Records of the experiences of women in the early days of the New Netherland colony are scant, which makes this testimony, collected from 83-year-old Catalina Trico (misnamed Catelyn in the document) by an English colonial official in 1688, all the more valuable.
Once the Dutch had established their claim to New Netherland, they wanted to fill the land with settlers, but only the very young and very desperate were willing to take the chance. Eighteen-year-old Catalina, a French-speaking refugee in Amsterdam, married 19-year-old Flemish textile worker Joris Rapalje, also a refugee, on January 21, 1624 in a ceremony arranged by the Dutch West India Company. The Dutch encouraged the emigration of both men and women, believing that the presence of women and households would secure their claim to the territory, build community, and ultimately support the Dutch commercial empire. Four days later they departed with the first wave of New Netherland colonists bound for the New World aboard the Company ship the Unity.
Upon their arrival, Trico and Rapalje were sent up the North River (known today as the Hudson River) to the settlement at Fort Orange (present-day Albany, New York). They helped construct a fort and farms. In this testimony, Catalina recalls a peaceful and fruitful trade relationship with the local native people, and mentions moving back to New Amsterdam in 1626. What she leaves out (due to memory failure, or perhaps because her interviewer wasn’t interested) is that they left Fort Orange because their settlement was razed during an intertribal war their Dutch commander had involved them in.
Catalina and Joris relocated to New Amsterdam, were among the first people to buy land in the settlement, and lived a prosperous, seemingly happy life together. Joris gained prominence by virtue of being a long-standing and successful landholder in the colony. Their first child, Sarah, was the first European baby born in New Netherland. Together, they raised eleven children who spread across the region and prospered in their turn. Catalina supported the surrender of the colony to England in 1664, and the Rapalje family became a powerful presence in the English period (see Resource 27 in New World—New Netherland—New York). Historians estimate that Catalina has approximately one million descendants living in the tri-state area today.