Margrieta van Varick was born in Amsterdam and baptized on November 11, 1649. She was one of fourteen children of Jan Gerrits Visboom and Grietje Jans. Her father and paternal grandfather were butchers, and her mother came from a family involved in the textile trade. While little is known about either family business, the Visbooms were able to commission portraits of their family members, a sign of wealth in seventeenth-century Holland.
Margrieta’s father died in 1664, and her mother died three years later, leaving her an orphan at the age of 17. Her younger brothers and sisters were placed in the homes of relatives, but there is no record of what became of Margrieta until 1673. In that year, she appears in the marriage records of Malacca, Malaysia. Malacca was one of the most important ports in the Dutch empire. Ships carrying spices, cotton, coral, amber, elephants, coconuts, diamonds, gold, and enslaved people to and from India, Persia, China, Macao, Japan, and other countries passed in and out of the harbor daily. Margrieta probably lived with her uncle, Abraham Burgers. Abraham was a merchant and the fifth-most senior officer of the Dutch East India Company in Malacca. Because of her uncle’s status, Margrieta was part of the most elite circles of Malacca. She made many connections that would serve her well later in life. In 1673, Margrieta married one of her uncle’s colleagues, assistant merchant Ebert van Duins. Ebert was very successful, and rose to the seventh-highest position within the Dutch East India Company in Malacca, but he died in 1677. After his death, Margrieta returned to Amsterdam, leaving her uncle and sister behind in Malacca.
When she returned to Amsterdam, Margrieta reunited with Rudolphus van Varick. Rodolphus had once been the minister of the Dutch Reformed Church in Malacca, so he was likely friendly with Margrieta and her family for many years. They may have been drawn together by their shared memories of life overseas. They married in 1679, and moved to the village of Hem in West Frisia, where Rudolphus was assigned to be the village minister. While living in Hem, Margrieta gave birth to two children. In 1684, the couple adopted the four children of her sister, who had died earlier that year.
In November of 1685, Rudolphus was reassigned to the Dutch Reformed Church in Flatbush, a small town across the river from New York City in modern-day Brooklyn. In the spring of 1686, Margrieta boarded a ship to New York with her children to start another new life in the English colonies. The van Varicks settled comfortably. In 1690 and 1692, Margrieta gave birth to two more children.
It was at this time that Margrieta began to use the connections she had made as a young woman in Malacca. While Rudolphus focused on his parish duties, she opened a shop to sell luxury goods from all over the world. Records indicate that her shop carried items like silk fabric, ebony furniture, and fine jewelry, a very exotic array by the standards of life in Flatbush.
Margrieta’s shop carried items like silk fabric, ebony furniture, and fine jewelry, a very exotic array by the standards of life in Flatbush.
Margrieta was a Dutch immigrant living in an English colony that had once been under the control of the Dutch. To further complicate matters, she lived at a time when tensions between Great Britain and the Netherlands were running high. When Rudolphus spoke out against the crimes committed in the name of Leisler’s Rebellion in 1690 (Life Story: Jacob Liesler in New World—New Netherland—New York), he was imprisoned by Leisler’s supporters for six months. Margrieta was forced to flee Flatbush with her children, leaving her home and store behind. When Rudolphus was released, the family tried to return to their normal lives, but their community had turned against them. They decided to seek their fortune elsewhere. In 1693, Rudolphus requested that the church transfer him to another community, but he died before he received an answer.
Margrieta was left to make the best of her difficult circumstances. The biggest problem was money. The community owed her £300 of back salary that her husband had never been paid, in addition to debts for goods purchased at her store. But her husband’s actions during Leisler’s Rebellion meant that no one wanted to pay her the money she was owed.
Unfortunately, Margrieta had very little time to set things right. She passed away in December of 1695, leaving behind four children. An inventory of Margrieta’s possessions was made [pictured above], and directions were given for the distribution of her wealth to her four surviving children. This inventory is one of the most thorough documents of its kind for a woman in the colonial era. The goods found on the list come from across the globe. They stand as a testament to Margrieta’s life as a world traveler and successful entrepreneur in an era when many women faced limited options.