Frederic de Coninck Letters
Bombardment of Le Havre; Invasion of Jamaica; Circuitous Letter to Daniel; Death of Catherine Crommelin
Bombardment of Le Havre by an Anglo-Dutch fleet, 26 to 31 July 1694
(Engraving from Ratelband's Atlas of 1735)
Click to enlarge.[In the picture above, a cannonball from the Anglo-Dutch fleet flies over Catherine Crommelin's house [Pink Dot] at 35 Rue d'Estimauville in Le Havre. Fortunately her house wasn't struck, and her family survived the five-day naval bombardment from 26 to 31 July 1694. Le Havre was bombarded again by the English on 3-5 July 1759 under Admiral Rodney, and again on 5 September 1944 by the RAF which totally devastated the city's inner core including the Oursel/Crommelin residence. For an explanation on the whereabouts of the Oursel/Crommelin house, please visit our webpage.]
5 August 1694
Madame Catherine Crommelin
This is just to let you know that I'm shocked by the misfortune that happened at Le Havre. I take great displeasure in what touches you in particular.
[In the continuing War of the League of Augsburg, General Talmash, English commander of the amphibious landing forces, died of his wounds on his return in Plymouth, and England's public grief and indignation for the treachery were loudly expressed. After this defeat, the Anglo-Dutch fleet put about and sailed back up the English Channel, bombarding ports such as Dieppe and Le Havre in reprisal. Le Havre was severely damaged in a 5 day bombardment, from 26 to 31 July 1694. Source:
Many Huguenots fighting for England against France died in the Battle of Camaret in which General Talmash was killed. ]
The news surprised me even more since I believed Le Havre to be a shelter from such assaults. May God console all those who were afflicted. May it please Him to strengthen you in this new trial and send you the consolation necessary for the situation that besets you. Undoubtedly you have great need. Allow me nevertheless to say that you take heart in this sort of strife because in the end all wrong will be overcome by the will of God. Therefore bear with patience the evil that it pleases God to send us. I give praise and thanks that you are safe. Perhaps the turmoil won't be too bad. This is what I hope to find out with great joy. I can't help saying again that if you had wanted to, you wouldn't be having such trouble now. You would be at peace and satisfied, and we would have the satisfaction of possessing you. Don't feel badly that you remained there. As for us, I don't ask for such a sacrifice, one where I can see no end.
I had the honor of writing you eight days ago. As I recall your letter had an enclosure, and I wrote you giving my thanks. I have learned since that the French have made a raid on Jamaica and plundered it. [In 1694 Jamaica was overrun by French buccaneers under Jean du Casse. ] I fear that all is lost for these orphans. My brother Oursel was a fool for making my uncle the executor of his will. His intention was to take the money and to use it to serve himself. Therefore I believe that all is lost. I will await your letter before writing to him. Please mention the above in the strongest terms in order that he returns the money immediately.
It would have been too much to wish that the matter with my cousin de la Chambre was over. I wouldn't worry about it. My wife greets you very humbly. She sympathizes with what you are going through. We pray God from the bottom of our hearts that it may please Him to see you blessed and protected. I am...
September 3, 1694 - Received Letter #147 from Mother, her last letter. Replied December 23. [Which she never got to read. After a brief illness, she had already died on December 19, 1694.]
Mother: August 27, 1694 - Le Havre
Received: September 3
Replied: December 23
My very dear son
I have your letter of the 27th of last month and the 5th of this month. I am well persuaded that you partake in my new affliction by which there is great need from the hand of God who sustains me. He hasn't abandoned me in all my trials. It's true that I have troubles, but then at least I haven't been a saint. Alas, far from it because I'm a big sinner. It's true that I could give up on everything and I wouldn't regret it. I considered Lot's wife. She became hard by looking back to inquire about her children, and I tell you frankly that I will soon refine my own pebbles. In short, I've waited for help from God. He has been slow but he will come in His own good time, and above all I'm assured that one day the good Lord will give me grace to give it to my family.
If it were wished to wreak havoc by having the French ruin Jamaica, it would be tragic for much of the world and it would no longer be a safe and secure place. It would also be unfortunate for the two little girls. God willing that nothing affects them. If the goods of the children are sent to me soon, as long as I live they will have work.
One doesn't know, my dear son, what the future will bring. Your brother Oursel would not have embarked as he did if it weren't for God who governs all things through His providence. It isn't necessary to blame your uncle. I hope that he proves himself to be an honorable man. Attached is a letter that you can forward to him. You will seal it up.
I returned today from having your brother kill me by a hundred calumnies. It's cruel to see these hardships coming from your own children. I left him out by putting us in arbitrage which I will pass around wherever he operates and by which I will exclude him from everything. Then I won't do anything more except defend myself with justice. If he needs any more relief, I am not the one by whom it will come. I would be annoyed to go on doing my utmost for him. You know what grandiose thoughts he has. I have nothing more to give him. He believed that I still had a lot. This was the last straw. It seems that he has triumphed - a son who I fed, and one whom I cared so much for. He soiled me by seeking my bread and then thinking that I've lived too long. But he thinks God is with him since God would prefer that I be ruined. I kiss you with all your dear family and your nieces. Adieu. I am your affectionate mother...
September 16, 1694
Monsieur Daniel Crommelin
I had the honor to write you on May 4 last under the cover of messieurs Peter Caillard and John Augier asking them to hold my letter in the event that you had already left for New York. Mr. Camin received one of your letters dated 10 December 1693 in which he communicated to me that you made no more mention of your trip [to New York]. Apparently you have changed your mind, and that you don't plan to leave Jamaica. God willing you are truly in good health and that He shelters the operations of the French. I will be happy to learn that the last ravages they made over there didn't affect you. These are unusual events that you undoubtedly didn't expect.
I am well pleased that you managed to sell most of the effects belonging to my little nieces de Coninck [ie. a portion of their late father's inventory of lace]. I don't doubt that soon the rest will also be sold and that all the liabilities will be offset. The question...
in the meantime is knowing what to do with this money. I told you my feelings in my last letter. I am still of the same opinion, and can assure you that other relatives share it as well. In particular you can see the one of my mother in the letter that she wrote you, and which I send you hereby attached. Instead of that you propose the exact opposite which is to leave the money in your hands until there is peace, and that you pay interest at 5%, adding that there isn't anything to fear at least if nothing extraordinary should happen to you. I don't doubt that you've taken the interest of these children to heart and that you would do everything possible for their well-being, but monsieur, my uncle, I beg you to consider that in wishing them well you also risk losing their welfare in a hundred other ways. When there is nothing but uncertainty, and considering the brevity of life, that alone is enough to make me tremble. You have toyed with it, and then you've had two 'close calls' with death so that perhaps your health isn't even so good anymore. Think a little about our situation if anything should happen to you. Besides, you know better than me the risks you run in starting up, above all in a country so far away from us as the one where you are now.
Allow me also to say that it would be more prudent to place in security that which you have in your hands belonging to the two orphans, which is all the goods they have, rather than risk it in any way. I don't think anybody would be opposed to that advice. I say again that you hold all of their property without which they cannot last for a long time. You know this is the lace [the remaining inventory of their late father, Jean de Coninck]. The biggest and most beautiful pieces were sent to my late brother Oursel [in London] because it couldn't be unloaded here [in Holland]. I don't know what he did with it; he was involved in selling it. There still remains a lot to be sold. God knows if it's possible to unload it very easily before it goes out of fashion. The last of the inventory is always the least expensive, having the least quality. One person offered to sell it for a 46% commission in a plan to have it sent to Curacao. We thought it better not to give it to him. Regardless, I think that one would have done well doing what I have just mentioned. My late brother Jean de Coninck didn't intend to start up [an export business] at all. He allowed himself to be duped and bought at too high a price, and simply by surviving he had a rather high opinion of what he did.
I mentioned this only so that you can see that these children really don't have anything except what you have in your hands, and that it's absolutely necessary that it be put into security if one doesn't want to run the risk of seeing them reduced to a final misery. I beg you, therefore, monsieur my uncle, to send back immediately the net amount of the effects either to England or this country. If you wish, it will be to my cousin Pierre Testart in Amsterdam with instructions to not release it until a discharge has been given to him as you requested. It will please you to give him notice regarding these terms. Then the necessary insurance premiums would have to be put in place amounting to some 14 or 15% of the affair. All this isn't some tale that was told to my aunt, your wife, and I don't believe it's a very happy one.
Besides, I'm somewhat irate considering the lack of attention you have given this matter. I had wished to spare you the same thing that happened to my cousin, Jean de la Chambre. Perhaps he wouldn't have created the difficulties that you have, but there are similarities to the situation in which we now find ourselves. He was happy when he learned that my cousin Jacob Crommelin* had died in the Indies, but thankfully things changed when it was found to be untrue. A letter was received from him on the last vessel saying that he was doing well. I hope that you too are well. I pray God that He gives you a fountain of health for the future and that He blesses you abundantly in all that you undertake. These wishes come from one who will always be pleased to be at your service...
PS - If there is anything to be sent over, this could be included in the shipment to save on the cost of freight on one thing or another.[*Note: The reference to Frederic's cousin Jacob Crommelin above pertains to a son of Jacob Crommelin and Elisabeth Testart. He was born on 24 December 1667 in St. Quentin. He married Esther Torin in Rotterdam, 1704. They had no children.]
DSC_6904.JPG[This letter, along with 2 enclosures, would be sent to Pierre Testart, her half-brother in Amsterdam (below) because Frederic didn't have her mailing address.]
September 16 1694
Mrs. Daniel Crommelin [Anne Testart]
I write you again humbly appealing that you might forward the attachment to my uncle, your husband. I would be greatly obliged if you would send it on at the earliest opportunity. It contains a request from my mother. [Catherine Crommelin, Daniel's sister, was 15 years older than Daniel.]
Mr. Camin received a letter from my uncle dated December 10. He no longer spoke of going to New York, apparently having changed his mind. He sent word regarding the effects belonging to my nieces de Coninck, but instead of remitting the net amount, he spoke of keeping it until peace comes [in the Anglo-Dutch conflict with France]. He said there was nothing to fear. We don't share the same feeling. We find there is much to fear and that there is at least more prudence in returning this money rather than risking it in any way. It is necessary to consider that this is all that these poor orphans have in the way of property, and that they will sink into deep misery if some misfortune should happen to it.
My mother or I will therefore write to my uncle and bid him to immediately remit the net amount to England or, if he prefers, to my cousin Pierre Testart who will issue him a discharge if he so chooses. I ask you, my dear aunt, to support these reasons for haste so that this matter might be quickly resolved. Please provide us the necessary assurances that the objects of our desire will be sent for. My wife and I wish you and my uncle good health and prosperity. I am entirely...
- This letter shows the tenacity of Frederic de Coninck, and how difficult it was for him to communicate with his uncle who was somewhere in the 'New World'. He now has his Mother's letter of rebuke from France attached to his own from Schiedam, Holland, which he is now sending to his cousin Pierre Testart in Amsterdam because he likely knows the address of his half-sister, Anne Testart in England, who can forward the letters to her husband, Daniel Crommelin, who is either in Jamaica or New York!
Anne Testart was the daughter of Pierre Testart Sr. and his first wife, Catherine Bossu. This Pierre Jr. (below) was the son of Pierre Testart Sr. and his second wife, Rachel Crommelin. Thus Pierre Testart and Frederic de Coninck are cousins because their mothers, Rachel Crommelin and Catherine Crommelin respectively, were sisters, while Daniel was their younger brother.
September 16, 1694
Monsieur Pierre Testart [in Amsterdam]
Not knowing the address of my aunt Daniel Crommelin [Anne Testart], your half-sister, I take the liberty to address to you the enclosed letters for her. I pray urgently that you send it to her at the first opportunity. Enclosed are 2 letters for my uncle, her husband, in Jamaica. I urge you to take care of it please, and not to forget it. I will be strongly obliged to you for doing this.
Please convey to my cousin, your wife [Judith Broussard], my very humble respects. I will have great joy when I learn that she will have made you the father of a beautiful heir. I am much interested to see your family grow for which I have a great deal of esteem, especially you, to whom I am with all my heart...[Daniel was actually already in New York after having left Jamaica with his son, Charles, in late January, 1694.]
September 16, 1694
Monsieur Jean Durand
As soon as I received your letter from Hamburg, I sent, following your instructions to Mr. Camin, the 3 books with marble paper covers which you requested along with a sheaf of papers and 2 or 3 packets of letters. This is all that I could find in your box of business papers. I also included a packet received from The Hague for you sent from Mr. Bruin. I have also given you some advice under cover of said Mr. Camin. I hope that it all reaches you in good order. I have since received your letter of the 28/31 August which informed me with joy...
about your reintegration with your fair city of Hamburg. It remains for me to wish you a happy end to all your dealings. I pray God that you can overcome them and that Mr. Redman will come to reason. I fear that this matter will likely force you to make a tour in British territory.
With regard to what you wrote concerning my leather, it is impossible for me to send it. What you can say to your said boss Drelus is that the demand here at the present time is so large that I can't even supply a quarter of what I'm being asked for. Therefore it wouldn't be wise to sell outside what I can sell here at home. Otherwise I'm much obliged for your good intentions. If I had it, I would drink to our good friendship and your health as you did for me with Mr. Hamel. At least I have the desire to do so, and both of you are no less in my memory. My wife conveys her compliments. Our whole little family is doing well, thanks to God's grace. I wish the same for you. I close entirely...
2 October 1694
Monsieur Jean Durand
I write you this word in haste to say that I have sent your trunk this morning to Mr. Camin following the instructions that you gave me by your letter of the 14/24 past. There will be more occasions for me to send you things either by postal coach or by sea.
For that which is preferable I told him what you wrote me, so he will do as he judges most appropriate. It seems to me that there would be a lot less risk to have you remit a letter of exchange rather than having you send ducats via the post.
I put in your trunk the Latin verse that you asked for. I copied them, but perhaps I slipped in some errors which you will have to take the trouble to correct. I again wish you a happy end to your affairs, and that you may encounter some place where you can find contentment. I greet you warmly and finish...
3 October 1694
Monsieur Abraham de Rochefort
I received yesterday evening with much joy the honor of your letter. Never could news be more agreeable than learning of the happy pregnancy of mademoiselle, my cousin, your dear wife. With all my heart I rejoice along with you, and congratulate you. May God preserve the mother and child and give you all the satisfaction that one can have.
When I know the arrival of Madam Drelincourt, my illustrious 'commere', and the day that you will have the baptism, I will not miss travelling instantly, and to follow the directions which you will kindly give me. My wife takes the liberty to convey her compliments and shares much in your joy. She and I salute you most humbly, also mademoiselle, my cousin, and all your dear family. I am entirely...
3 November 1694
Monsieur Jean Durand
I received yesterday your last letter of 16/26 October. I am astonished that you haven't received mine. I wrote you duly under the cover of Mr. Camin who is well. My last letter was on the 2nd past. I wrote you to say that I had sent your trunk. Mr. Camin advised me shortly afterward that he had shipped the goods by water which to him seemed the best way. I have withdrawn nothing except for your said trunk which was 10 guineas that I put in the hands of said Mr. Camin. I told him to have you cover the amount with a letter of exchange. He found there was too much danger involved in sending the trunk via the post. Otherwise I don't know what else to attribute the delay. I am somewhat displeased. The problem doesn't originate with me since I executed your instructions immediately.
I will write again to Rotterdam. I hope your first letter tells me not only of the arrival of the trunk at a good port, but that you hope to expand.
On the night of the 28th or 29th past, a fire unfortunately started in one of the tanneries by the indiscretion of a worker who had left a fire burning in an attic. Despite a large number of people who rushed over and the equipment that was brought to the scene, the fire could not be put out. Most of the building was burned along with part of the stock. God willing you will prepare yourself for a similar incident. My wife and I greet you. I am as usual...
6 November 1694
Monsieur Pierre Godefroy
I am sending you today by our boat an order for Schelling in the amount of Pounds73:16 which is the amount given in your little letter to Mr. Ghysen. If there is anything else, I am at your service and disposal, as I am entirely...
[This letter didn't reach Frederic's mother in time. She had already died on December 19 - some 4 days before this letter was written.]
Catherine Crommelin ( 1632 - 1694 )On her deathbed, Catherine Crommelin was overcome with grief and guilt. Her son Francois de Coninck had launched some kind of lawsuit against her and her husband. Two of her sons, Jean de Coninck and Robert Oursel Jr., had died within 3 years. She felt guilty for having failed to provide assistance for the two orphans of her son, Jean de Coninck, who had died on a visit to Rotterdam. She saw the girl's inheritance taken away by her son, Robert Oursel Jr., to Jamaica. When he died there of yellow fever, the money fell into the hands of her brother, Daniel Crommelin, who resisted all overtures to have him return the money. There was a war in progress between France and an Anglo-Dutch alliance. Her hometown of Le Havre had recently been under bombardment for five days by a British fleet. And there was continual hostility between Catholics and the few Protestant Huguenots who still remained in France. Her husband and children had all abjured and she too was a 'nouveau converti'. Undoubtedly her sadness overcame her will to go on living when she came down with some illness. She laid her burdens down on December 19, 1694 at age 62 and was secretly buried in a private garden outside the city of Le Havre. This indicates she hadn't taken the RC sacraments, and thus she died a Protestant.
23 December 1694
Madame Caterine Crommelin
Your illness puts us in sorrow and anxiety which I was unable to fully express sooner. If I knew how to relieve your affliction while also making known our regrets, I would have written you all the usual things but, alas, that would only have made you more tired. We content ourselves in making ardent wishes and prayers to God in particular, and also by others, for your convalescence. I did not fail to pray for you here at our church which will continue to pray for your recovery. God willing, my very dear mother, you will have this soon, and hopefully it will be in my sister Manon's next letter. Never would any news bring me more joy, but this isn't enough. If by God's grace He favors our prayers, I also pray earnestly that He puts in your heart a firm resolution to soon leave the country where you are, and to come here where there is the freedom to follow the movement of your conscience. This illness which it pleases God to visit upon you serves as a notice that it's time at last for you to leave, for it is only too certain that you would be happier here. My view is that even the death of enemies will stain the things we do, and will be absolutely contrary to the service of God. Here they at least take your body after death and bury you in an orderly manner. In truth these thoughts bother me, but it couldn't be better than to do what I say, and we give you this consolation...
What I've been asking you so many times is that you come here to wait patiently the end of the war. You would also have a shelter here from the unjust lawsuit of my brother. To bring this about, all you need is a passport which wouldn't be hard to get. In God's name, do it, so that you can be on your way by the beginning of Spring.
I have no further news from my uncle Daniel. He has written my aunt, his wife, saying that he is going to live in New York and to prepare herself to find him there. If you wish, please write him once more, I will attach it to one of my letters also, but I fear this will be a waste of time.
Apparently to repay the orphans you will give them your ring according to your letter of the 5th of this month. It would have been my wish, dear mother, that you yourself explained to them that you give it to them from a pure motive rather than some other pretentions. Or if this is to pay them what little one can on what is still owed to them. Although without making it an issue, the feelings of one of the children is worthy of pity. Personally I don't have much respect for your last kind gesture so if there are any hard feelings, it won't be because of me. Without flattering myself, I can say that there wouldn't be another man more generous than me if God had blessed me, and I was living with a stable business in which I can earn my living. But I have misfortune coming from all sides. I just ask you to consider that I have 4 small children and that my situation is also as worthy of pity as the other.
I will finish by praying God with all my heart that He heaps upon you blessings temporal and spiritual not only in the new year which we are about to enter, but throughout the course of your life. That He will protect you mightily and all those who belong to you. That He gives you perfect health, and the resolve and ability necessary to have you come and stay in a country of freedom. That it will finally be a year in which we will be able to have the good fortune to embrace you, and by the witness of our kisses you will see how dear you are to us, and how much I am...
[In this letter to "Manon", the eldest of three half-sisters, Frederic is still unaware that his mother had already passed away.]
Frederic's half sisters:
- 1. Marie ("Manon") Oursel, baptised on 12 August 1668, died single around 1744 in Berlin.
- 2. Rachel Oursel, baptised on 20 November 1670, died in Holland in 1742. She married there around 1716 Abraham Bilbaut, a pastor at Dordrecht, later at Middelbourg. She died on 28 February 1750 and left no children.
- 3. Ester Oursel, baptised on 2 July 1673, died at Amsterdam in 1738. She married around 1700 Philippe Meusnier, lawyer at Amsterdam who died in 1744. They had no children.
27 December 1694
Mademoiselle Marie Oursel
Here is a letter for my mother, mademoiselle, my dear sister, that I thought to send her based on a previous letter which gave us good hope about her illness. It gave me unbelievable joy, but then things have changed in a short time. Your last letter has plunged us back in mortal anxiety. It seems that even you aren't very optimistic. The details you give makes me tremble. Alas! We prayed it would be God's will to harken to our prayers and to leave her with us for some time, nevertheless His holy will is done. It isn't for us to murmur against His decrees. It would have been for me a great consolation if I had been with her and to be able to ask her pardon for all the trouble I caused her since my childhood, and at the same time ask for her blessing. Please do it for me, my dear sister. You would be to her a witness full of tenderness on this occasion which would count as much. I did pray for her, and prayers continue for her at our Church. God willing He answers all our prayers and restores our mother to good health. I want to thank you especially for all the care that you have given her. I have as much obligation to you as though it had been done for me.
You informed me by your letter of the 8th of this month her last wishes regarding the little nieces de Coninck. This is undoubtedly to compensate them for the loss of their goods. Mother didn't explain whether it was purely a gift or to pay them what they can for what is owed to them. Otherwise if there are hard feelings, it won't be my fault. I can't imagine how charity could have been given to the children without emotion, but this isn't the time to talk about that.
I don't know if my brother knowing my mother to be so sick will have the cruelty to come and see her. It would be most insensitive of him to do that. As for the pastoral consolations that you asked about, my sister, one must see Mr. Le Gendre who has the great...
gift for that. I pray, my dear sister, in the event that God returns to us our dear mother, to have her come to this country. For me this would be an unspeakable joy. In the name of God, do give us the satisfaction about considering it seriously. It's true that I know few people, but as a consolation you will find in me a brother who esteems you highly and who has for you a true and abiding affection, and also for my two other sisters. I pray God that He watches over you to preserve and bless you, not only in the new year we are about to enter, but in all those that follow. I embrace you with all my heart and am entirely...
Robert Oursel Sr. was Catherine's second husband. He and Catherine had 4 children.
Frederic rarely wrote to his stepfather and didn't really like him. Frederic's letters were always addressed to
his mother and older half-sister, Marie ("Manon") Oursel.
30 December 1694
Monsieur Robert Oursel
Your sad news regarding the death of my dear mother did not surprise me at all. It served only to repeat my tears. The description my sister 'Manon' gave about her illness hit me so hard that I had already given up hope. In the end it didn't please God to leave her for our benefit. From amidst the grief and terrible sorrows that she bore, He took her away, and gave her eternal happiness and the joys of paradise in return. Undoubtedly she died the death of the just. I feared that God might take her back in the times that we are presently in. In truth it would have been better in times less tormented, but far from that, now we won't even have the joy to have her body. It pleased God that things turned out the way they did. Thus it gives me particular satisfaction that my dear mother placed her strong blessing upon my little family before she died. I have a firm assurance that God will honour it in heaven and will not abandon me.
She also remembered the two little orphans. But I say to you that this was all that she could do. I want to say, however, that I don't believe kindness will be executed, at least not on that side. Besides, pretense frightens me, and if this token gesture is made then there won't be enough for them. But monsieur, I request your protection in this matter. I am in a poor state financially and overloaded with family. I only request that you return to me what is legitimate. You also have an interest in your children. I will therefore follow your advice in the hope that you yourself will want to help me in the juncture that we find ourselves, which is what bothers me most right now.
As things grind on slowly there could unexpectedly be peace which would contribute to greater freedom. I pray, therefore, that you will write me about what is happening. In doing that I would be greatly obliged. When you or my sister, Manon, write to me, please do so with some regularity. Your letters will not go missing if they are placed under a cover for Holland.
I pray, dear sir, that you grant me your friendship not only for me and mine, but also for the children of my brother de Coninck who are living with me. These poor children who have lost everything have now lost considerably more - their dear grandmother - and therefore I bid you to help take care of my interests as well as theirs. I hope that my sisters, your daughters won't abandon them either. They are too generous for that. I pray with all my might that it pleases God to protect you and all those who belong to you, and that He may bestow comfort proportional to the loss that we have just suffered. That He might bless you abundantly not only in the new year which we are about to enter, but in all those that follow. Finally, I bid you to be persuaded that I am entirely...
(P.S. If I knew the address of my brother, I would write him myself to try to renew our friendship.)