Frederic de Coninck Letters Translation Project
First news of the deaths of Robert Oursel Jr. and Jean(?) de la Chambre in Jamaica
1744 Map of Jamaica by Emanuel Bowen. Click to enlarge.
November 23, 1693
Madam Caterine Crommelin
I don't know how to write you, nor how to take it. The death of my brother Oursel will put you into another grave despondency or affliction which I can't imagine without trembling. I know that you loved him dearly, and it is only right that you shed your tears. I understand how the loss you have suffered is huge and intolerable to bear, but also permit me to say that in misfortunes where there is no remedy, one must draw on a Christian steadfastness and to suffer patiently what it pleased God to send us. This you must do in trust, my dear mother. After having given your affection all that it requires, dry your tears and reflect that the One to whom you are crying is the possessor of all things good in a place where there is no more lamentation or regret.
Never has news so overwhelmed me as this. By it I have been touched as much as one possibly can be. Was it necessary that one who undertook such a hazardous voyage should thus end his days? If everyone had opposed it as vigorously as I did, Robert would still be in London and as happy as he was. But the big ideas he had, and his love for riches, took their revenge. I was opposed to his enterprise as much for its prospects as for the risks which his deeds would expose him to. I didn't want anyone to suffer when he carried away with him the bulk of the children's inheritance. Little pity for the two was shown by doing such a thing, and everything that I predicted has come to pass. By God's mercy I did what I had to do, and therefore I have nothing to be blamed for in this matter. This is affirmed by the letters which I wrote you and my late brother.
Tomorrow I will write my cousin Jean de la Chambre who also lost his son, an associate of my brother, bidding him to put in order the matters that he will have to face. I fear things won't be in very good order as a result of my brother's long illness. However, I'm told that he passed power of attorney over to my uncle Crommelin to take care of his affairs. This is what we will find out later. Much is spoken about what occurred in Jamaica. Many others died as well. The epidemic reigned for some time and proved...
hazardous to all those who caught it, almost everybody. Please do me the kindness to assure Mr. Oursel [Robert Jr.'s father] and my sisters that I very much share in their affliction and pray God that He might console you all. And you, my dear mother, in the name of God please calm your spirit and conserve yourself for your other children. For that, I pray with all my heart that it pleases God to sustain you and strengthen you in this trial, and to send you consolation sufficient for the state in which you find yourself. Only He can succeed in doing that. My wife is also powerfully affected by the death of my poor brother. She greets you affectionately. As for me, I will be forever...
[Jean de la Chambre, cousin of Frederic, was the son of Daniel de la Chambre of Haarlem who married Marie Crommelin, an older sister of both Daniel and Catherine Crommelin. Marie and Daniel de la Chambre lived for several years at Chauny, then Rouen, where Marie died in 1660 in child birth. She left 5 children: Jean (below), Daniel, Francois, Marie and Anne. Jean settled in London and married a daughter of Monsieur Laurens Martel in 1669. He had 4 children by this marriage of which 2 remained after one died in Jamaica in 1693. See his Last Will and Testament dated 1715.]
November 24, 1693
Mr. Jean de la Chambre [in London]
We learned with much sorrow and pain the sad news you wrote regarding the death of my cousin, your son, and of my brother Robert Oursel. Thus ends the splendid projects they had devised and their great hopes to get established. It is said that what man proposes, God disposes, and this is undoubtedly a harsh blow for you and my cousin, your wife, who are as fond of your own two children as you were of them. But it's necessary to submit oneself to the will of God and to suffer with patience the trials that it pleases Him to send us. I pray with all my heart that God may console you in your affliction and that He will conserve you along with all your family. May He give you all the joy and contentment that you can hope for.
You are aware that my said brother Oursel had been declared to be the administrator of the assets of the children of my late brother de Coninck [Jean de Coninck]. Foolishly, as it turned out, he took what little they owned with him to Jamaica. I opposed him on this with all my power, forseeing what could happen, but my contrary opinion served only to strengthen his resolve. He did more. From his father who wished to advance his son, Robert obtained most of what belonged to the children. These bizarre proceedings bothered me immensely, but I wasn't able to prevent it despite every appeal imagineable. Early on I asked that he be satisfied with carrying away only what belonged to him. Putting the poor children at risk of ruin wasn't something I could stand by and idly watch happening, but it isn't necessary to dwell on that.
Now to retrieve their effects and that of those who died, this is something we can do only with the help of friends. My uncle Crommelin wrote saying that he is ill and feared that he might also succumb, although he is strong enough now. If you wrote him you would do me the pleasure of assisting me. I will write you a letter to put under the cover of yours. In general I implore you to take care of the effects of my brother Oursel. I have several letters from him which I will present by and by in which he admits what he owes the children. Shortly before his departure I also sent him some lace. He also had some things at Hamburg. I don't doubt that he apprised you of that before he departed. Finally, my cousin, I appeal to have him return the effects of my brother Oursel, either in whole or in part, giving it all up to you, even his papers. They contain his obligations to his father Oursel pertaining to my late brother de Coninck. You know only too well the temper of my father-in-law. If any of these things should tumble into his hands then nothing will ever be returned and my nieces run the risk of falling into a final misery. I took them into my home which is an additional burden. I'm in no condition to provide them with any charity, having a large family myself which prevents unlimited benevolence.
I don't doubt that you will accord me generously that which I ask of you. You will bear witness to a great injustice done towards these poor orphans, and I will add these favours...
to those which I already have from you, and which I will never forget. My wife and I greet you most humbly as well as my cousin, your spouse. May God comfort and strengthen you in this trial. I forgot to mention that my brother Robert told me that he had been given guarantees of more than fl. 1000 for his administrations. Since you will be able to clarify this for me, please advise what must be done next.
10 December 1693
Monsieur Francois de Coninck [Frederic's older brother]
I have your letter of the 2nd current. Thank you for your advice regarding the effects of our late brother Robert.
I can well protest to you that even the war of religion will never serve as a pretext to commit the least injustice. Upon my honour, conscience and more, by God, had you not acted the the way you did, I would not have had any reason to grumble. You would have done me great service if you had been fair in the disposition of the monies left by Mr. Duijnkerke. It would have been to both our advantage and no complaints would have ensued.
Returning to our brother Robert, I will admit that I do not look for a return of most of his effects, even the things I would most like to have. It isn't in my power to do it. I understand that he made his last will and testament. I don't know what it contains but it won't be to our advantage because he didn't like us. Our uncle Daniel Crommelin is in charge of it, and it is he who must reclaim his effects. But I fear that all will be lost because other than the son of cousin Jean de la Chambre dying, the last news also said that our said uncle was himself seriously ill, so much so that he is afraid that he won't be able to survive it either. The fever reigned for some time - a strong bad air on that island which spread to many others. Since this is so, I give you to wonder if all isn't lost. Furthermore, in a country so distant, there are always big egos with no scruples who are ready to seize the assets of others in the hope that one won't go so far to retrieve what belongs to them. That won't happen, and I don't think the inheritance will leave us much that belonged to him either.
I fear that his affairs are in much disarray because he was ill for a long time. He had with him most of the capital that belonged to our late brother, Jean de Coninck. You see, he was declared administrator of his children's assets which he then carried away with him to Jamaica. I did all I could to oppose him on this, but to no avail. In short, the father ruined us while his son risked the ruin of the children of our brother. The girls, on the other hand, are their purse. Everything is going wrong. Meanwhile I've taken our nieces to live with us for more than a year. Charity and kinship obliges me to do that, but since I don't have the means to feed and maintain them for nothing, it puts me in great distress because these poor children will certainly fall into misery if I can't get my hands on any of Robert's effects. The good Lord allows by His holy grace all that presently grieves me and puts me in great dismay. In addition I am quite unable even to reach out to others regarding my situation. This is all that I can tell you at present on this subject.
I am greatly surprised that my mother has given separate lodgings to her daughters... I leave her to conduct and deal with it in a manner that isn't so prejudicial. She is still grieving brother Robert's death. He had such grand plans when he left for Jamaica with the air of a conqueror and the restorer of his family. He imagined that he would earn lots of money over there, increasing in wealth and goods but forgetting that often what man proposes, God disposes. I close, and may God bless your legitimate plans. I am...
Jamaican Yellow Fever Epidemic, 1693
Frederic attributed the disease to 'bad air', not knowing that a mosquito was how the yellow fever virus was being spread. Since 1693 there have been other major outbreaks of yellow fever on Jamaica, as well as discoveries of effective ways to treat the disease.
Given Daniel Crommelin's previous effort to participate in the slave trade as early as 1681 in collusion with Nicolas van Hoorn, the infamous pirate, it seems ironic nemesis that he almost succumbed to a disease in 1693 that was brought over from West Africa inside the water caskets carried aboard the early slave ships. This is how one article explains it:Yellow fever was an uninvited "guest" brought to the Americas on the slave ships from West Africa. Yellow fever is caused by a virus spread by the bite of a species of mosquito native to West Africa, the aedes aegypti. This mosquito was accidentally carried across the Atlantic in water barrels on the slave ships. Yellow fever struck communities from New York to Rio de Janeiro, but aedes aegypti flourished in tropical zones. The mosquito, and with it yellow fever, spread rapidly throughout the Amazon River valley. The disease was so lethal to Europeans, who had little immunity to it, that mass settlement of the Amazon region was not possible until present times.
31 December 1693
Madame Caterine Crommelin
It's been a rather long time since we've received your letters. I attribute this silence to your despondency in the wake of brother Oursel's death. In the name of God, please calm your spirit and reflect that in these sorts of afflictions where there is no remedy, one must resign oneself entirely over to God's will and accept what He wants. This is what I hope to learn from your letter. I will also learn with much joy the good decisions that are to be taken regarding the effects of said brother Oursel touching what he owed my little nieces. I can only say that if your husband does not give you the order to render a good and prompt justice to these poor children, as much on that side by giving up what still remains, they will fall into misery before long because what I see happening is that everyone is pulling for his own side as hard as he can.
I gather that my sisters are living in an apartment apart and separate. I know this to be the way to get rid of them, that's clear, thereby making more room in the house. I don't have anything else to say about that except to please give some thought to the other children, and that you are obliged in good conscience to take an equal balance. If I were alone I would not speak to you about it. I would be patient. But I have several children who are also yours. In God's name, please think about them too. I pray God, my dear mother, that the kindness that we can do today will be the end of all your weariness.
I wish that the year we are entering into tomorrow and the ones that follow may be years of contentment and satisfaction for you. In place of sorrows, that they will wipe away those of the present, and that you will have cause to thank God for the mercies He has bestowed upon you. I close praying that you rest assured that I will always have a strong love and respect. I am...
31 December 1693
Monsieur Henry Samuel Crommelin [in Haarlem]
[Henry Samuel was the son of Samuel Crommelin and Madeleine Testart. His father's death is the subject of a letter by Frederick Coninck on March 8, 1694. Henry Samuel's first wife, whose death from some disease is mentioned below, was Catharina Maria Crommelin (1669-1693), daughter of Armand Crommelin and Emilia de Hochepied. Catharina Maria's only child, Henry Samuel Crommelin Jr. was less than a year old at the time of her death. Her son died single in 1777. Henry Samuel's second wife was Jacoba Sophia van Wickevoort (1674-1732) whom he married in 1697. Thus Henry Samuel was the patriarch of all the van Wickevoort-Crommelin descendents. ]
The sad news of the death of my cousin, your wife, touched me deeply. So much so that I do not even want to hear about her illness. I understand that your loss is immense and insufferable. This affliction must seem especially hard to bear considering how short you have been together. [They married in 1690.] Thus, far from blaming you for your sighs and tears, I heartily approve of them. But after your grieving is ended, one must listen to reason and reflect on Maria's strengths. In things where there is no remedy, one must in the end console oneself by placing everything in the will of God who knows better than we do as to what is proper and necessary.
I don't doubt that this reasoning will make an impression on your spirit, returning strength and tranquility to you as you partake in the eternal happiness enjoyed by all those who weep. I pray God that His will for you is to strengthen and bless you, not only in the new year which we are about to enter, but through the whole course of your life. I am with all my heart...
The year before Daniel and Charles Crommelin, Robert Oursel Jr., and Jean(?) de la Chambre arrived in Jamaica, the main point of entry, Port Royal, was devastated by an earthquake which caused the whole port to be submerged. The inset diagram above shows the before-and-after boundaries of "one of the wickedest places on earth."
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
The 1692 Jamaica earthquake struck Port Royal, Jamaica on June 7, at exactly 11:43 a.m., according to a stopped pocket watch found in the harbour in the 1950s. Port Royal was then the unofficial capital of Jamaica, and one of the busiest and wealthiest ports in the West Indies. It was known both as the "storehouse and treasury of the West Indies" and "one of the wickedest places on earth". The earthquake caused most of the city to sink below sea level and about 2,000 people died as a result of the earthquake and the following tsunami. About 3000 people died in the days following the earthquakes due to injuries and disease.
Two-thirds of the town, amounting to 33 acres (13 ha), sank into the sea immediately after the main shock. According to Robert Renny in his 'An History of Jamaica' (1807) "All the wharves sunk at once, and in the space of two minutes, nine-tenths of the city were covered with water, which was raised to such a height, that it entered the uppermost rooms of the few houses which were left standing. The tops of the highest houses, were visible in the water, and surrounded by the masts of vessels, which had been sunk along with them".
Before the earthquake, the town consisted of 6,500 inhabitants living in about 2,000 buildings, many constructed of brick and with more than one storey, and all built on loose sand. During the shaking, the sand liquefied and the buildings, along with their occupants, appeared to flow into the sea. More than twenty ships moored in the harbour were capsized. One ship, the frigate Swan, was carried over the rooftops by the tsunami. During the mainshock the sand was said to have formed waves. Fissures repeatedly opened and closed, crushing many people. After the shaking stopped, the sand again solidified, trapping many victims.
At Liguanea (present Kingston), all the houses were destroyed and water was ejected from 40-foot-deep (12 m) wells. Almost all the houses at St. Jago (Spanish Town) were also destroyed.
There were many landslides throughout the island. The largest, the Judgement Cliff landslide, displaced the land surface by up to 800 m and killed 19 people. Several rivers were temporarily dammed and a few days after the earthquakes the harbour became flooded with large numbers of trees stripped of their bark brought down after one of these dams was breached.
A pocket watch, made in the Netherlands by the French maker Blondel, was recovered during underwater archaeological investigations led by Edwin Link in the 1950s. The watch was stopped with its hands pointing to 11:43, giving a precise timing of the earthquake, and this matches well with other contemporary accounts.
Source: Proceedings of the Huguenot Society of London Vol.III, 1888-1891