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Brooklyn’s Muslim presence dates back centuries. Here is the proof of 1643.


Anthony Jansen van Salee, better known as “Anthony the Turk”, was one of the most colorful figures in New Amsterdam, the Dutch colony that later became New York City.

Son of a Dutch pirate and a Moor, he fought constant legal battles with his neighbors, one of whom denounced him as “a rascal and a horned beast”. In 1639, after an ill-advised feud with the religious leader of the nascent colony on the tip of Manhattan, he and his wife – a renowned prostitute known for her salty tongue (and her habit of measuring client endowments with a broomstick) – were banned.

Like others driven from Manhattan over the following centuries, Antoine – considered the first known person of Muslim origin to settle in America – has just crossed the East River, and Before a long time had secured a concession of nearly 200 acres of farmland close to nature of Coney Island. And one afternoon last month, the recent one rediscovered act for tthe mother of all brooklyn real estate scores Come to the house.

He arrived at the stately headquarters of the Brooklyn Historical Society in Brooklyn Heights in an unassuming brown wrap, fresh from Christie’s, where the historical society purchased in October for $ 27,500. Upstairs in the library, a small group gathered like Maggie Schreiner, the responsible for archives and special collections, placed the package on a low shelf used to store fire insurance atlases and gently sliced ​​it open.

“Here it is!” Deborah Schwartz, president of the historical society, said in a whisper of wonder, as the document – deeply crumpled by repeated folding, its ink faded slightly brown – became visible. “Wow.”

The deed, which will be presented to the historical society from December 11 to 15, is “by far” the most important object it has acquired recently, Ms. Schwartz said. It is also the one that happened at a fortuitous moment.

When the auction listing appeared, the historical society had just finished a three-year oral history project and exhibition documenting the Muslims of Brooklyn – a community that has deep roots in the borough but was almost invisible in society’s records.

“It’s an incredible document,” said Julie Golia, the historical society’s vice president for curatorial affairs and collections. “It’s not only incredibly important to how we understand the 17th century, but it’s also a direct link to the types of themes and questions we delve into about the 20th and 21st centuries. “

While Anthony’s land acquisition was known from official colony records (which have been translated by the new project from the Netherlands), the fact that his copy of the act survived was not. When brought to Christie’s, the owner, whom the auction house does not identify, thought it was notable primarily for its early date of 1643 and an endorsement on the back by Peter Stuyvesant.

The approximately 7-by-13-inch piece of vellum, purchased with a grant from the BH Breslauer Foundation, may not look much like treasures like the ultra-rare 1770 map of Manhattan by master cartographer Bernard Ratzer who was discovered among the company’s uncatalogued holdings a few years ago. But its details suggest a tantalizing story.

In the library, the three women leaned over to read the dense and neat script, choosing words like “Nieuw Amsterdam” and “Conyne Eylandt,” and the signature of Willem Kieft, the colonial governor who issued the act. On the reverse, the endorsement of Stuyvesant – who became governor in 1647 and presumably signed it to recertify its legality – had become almost invisible.

“Some of the most powerful documents, the ones that allow you to tell the most powerful stories once you research and read between the lines, are often the most innocuous,” Ms. Golia said.

The story of Anthony Jansen van Salee, or “Antoine the Turk, who was born in 1607, certainly gives food for thought. His father, Jan Jansen, a Dutch privateer, was captured by one of the Moorish states in 1618. He would have converted to Islam, perhaps by force, and became one of the famous Barbary pirates. (Van Salee was a reference to the Moroccan port of Salee, where the family lived for a time; “Turkish” was a derogatory term used at the time to refer to Muslims of all ethnicities.)

Anthony set sail for New Amsterdam in 1629 and quickly acquired a large farm just north of the city’s palisade on Wall Street, with a reputation as one of the most contentious figures in a city that abounds.

In less than five years, he had been brought to justice for offenses such as “stealing wood, paying the wages he owed with a dead goat, allowing his dog to kill a neighbor’s pig, pointing a pistol. charge at the supervisor’s slaves of the West India Company, threatening with bloodshed a debt collector if he insisted on the money owed and slandering a number of people, ”according to a biographical sketch posted online by the New Netherland Institute.

The last straw came in 1639, when his wife, Grietje Reyniers, was accused of insinuating that the wife of the colony’s religious leader had herself solicited prostitution. When Anthony refused to back down, he and Grietje were ordered to leave New Amsterdam for good.

Anthony sold his farm near Wall Street, but somehow obtained the deed for 100 morgens of land, or about 200 acres, near Coney Island. At the time, the area now known as Brooklyn – outside of New Amsterdam, but claimed by the larger colony of New Zealand – was the border, occupied by Native Americans and, near Wallabout Bay. and some other spots, a handful of settlers.

“It was the Wild West, or the Wild East,” Ms. Golia said.

It is still unclear how Anthony got the grant. (It is also not known, Ms. Golia noted, how the Dutch took control of this land from the Canarsee, the Lenape nation tribe that inhabited the region.) But within decades he was one of the most prosperous. Kings County landowners whose illustrious descendants are Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Its history is generally presented as illustrating the restless nature of the motley Dutch colony, long regarded as “a collection of losers and scalawags”, as historian Russell Shorto once put. But remove the salacious details, Ms. Golia said, and it reveals deep questions about race and gender, identity and personal identity, which resonate in our time.

Anthony’s own religious practice is unknown. But historical sources indicate that a Quran says I havee belonged to him was auctioned off in the mid-20th century, suggesting that his Muslim heritage was important to him, Ms Golia said.

“In our oral histories we have people who practice and who don’t,” she said. “We now have the opportunity to reflect on how this might have worked in the 17th century. “

The relationship between Anthony perceived race and its legal issues, Ms. Golia said, merit consideration. So, she said, does the frequent identification of Grietje (the heroine of Michael Pye’s 1996 novel “The Drowning Room”) as a prostitute, which in itself may be slander.

In 2011, after the New York Times published an article calling her “lady of the night,” one of her 10 great-granddaughters wrote. a response defending his honor, pointing out that the testimony qualifying her as a “whore” came from a clergyman who was himself “a liar and a bellicose drunkard”.

“This woman is a troublemaker, this man is mixed race,” Ms. Golia said. “What role did this play in their exile? There is so much to study here.



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