him let you know where he's living. He's getting married there.
With your cap you'll find a few things. I would really like to send you some pears from the Jardin [Catherine's rental property across the pontoon bridge at Rouen] and a barrel of apples for cousin Pradellis. I can do it, but it will be a lot of trouble and then there's the risk of it getting stolen. Don't say anything about it, but if I'm able to send it, I'll let you know.
Let me know how you're doing in that country. I told you to purge yourself to prevent illness resulting from the change in climate and other things that make it necessary. Inform your landlord that you'll be using a medicine and that I told you to use it. And don't be without a piece of wool wrapped around your neck. My dear child, may God keep you and make you a preacher according to my joy.
You will know the cost of a return ticket on a coach from Caen for Jean. He says he doesn't want to study anymore. Who knows where he will live? I'm looking for a place for him from an aunt in Paris who may be able to engage him for 7 years in London. Goodbye. Your loving mother, Catherine Crommelin
The 'aunt in Paris' may be a reference to Jeanne Crommelin, daughter of Adrien Crommelin and Susanne Doublet, born in 1651. In 1669 she married Francois Amonnet of London. They lived in Paris where they established a lucrative business in the manufacture of French embroidery. In 1681 they returned to London, forseeing the persecution. He died shortly thereafter leaving Jeanne with 3 daughters and a lot of money which disappeared because of the financial mismanagement incurred by her second husband, Jacques Dufay. Years later Jean de Coninck (who is mentioned in the letter above) was a widower with 2 children. His brother, Frederic, suggested that he get re-married to one of the Amonnet daughters in London. Unfortunately this didn't happen. (See Frederic's letter to his brother, Jean, in September 1689.) Jean's failure to marry one of these girls led to dramatic consequences in the evolution of the Irish and American lines of the Crommelin family. (See the essay on Providence).] This letter was written on Frederic's 16th birthday, but there is no mention of 'Happy Birthday!' from Catherine to her son. Similarly with Easter and Christmas. Public festivities that we celebrate as holidays may have been quietly remembered in church, but they are never mentioned in letters, and no season's greetings are ever associated with these holidays. Christmas as we know it came into vogue in the Victorian era about 200 years later - the time of Charles Dickens and his seasonal classic, "A Christmas Carol". A New Year, however, became increasingly important and eventually did evoke a great deal of year-end best wishes for God's blessings in 17th century letters.
The de Coninck Homes: Where They Lived
Rue du Vieux-Palais and 'Le Jardin' in Rouen, and
35 Rue d'Estimauville in Le Havre
Catherine Crommelin and her first husband, Francois de Coninck, a lawyer, had their home along the Rue du Vieux-Palais in Rouen (#387 below). This is where Frederic and his siblings grew up, and where all of Catherine's letters from Rouen were written. The Vieux Palais was an old English castle (#142 below) along the Seine River that served the English when they occupied this part of France in the days of Joan of Arc.
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Catherine also owned a rental property across the pontoon bridge which led to the rural parts of Rouen (#438 above). The cottages and property was called the "Jardin". She would have passed by her Jardin when she went to church at Quevilly. This Protestant temple is where many family-related births, deaths and marriages were recorded. The area across the bridge later became the industrial part of Rouen and was heavily bombed during WWII while the older part of the city was left largely unscathed.
The Vieux-Palais and the walled ramparts around old Rouen
When Catherine married a second time to Robert Oursel, a dealer in fish and whale products, they kept the Jardin and their house at Rouen but lived mostly at Robert Oursel's house at 35 Rue d'Estimauville in Le Havre, the town at the mouth of the Seine where his whaling ships were berthed. This is where all of Catherine's letters from Le Havre were written.
The deConinck/Crommelin residence in Le Havre in the late 1600's (pink dot)
5 November 1676 - Letter #02 from Mother at Rouen. Received at Amsterdam. Replied: 19 November 1676.
My dear and beloved son,
I believe my letter of the 22nd of last month will have reached you. I sent it on the 6th under cover of uncle de Conincq and asked him to send it over to you. On Tuesday I received yours of October 29th and noted with tears that unfortunately God still afflicts you with the illness that you caught here 6 months ago. I hoped that you would have been cured. You didn't do anything about it and you resisted taking the remedy that Mr. Perrce prescribed for you. But you see, my dear child, this malady exhibits the most worrisome symptoms because within 8 days you fell 3 or 4 times into convulsions, falling down in your room, and throwing up. No doubt you were alone and perhaps a long time without help. Maybe even at night you weren't able to get anyone to help. This worries me so much I can hardly express it.
I wonder why you've been so long without a scarf. I'm sorry that you lost the foot-long piece of wool. Now you see the necessity of never being without a good piece wrapped around your neck. Not having one will only make things worse, so I order you to have a wool collar made and to put it around your neck. Don't neglect to do this, in God's name.
While you are young there is a remedy, but if you don't do anything about it, then it's for life, and the older you get the more often you will fall. But for the love of me, do as I say. I have consulted Mr. Perrce, so here's what you need to do. I ask cousin Pradellis to consult the most expert doctors in Amsterdam and to have their best recommendations carried out. I don't want to spare any expense in getting you cured. I also don't want you sleeping alone in your room and when you start feeling dizzy, lie down immediately because I'm afraid you might hurt yourself - something you won't say anything about.
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12 November 1676 - Letter #03 from Mother at Rouen. Received at Amsterdam. Replied: 19 November 1676.
To: Monsieur Frederic de Conincq at the home of Hellebrandus Schribonius on the Keysersgracht by the Westerkerk, Schoolmaster
12 Novembre 1676
My dear son,
I received yours of 5 November with great joy, the previous one having caused me much anxiety and I didn't feel better until I received the last one which informed me that by the grace of God you are doing well. I hope you haven't experienced any convulsions since. Alas, my dear child, don't get your hopes up. This is an illness that is much to be feared since it might recur from time to time. It's called epilepsy (falling sickness). This illness vexes my spirit which is why I beg you to purge yourself according to the attached prescription which I received in consultation with Mr. Perree. They are pills which I told you that you can take quite easily. Take note of what he says, point by point. If you don't want to say anything about it to cousin Pradellis, kindly ask your landlord to take you to a good apothecary who can prepare the remedy. And don't be without a piece of wool. I asked you to have a wool collar made which would be best. My child, you are old enough to manage your own health.
I wasn't able to send you 1 or 2 barrels of fruit by ship. If I find one shortly I'll send them along with your cap, oversleeves, and the ribbon on which to hang 2 gold Louis. It will leave from Rotterdam. Also there will be a small packet with a piece of canvas addressed to Mr. Jean Schot to whom you will deliver it. Buy a chamois cloth coat trimmed with cotton which couldn't be nicer when you stroll over there. He's coming here from where you are. He should know the man who delivered my letter to you. He's a friend of uncle de Conincq. In order to pay him the occasional visit you might have to see him at the money market. There you will be able to make acquaintances. You need to make friends. Go often to cousin Pradellis and pay her my respects. Also our 2 cousins have smallpox and I pray that God brings them relief.
Your brother Jean leaves Monday for Paris. Marie Bourdon has arrived. Goodbye. I greet you affectionately as do your brothers, sisters, relatives and friends. Your loving mother, C. Crommelin
PS - You didn't say anything about how much you're paying for rent. Please be sparing and don't spend your money wastefully. If you go walking around, you would do well to know Mr. [Jean Schot] who is well connected. I thought of giving you a note to receive some money from Mr. van Hulten but when I asked for it from Mr. Oursel [Catherine's second husband] he said he wasn't able to because Mr. van Hulten currently has no money. This means, my dear, you must have patience and pray cousin Pradellis to make you an outfit which will be for the last time. God willing, I'll provide for your needs and quickly, with God's help. Ask cousin to give you a bill for what she spent on you so that she can be reimbursed. Cousin van der Schalque will bring you the ribbon for your outfit. Mr. Serrurier lives at Amsterdam.
3 December 1676 - Letter #04 from Mother at Rouen. Received at Amsterdam. Replied: 10 December 1676.
3 December 1676
My dear son,
I received your letter in due time. I learned with joy that you are doing well. May God keep you for many years to come. This will please me immensely. As for me, it pleases the Lord to leave me in the world for the time being, but I can't help but fear that this same illness might recur. That's my main worry, and that's why you would please me by observing all the remedy that Mr. Perree has prescribed for you. If you find it too repugnant, the symptoms will come back. So, in God's name take the medicine which he has ordered. My dear child, this illness has the worst consequences imagineable, so please pray with me that God blesses this remedy. Since you are young and the illness has only begun, there is every hope to be cured from it. So please don't neglect this. My main regret is not being able to be next to you when you're feeling unwell. Make sure you don't live alone and above all don't leave the house. I also absolutely forbid you to go out skating because you may get an attack on the ice and in a place where nobody's around.
I think by now you will have received your cap and oversleeves, etc. by way of Rotterdam. The address was in care of Mr. Pradellis to be delivered to you. I would be pleased to get news about it from you. Last week I loaded 2 barrels of fruit into the boat of Jean Beall who must unload at Medenblicq. I wasn't able to find one bound for Amsterdam because he was worried about the ice. I sent an acknowledgement to cousin Pradellis because you wouldn't be allowed to have it unloaded. They will have it come to you. One barrel is for you and the other is for our cousin. The smallest one is marked for you. In this letter I'm enclosing the packing slip for everything. Give it to cousin and ask him to have it unloaded by one of his friends at Medenblicq and to pay the expenses which is 4 guilders. Then have him pass the cost to your account.
In the middle of your barrel I placed a pot of jelly for protection. It will help you to take your pills. Most of it contains pears from our Jardin. They are quite small this year. I also put a few into the barrel for our cousin. Explain to them my regret that they're aren't so nice this year because it was so dry that the fruit didn't get enough nourishment. [These were the days before artificial irrigation using pumps, taps, pipes and rubber hoses. Crops depended mostly on rainfall and hand irrigation using well water.]
My poor child, I'm sorry that you weren't able to find a job yet with a merchant. I hope you'll be able to find one soon. We must have patience for some months. Meanwhile you're paying quite a lot in rent at f350. To avoid getting bored, spend your time in writing, arithmetic, and learning to read Flemish because I don't see any improvement in your writing. And go visit your friends occasionally. You haven't seen Mr. van Hulten yet, otherwise he would have told us. See him often. He might even be able to find a job for you. He's a former friend of your father. You only have to mention that to him.
I don't know what you have just received from Mr. Pradellis. If he gave you some money, let me know, or whether he paid some advance to your landlord. As a courtesy you'll have to give him the gift of some of your fruit. I think they're washing your clothes.
Goodbye. I would like to write everything to you via the regular mail but mailing a letter is too expensive. I don't want, however, that too much time goes by before you write me. When you know that something will be going to this city, please don't overlook having them take along your letters. There may be some ship going to Le Havre or Rouen. Your brother Jean is doing well in Paris. All our friends in general send their greetings to you, especially me who prays that God takes good care of you. I am, my dear son, your loving mother, C. Crommelin
24 December 1676 - Letter #05 from Mother at Rouen. Received at Amsterdam. Replied: 31 December 1676.
24 December 1676
My dear son,
I received yours of the 10th of this month. I was worried, at least until I got your news saying that you had received mine and particularly that you are doing well. May God by his grace keep you. I already told you how to maintain your health through the instructions of Mr. Perree. After you take some of the jelly, you must take a pill. Don't take any alone. Occasionally you'll probably have to run to the privy and then suddenly do the opposite. It's not that I want to deprive you of seeing your friends occasionally, but overlooking this may be detrimental to your health. And if you want to please me, you absolutely must not go skating again. It won't be worth anything if you get a bad concussion. Besides, those suffering accidents sometimes fall into other tragic circumstances. Last Friday a young man from this town drowned while skating and he is sadly missed. One of the Croisset lads was lost. He wasn't able to get help in time and his death really made an impact on me. So please take heed, my dear child. Please obey me in this to put my mind at ease.
I don't know why I didn't sink into a depression over this because on the morning of the same day we got more tragic news that struck us dumb, namely the death of my poor brother Pierre Oursel [brother of her second husband, Robert Oursel]. We were struck less by his loss as by its timing. You know that 8 days ago this same gentleman sent his son on a small errand to a house he has in Montivilliers regarding some business he had with Jean, a peasant worker that he has around his farms. The poor boy left in the morning planning to return early the same day. While on the road back home, about a quarter of a league from Montivilliers, his lifeless body was found. Since he was alone, nobody knows how the accident happened. He must have fallen and then his horse struck his head because only a single wound was found at the back of the head around his left ear by which he lost his blood and his life. So that's the sad and fatal end of this poor young man who died so tragically. See, my dear son, how fragile life is, and how it only takes a moment for us to lose it. You would do well each morning to implore the aid of our good Redeemer. Pray mightily that he keeps you in his protection. Since he was a good boy, I don't doubt his salvation. Poor Mr. Pierre [Oursel], filled with regret, wrote a word to Mr. [Robert] Oursel who replied that he shared in his grief.
You know that Mr van Hulten writes often, so please ask him to put your letter under his cover. Cousin Pradellis writes me that there is a good position with a wholesale drug merchant that will be vacant next March. Go and see if this business is something for you. If it were a boutique you would have more trouble and get more involved than in selling things wholesale. But if you were with another merchant, because you would be involved in other kinds of merchandise, 'when one knows his stuff he can make a bundle' which is to say that one can earn what one wants. For example, I see here Mr. le Cordier who is very rich. Abraham Torin also makes a lot and has a great reputation. My son, you can't become a boss without first having served as an apprentice. You have to serve before knowing how to command. That means spending 2 or 3 years doing miserable work, but it's soon over and when one gets bored doing something you just have to apply yourself. My child, it's for your own good. If you let this opportunity go by, you might not find another one that's better. Don't think that it was Mr. Camin who put me in charge. Many years I desired that someone in the family would learn this business. In the end he consulted our friends [and I was chosen].
Your brother Jean is committed for 4 years. He is very dedicated and he'll have to do some work in your part of the world. Nothing comes without some hardship, so take courage. As long as God leaves me in this world I will always be there to support you. I hope that you now have your cap and sleeves. It's already been some time since the ship arrived. The master's name was Robert Young. If I can find an opportunity with friends I'll send you something else.
Take care of yourself because I assure you that you won't find much work at the present time. If you want to have a coat, please ask cousin Pradellis to have one made for you out of second-hand cloth that is quite warm. Extend my greetings to her and tell her that I'll have the honour to reply to her letter another time. Goodbye, my dear son. It's very cold here and there's plenty of snow. Everyone sends their greetings. I'll be relieved when you receive the barrel of apples because I'm worried they might get spoiled. Be sure that our cousin makes an accounting of her expenses. Your loving mother, Catherine Crommelin