Frederic de Coninck Letters Translation Project
Letter to Daniel somewhere between Jamaica and New York; Birth of Frederic's daughter Catherine
May 4, 1694
Monsieur Daniel Crommelin [in Jamaica or New York. This letter is to be sent as an enclosure to someone who might know where to find Daniel, and then have it forwarded to him.]
Monsieur Camin communicated to me the letter that you took the trouble to write him dated last October on the subject of the effects of my late brother Oursel which belonged to my little nieces de Coninck. This matter gives me a lot of sorrow, more so because my said brother Robert took to a distant country the inheritance of these poor orphans without my consent and in spite of my objections. I did all that was in my power to prevent that from happening. I even made him all sorts of offers but it served only to strengthen his own plan, and all my protests availed nothing. The result was to ruin the children, and then their father ruined us. That family has been lethal to us! Before leaving England he wrote me with a haughty attitude that I would simply have to suffer whatever misfortune might transpire. He had already divided their goods in advance for the future, and it seemed that he meant to squander all these riches in the West Indies. I myself never thought that there was a big fortune to be made over there, and I predicted all that happened to him. With regards to his misfortune I was too good a prophet.
Furthermore monsieur, my uncle, I would be infinitely obliged for the trouble you give to this affair. I thank you for it, and please consider it as though you were doing it for me. I don't mean to boast, but I can't help saying that if it weren't for other more charitable relations, I don't know what would have become of these poor children. Everyone has abandoned them and nobody wants to hear any talk about their situation. And what particularly bothers me is that my mother is included in that number! When the children are older, they will act in a way they find appropriate. Therefore I don't believe that she approved of Mr. Oursel's plan to take what he had in his hands that belonged to the orphans and giving it to his son to take away to Jamaica. Also I gather that fear has seized him since he has virtually mounted the ramparts of trickery to ward off the blow which occurred.
Please, in the name of God, take some interest in the defence of the children. Their situation is worthy of pity and if they come to lose by some misfortune that which you have in your hands, they will will be reduced to being beggars. Have therefore the kindness to return to this country that which belongs to them as soon as possible, and give us notice s.v.p. As for the necessary assurances to be made with regards to the discharge that you request, you will be able to order that from the one to whom you will remit the money. Nothing can be attempted without a receipt [discharge] in the forms which other relatives will know about. I don't doubt that you won't render these reasons because if you wish to remit nothing, which you apparently don't through a discharge, then you would be able to keep the goods of the children for as long as it pleases you. To believe there was ever any integrity, so far I haven't seen any evidence of that.
Kindly see if amongst the papers of my late brother Oursel you can find any obligations that my step-father Oursel has to my late brother Jean de Coninck, for if these are not found, his children will be the losers. There is still a remainder which is owed to them, so we must not give up hope. If you manage to find some papers that are worth the trouble, please send them securely to this country. Please send me also a copy of the will of brother Robert.
I have written my cousin Jean de la Chambre this winter regarding the lace that he had been sent shortly before his departure, some of which remains unsold...in this you would do me great pleasure if you would take the trouble.
You said only that you were about to go and live in New York. God willing you will find there more satisfaction and a healthier air than at Jamaica. I pray that He causes your plans to prosper and gives you success in all that you undertake. I believe He will preserve one from hardships provided he withdraws himself from so many others. I hope that with the change of air you will regain your health and that it will reinvigorate you. This I will learn with much joy. If, however, it pleases God to rule otherwise and even to dispose of you, I don't doubt that following your common sense you will always be attentive to putting your affairs in good order. What belongs to the orphans, and what we request, can be easily ascertained and attended to with integrity. I hope you will not be troubled by this, but in a country so far away you must recognize that it is absolutely necessary that you take some pains to release what you have in your hands. It will give me great joy because only this can ease my mind.
I close by once again bidding you to take the interest of the children to heart. I would then forget the inhumane manner in which their well-being has been sacrificed. For their future they have been given a funeral by all the people, causing me to forever remain a very sad individual. May it be God's will to see that these affairs get redressed. Please know that I am with all my heart...
Frederic de Coninck
May 4, 1694
Monsieur Francois de la Chambre [ a businessman in London, brother of Jean de la Chambre. He remained single.]
Enclosed is a letter for my uncle Daniel Crommelin. I don't know if he's still in Jamaica or has left for New York as he wrote earlier that he hoped to go there. Although he may be there, please write him immediately and send it in the fastest and most secure way you know of, to wherever you think that he will be. You would do me a great pleasure and I would owe you a big favor. I have also written once again to my cousin Jean de la Chambre, your brother, on the subject of the effects of our late brothers de Coninck and Oursel. You know that all the latter had in his hands belonged to the children of the former, who even made a will that left everything to the two orphans.
The question is to obtain their effects. It is on this subject that I write our uncle Daniel and that I wrote to my cousin. Meanwhile I cannot obtain from them any response although I pressed them with great urgency. Kindly see that it gets conveyed in order to render justice to the poor children whose plight is worthy of pity. If you accord me this honor you will do a meritous work which God will compensate you for. Please know that I will render service to you by all means possible since I am sincerely of good heart...
[This letter was not sent to Francois de la Chambre because it has been crossed out. Since Frederic hadn't heard from Jean de la Chambre for a long time, he thought of sending the 'Daniel Crommelin letter' (above) as an enclosure to his brother, Francois, instead. Then he changed his mind when he received a letter on May 4 from Jean de la Chambre with some new information. Thus he sent the 'Daniel Crommelin letter' as an enclosure to Peter Caillard and John Augier at Kingston, Jamaica (below). These people were probably business contacts in Kingston, Jamaica who might know where to reach Daniel Crommelin.]
May 4, 1694
Monsieur Jean de la Chambre
When I didn't know what to attribute your silence to, your letter of the 18/21 April fortunately took the trouble to inform me. I greatly appreciate learning what you said about what transpired at Jamaica regarding the effects of my brother Oursel. Mr. Crommelin wrote about everything else to Mr. Camin. He says that he took some trouble and through some effort finally managed to get what he asked for. He even makes known that without him all would have been lost. As for me, I don't share that sentiment at all. I am sure that you are just and that you will render justice to whom it belongs, and am persuaded that your friends will enjoy the same, and that you would have rendered an accurate account of what they would have...
received. I would have strongly wished that the things were seized in due course but since it wasn't, it's necessary to have patience and try to retrieve it as soon as possible from the hands of our uncle. To tell you the truth, I have no confidence that this will ever be done. He won't send us a copy of the will.
He admits only having in his hands around Pounds31c: of the effects without mentioning the interest but what I find extraordinary in his procedure is that he writes that he wishes to leave at the end of January, last, to go and live in New York without mentioning how one can write to him there. He even says that he has no intention of remitting anything without first getting a valid discharge. This is his way of keeping the goods of the children as long as he wishes because I don't believe their Trustee was ever appointed in the documents. Everyone has abandoned them, including my mother and Mr. Oursel. After they advanced their son some money which, so to speak was sacred and therefore wrong, they wished to do nothing in the least to remove the stain through some remedial action. If they don't answer some day before men, they will have to answer before God. That family has become nothing but one that is ruining ours!
Returning to our uncle, I implored him to return as soon as possible the net assets either to this country or to one of his friends in England with the order to not release it without a discharge which relatives will be able to arrange. It seems to me that he must give his excuses because, frankly, I fear that if he happens to die then all will be lost, and this is part of my worries. I would prefer that he sends you a notice to pay before any necessary assurances are undertaken. If these few steps are taken, the lost funds can be obtained because I don't see any other means to maintain these children since they at least have to eat.
Furthermore monsieur, my cousin, I am most obliged for the interest which you seem to take in this affair, and that you don't mind taking charge of my letter which I will provide. Please write to my uncle to seriously consider this matter in order that we may soon see the goods returned. Please also have him release to you all the papers which he has, and then send them quickly to this country when the occasion presents itself. There isn't any pleasure in dying in Jamaica. The expense that was incurred on my brother's behalf scares me. Our whole city would die if it didn't cost so much.
I greet you with all my heart and finish.
PS. I know only that the plan was to have a part of the lace that was sent to him before his departure, sent to this country...
May 4, 1694
Messieurs Peter Caillard and John Augier at Kingston, Jamaica
On the recommendation of my cousin Jean de la Chambre of London, I take the liberty to address the enclosed letter to you and pray very humbly that you have it delivered to the addressee. If Mr. Crommelin has left for New York since he seems to have the intention of going there, please kindly send it to him in the swiftest and most secure manner possible. I will be truly obliged to you. Please excuse the trouble that I give you, and believe that I am with all my heart...
May 20, 1694
Madame Caterine Crommelin
This is to let you know that my wife delivered on the 13th of this month a girl named Caterine who was presented on Sunday for baptism by Mr. Camin and my sister in accordance with your wishes. [Catherine de Coninck was born on May 13, 1694 to Frederick de Coninck and Marie Camin. On September 6, 1716 this girl married in Amsterdam her cousin, Abraham Camin, son of Jean Camin and Frederic's sister, Catherine de Coninck, whose birth was announced earlier in 1694. No doubt they were playmates throughout their childhood and their marriage is mentioned in a letter dated 9 August 1716.]
I also write to say that I am much obliged of...
the honour that you have expressed the wish to be our Godmother. I delayed making this choice in the hope that we might yet have the satisfaction to see yourself perform this function in person, but God's will didn't allow this to happen, so it is necessary to have patience. Please give your blessing to your little granddaughter and bestow your love also upon the others. She is doing well enough, and the mother also who takes the liberty to send her affectionate greetings and to humbly thank you.
Your last letter of 21 March put me in a great sadness with regard to the children of my late brother Jean de Coninck. I begged you to do something for them, but far from doing that you abandoned them in a way that seems to me inhumane and unnatural. I am so touched by it that I will never be able to return them. You yourself who is content to say that it's necessary to appoint a guardian, and in good faith you want one chosen in this country? You know those who refused to do that, so it couldn't be anyone but me - one who is loaded with a family of my own, without means, and one who thinks only about barely surviving. It would be cruel to do that and it would be to visibly wish me to lose entirely. But what good is a guardian who has no property at all? If Mr. Oursel and his son would have listened to me when it was time to, I myself would have been given the administration, but nobody wanted that. The son wanted to follow in his father's footsteps. They preferred to risk the loss of the property of these children just as if they were playing in a lottery. Much has been done to hide from this blow. If no answer is given before men in due time, one will have to answer before God.
When wrong was done there was no attempt to remedy the situation. On that score my conscience is clear. I did what I could to prevent such an outrage. I protested against it. I even made reasonable offers but nobody paid any attention to them. My brother Oursel had too much ambition and an enormous opinion of himself. He left imagining that he would make an immense fortune, and squandered in advance all his riches in the West Indies. Apparently in this life he wasn't frugal with the children's money because whenever they managed to come to a good port he would find himself much impoverished. He had no income. Without counting the gross pledges that he had to make, the cost of the expenses of his illness and of their funerals alone amounts to some Pounds89:10. You can judge the rest. I declare this is outrageous. I will never figure out how there was a big fortune to be made in Jamaica and experience proved it.
My uncle Crommelin wrote that there was nothing to do over there. He said that he would have to leave at the end of January, last, to go in search of fortune in New York which is on firm ground. He said nothing about how one could write to him. He said only that he didn't intend to remit anything without first getting a valid discharge, which is to say that he would keep the orphans' money as long as it pleases him. Frankly, I think that all is lost and I wouldn't think our chances are better than 60 percent. So this is the fruit of the fatal voyage. When one is happy, one isn't content. Indeed, one loses everything when one wants to have too much.
Furthermore, if I torment myself for these children, it is because their welfare causes me to take pity, and it's Christian charity that obligates me. What I feel sorry about is that I'm alone in this and that everyone else has abandoned them. Remember, in God's name, your kindness. In the beginning you wanted to have them in full force, but now it's no longer there. Now you don't even want to make a way for them. I attribute that hardness to bad counsel that you have always followed. I know you to be very generous, and that you have much tenderness for your children. Doing a good turn out of that resource, you put it at liberty. All that is necessary is a firm resolution and a little vigor. If you had done it in the beginning, you wouldn't have the sorrow...
now to see so much dissension in your family which cannot but go on increasing as long as things continue as they are. I pray, dear mother, that you take my very humble rebuke in good spirit. My goal is only to have you strike an equal balance. That is my intent as God is my witness. There is perhaps no other one of your children who has more love and tenderness than what I have for you, together with a profound respect. But, frankly, I would be more at ease when things are straightened out and there is no more injustice. I pray that you will give it some consideration, believing that I will be until my last breath...[Frederic is astonished at the high cost of dying in Jamaica. It could be that Daniel had the cost of the two funerals inflated so that he would have less of the orphans' money to account for later on. In the 1702 yellow fever epidemic in New york, bodies of victims were hastily buried in common graves which obviously provided minimal opportunity for dignified funerals. Fines were levied for bodies not buried within 12 hours. This is likely what happened when Anne Testart and Isaac Crommelin both died in 1702. The epidemic in 1702 claimed 10% of New York's 5000 inhabitants.
Ten years earlier in Jamaica, funerals for yellow fever victims could hardly be expected to be much more elaborate, especially considering the high heat of the tropics where bodies would have to be buried immediately. However, if the high funeral costs were legitimate, then there might still be graves somewhere in Jamaica marking the burial sites of Robert Oursel Jr. and Jean(?) de la Chambre. Another grave we might expect to find in Jamaica is that of Samuel Verplanck (1669-1698) (see the color chart) who died at sea and was buried in Jamaica.]
June 4, 1694 - Letter #145 received from Mother. Replied July 29.
Mother: May 29, 1694 - Le Havre
Received: June 4
Replied: July 29
My very dear son
I very happily received the news of the delivery by your wife of a girl named Catherine that Mr. Camin and your sister have presented for baptism on my behalf. God bless her by his grace. May she be raised with the others in his fear. I hope to go to Rouen shortly where I plan, if it pleases God, to repay something to you, and to buy whatever you would like for her and the 2 orphans. I have as much desire to have them as before, but I will say that one day I was discussing them with your brother. He said to me that if they came, he would like to have them at my prejudice, and if I wanted to have them, that he would quickly have them put into a convent. What do you say to that, my son? It simply wouldn't last.
Apparently it seems to you that I lack sympathy for you, but as God is my witness, I have you on my heart day and night. You believe as well that I am quite partial in giving things to your sisters. Meanwhile they see what your brother has received and they ask which testamentary of your grandmother gave all this to them! Also your brother is the reason I don't do anything more since I don't have anything more to give. Meanwhile he's the judge over provisions in which I once handed over 400# and another time 100#, otherwise he would have hurried to get himself a prosecutor and a lawyer. He takes pleasure in haranguing me and would reduce me to beggary by demanding my bread if he could. It is I who received from the farmers, who don't pay too well, the burden which must be borne. In good conscience it leaves me only very little on which to live very frugally. I am also quite concerned that Mr. Oursel isn't engaged in anything, so what do you want me to do?
My goodness, you seem convinced that Mr. Oursel counseled his son to carry off the inheritance of his nieces. This is false. Why, then, have you not had the administration of their estate? Because he had been waiting a long time for you to claim it. I was annoyed when he got it, and then again when things turned around so radically. Then you screamed that I was the cause of it all! My son, you would have been better to come at me with a sword to stab me in the heart!
You should come here to see how all things have come to be. You haven't been told everything, not even about the lawsuit of your brother, and you have reached wrong conclusions. I would have been entirely on your side in everything, so I wouldn't be at all...
jealous of your sisters. Your brother would like to see them often. He can't expect anything from my succession [inheritance], I assure you. They work, while he's been maintained for more than 6 years. Should it please God to give us deliverance so that I can survive, I certainly wish always to have the two children. If I have bread then they would have it too, thus you can take comfort in that.
I have just written my brother Daniel pressing him for the removal of the goods which Oursel left behind and which he can address to you or, if worried, that he sends it to Pierre Testart with the assurance that you will send him a valid discharge. So this is what I've been able to do. Meanwhile it would be good that you prepare a legal transfer and send him a copy of it. Do it as you would like. There's nothing else I can say. I kiss you and your wife and pray God that he restores her to health. I am your very affectionate and afflicted mother...
June 15, 1694
Madam the Widow of Mr. Jean de Coninck - [an uncle; brother of Frederic's father, Francois de Coninck. They had some children, one of whom was Jean Charles who died. This letter is to his grieving aunt.]
I learned with extreme sorrow about the death of my cousin Jean Charles de Coninck, your son. This sad news touched me deeply, so much more because I had the honor to know him. He was a very good person and a man of peace. Your loss is indeed hard to bear, but also you will agree that we must suffer with steadfastness the burdens and afflictions it pleases God to allow us, and above all the inevitablility of it. Then after all your sighs and tears, you must look again to God for the relief that you need. I pray with all my heart that He might send you consolations which are necessary for you. May He bless and keep you safe along with all your amiable family. May He give you all the joy that you can hope for.
My wife salutes you humbly. She shares much in your affliction. About one month ago she gave birth to a daughter. We now have 4 children: 2 boys, 2 girls. We also salute all my cousins, especially my cousin Mlle. Francoise and her sister. When my cousin, your son, passes by on his way to Amsterdam, please have him come to see me. I have a room at his service. I presently have without question better lodgings than when you last came to see us. Please know that I will be forever with much respect...
July 23, 1694 - Received Letter #146 from Mother.
Mother: July 10, 1694 - Le Havre
Received: July 23
Replied: July 29
My very dear son
I wrote you a letter under cover of your sister Camin some time ago which I hope you received alright. This letter is going the same way in order that you get the livres [money] more securely. I mentioned that I hoped to go to Rouen in the belief that your brother would like to terminate various affairs, but I see that his counsel doesn't hold that opinion. Also this is a man who begins much but doesn't finish anything. Thus he puts a fire into a family without extinguishing it and leaves your brother the sordid pleasure of consuming me. In that, there have been more losers than myself. If he loses only his part, I would be quite satisfied. You have an interest in being persuaded to settle every time you face him, which is what he would like, because his attitude isn't at all like that of any other. You will recognize him. The one who mortally afflicts me is like an eggbeater who doesn't attach himself to do anything. Now I have no more fear of God. Pray that He shortens my days for I've been alive too long for your brother. I know very well that he's the reason for all that has happened to you. I can say nothing positive about him.
I pray God profoundly with all my heart that He blesses you, my dear son, and gives you good success in your business and that you raise your children in the fear of God. Attached I'm remitting a letter of exchange valid for two days on Mr. Salomon Asselin at Rotterdam drawn by Mr. Fontaine that I have filled in and payable on demand by you in the amount of 300# [f968 in current money] that I asked Mr. Oursel to send me. Of this I give 100 livres to my grandaughter 'Catin', your daughter, and your wife to use whichever way you please. And the 200 livres I give to each of the two girls of your late brother Jean, 100# to assist with their room and board or whatever they have need of. It's not out of sympathy. If I was less sympathetic I would also suffer less, but my dear son, it's the lack of power to do anything in this country - this load upon load. Now we have a captain to billet in our home but God gives us His peace in many ways through His grace. I kiss you along with all your dear family. Your sisters greet you. Your affectionate mother...
PS - By all means write your uncle Daniel Crommelin, addressing your letters under cover of friends in Jamaica. Since he's not there any longer, bid them to forward the letters to him in New York so that he sends something by return to these poor granddaughters. It seems to me you could prepare him a document listing your situation such as their living at your home and the cost of their food. Anyway, it all grieves me to the core. Also, write me the minute you get this letter, only of it's arrival and without explanation of the enclosure, to assure me that it will be paid.
July 29, 1694
Madame Caterine Crommelin
I have received the honor of your 2 letters of May 29 and 10 current. The last one has been underway for some time. The enclosure is welcome as well as what you present. I humbly thank you for all this, and I will take care to use it in the manner your prescribe. Your goddaughter is doing well. It is enough that you give her your blessing without having to add your generosity. What you have given her will serve as something which she will wear to remember you by.
As God is my witness, I'm not at all interested. Although I could not be able to commit a crime in the state that I'm in, there is only me who knows my misery. The future scares me but it will bring with it whatever pleases God. I rest entirely on His providence and I will raise my children the best way I can. When I said to you before that you abandoned these orphans, I meant that you didn't write about them at Jamaica or elsewhere, and that I was left alone without being given any advice. Since I don't expect to involve myself more than other relatives, what...
I've done is only with good intentions. If I hadn't done it, perhaps someone else would have, but simply to walk away is to lose everything. However, it isn't fair to leave me all alone. It is necessary to act as a team otherwise I will do as the others have done, and then matters simply take whatever course they can. If I had been listened to, this difficulty wouldn't have arisen. I would have been given the administration, but this was considered offensive. It seems some thought it better to do the opposite. But experience will see. In God's name, let's no longer talk about this matter which only causes grief one way or the other, and think soon about working together to remedy these disorders.
Mr. Camin has received a letter from my uncle Daniel dated 10 December at Jamaica. He no longer mentions New York. Thus I don't know if he still has plans to go there. He wrote that he's sold almost all of the effects but that he won't return anything before he's received a valid discharge. In other words, he wants to keep the money. He also suggests that it be left with him until there's peace, and that he will pay interest on it at 5% per annum. One can only worry that nothing unusual happens to him, and about not counting too much on his assurance. For a long time I've anticipated such an eventuality. Thus this didn't surprise me at all. It is offensive to be at the discretion of men. Although we weren't in agreement, Robert still would rather have had the money in a safe place than in the hands of my uncle who is a sickly man. If he happens to die then all will be lost. Besides that, this money can be dissipated in other ways. The difficulty is according to ... who would like to raise the premium of the assurance to be about 15%.
My uncle must remit the money either in this country or in England to someone who would be secure to whom, in return, the relatives will jointly give the discharge required by my uncle. I will absolutely do nothing alone, and I will not involve myself more than the others. Please write to him your thoughts in a clear and intelligible manner so that it carries more weight. I will enclose your letter in mine. The sooner the better, waiting only to write it. When we get the net return from these effects, my feeling would be to put it in England in a lost fund [life insurance] on the lives of the two children. In other words, if one happens to die, the other will enjoy all the revenue. The parliament gives 12% interest. This is done so that these children will have the means to maintain themselves honestly for the duration of their lives, safe and without prejudice of their other pretentions. Instead, if one lacks this investment, the interest on their deposit won't come close to maintaining them, and they will then have to consume their capital. In short, you will find nothing better. Please consider the above and let me know what you think of it.
It's with great regret that I learn that my brother [Francois de Coninck] continues to argue with you without wanting to stop. It is an angry individual who has such advice because even he isn't able to do much. But in good faith, do you want me to do something about it? You do me injustice to think that I've been corresponding with him. I am one of those who has been amply hurt through his injustice regarding the debt of Duijnkerek. He doesn't even bother to reply to me on these subjects. As soon as he learned of the death of brother Oursel, he wrote me with all sorts of bad advice. I wrote him back immediately as an honest man must do. Since then I haven't heard from him. All I can do in the meantime is to pray God that He touches his heart so that he can hear and agree to all that will be reasonable. Besides, my dear mother, allow me to say once more that you are worrying yourself to death, and then you will take away our satisfaction in seeing you again and embracing you. Perish the thought! It is necessary to have more steadfastness. It is necessary to defend and even attack by all legitimate means, and to remain possessed of a spirit of patience and to rest entirely on...
Providence. This I beg you to do, believing that I will be forever...