Anthony Van Salee was a known Muslim who was the first settler of Brooklyn, New York. He came to New Amsterdam, the first and only Dutch colony in the New World, from Morocco in 1622. He first settled near Queens with his wife and had four daughters. His neighbors referred to him as a, “Turk,” a term Europeans tended to use for just about any Muslim who came from the Ottoman Empire and it’s surrounding areas. Anthony Van Salee’s first farm was described as being located near present day Wall St. In fact, Wall St. is believed to be named after his farm, which was referred to as, Wallenstein, in honor of a great general of that time. Because he was so different from his Dutch neighbors, Dutch records of New Amsterdam’s church hearings recorded disputes between him and the other colonists. After refusing to pay the salary of Reverend Bogardus, it was decided that Anthony should be banished from New Amsterdam, so he was sent to live in what is now Brooklyn. He was granted land in what is now Gravesend, New York, making him the first settler there. Coney Island was referred to as, “Turk Island,” because it was just south of his property. The above pictures are the mark of Anthony Jansen Van Salee, and the map of his burial spot, which would not be somewhere near the 26th block of Broadway. To this day, several Americans (including my mother who is a convert to Islam) claim Anthony Van Salee as an ancestor. These include people include Warren D. Harding, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Jackie Onassis.
Anthony Van Salee is believed to be the fourth son from the second marriage of Jan Jansen. Jan Jansen was a Dutch privateer around the late 1500’s and early 1600 who began his career as a privateer during the 80 Years War between Spain and Holland. During that time, privateers were paid to “harass” Spanish ships. This meant that they would capture the ship and take all of the passengers as captives. They usually sold their captives as slaves. As the 80 Years War began to end, Jan Jansen and several other privateers found themselves out of a job and began to turn to pirating as a way of life. While Jan Jansen also did some pirating, he also continued privateering, but he turned his allegiance toward the Ottoman Empire instead instead of Holland. During this time, he converted to Islam and convinced the entire crew of his ship to do the same. He took the town of Sale in Morocco and was elected leader of the town. He left his wife and children in Holland, and married a Morisco princess, who some refer to as “Margarita.” Thus, Anthony likely grew up in a wealthy family, and because of the wealth was likely highly educated. He continued to purchase real estate in New Amsterdam until he died around 1676, just after the British colonies took New Amsterdam and changed it’s name to New York. Below is a portrait of Jan Jansen.
While it may seem strange for a Dutch privateer to have converted to Islam in the early 1600’s, Jan Janson was not the only European pirate to have converted to Islam. Their names included, Rais Chafer (Jafar), Chaban Rais, Ahmed ed Cortobi, Case Mareys, Ali Campos, Uluj Ali, Yusuf Rais, and Sulayman Rais. Many of the pirates had both European and Arabic names. For example, Jan Jansen was known as Murad Rais the Younger, Uluj Ali (Italian born) was originally named Giovanni Dionigi Galeni, Sulayman Rais (Dutch) was born Ivan De Veenboer. Yusuf Rais, born Jack Ward and was also referred to as Jack Birdy. He was a British privateer who converted to Islam. In fact, in the move, Pirates of the Caribbean, the character, Jack Sparrow, is based on his life.
Like many colonists, Anthony could have been seeking religious freedom and prosperity by coming to New Amsterdam. Being half Dutch himself and having traveled with his father, he and his father likely knew well of the Holland’s advertisements to award land to those wishing to settle in New Amsterdam. Evan Haefali writes about the ideas of religious freedom that the Dutch brought to the Americas in his book, New Netherlands and the origins of American Religious Liberty (2012). The 13th article of the Union of Utrecht, which acted as the laws for New Netherlands stated, “each person shall remain free in his religion, and no one shall be persecuted or investigated because of their religion.” Enemies of Spain, the Dutch likely disdained Spain’s harsh religious exodus of massive numbers of non Catholics in 1609. New Amsterdam was known to teach tolerance of other religions and gave residency to Jews and Quakers, who were expelled from other colonies at the time. They were given haven in New Amsterdam until the General Peter Stuyvesant was the first to attempt to bar them in 1657.
If you would like to learn more about the life of Antony Van Salee, see this site: Anthony Van Salee, which contains work from the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record by Hazel Van Dyke Roberts, dated October 1969 & January 1972.
- What significant world events were occurring during the turn of the 17th century?
- Who was Jan Jansen? Why did many privateers turn into pirates?
- Where was Anthony Van Salee’s first farm? Why did he leave that area?
- Where was Anthony Van Salee’s second farm? What is the name of the island that is closest to it?
- Why was Anthony Van Salee well known in New Amsterdam?
- What was the original belief that the Dutch had about religious freedom, and how did that compare to Spain’s views? Which person ended religious freedom in New Amsterdam?
- Name some people who are claimed to have been ancestors of Anthony Van Salee.