Hardenbroeck v. the Orphanmasters

This resource is adapted from the New-York Historical Society’s New World—New Netherland—New York curriculum.

Document Text


Thursday, December 22, 1661, at the City Hall present Messrs. Olof Stevenzen van Cortlant, Martin Cregier and Cornelis Steenwyck.
Margriet Hardenbroeck, widow of Pieter Rudolfus, is requested to bring an inventory of the estate of her late husband and asked, whether she has guardians for her children, she answers, that there is a guardian in Holland, who is expected shortly to arrive. As she cannot make the inventory- so quickly and does not know, how her late husbands affairs in Holland stand, she asks for time, until the arrival of the first ships or until her brother comes, which is allowed.
Thursday, December 22, 1661

The Orphanmasters ask Margriet Hardenbroeck to provide them with an inventory of her late husband’s estate and proof that she has appointed guardians to protect her daughter Maria’s inheritance. Margriet assures them that everything they need is in the Netherlands and will be arriving shortly.


Whereas Margriet Hardenbroeck, the widow of Pieter Rudolfus, intends to become the wife of Frerich Flipsen and the bans have already been published, therefore the Orphanmasters of this City order and direct said Margriet Hardenbroeck, before the solemnization of her marriage to deliver to this Board a statement and inventory of the property, left by said Pieter Rudolfus and to be settled on his child as inheritance. This she is to do in eight days, on the last of this month. Done at Amsterdam in N. N., November 23, 1662. By Order, etc.


November 23, 1662

The Orphanmasters have heard a rumor that Margriet Hardenbroeck is planning to remarry. They demand that she appear before their court to settle the issue of Maria’s inheritance before the wedding takes place. They give her eight days to appear.


Monday, December 4, 1662, at the City Hall present Messrs. Marten Cregier and Cornelis Steenwyck.
Margriet Hardenbroeck, the widow of Pieter Rudolfus, coming in is told, that as she intends to marry again she must settle upon her child by said Rudolfus the property, inherited from the father. She says, that at present she can make no settlement, as her affairs are not ready, but, she adds, she has taken care of that, for by the marriage contract with her new husband provision is made, that this child is to inherit a like share with the children she may have during this marriage. The Board decide, that said marriage contract is to be recorded in the Orphans book and that guardians of the child must be appointed, as which are named the father of said Margriet Hardenbroeck and Jacobus Backer : she was ordered to notify the Board at the next session.***
Monday, December 4, 1662

Margriet Hardenbroeck appears in the court of the Orphanmasters and insists that she cannot settle Maria’s inheritance because she doesn’t know if her husband had any outstanding debts. She tells them that she and her fiancé already have a contract that protects Maria. The Orphanmasters ask her to bring the contract to their next session so they can be sure all is in order, and demand again that she appoint a guardian to oversee Maria’s inheritance.


Thursday, December 14, 1662, at the City Hall present Messrs. Marten Cregier, Cornells Steenwyck and Peter van Couwenhoven.
Margriet Hardenbroeck coming in produces the marriage contract, made by her and Freryck Flipsen, her future husband, but not signed. This contract having been read and considered, the Board does not deem it sufficient to show, that the paternal inheritance is settled on the child, because it says, first, that the survivor shall not be held to give any account to the children or relations nor an inventory of the estate, excluding all : secondly, the fifth article says, that if the contracting parties should have no children, no settlement shall be made on her child. Margriet Hardenbroeck is therefore ordered to make a settlement on the child of the paternal inheritance in eight days from date.***
Thursday, December 14, 1662

Margriet Hardenbroeck produces an unsigned marriage contract, and the Orphanmasters reject it as not in the best interests of Maria. They order Margriet to return in eight day to make a proper contract.


Berthold Fernow, The Minutes of the Orphanmasters of New Amsterdam. (New York: Francis P. Harper, 1902).


One of the best sources for information about the lives of women and children in New Amsterdam is the Minutes of the Orphanmasters Court. Established in 1656 by the Municipal Government of New Amsterdam, the orphanmasters were responsible for ensuring the legal and financial security of children after the death of a parent. Their records provide a wealth of details about family relationships, estates, and the way women and children were treated in New Netherland.

About the Resources

The case of Margriet Hardenbroeck, which appears in the records in 1661–1662, represents the variety of forces at play in the lives of New Amsterdam women. Hardenbroeck married Pieter Rudolphus de Vries in 1659, and during their marriage, acted as his partner in running his Atlantic trade business. Unlike their English counterparts, women in the Dutch colonies could inherit and manage property, so when Pieter died in 1660, his considerable estate should have been split between his wife and his infant daughter, Maria. In 1661, the orphanmasters called Hardenbroeck in to request an inventory of her late husband’s estate and determine whether she had named a guardian for Maria. Under Dutch law, all children who lost a parent had to have a guardian appointed who would make sure they received their inheritance. Hardenbroeck testified that information on her husband’s estate and her child’s guardian were both in Holland, but she would let the court know when she had more information. Whether this was a ploy to keep the court from meddling in her business interests or not, the orphanmasters were happy to let that stand for the time being.

In late 1662, the matter became more pressing when the orphanmasters learned that Hardenbroeck had announced plans to remarry. Hardenbroeck still had not provided an inventory of her late husband’s estate, and under Dutch law, any property of Hardenbroeck’s would become the joint property of her new husband—if Maria’s share was not set aside before the marriage took place her claim would be lost. The orphanmasters demanded that Hardenbroeck appear before them and explain her plans for ensuring her daughter’s financial security. Their concern seems to indicate that children of first marriages could be mistreated by the new spouse in subsequent unions. Hardenbroeck’s first attempt at a marriage contract was rejected for not being clear enough, and both she and her fiancé were called before the court to settle matters. The final agreement did not preserve Maria’s portion of the estate, but did ensure Maria the full financial support of her new father and an equal share in any inheritance down the road.

The entire episode speaks volumes about the status of women in New Netherland. Hardenbroeck appears to be a woman of business who is doing everything in her power to prevent the government from meddling in her affairs. On the other hand, the fact that the orphanmasters were going through all this trouble for an infant girl is indicative of a larger cultural interest in protecting the rights and interests of women and children generally.


  • estate: All of the money and property owned by a person.
  • guardian: A person assigned to protect the legal and financial interests of a child.
  • inheritance: The property someone receives after the death of a family member.
  • Orphanmasters Court: A government body that protected the rights of children who had lost one or both parents.

Discussion Questions

  • Why would the government of New Netherland be interested in protecting the inheritance of a baby girl?
  • Why is the Orphanmasters Court worried about Margriet’s plans to remarry?
  • What does this episode reveal about the status of women and children in New Netherland?

Suggested Activities