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48 Blaws Come to the New World

In Blog 3, we discussed the migration of the Blaw family and many other Dutch families from New York to Monmouth County, NJ and then westward to Somerset County, NJ. In this blog, we explore how the Blaw family became established in New Amsterdam and what is at the site of their home today.

Trade Led to Colonization

In the early 1600s, European countries were actively involved in trading and colonization. Shipbuilding had reached a point where large sailing ships could travel great distances and hold many goods acquired in foreign ports. Trade was a big part of the economy at the time when the Dutch settled New Amsterdam (New York). The routes to the “far east” had been established, and countries were developing fleets to bring trade items back to Europe. There was plenty of competition in this enterprise. Nations formed trading companies, which were conglomerate enterprises that sought goods in India, China, and other parts of Southeast Asia. They brought Mughal Indian silk and textiles, East India spices, Indonesian coffee, Formosan sugarcane, and South African wine, back to Europe, where they were sold or used in the manufacturing of other products. They also acquired silver and gold from Japan.

The primary competitors that formed trading companies were the English, Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch. They all had large fleets that not only brought back raw materials and finished products to their countries but also used the fleets for military purposes. These trading companies also conducted exploratory expeditions to unknown parts of the world.

The Dutch had two trading companies that serviced different parts of the world. The Dutch East India Company sought goods from the Far East, while the Dutch West India Company traded mainly in North and South America. Combined, these companies were known at the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC.

This carved logo of the VOC originally appeared above the entrance

to the Castle of Good Hope in South Africa.

Colonies often developed wherever trading posts were established. These posts were near ports to facilitate trading and resupplying ships to continue their voyages. Some of these colonies became Dutch settlements, at least for a time. Such was the case with New Amsterdam, on a large harbor that gave access to the Atlantic Ocean known today as New York Harbor. From this point, the Dutch worked with Indian tribes that were part of the Lenni Lenape nation to harvest beaver and otter pelts to send to Europe for the wealthy to use for hats and coats.

Slavery and the VOC

The VOC was not just about trading in spices and textiles. There was a strong market for slaves as well. The East India Company established a colony in South Africa and enslaved local men in the colony and in other parts of the world. In the East Indies, they again used local people as slaves.

The triangular trade route exchanged slaves for goods.

The Dutch West India Company developed “trade” routes that brought slaves to North America by way of South America. African trade merchants enslaved their own people in Africa and sold them to the Dutch, British, Spanish, and Portuguese shippers. The Dutch held colonies in Suriname and Guyana in South America. They also fought the Spanish to gain more territories. The shippers would transport the slaves to South America or the Caribbean and then to America. Charleston, SC was one of the main port of entries for slaves, who would be sold to plantation owners by auction. When their ships were empty, the slave traffickers would fill their ships with merchandise such as rum and molasses from the Caribbean islands and take the goods back to the Netherlands. During the period between the 15th and 17th centuries, the VOC and similar trade groups from other countries transported 12 million slaves to America. It is estimated that the Dutch brought 5-7% (over 800,000) slaves to the new world.

Slavery was common on settler’s farms in the Northeast as well as the South. The Covenhoven, Nevius, and Blaw farms in Blawenburg all had slaves. It is how much of the work was accomplished in the early days of our nation. Sadly, it took until the Civil War was over to officially end slavery. In reality, it has taken many years after that for the families of slaves to gain basic rights. That struggle continues today.

Blaw/Blew/Blue Roots

Not all travelers coming to America were sailors or trade merchants. Many came with the intention of establishing a home in the New World. Such was the case of the Blaw family that settled first in New Amsterdam and then branched out into many parts of the United states.

Frederick Janss (1620-1653) is the earliest Blaw ancestor that we have been able to trace. While the location of his birthplace is not known, he lived in tumultuous times likely at a seaport in the Netherlands. It was a time of change. The Hanseatic League, a merchant trade federation that protected the interest of merchants in eastern Europe, was breaking up after four hundred years of control. At the same time, the religious war known as the Thirty Years War between Protestant and Catholic regions of the Holy Roman Empire in Central Europe was underway. This turmoil may have encouraged Frederick to head off to the New World.

Frederick Janss’ father was Jan (John), so Frederick was the son of Jan/John – Frederick Janss. In his childhood, Frederick developed skill as a ship’s carpenter as many others in seafaring towns did. The Dutch West India Company was a growing enterprise, so he enlisted with them and headed to sea.

Frederick married, and the names of he and his wife, Grietje (1615-1671), appeared in records in the Dutch colony at Recife, New Holland, Brazil in 1646. While he was in Brazil from 1646 to 1649, they had three children, Anna, Jan, and Aeltje. In 1651, the Portuguese exiled the Dutch West India Company from Recife. Some people went back to the Netherlands, while others like Frederick Janss and family relocated to New Amsterdam in New Netherland, the large region that encompassed lands within what we know today as the states of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

Land was plentiful and Frederick received a land grant in 1652 on a wide street near Fort Amsterdam at the tip of Manhattan. Today, that section of the Manhattan is called The Battery. Unfortunately, Frederick died just a year later.

Map Notes:

1. Frederick Janss’ lot was on De Heere Street, which was later named Broadway.

2. The lot included a house and garden and its address was Lot #9, Block A. This became 25 Broadway many years later.

3. Fort Amsterdam was built to protect the harbor. Just to its west was the original shoreline of the Noort Rivier, which was later named the Hudson River.

4. The western shoreline had rolling hills on palisades called the Manhattans.

5. The Wall (right) was built to protect the Dutch settlers from the “hostile” Manhattan Indians. The street that replaced the wall was named Wall Street.

The Blaw property on a modern map. Note the difference in the location of the shoreline to 25 Broadway on this map compared to the 1660 map. Much of lower Manhattan has been expanded over the years.

On Broadway

They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway

They say there's always magic in the air.

On Broadway – Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Jerry Leiber, and Mike Stoller

Frederick and Grietje Janss were granted a property in southern Manhattan shown on the maps above on March 10, 1651. But Broadway then was a far cry from Broadway today – no neon lights, no taxies, and millions fewer people. It was originally a major pathway north and south for the Manhattan Indians who occupied the island. In the early days and many years thereafter, the neighborhood where Jan Fredericks, Frederick’s son, lived became the home to maritime traders and travel merchants.

A group of Blaw/Blew/Blue family members

on a trip to visit John Blaw’s original home

The property changed hands many times over the years, but as Manhattan became greatly populated, many businesses established headquarters there. A skyscraper was built on the original Blaw site in 1921, and it became the home of the Cunard Steamship Line, a maritime company that had been in existence since 1840. It is located in the financial district south of Trinity Church and .8 miles south of the Freedom Tower that replaced the World Trade Center buildings.

An old postcard image of the Cunard Building in the Bowling Green section of Manhattan

Cunard was the primary occupant, but not the owner of the building, for many years. They moved to other quarters in 1966, and the building remained vacant for many years. In 1976, the US Postal Service acquired the site. It is still called the Cunard Building, and it was named a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1995.

Name Changes

Jan Frederick added a surname when he came to New Amsterdam and became Jan Frederick Blauw (1640-1697). Having a family surname was the naming convention of the English which enabled families to have consistent surnames. After his father, Frederick Janss, died, his mother, Grietje Jans (1615-1671) remarried, took the name Grietje Jans Van Groeningen, and moved to Breuckelen (Brooklyn).

Grietje and Frederick’s son, Jan Frederick Blauw and his wife Aeltje (1655-1687) had a son who they named John Blauw. He was the same John Blaw who brought his family to Blawenburg in the 1730s. He became John Blaw Sr. and is regarded as the patriarch of the Blaw family.

If you find all these name changes confusing, you aren’t alone. They are confusing. As reported in other blogs, the naming conventions of families were not uniform in the 1600s, especially when there was a change in control of the colonies. In the case of New Amsterdam, there was a change in ownership in 1664. The Dutch ceded the colony to the British in a bloodless coup. In exchange, the Dutch acquired colonies in the Carribbean and the country of Suriname, which it held until 1954.

Jan Frederickse’s name meant John, son of Frederick. This got confusing. If Jan named his offspring Jan, would he be known as Jan Jan or Jan, son of Jan? When the British took power, their naming conventions held sway and families began taking surnames named after the father in the family. Jan Frederickse assumed the surname Blau or Blauw, which means Blue in Dutch. As time when on and the Blau/Blaw family spread out, the name became Anglicized. Blaw became Blew in some parts of the family and Blue in others. The national organization for the family is known as the National Blue Family Organization today.

There were other families in the Netherlands, Germany, Scotland, and likely other countries that had names that meant “blue.” But the Blaw family from Blawenburg is the starting point for the history of this small village. It’s hard to believe, but the Blaw/Blew/Blue family has evolved to have over 100,000 offspring spread out all over the United States and other countries as well.


Blawenburg Facts

1. Frederick Janss’ widow, Grietie Jans Van Groeningen, was among the 25 original members of the First Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of Breuckelen (Brooklyn) (1660).

2. There were many other East and West India Companies beside the VOC. The Swedes, Danish, French and many others were all in this enterprise. Slavery and merchandise trading were big businesses, and the primary transportation at the time was by ship.

3. The Charging Bull

If John Blaw lived on Broadway today, he would see this famous bronze sculpture of the Charging Bull by ‎Arturo Di Modica right across the street from his house. The Cunard Building is on the left side of the statue. The bull, also called the Bowling Green Bull, is in Bowling Green Park, New York’s oldest public park, established in 1733.


Blaw/Blew/Blue family tree – Ted Blew

Blue, H. Joel. “Frederick and Grietje Jans van Groeningen, Early Ancestors of Blauw / Blaw and associated Early Families of NY & NJ, 1651,” The Chalice, Vol 21, No. 2.

Emails from Ted Blew

Photo/Graphic Credits

Blaw/Blew/Blue family in NY – Ted Blew

Charging bull – Creative Commons

Map including F. Janss’ house – Spier Map, Virtual New Amsterdam Project, 1660, in The Chalice, V. 31, No. 2, August 2013

Map of lower Manhattan – Google Maps

Trade route map – The Chalice, V. 31, No. 2, August 2013

VOC logo -

Copyright © 2020 by David Cochran. All rights reserved.


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