Frederic de Coninck Letters
Translation Project

Catherine's letter to Frederic's boss; The Affair of the Poisons; Sugar cane from Martinique;
Jean Camin and Catherine de Coninck get married; Frederick decides to go home

1679 Timeline

Catherine Crommelin (1632-1694)

12 January 1679 - Letter #45 from Mother at Rouen, France.

[This letter written by Catherine to Frederic's boss at Amsterdam, Holland, obviously wasn't handed over to him. Perhaps Frederic was too embarrassed to deliver it to his boss, or maybe he was so determined to quit his job with Mr. Peyrou that he simply didn't want to raise any possibility of going back there.]

12 January 1679

Monsieur [du Peyrou]

I'm taking the liberty to write you to wish you a happy new year - one that is full of the blessings of heaven and earth. May you enjoy perfect health and all manner of favour and contentment.

I learned, monsieur, with great dismay that you are unhappy with my son, Frederic de Coninck, and since you don't want him to be in your service any longer he's gone away, having been there for only a short time. For him this was a big disappointment. That's why I would like to ask you to honour the accord you made with Mr. van Pradellis, and if my son has displeased you in the past I would hope that in the future he will perform better. Please accept my apologies for him. Rest assured that I will monitor his progress and will impress upon him the need to fulfill his obligations, and to render good and faithful service to you.

Please convey to mademoiselle, your wife, all my respects. I look forward to grace from you. I salute you and am, your very humble servant, Catherine Crommelin

12 January 1679 - Letter #46 from Mother at Rouen. Received at Amsterdam.

12 January 1679

My dear son [Frederic de Coninck],
I have yours of 5 January. Since your health continues, I pray ardently that the Eternal might keep you and give you his holy blessing this year, and his Holy Spirit to guide you. Accordingly, may you fear God, my dear child, and keep his commandments because this is the whole purpose of man. This is my prayer for you that I make with all my soul, not only for this year but for the whole course of your life. May his Spirit be with you in all your affairs.

As for us, we are all in good health. Your brother's situation in Paris is still unsettled. I am most displeased that he didn't have more than a year's worth of patience in order to prove himself. After that he would have been free to do other things and to go to another country. But he's irresponsible. Please don't have that attitude. You have to work in order to succeed. My son, you can do that if you would get reconciled with Mr. du Peyrou. Now you know something about him. If he's abrupt, you don't have to talk back to him. And if his wife is in a foul mood, a little bit of flattery would be in order. Dutch women like to be carressed and given due respect. So do that, please, and stay there as long as you can. I urge you to get reconciled with him because you'll have plenty of trouble finding another situation. One knows well what one is leaving, but one doesn't know what one may find. Now that there's peace [between France and Holland], Mr. du Peyrou will be able to do all kinds of business with those with whom he has accounts, and if you learn to do one thing well, you'll know how to handle lots of other things too. So please try once more to reach a settlement. Switchng to something else isn't pleasant. Nobody likes it, and now you're spending money needlessly. My child, if you take heart and respect my suggestion, then you will progress. I can't do anything more than exhort and encourage you. So make a firm resolution to apply yourself, and if you do that for your master, rest assured that it's good for you, and that you'll benefit from it someday.

My son, it was Mr. du Peyrou who turned you out of his home and, if there isn't more to this than what you told me, there simply isn't enough reason to turn a boy out for that. He would do it only if he didn't need you at his business. Then you wouldn't have to stay there, and you could have found another place to live. So you're making a big mistake by not reaching some sort of agreement. And since it was him who put you out, I don't find it appropriate for you to pay him any rent for the time that you lived there. Get some advice from our friends. Mr. Pradellis could speak to him and represent you or, preferably, be present yourself if the opportunity arises. If there's no room for reconciliation, then I'll return your contract to Mr. Pradellis who will deliver it to Mr. du Peyrou. But for your reputation, Mr. du Peyrou will have to put in writing to Mr. Pradellis that this separation isn't for any fault that you have done, and that he acknowledges you to be an honourable man. This recommendation will be useful in future job applications. Get your belongings out of there immediately so nothing can be seized. Understand this well. But if there's still a chance for a reconciliation, that would be the best, or at least that you could stay there until you found another situation because paying rent will cost you a lot, and I don't know how long it will take before you find something else. This worries me a lot. May God help you. Therefore courage, my dear Fredericq.

You talked to me about Spain. This is a country that you shouldn't consider. I know someone who left Spain and he was twice your age. Just think about staying with Mr. du Peyrou, if possible. I wrote to your cousin de la Chambre to see if he could find a merchant in London who needed a bookkeeper, something I think you know well enough by now - a job that would pay your rent, but no wages for 3 or 4 years. I asked him to write you if he found such an opportunity. I gave him your brother's address. I'm afraid there isn't much else I can do.

I wrote a letter to both of you 15 days ago. I sent it to your brother to avoid postage costs. I don't know how he spends his time. Attached is a letter for Mr. du Peyrou. I gave him your regards. Your sister thanks you. She sends her warm regards and wishes you a Happy New Year. It's very cold here. Always be careful that your illness doesn't return. Don't be without a scarf wrapped around your neck. This bitter cold creates vapours around the head. Give my regards to your brother so that I might hear from him. Finally, Miss Marotte Thins is engaged to Mr. Isaac. May God be with you always. Your loving mother, C. Crommelin

16 February 1679 - Letter #47 from Mother at Rouen. Received at Amsterdam.

To: Monsieur Fredericq de Conincq
Woonende op de Fluvrael Burgwal tegen over
de Illustres Schoolen by Adriaen Willemsn tot Rynsburg

16 February 1679

My dear son,
I received yours of 2 February and 6 January later than I should have. The postal coach came at a leisurely pace, meanwhile the cost of the letters was double. Please write me on paper that is much thinner.

My dear boy, I'm really upset that you left Mr. du Peyrou. Without knowing the business, or the place where you went to live, you must be submissive, have respect, and be obliging to people to earn their friendship. Pride and ambition must not take root in your heart. Have nothing to do with that. I say again that it's time for you to advance yourself, and to protect yourself. I can't do anything more than pray to the good heavenly Father to assist you in your need. Therefore take courage. Seek and ye shall find. As for going to Spain, I can't consent to that. When I've settled your account then you can go wherever you want. Right now I see no other option than to live another 3 years in Holland. After that you can go visit places that are further away. Make yourself capable of doing something. I still don't know if you're able to do bookkeeping. If you could find some opportunity in Rotterdam, then that would be wonderful. Ask Mr. Pradellis to write to a friend of his who continues to see him once in a while. Give my regards to his wife, and tell her she would do me a favour by writing to him. See Mr. Froment. It shouldn't be necessary to bother too many friends. I don't know what your brother [Francois]is up to. Let me know if he can speak Dutch well.

I wrote my last letter to him, and the preceding one, via regular mail. I told him to communicate to you the research that Mr. Camin did on your sister for the benefit of his son, namely that we have only one daughter [Catherine]. He [Jean Camin] seems to be a fine honest young man with considerable means - a man with common sense and wisdom which I hope you will also have someday. My mother, brother, and friends to whom I've spoken that know him, say that it would be an advantageous match for your sister. Please also give your consent and pray that God might arrange all to his glory. I can only wait for a reply from your brother and uncle de Conincq.

Keep this a secret. The affair... [page missing]

Affair of the Poisons

[The missing page in Catherine's letter may have contained information pertaining to the mysterious arrest and imprisonment of Pierre Cadelan which she mentioned in earlier letters. By now Catherine would have learned a few details about a morbid scandal that became known as the 'Affair of the Poisons' which involved hundreds of upper-class people in the Parisian aristocracy.]

It's been freezing here for 3 days. Now it's freezing more than ever. The frozen [Seine] river is why the St. Louis didn't leave for Martinique. Hopefully the river will be open so that it can leave next week. May God guide it and give it good success. Mr. Petit is the captain. Jean Poittevin is living in Ireland to do his business. Tell your brother that the vessel the Esperance has been declared free and that the caper at 500 ecu includes all insurance. Your brother Jean has been fired. It was unfortunate that he had to live with Fauvin. He isn't as impertinent as I was told. He doesn't lack judgment. Mention this to your brother. May the Lord be with you. Your sister greets you. Your good mother, C. Crommelin


One of the Windward Islands, Martinique is directly north of Saint Lucia,
northwest of Barbados, and south of Dominica.

Because there were few Catholic priests in the French Antilles, many of the earliest French settlers were Huguenots who sought greater religious freedom than what they could experience in mainland France. They were industrious and became quite prosperous. Although edicts from King Louis XIV's court regularly came to the islands to suppress the Protestant "heretics", these were mostly ignored by island authorities until Louis XIV's Edict of Revocation in 1685.

From September 1686 to early 1688, the French crown used Martinique as a threat and a dumping ground for mainland Huguenots who refused to reconvert to Catholicism. Over 1,000 Huguenots were transported to Martinique during this period, usually under miserable and crowded ship conditions that caused many of them to die en route. Those that survived the trip were distributed to the island planters as Engagés (Indentured servants) under the system of serf peonage that prevailed in the French Antilles at the time.

Since many of the planters on Martinique were themselves Huguenot, and were sharing in the suffering under the harsh strictures of the Revocation, they began plotting to emigrate from Martinique with many of their recently arrived brethren. Many of them were encouraged to do so by their Catholic brethren who looked forward to the departure of the heretics and seizing their property for themselves. By 1688, nearly all of Martinique's French Protestant population had escaped to the British American colonies or Protestant countries back home. The policy decimated the population of Martinique and the rest of the French Antilles and set back their colonization by decades. This caused the French king to relax his policies in the islands, yet the islands were left susceptible to British occupation over the next century.

Martinique was occupied several times by the British including once during the Seven Years' War and twice during the Napoleonic Wars. Britain controlled the island almost continuously from 1794–1815, when it was traded back to France at the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars. Martinique has remained a French possession since then.

Source: Wikipedia

Martinique in the Caribbean Antilles.

As seen from space, the Windward Islands sparkle like a string of jewels at night

28 March 1679 - Letter #48 from Mother. Received at Amsterdam.

28 March 1679

My dear son,
I have yours of 2 March. I wasn't able to reply sooner because I didn't have the time. I gave instructions to Mr. Pradellis to give you the money. Manage your affairs as best you can. Don't bother paying your landlord. Mr. Pradellis will pay him when you leave. My son, money is slipping away like water through your fingers. Remember that this is your money that you're spending, and also that I'm not able to give you as much as you would like. So for goodness sake find yourself a place with a merchant. I'm really upset that you don't show more initiative in getting ahead. That displeases me immensely. By now you must be a man who knows bookkeeping perfectly. Your cousin Jean de la Chambre kept books at the age of 14 for Mr. Schardinel. Isn't it possible that you could live there as well? At least try to give me a little more contentment.

If your brother [Francois] is still staying at Amsterdam, I'll send him your sister's marriage contract who signed it on Sunday with all our friends. Your brother does as he pleases, and I don't know what mood he's in. This is important for your sister, but not for him. The young man [Jean Camin] is very honest, of good conduct, and has spirit. I regard him as a person who will serve you, be a friend, and who will help you get established. If you approve of him, your sister would like that. Finally, my dear son, be reasonable. They won't be getting married until 15 days after Easter. I also urge you to sign the contract. Your grandmother [Rachel Tacquelet] came back to Paris. Goodbye. I'm in a hurry. Your loving mother, Catherine Crommelin

[Rachel Tacquelet (1609-1686) was a spritely 'roving granny' who lived alone in her apartment on Bussy (Buci) Street in the heart of Paris. She kept tabs on everything that was going on amongst her childrens' families. This Map of Paris shows where she lived (blue dot). In later years her apartment became a temporary hide-out for Marie Camin (Frederic de Coninck's future fiance) before she fled to England and got married there. (Marie was out on bail having been held captive in a convent in Dieppe for a year for being a Protestant.) For further details about this map, see Webpage.]

6 April 1679 - Letter #49 from Mother at Rouen. Received at Amsterdam.

6 April 1679

My dear son,
This morning I received your letter of 30 March. The impertinence of your brother [Francois]! I think the boy's crazy. I don't know what he wants to say, except that he opposes the marriage of your sister which is no more than a slap in the face! It only serves to make a mockery of himself. My goodness, your sister certainly doesn't need him, and if she did, she'd be most miserable! And he was the one that I had hoped for a long time to get married! Your sister had remarked often enough that he had a haughty attitude when she was obliged to look after him during his six month illness at the Jardin. And even during her illness she was obliging and solicitous. That's how we passed the nights, one after the other. Now this is how both of us have been thanked! O child rebel and backbiter...I'm in terrible anguish! It's only him who doesn't find it to be a very good match. A house remains stable only if everyone will get along together. Indeed, up till now for the last 6 six years he's done nothing but raise a ruckus. He upsets everybody. It's better to improve than to get worse.

Anyway, the young man is very honest and of good conduct. He was inclined to go to the tavern and often was there with your brother. It was certainly to his liking. Reading his letter was like a blow to my heart. I was careful not to send him the marriage contract before knowing whether he was in a mood to sign it. However, I would have liked to send it to him. I think you would have been pleased to sign it. Anyway, my dear son, you can believe that I took every precaution necessary to put you at ease, and I do wish you and your sister would get along. You only have the one sister on your side [ie. a de Coninck, whereas Frederic's other half-sisters were Oursels.]. She's a bit annoyed that you haven't written her. After all, she is your older sister. This is why Mr. Camin hasn't written you. He thinks you don't like her anymore. However, I do hope that you'll be more positive than one of your brothers. All of us here ardently wish you the best in getting settled in Amsterdam. I think they'll be getting married on April 23rd. If you weren't so far away I'd be delighted to see you and I would ask you to come earlier, however the attitude of your brother prevents me from doing that. His attitude is so brutal that he wouldn't make any positive contribution. My dear boy, please don't cultivate this same attitude in Holland. Always maintain a soft and humble spirit because this is what pleases God and everybody. Don't be angry or vain because you have little reason for that. Be gentle and honest, and try to move forward.

Mr. Romitie will be the best man for Mr. Camin. Go see him. He is his friend. He also knows Mr. Oursel from the time he lived at the home of Mr. Scott in Rouen. Make his acquaintance, or if you don't want to go there, you can meet him at the Exchange. He's a decent fellow. He may even be able to find you a good job. If your landlord wants you to pay anything, Mr. van Pradellis will do it. I'm expecting your grandmother next Saturday. She's coming for the wedding of your sister. I greet you warmly. Be my good son, and I'll be your good mother. Your brother there won't be going. Goodbye. Affectionately, your mother, Catherine Crommelin

23 April 1679 - Marriage of Jean Camin and Catherine de Coninck at Quevilly temple (Rouen), both age 24.

1 June 1679 - Letter #50 from Mother at Rouen. Received at Amsterdam.

1 June 1679

My dear son,
I've received several of your letters. It's true that I had resolved not to write you for a while because of my disappointment over your dismal progress, and also having 3 grown-up boys who show so little courage for their advancement. This depresses me immensely. I had higher hopes for you than for your two brothers. Now I see that it was all in vain. My son, you've lost your ambition because to succeed you have to apply yourself to something, quit frivolous pleasures, and only get involved with things that are most beneficial.

Absolutely don't refuse this opportunity at Rotterdam to be involved with sugar. It sounds like a good job. Being in an office you won't actually have to handle the stuff. I wish with all my heart that you might get to know this trade although you won't make as much as you might think. If God gives Mr. Oursel time, he'll be able to assist you. As you know, we have the opportunity with our 'St. Louis' [ship] which, God willing, is in the Isles [likely the Windward Isles - Martinique] to bring back sugar, and he hopes to continue in this trade, Mr. Oursel is annoyed that you turned down this opportunity.

Write to Mr. Scott. Ask him if there's any way to commit to less than 5 years. If they would like to have you for 4 years, you must resolve to do it and know how much money you'll be needing. Also, show them that you can do bookkeeping in the 3 month trial period in which you'll be making less. Also inquire whether the people there will allow you to make a trip to France before starting - something that must not be delayed. I see that it's necessary, my son, so come on the first ship that leaves for Rouen without delay because I'm really concerned about how you're still feeling because of your illness [epilepsy]. You are a poor unfortunate boy.

Disembark on the road to Le Havre, and take with you any clothes and linen that you might need. Then go to the home of my father Oursel who I'll inform soon. I'll go there myself, and in passing by Honfleur I'll bring a letter of recommendation to see a person who knows an admirable secret on how to cure your illness. Don't worry. As for your luggage, have it taken to the home of Mr. van Pradellis and ask him to pay whatever you owe in rent to your landlord. Furthermore, I won't allow you to take any money from him. You have enough for your passage which you will find in a letter that I'll mail to your sister. Come then, without any objection.

Your brother is still at Antwerp. I don't know if he'll be there much longer, which doesn't please me. I didn't know that your uncle [in Antwerp] isn't feeling well. Ask Mr. Pradelles to give you an account of what he must be paid to be reimbursed for your expenses. Mr. Seocque Febure is dead. His son has been here for some days. Give my regards to all our friends. Goodbye my dear son. Affectionately, your mother, C. Crommelin

15 June 1679 - Letter #51 from Mother at Rouen. Received at Amsterdam.

15 June 1679

My dear son,
I have yours of 8 June and see that you would rather stay in Amsterdam, and that you much prefer pleasure over what's best for you. That's understandable. Other cities can't compare with Amsterdam. I know that it's the best, but considering your situation, not having found any job opportunity, you must find something elsewhere and not go on living like a vagabond as you are now. Seek, therefore, and don't do as the others do over there, namely go looking and then pray that you don't find anything. In a word, my son, I'm tired of supplying you with money. You've been in Holland for nearly three years. By now you must know Dutch and write it perfectly. It's a glimmer of satisfaction that you give me. I also suspect that you're capable of keeping account books at a merchant to at least earn enough money to pay for your food. Think about that and push yourself a little in order to get ahead. You'd only be fooling yourself if you think that you're living in a world of gold.

Mr. Oursel is extremely angry over your maintainance and his bad mood makes me suffer. He says he isn't able to give you any more, so if you want to go on living like this he'll just leave you to fend for yourself. You know he's your guardian. Indeed, you three boys cause me to die a little inside for being so faint-hearted and not having any courage. I had more hope for you which makes me want you to come home. It's also partly because of your illness and to decide where to send you. I'd also be pleased to see you again.

I know that you find Holland charming. So go ahead and establish yourself there, but don't loaf about. It doesn't matter where. You can always come back to Amsterdam someday. Earn at least enough to pay for your rent. Mr. Pradellis has withdrawn another 194 ecu. Mr. Oursel swears that in future he'll leave him to protest his letters. So take care and be resourceful. Don't expect anything more from me. I'm not able to do anything more for you. I'm upset that you can't give me more joy. Here I see other young people who have also lost their father like you - young people who take up the challenge and are working.

Mr. Jacob Pelgrem is a good example. Before he was 20 years old he was managing his sugar business and keeping the books. His older brother has been overseas for a very long time while you still don't want to know anything. You'll have to push yourself and show a little initiative. There are worse things than learning how to become a sugar dealer. Those who know how to refine it are making good money. Mr. Everson earns at least 15 to 1800# per year. He has a voice at court and is much respected. Mr. le Linx is the same. As boys they showed initiative. Now Mr. Everson is rich. They are excellent examples that you too can emulate. You can enter into a sugar business to work in the office, and if you work well the master refiner will offer you some money after you serve your apprenticeship. Mr. Oursel is heartily in favour of that. It takes trouble and effort in order to succeed, and don't expect a fortune to simply tumble out of the sky if you don't work to make it happen.

As for your illness, take the powder that I sent you from time to time, and also purge yourself. And above all, don't drink too much. Remain sober. May God give you his Holy Spirit and reverential fear that will help you in your illness and guide you wherever you go. So far I haven't heard any complaints about you. I don't know where your brother is now. I think he might be at St. Quentin since I only have news that he's left Antwerp. Your uncle there detained him for a long time [His Uncle de Coninck in Antwerp wasn't well.]. His luggage has arrived here. I spoke to Capt. Vlaming. Your cousins de la Chambre from London have been in this city since last Saturday with a lady Martel and 4 children. But the following Monday God recalled the smallest one, who was only 18 months old, after a 24 hour illness that took everyone by surprise. They're taking it well. Goodbye. Mr. Oursel isn't in this city right now. I recommend you to the care of the Lord. Your brother and sister Camin greet you. They're annoyed that you don't go to visit Mr. Romity. Your grandmother will return home soon. Your loving mother, Catherine Crommelin

13 July 1679 - Letter #52 from Mother at Rouen. Received at Amsterdam.

13 July 1679

My dear son,
I have yours of 29 June. Don't think that I can provide you with any more money in the future. I absolutely can't do it. Earn it yourself if you wish because in the 3 years that you've been in Holland you still don't know how to do bookkeeping for a merchant in order to pay for your rent. You're nothing but a faint-hearted sluggard. If you don't do it, then don't think that you can go on staying in Amsterdam. Since you've been there you've only been loafing around, never able to find one job. You lost one opportunity by not staying with Mr. du Peyrou. You see how wrong you were. You could have been working there for a year already. Now we have to start from the beginning. So make up for lost time and take the best opportunity that comes along in Rotterdam. Do some bookkeeping in order to augment your pension.

Your uncle de Conincq is annoyed because you don't want to go to Rotterdam. Good business can be done there and I prefer it to Amsterdam. Choose between the two and go there, or go to some small town where you'll only be paying about 200 pounds of rent per year because I told you that I absolutely can't supply you with any more money. Since last December you've cost 442:12 pounds, and that's only in 6 months. This just isn't right. You have to work, my son, if you desire to have. I suspect you don't want to get involved in the sugar business. It's not like wantng to go to La Rochelle where one goes there for nothing. Otherwise work in Holland and find yourself an office job where you can do some bookkeeping. The only other option is to come home because in 3 years you haven't done a thing. I can't let you go on languishing like this.

Camin has a friend in Rotterdam who established himself there with his family a year ago. He lives at Ableville. His name is Mr. du Pre. He knows me well and he'll be of service to you. But don't tell him that your plan is to settle there otherwise he might become jealous. Just tell him that you'd like to pass some time there to improve your language skills.

My son, profit from what I've said to you, otherwise I declare that I'll have to abandon you. I hope your fever hasn't continued. May God keep you in good health. Your cousin de la Chambre told me that he'll be going back [to London]. Your grandmother will also be returning soon [to Paris]. Your brother [Francois] came back here 15 days ago. May the Lord be with you. Remain faithful to him and he won't abandon you. Your loving mother, C. Crommelin

3 August 1679 - Letter #53 from Mother at Rouen. Received at Amsterdam.

3 August 1679

My dear son,
I received yours of 27 July. If I had no love for you, I wouldn't be tormenting myself so much over your lack of progress. My love for you will fail only when my life is over. But love isn't enough. You must consider that soon you'll be a young man of 19 years who doesn't know anything, and it's a mortal regret for me to see you, over a period of three years, with no employment. You could have been working after being in Amsterdam for one year if you had stayed with a merchant. At least the time would have passed, and in only two more years you would have been able to do something that would enable you to establish yourself. Instead you chose only to amuse yourself - thinking you lived on a mountain of gold. And being ambitious you didn't want to be submissive to anyone in order to learn. But to be a master, first you must learn to serve.

So now you want to make a trip back here. I'm in agreement with that. Therefore, without losing any more time, come by the first vessel that will depart for Rouen, and don't get sidetracked by anything. Speak to the master of the ship to help you with your luggage and bargain a little over what he's charging you. If you owe anything to your landlord for your rent, arrange for him to get it from Mr. Pradellis. I don't want you to take anything from him for yourself. I'll pay for your passage here. Bring only a pound or two of spice cake for your little sister ['Manon', Marie Oursel].

I wrote to Mr. du Pre but we'll discuss that when you come here. Ask Mr van Pradellis for a bill to bring along with you, and come as soon as possible. Our big Catherine is still engaged to Robert Cauvin of Dieppe. She will be 'capitainneresse', and the third woman on the ship. Your cousins de la Chambre have all departed and arrived alright over there, however you can still see your big cousin Daniel [de la Chambre]. He's going around to say goodbye to his friends, so don't delay.

Your brother Jean asks you to bring along for him 2 tall champagne glasses like the biggest one that your brother Francois brought over. They cost him 4 pounds each. They should have the same ring which is quite unique. I pray God to bless and keep you. Your loving mother, C. Crommelin

[And so, after 3 fruitless years in Amsterdam, Frederic de Coninck returned home to Rouen for 2 years to try to recover from his illness and to plan the next phase of his life. No letters were written or saved during this period, so the curtain comes down temporarily on his activities at this time. However, some interesting things happened in 1680 and 1681 that are worthy of note...]