Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Flemish Connection to Chelsea Clinton's Wedding

When a piece of current news surfaces I like to know whether there exists any kind of Flemish connection. Today Chelsea Clinton was married in the quaint village of Rhinebeck, New York. As luck would have it, there is indeed a Flemish connection.

The Village of Rhinebeck is the scene of Chelsea Clinton's marriage. Simplistic guides mention in passing that the Village was settled by "Dutch" settlers in 1686. But the reality is that the town was founded and settled by Hendrick (or Henry) Beekman. Beekman, who is pictured below in flowing curls and dressed in red, later united his family (through marriage) to the powerful Robert Livingston clan (of Revolutionary War fame).

Hendrick Beekman was a son of the longest serving mayor of New York (then of course called Nieuw Amsterdam): William (or Willem or Wilhelmus) Beeckman. Willem Beeckman (or Beekman - pictured below in light brown wavy hair, a red cravat and a dark outfit) was the grandson of two prominent Biblical scholars and translators. His paternal grandfather, for whom he was named, came from a line of Protestants who emigrated to Holland from Cologne. Beeckman's maternal grandfather, Willem (or William) Baudert (or Baudart or Baudartius), was the more prominent of the two. Baudartius was a Flemish scholar of Hebrew, an engraver, and one of the officially appointed translators of the first true Dutch-language Bible (called the Statenbijbel) . This was the required Bible for the Netherlands as well as Nieuw Nederland ofte Nova Belgica.
Baudartius (pictured below), whose childhood was spent in the "Dutch" (=Flemish) colony at Sandwich, England, was born in the Flemish town of Deinze which today is part of the province of East Flanders in Belgium. Baudartius was fluent in English, Dutch and French (as well as a ready translator of Latin and Hebrew). Baudartius played an important role at the Synod of Dort (or Dordrecht) - along with other prominent exiled Protestant Flemings such as Gomarus (whom the Pilgrims knew at Leyden), Petrus Plancius (who provided maps for Henry Hudson as well as for the Dutch East and West India Companies - VOC/WIC) and Johannes De Laet (who wrote the first account of the colony at Nieuw Nederland - and about whom more in a future posting).
Like Emmanuel Van Meteren and Johannes De Laet, Baudartius would see his offspring emigrate to Nieuw Nederland ofte Nova Belgica. But their contribution to American history did not end with William Beeckman's mayoralty of New York nor with Henry Beekman's founding of Rhinebeck, NY. Ultimately, Baudartius' descendants would number in the millions in North America and include among the more prominent, George Herbert Walker Bush and George W. Bush, the 41st and 43rd Presidents of the United States (their link to Baudartius is outlined in Dutch here).

So as you gaze at the photos of what the press terms a wedding of "American royalty" in Rhinebeck, New York, remember that a thin historical thread links this village of Rhinebeck, New York to a similarily quiet town of Deinze, East Flanders. Note also that at the back of another American story lies a Fleming from the diaspora.

Copyright 2010 by David Baeckelandt. All rights reserved. No reproduction in any format permitted without my express written approval.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Flemish of Hawai'i - Part 1

Last week I was in Hawai'i on business. Hawai'i may not seem to be a natural subject for a blog that styles itself as focusing on the Flemish contribution to the discovery and settlement of the New World, but in fact it is highly appropriate. Two primary figures that frequently are submerged under other nomenclature, George Vancouver and Joseph DeVeuster, both contributed to the discovery and settlement of Hawai'i which is, of course, now part of the United States of America.

The story of Hawai'i and its integration into the United States is not an entirely cheerful one. Yet, the Flemish who did play visible roles, such as George Vancouver and Joseph De Veuster, can be proud of their involvement in the European 'discovery' and non-native settlement of the Hawaiian Islands.

George Vancouver, an Anglo-Fleming who was thoroughly Anglicized (as I detailed in an earlier blog posting), first visited the "Sandwich islands", as a junior officer under Captain James Cook. Cook, the first European visitor to Hawai'i, presumptuously named them for his patron, acting First Lord of the Admiralty, the Earl of Sandwich, in 1778. [1]

Cook's visits - in 1778 and again in 1779 (when he was killed - as depicted above) - were the first noticeable contacts of the Hawaiians with the outside world. [2] Vancouver participated in both visits and learned a good deal. The lessons learned, and his sensitivity to the local culture, complicated political dynamics, and personalities, contributed to a far more successful series of follow-on visits (in the unification of the Hawaiian archipelago under King Kamehameha I). [3]

Nor was George Vancouver alone in the fleet with Flemish ancestry. Another officer, Captain Charles Clerke was also likely Anglo-Flemish. Captain Clerke assumed command of the expedition after Captain Cook was killed in a skirmish in Hawai'i. He was in command of HMS Discovery. Several Flemish seamen, Peter Cooper (who had been born in Ghent) and his shipmate Jacobus Van Cant (who had been born in Dunkirk) were also present. Both were listed as Able Bodied Seamen on HMS Endeavor.[4]

The legacy of Vancouver's visits to the Hawaiian Islands was more than Flemish footprints in the sand. It was a significant contribution to what became the unified Kingdom of Hawai'i. To quote Ralph Kuykendall's account of George Vancouver and King Kamehameha's relationship:
"Of the time that Vancouver spent at the [Hawaiian] islands [three visits in the 1790s], far the greater part was passed in the dominions of Kamehameha and under the watchful eye and protection of that chieftain. A strong friendship sprang up between the two....The native history, Ka Mooolelo Hawaii (1838), in its account of Vancouver's visits, includes the following details:
"Vancouver taught Kamehameha's men how to drill as a body of soldiers. Vancouver also said to Kamehameha, 'Do not permit the foreigners to settle in Hawaii....They will lead you astray."
"Vancouver's patronage of Kamehameha greatly enhanced the prestige of the latter and was a factor in his [Kamehameha's] subsequent success." [5]
The Flemish, however, were and are hardly a belligerant people. While their numbers were small in visiting the Hawaiian Islands in the 18th century (and remained small in subsequent years) they were to have an outsized contribution to the lore of not only Hawai'i but also Flanders. My next post will show another Fleming who sought the best for Hawai'i and her people and was a soldier but not for an earthly king.
Part 2 of "The Flemish in Hawai'i" will focus on Joseph DeVeuster aka Father Damien/Damiaan

[1] For much of this narrative I am relying upon Ralph S. Kuykemdall, The Hawaiian Kingdom, (Honolulu: The University of Hawaii Press, 1938), 3 volumes. For this specific reference see Kuykendall, Volume I, " 1778-1854: Foundation and Transformation", p. 23.
[2] Although in spirit my statement is accurate, technically there of course had been earlier contacts. Kuykendall details these in Volume I, op.cit. Chapter 2, "The Foreigners", p.12ff
[3] Kuykendall, op.cit., Vol. I, p. 39
[4] See the online list of sailors in Cook's fleet here: "The Men Who Sailed With Captain Cook" . More on Captain Clerke can be found here.
[5] Kuykendall, op.cit., Vol. I, p. 43
Copyright 2010 by David Baeckelandt. All rights reserved. No reporpduction in any form is permitted without my express, written consent.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Battle of the Golden Spurs

Today is officially designated the Flemish Feest Day (Vlaanderen Feestdag). It is so designated however because it commemorates the Battle of the Golden Spurs on July 11th, 1302. This event is worth noting by not only Flemings or those of us with Flemish ancestry but also by the wider world community.

For military historians, this battle was critical for demonstrating that citizen levies could defeat feudal levies (heavily armored knights) in a set piece battle. More importantly, Flemish guild members defeated France, at that time Europe's strongest power.
For students of political history, it was a victory of plural governance over absolutism. Offset by only seven days from America's own Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776), its calendar proximity underscores the continuum of Flemish contributions to the development of the United States of America.

For those of you unfamiliar with the battle and the events leading up to it, I recommend the books I cited in my posting one year ago. But a quick synopsis would go something like this:

Although Flanders just 100 years before had been larger than France, by the end of the 13th century the evil though handsome (hence the name Philip le Bel - Philip the Fair) French king sought to impose his rule on Flanders. Some Flemings sought their own self-interest (including of course, the successive Counts of Flanders) but others - especially led by strong guildmembers in Bruges/Brugge struggled against the political and cultural encroachment by France. Events culminated in an uprising of the Bruges/Brugge townsmen and defiance of the French king.

In response, King Philip of France summoned those who owed him feudal service - including Flemish knights - and marched north to 'chastise' the Flemings. The guilds of Bruges/Brugge, supported by some Flemish knights (the "vast majority" according to historian J.F. Verbruggen) joined the guilds. They faced forfeiture of fiefs, loss of income, and a painful death if they lost.

Incidentally, there were many different Dutch-speaking communities represented on the Flemish side by small levies or individuals from Dutch-speaking villages and fiefs. These included: Brugge/Bruges, Kortrijk/Courtrai, Aalst, Oudenaarde, Hondschote, Wessegem, Gistel, Erpe, Praat, Limburg, Zeeland, Holland, Rijsel/Lille, Loon, Aardenburg, Brabant, Lembeke, Gillis, Belle, Moorslede, Coudekerke, Steenland, Namen/Namur, Ieper/Ypres and Gent/Ghent. In other words, nearly the entire Dutch-speaking from north of the Scheldt west to the Rhine, south to what is now France and west as far as Calais. They were trying to live the idea: "Vlaanderen, Samen staan we sterk."

For the most part these men were armed with an inexpensive Flemish pike called the "goedendag" of about 12 feet long.

Against this levy of perhaps 10,000 Flemings - nearly all footsoldiers whose day jobs were weavers, butchers, greengrocers, etc. - was arrayed a roughly equal (but qualitatively better in terms of arms, training and experience) French crossbowmen (more than 1000), footsoldiers (6000?), and knights (several thousand). The Frenchmen were trained in warfare, protected by armor, and experienced in field tactics.

The outcome was not expected to be favorable to the Flemish. They fought as men whose backs were against the wall. Which in a very real sense they were, since the French had a garrison inside the castle walls of Kortrijk, outside of which they were arrayed. But after multiple attacks on the Flemish with both their crossbowmen and their French knights, the Flemish were victorious. More than 700 French knights left their fancy, golden spurs on the field.

In tribute to their near-miraculous deliverance from French absolutism and oppression, the Flemish hung those spurs at the Onze Lieve Vrouw Kerk in Kortrijk. There they hung for 80 years, until the French juggernaut overwhelmed the bright lights of Flemish pluralism. Today battle monuments stand on the Groeningeveld in Kortrijk to commemorate the Flemish victory.

Rather than outline in detail the moves of the battle, today I take a different approach. Below, courtesy and thanks to my friend Ray van Angeltjes (whose superb blog Angeletjes I highly recommend), are links to the movie "The Battle of the Golden Spurs". The movie is in Dutch with English subtitles.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Flemish Lion and the Great Seal of the United States

This post hits my blog more than a month after first putting pinky to keyboard. I had intended to offer up a detailed connection of America's Founding Fathers and Flemish precedent in establishing the legal basis for the Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately I have not completed my research into this important subject - but I intend to complete that topic for a future post.

However, contributing to that effort, was the tireless, resourceful and multi-talented Professor Matthias Storme. Dr. Storme directed me to the online database of the papers of America's Founding Fathers. Several of those documents are startling and, from a Flemish nationalist's viewpoint (like mine), further confirm the importance of the Flemish to the Founding of the United States of America.
The most important fact uncovered, from my perspective, is the fact that at one point in time the Flemish Lion, symbol of Flanders and the hope of many for a free and independent Flemish Republic, was deemed significant enough to be included in the Great Seal of the United States. Below I highlight a snippet of these findings and offer them to you, Gentle Reader, as yet further proof of our claim to a seat at this table.

Second only perhaps to the visibility of the American flag as a symbol of the United States is the Great Seal of the United States. The Great Seal, pictured at top (obverse and reverse), adorns official U.S. government buildings as well as documents. It is the imprimatur of the U.S. government and as such is strictly regulated. It has roots of course in the seal that sovereigns stamped on documents to lend weight and impress recipients that whatever was attached to it represented the full force of the state.

The Founding Fathers of the United States considered the Great Seal - or what they then called, the "Coat of Arms" - of the United States to be of critical importance to both the unity as well as the image of the fledgling Thirteen Colonies. Shortly after the declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776, a proposal was made by a Swiss immigrant, Pierre Eugene du Simitiere. Du Simitiere was a resident of Philadelphia and a friend of Benjamin Franklin, who reputedly had advised him on this proposal. As such it is worth quoting the official record.

The Shield has Six quarters parti one, coupé two; to the first it bears or, a rose ennamelled Gules and argent, for England; to the Second, argent a thistle proper, for Scotland; to the third vert, a harp or, for Ireland; to the fourth azure, a flower de luce or for France; to the fifth or the Imperial Eagle Sable, for Germany; and to the Sixth or, the Belgic [i.e., Flemish] Lyon [sic Lion] Gules, for Holland. (These being the Six principal nations of Europe from whom the Americans have originated.) This Shield within a border gules entoire of thirteen Escutcheons argent linked together by a chain or, each charg’d with initial letters Sable, as follows [1] .
The Flemish Lion (lower left of the shield, just above the letters "DC", reminds one of the armorial versions of the Flemish Lion from the Middle Ages. Most typical for me would be the version from this 13th century document (below).

Du Simitiere's proposal was sent into a committee of the Continental Congress. When it emerged, on August 10, 1776, from the "First Committee", it had gone through some modest changes. However, the suggestion of keeping the Flemish Lion remained. It remained because of the belief that the United States was founded by these "six principal races of Europe".
Unfortunately this design was not adopted in 1776. Subsequent committees during the Revolutionary War and immediately after produced other versions - such as this one below.
The expansion of the Republic in land, importance and population in the mid-19th century prompted a renewed interest in approving a final "Great Seal" for the United States. Logically, artists updated their understanding of the Continental Congress' original written description but took some liberties with the actual depiction. The result, in 1856, of a rendition of the First Committee's recommendation (which included the "Belgic Lyon"), seemed to hardly include the "Belgic Lyon" symbol many of us would recognize. Whether this was because of poor drafting skills, a misunderstanding, or an intentional from the directions, the actual sketch showed nothing that looked like a Flemish Lion. Note the drawing below.

Unfortunately the passage of time and the involvement of a variety of other versions modified the seal over time. Today no trace exists of the Flemish Lion on any official U.S. government documents. Yet, at the time of the founding of the United States, the Dutch-speaking peoples were listed as one of the "six principal nations" that contributed to the settlement of the United States. As a representation of that contribution the Flemish Lion was considered a suitable symbol for inclusion in the "Coat of Arms" of the United States. It is worth recalling that fact today.

[1] Source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson Digital Edition, ed. Barbara B. Oberg and J. Jefferson Looney. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2008.
Canonic URL: [accessed 06 Aug 2010]
Original source: Main Series, Volume 1 (1760–1776)

Copyright 2010 by David Baeckelandt. All rights reserved. No reproduction in any format permitted without my express written consent.