The Swartwout Chronicles
by Arthur James Weise
"When the author of these chronicles began searching for information relating to the ancestors of the Swartwout Family, none of its members had any knowledge of the place or places of residence in the Netherlands of the one who settled in New Netherlands in the sixth decade of the seventeenth century. Accepting certain heresays as true, some of his American offspring believed that they were respectively the descendants of two or more brothers who had come in that century from Holland with their households to occupy and cultivate tracts of bush-land bordering the river explored in 1609 by Henry Hudson. An ensnaring fiction later induced others to receive the coat-of-arms of the Edinburgh Blackwoods as that of the Swartwout Family.

The descent of the members of the different American branches of the family, now writing the cognomen Swartwout, Swarthout, Swartwout. and Swartwood, is distinctly traceable to Tomys Swartwout, who, in 1655, was appointed a schepen (magistrate) of the court of Midwout (Flatbush) on Long Island.

The object of Major William Merrill Swartwout in having these chronicles published in the attractive form in which they appear -- there being only one hundred copies of them printed -- is assuredly noteworthy. Believing that a memorial history of the Swartwout Family in Holland and America would more advantageously perpetuate a knowledge of the public services of its members than any monument, he considerately leaves with the readers of this work the determination of the judiciousness of his choice of the means to accomplish that purpose.

In a sojourn of three months in the Netherlands, the author found many rare and valuable records in different depositories of church registers, municipal documents and state papers concerning important information relating to the ancestors of the family. A visit to the site of "het Zwartewoude"( the Black Wood), originally diversifying the northern part of the Low Countries known first as Frisia, and later called Friesland, afforded him and enjoyable view of the extent of the land once the manor from which the family derived its topographic name. There and in the vicinage of the Black Wood, the emblematic bearing of the Swartwout escutchein were early seen on escutcheon and standards conspicuous in the battles in which the valorous Frisians repeatedly discomfited the forces of foreign invaders, for, since the time of the Latin historian Tacitus, that ancient stalwart race of Germans has had renouwn for its love of independence.

The political eminence of the Frisians in the Middle Ages is remarkably substantiated by the fact of their adjudicating differences arising between the inhabitants of one part of the country and those of another by the agency of arbitration commissioners. The constitution of the arbitration commission , of which, in 1338, Otto Swartewold of Drenthe was a member,is historically described as having been honored with the singing of "great number of triumphal songs" by assemblages of gratified people. The ennobling character of the state-craft adopting this laudable method of settling sectional disagreements was signally heightened by the moral excellence and superior intelligence of the commissioners. The scroll of parchment on which the awards of the commission were engrossed, on June 30th, that year, in Latin, is preserved in the Imperial Archives of the province of Groningen, and of which a photo-engraved copy is displayed on the two pages of the first chapter of the Swartwout Chronicles.

"The protective manner in which officers were selected to administer the affairs of the city of Groningen was manifestly conductive to the maintenance of good government. A body of well-born and upright men, called as early as 1324 the Wisdom of the City (deWijsheid der Stadt), and a century later the Sworn Commons (de Gezworene Meente), possessed the exclusive right to determine the eligibility of citizens to be municipal officers. In 1580,John Swartwolt was a member of the college of local sages, as he was afterward,and also as was Herman Swartwolt.

"In the long war with Spain, the Frisians heroically perpetuated their native invincibility on the many fields of battle. In 1580, when the enemy besieged Steenwijk, the daring achievement of Arent Swartwolt in extinguishing the flames enveloping the palisades protecting a gateway of the walled town, which the foe had surreptitiously set on fire on a dark night and then guardedly covered with the guns of a concealed body of a sharp-shooter, is still admiringly recounted by Dutch historians.

"Tomis Swartwout and his brothers Wybrandt and Herman were the first of the Frisian Swartwolts to write the surname conformable to modern Dutch orthography. They were evidently the first Hollanders to engage in the wholesale business of buying and selling in the Netherlands tobacco cultivated by colonists in Virginia and New Netherland. The fact of their dealing, in 1629, in Amsterdam, in tobacco grown and cured on the island of Manhattan, or three years after the purchase of the island by the Dutch West-India Company from the Indian proprietors, is well established.

It is no less important to mention here that Tomys Swartwout was one of the nineteen courageous representatives of the settlers of New Netherlands, who, in convention, in the city-hall, in New Amsterdam, on December 11,1653, dared to remonstrate against a continuance of the mal administration of the affairs of the province by the arrogant directorate of the West-India Company, and to claim for the taxed colonists a right of voice in the government of it. The aggressive action of this first landdag of the oppresses inhabitants of New Netherland, although contemptuously ignored and regarded by the despotic guild of avaricious merchants as meriting severe punishment, so that other colonists might be deterred from "deliberating on affairs of state", had, nevertheless, in the fullness of time, a glorious consummation in the declaration of independence of the thirteen united American colonies.As a strenuous upholder of the rights of the colonists, Roeloff Swartwout was as fearless as his father in the utterance of his political convictions.  When the choice of delegates to the provincial convention, held in New York City, in 1690, was about to be made, he boldly advised that "it ought to be a free election for all classes. By birth and education the equal of most, if not all, of those who pompously deemed themselves favorites of royalty and politically isolated from the common people, he was not troubled by any apprehensions of losing prestige and preferment in becoming a partisan of Jabob Leister, whose military experience, wealth, and excellence of character commended him to the Committee of Safety which deputed him to exercise and use the power and authority of a commander-in-chief of the province until such time as order should come from their most sacred majesties, William and Mary, king and queen of England. The iniquitous and precipitate execution of Leisler and his son-in-law, brought about by a few ambitious and revengeful men, was an event strikingly horrifying and pitiful.

"The participation of Lieutenant Abraham Swartwout in the siege of Havana and in the storming of Morro Castle and other Cuban strongholds, by the English, in the summer of 1762, gives prominence to the fact that the valor of the members of the Swartwout Family in America, in the colonial period,was not only notable in engagements with the French and their allies at places near the homes of the vigilant frontier settlers, but also along the distant borders of Canada and the more remote islands of the West Indies.

The patriotism of the family was also brilliantly exhibited in the war of the Revolution by the services of twenty-nine of its members; two having the rank of brigadier-general, three that of captain, three of lieutenant, and four of ensign, two of whom were institution-members of the Society of Cincinnati.

The appellation Swartwout designated, in September, 1776, a temporary fort, constructed at that time near Spuiten Duivil Kill, for the defense of the city of New York.

In the voluntary contribution, at Fort Schuyler, on August 3, 1777, by Abraham Swartwout, who, as a lieutenant of volunteer, had served, in 1762, in the successful campaign of the English forces on Cuba, of his valuable blue cloth cloak to form the field of the first United States flag that was made conformable to the style of the national standard established, on June 14, 1777, by the American Congress, as an historical fact inseparable from the genesis of the star-constellated banner of the Land of the Brave.  The testimony of an order of the Pennsylvania Navy-Board, written on May 29, 1777, to pay Elizabeth Ross fourteen pounds twelve shillings and two pence for making ships' colors, etc. in no way substantiates the claim that she fabricated a United States flag prior to the Declaration of Independence, nor does it verify in any manner the assertion that the American Congress issued an order on the treasury to pay her a similar sum for making a flag or flags of the design set forth in the resolution of June 14, 1777.

The bold statesmanship of General Jacobus Swartwout, on of the original law-makers of the state of New York, who for eighteen successive years served six as an assemblyman and twelve as a senator, added no little luster to his prompt and early service in the war of the Revolution.

"The arena of party politics in the state of New York, at the beginning of the current century, presented scenes and characters peculiar to that time. The eager gatherings of the different leaders' forces, their violent onsets at the polls and the loudness of their voicings of victory were as remarkable as the characteristics of the spirited men who outlined the plans of the successive campaigns, named the candidates, and marshaled the electors. The illustrious prestige of the federalists and the vivid vigor of the republican-democrats gave more than ordinary distinction to the two agonizing parties. Hamilton's early discovery of the growing popularity of Aaron Burr made him the more ambitious to lessen it, which consequently stimulated the zeal of the young democrats to increase it. The factional alliance of the Livingstons, the Clintons, and the Schuylers not infrequently changed the preponderance of the public favor from the candidates of the one party to those of the other. The strong individuality of John Swartwout made him a distinguished favorite of his party, and in as much as his frankness and integrity invalidated many of the unjust animadversions of his opponents, he was thrice elected to a seat in the state legislature. The duel which he so resolutely fought with De Witt Clinton was evidently to him the only honorable means by which he could disprove the intemperate and unfounded expressions of his reckless and self-opinioned traducer.

The clandestine and perilous methods adopted by General James Wilkinson to conceal his disloyal machinations and treasonable acts from the knowledge of the national government and the people of the United States during the time he was engaged in the attempt to place Spain in possession of the territory of Louisiana, and to persuade the people of Kentucky to seceded from the Union and acknowledge the supremacy of that foreign country's power, and thereby obtain for himself compensatory riches and titular distinction, exemplify an art of traitorous diplomacy truly astounding. Wilkinson's faithlessness to Aaron Burr, whom he knavishly used and artfully vilified in order to keep the public ignorant of the fact that he himself was the concocter of the plots which made his enthusiastic and incautious servitor a conspirator and filibuster, reveals in the liveliest colors Wilkinson's nefarious selfishness and personal turpitude. The temporary perplexity of General Wilkinson in determining the character of his treatment of Samuel Swartwout, to whom Burr had entrusted the delivery of the famous cipher-letter to Wilkinson, was undoubtedly due to Wilkinson's belief that the young man would not belie Burr's description: a man of inviolable honor and perfect discretion; formed to execute rather than project; capable of relating facts with fidelity, and incapable of relating them otherwise." This truthful characterization evidently made Wilkinson unwilling to place full faith in the frankness and candor of the disinterested bearer of the cipher letter.  When acquitted of the charge of treason brought against him by Wilkinson, Samuel Swartwout, in publicly proclaiming him guilty of treason, forgery, and perjury, did not use words inapplicable to the numerous and more clearly established offenses of the execrable impostor.

"The outbreak of hostilities between the United States and Great Britain, in 1812, again quickened the martial spirit and valorous proclivities inherited by the members of the Swartwout Family. Midshipman Augustus Swartwout, although seriously wounded, persistently superintended the firing of a gun on the flagship Lawrence until it was dismounted, in the ever-memorable naval battle on Lake Erie, in which Captain Oliver H. Perry, with a squadron of small wooden vessels, grandly obtained the distinctive renown of having commanded the first United States fleet that encountered in a regular line of battle one of an enemy, which, having been worsted in a long and desperate action, he captured entire, without losing a single vessel of his own.

The dash and gallantry of Brigadier-General Robert Swartwout in the battle of Chrysler's Field was the admiration of all the brave men who participated in it. As captain of the independent military organization, titled the Iron Grays, Samuel Swartwout was regarded by the citizens of New York as being the inspirer of the esprit de corps which gave it the noted distinction which it so long enjoyed as being the price of the city.  Composed of young men of marked social standing and education, the corps became famous for its skilled use of arms and precise and rapid evolutions, and its parades on the Battery and field maneuvers always attracted large throngs of people to witness them. Fitz-Greene Halleck, the poet, was a member of the company.  The patriotism of: "Swartwout's gallant corps, the Iron Grays," inspired him to write several metrical compositions in laudation of the note-worthy loyalty of its members in volunteering their services for defense of the city during the war.

"The attempt of the three energetic brothers, John, Samuel, and Robert Swartwout, to reclaim for cultivation the tide-swept marshes of New Jersey, immediately west of the Hudson River, and opposite the city of New York, by ways and means similar to those seen in Holland, obtained for their extraordinary enterprise deserved commendation. The relinquishment left there large areas of dry ground and the bold outlines of the hundred and twenty miles of wide ditching to demarcate the extent of the planned work and demonstrate the obvious utility of the vast undertaking.

The criminal complicity and conspiracy of two dishonest employees of Samuel Swartwout, while he was the collector of customs at the port of New York during the administration of Andrew Jackson as president of the United States, in having him adjudged a defaulter, and causing him to be dispossessed of his extensive and valuable property, are so clearly and conclusively established by the facts and testimony presented in the thirteenth chapter of this work that every reader of it will certainly wonder why a publication of this incontrovertible evidence was not made earlier. The reprehensible action of the national government in summarily taking and selling the estate of the traduced ex-collector on the assumption that the allegations of the perjured and perfidious cashier and his despicable confederate were true, not only abruptly deprived Samuel Swartwout of his property and irremediably impoverished the guiltless man, but unhappily influenced people to believe that the charges brought against him were indisputably authoritative and unequivocally substantiated. The culpability if the national government in not accounting to Samuel Swartwout for the valuable property which it unjustly took and sold is as remarkable as its deafness to the persistent appeals which the conscientious ex-collector personally and by representatives made to obtain a settlement of his accounts with it.

"The inherent patriotism and loyalty of the Swartwout family and many of its male representatives to volunteer their services for the preservation of the Union at the beginning and during the progress of the Civil War.  On different battle-fields not a few heroically terminated their lives, others died in hospitals and prisons of wounds and disease, and some still bear honorary marks of commended valor. The fierce engagement of the Portsmouth, commanded by Captain Samuel Smith Swartwout, with the water batteries on the banks of the Mississippi River, to render practicable the attempt of Admiral Farragut to pass Forts Jackson and St. Philip with his fleet of wooden vessels, and reach and capture New Orleans, was introductorily particularized in the official report of the successful feat which made lastingly famous the bold venture of the distinguished naval officer who accomplished his object with the loss of but one vessel.

The fortitude of Adjutant William Merrill Swartwout, after being deprived of his left arm and having the pectoral muscles on that side of his body seriously lacerated by two-hundred-pound projectile, at Dutch Gap, on the James River, was considered to have enabled him to ward off the fatal consequences commonly resulting from such frightful wounds. His observation of the bravery of his comrades-in-arms and their exemplary endurance of many physical afflictions in the field led him to erect, on the Soldier's and Sailor's Plat, in Oakwood Cemetery, at Troy, N.Y., a conspicuous flag-staff on which he has had displayed, constantly since 1894,  a United States flag to keep alive recollections of the courage and services of the deceased veterans whose remains are there entombed.

"Of the one hundred and more engravings illustrating these chronicles, the reduced facsimiles of the original Dutch text and embellishments of the nuptial poem and wedding songs composed in honor of the marriage of Tomys Swartwout and Hendrickjen Barentse Otsen, on June 3, 1631, will, without doubt, be highly prized by the members of the Swartwout Family as ancestral souvenirs. The author's versified translations of the Dutch epithalamium and songs are as literal as the meaning of the text could be harmoniously construed in English.

"The publication of this work must indissolubly link hereafter the name of Major William Merrill Swartwout with his munificence in making it a memorial of inestimable historical value to the members of the family, and a book uniquely elaborate in binding and delightfully satisfying in typography.

"Besides the author's gratification in finding in different provincial and municipal archives in the Netherlands the information concerning the ancestors of the Swartwout Family set forth in this volume, his remembrances of the interest taken in his researches by the courteous and scholarly archivists who there graciously and officially furthered them, urges him to acknowledge here his great indebtedness to Mr. J. A. Feith, the imperial archivist of the province of Groningen, and to Mr. W. R. Veder, the archivist of the city of Amsterdam, for many favors of their time and knowledge, and to express his obligations for the kind services of Mr. S. Muller Fzn., the imperial Custodian of the archives of the province of Utrecht, and those of Mr. I. van Sloterdij, and Mr. C. M. Dozy, severally archivists of the municipal records of Leeuwarden and Leyden.

Arthur James Weise Troy, N.Y., August 15, 1899

 Back to the Swartwout Chronicles Index Page

This page was created by Mark Swarthout.
The last update to the page was on Saturday, October 10, 2005
Send me some mail!