1638: New Sweden and New Netherlands
This is a chapter within an anthology (1638) that collects all of my son’s ancestors under one umbrella, one roof so to speak. This chapter (7) relates specifically to the role of a Smith ancestral grandfather in the Stille line and his impact on the new world.
While the British Puritans were establishing a beach head on the shores of Massachusetts Bay between the years of 1620 and 1638, the Swedes and Dutch were developing colonies of their own further south. The Swedes, who were enjoying prominence as a world power during the Thirty Years War, established a foothold on the banks of the Delaware Bay and River, in an area that incorporated present day Philadelphia. The Dutch were focused on the shores of western Long Island, Manhattan Island and the valley of the Hudson River.
Dutch claims to Manhattan were based on the exploration of Henry Hudson. The Swedes claims were based on 1) a desire to extend their empire from Northeastern Europe into the New World, 2) a desire to move into the lucrative tobacco market and 3) the knowledge that they could kick the butts of the Dutch if push came to shove.
The British had their eyes on Manhattan as well. Their original plan to rid themselves of the Pilgrims and plant them on Manhattan fell through. Winter weather forced the Mayflower to land at Plymouth rather than Manhattan. The Dutch quickly fortified Manhattan, allied themselves with local tribes for a support group and secured the gateway to the Hudson River. Manhattan would have to wait another 40 years in the British Strategic Plan. A Civil War and the rise of Oliver Cromwell in Great Britain would forestall their colonization of the northeastern seaboard of the new world. They would be content to send their convicts and street urchins to Virginia and their non-conforming, insubordinate, radical, free thinking, heretic, puritanical Separatists to New England. Eventually they would also create an unwelcome environment for aristocrats loyal to King Charles and force them to flee to Virginia.
The Swedes first expedition to North America was organized and captained by Clas Fleming, a Finn who established himself as a true icon in the history of Sweden. Two ships, the Fogel Grip and Kalmar Nyckel, were outfitted by a Dutchman (Samuel Blommaert) and governed by Peter Minuit, also a Dutchman. The first voyage carried a number of Swedes and Finns. Ships that followed would also carry a large number of Dutch and Germans serving the Swedish effort. The second expedition to arrive on the shores of the Delaware included the ship, the Katarina, and carried the family of a Smith ancestor, Olaf Stille.
The Stilles were Reniassance Vikings wielding Luther’s Bible in one hand and a plow in the other. But the axe and sword were not foreign weapons in Olaf Stille’s hand. He knew how to look menacing and act the part of a Viking when the situation required. Evidence of that will follow.
Olaf preferred peace to war as proven by his friendly relationship with the tribal members who stopped by his home on Tinicum Island in the South River (known today as the Delaware River). Olaf was known for his ability to stand up to anyone, Lords and Ladies alike. His mind was a steel trap. Some of his grandsons would, in fact, Americanize their surname to ’Steelman’. His reason skills and ability to communicate and problem solve were his greatest tools.
It was his sense of justice that propelled the Swede into a battle of wits with Lady Katarina Fleming, the widow of Erich Bielke (Olof’s former land lord at Penningby Manor, Sweden). True, it would not have been a fair fight if fisticuffs had come into play. Considering the Lady Katarina’s resources: wealth, power, influence and prestige, Olaf was in for a fight. While the Lady hobnobbed with the rich and famous, Olaf was a commoner and more likely to be found working with men of the stable and farm. Olaf believed that all people were equal before his protestant God and saw no reason to suffer any self esteem issues in the presence of anyone, including the Lady Katarina.
Olaf Stille was born in 1614 in Länna parish, Roslagen, Uppland, Sweden. As a youngster Olaf lived amid the islands of the Baltic Sea, north and east of Stockholm, Sweden. His father, Per Stille, supervised the Penningby Manor of Erich Bielke and eventually resided on the island of Humblö, Bielke’s gift to Per upon his retirement from Penningby. As a young man Olaf tended the Humblö family farm and would have been very capable of supervising Penningby. But Erich Bielke’s death removed that option. Olaf would not be content working for the land baron and widow, Katarina, nor would she desire his service. He would set his sights higher and and become a little king in a new kingdom. But it would be a decision forced on him in a life or death situation.
Lady Katarina could never break Olaf Stille as she could so many men and people of lesser means. She viewed the man as an insubordinate rascal. The respect Olaf had for Erich did not carry over to his relationship with Katarina. She called upon the local cops, the courts and magistrates, in an effort to corral Olaf, all to no avail. He paid his fines when the law required and served prison time as directed. He did not bend, fold, mutilate, or spindle. But then one day the Lady Katarina had enough of his insolence. She booted Olaf off of the farm on Humblö. The Lady would have no more of Olaf’s behavior. She wanted him out of her life. He would have to remove his livestock in the spring of that year and lose the services of the two servants that had been helping him operate the farm.
The year was 1638. Olaf Stille would not go quietly. He entered into a dispute with Lady Katarina over a servant named Anders. The Lady insisted that Anders remain in her employ. Olof ordered Anders to come and work for him. After several months of stalemate, on March 18, Anders returned to Penningby and quarreled with Katarina’s servants. She seized Anders as a runaway and had him confined to a cell within her estate. An irate Olaf learned that Anders was being held at Jacob of Torpet’s place. He grabbed his wood axe and his sword and made his way into Penningby through a passageway that only one who had worked the grounds would know. Records indicate that the house, with the exception of a watchman, Olof Svensson, was empty.
The Penningby clan and staff were all in town participating in the census count that the Royals of Sweden would use to apportion taxes. When Olaf found the room where Anders was imprisoned he could not break the lock so he broke apart the masonry, and removed the lock and keeper. As Anders came out of the cell he was given the axe and instructed to bust a move and exit stage left. We know nothing about Olof Svensson, the unlucky chap who witnessed this spectacle. Whether it was necessary or just good Viking bravado, our Olaf turned to face the hapless Svensson. Stille swept his sword around in true Viking fashion, “uttered foul language and shouted, ‘I dare you to come and take me!’ Where upon he fled.” So reads the description provided by Svensson who stayed safely out of the way and wondered at Stille’s choice of foul language. No true Lutheran would dare talk like that!
When the Lady Katarina arrived home with her entourage there was, of course, great excitement which they would all attest to in court. They all wanted to apprehend the scoundrel Stille, but they were outnumbered by his bravado and held back by fear for their lives. Olaf Stille was depicted as a man possessed, a mad and violent man. The court, always a friend to Katarina, found Olof guilty of robbery – stealing Anders away from Katarina’s holding tank. The court felt Anders had been legitimately locked up for a breach of his contract with the Penningby Manor. Stille was condemned to die of a beheading.
The question arises when a moment like this occurs in history: Would I be here today if the man had suffered the consequence. Clearly he did not die on the chopping block. It wasn’t his time to die. Olaf escaped the wrath of Katarina and the blade of the executioner. The Court reduced the penalty. Olaf paid a heavy fine which made it virtually impossible to buy the Volvo he had been eyeballing. The fine amounted to about 18 months of wages for a Swedish soldier. There is no indication as to why the Supreme Court reduced the consequence so dramatically. It was a fortunate turn of events for Olof and for those of us who descend from the man.
The Stille family history is recorded in “Olof Stille of New Sweden,” by Fritz Nordström, and “The Stille Family in America 1641-1772,” by Dr. Peter S. Craig. These two works provide a wealth of information for descendants. And honestly, a Hollywood screenwriter couldn’t write better fiction than the life these early pioneers lived. As with many immigrants who came to this land, Olof was both escaping difficulties and looking forward to a new life.
Evidence that Olaf had been giving previous thought to emigrating, leaving Sweden, is found in the 1634 date on a passport provided by his employer, Erich Bielke:
I, Erich Bielke of Wyk, Peningeby and Nynäs, hereby put into writing that the person showing this Passport, Oluf Persson Stille, has for several years been employed in my service, and conducted himself honorably and well in that position, so that I have nothing to charge against him; and since he has now set his mind on trying his hand in other places, for which purpose he has in great humility applied to me for gracious permission, which I have not wanted to refuse him, but have indulged; therefore requesting the friendly favor of those good lords and men he may chance to meet, and to whom he may present himself, that they inflict on him no obstacles nor imprisonment, but rather for my sake, recommend him for the best and promote him; to such I shall be very much obliged. In certification of this I have signed it with my own hand, and sealed it with my personal signet. Dated Peningeby Erich Bielke the 2nd of December 1634
Nordstrom notes that: “On April 13, 1638 Olof was convicted of crimes committed against her Ladyship Katarina Fleming, the widow of Erik Bjelke, the land lord at Penningby Manor. Olof had a history of disputes with Her Ladyship that resulted in fines and prison time.” He also provides evidence that on May 3, 1641, the manifest for the ship Charitas shows Olof Stille, his wife (Briggita) and two children – a 7-year-old daughter (Ella) and a 1½-year-old son (Anders) on board. As the band, Abba, played background music on the pier, the ship left port of Göteborg bound for the colony of New Sweden. The Charitas also carried Axel Stille, Olof’s brother. Ship documents identify Olof as a millwright with the hope of becoming a farmer in America. After a long and slow voyage, the Stille family arrives at Fort Christina (Wilmington, Delaware). Olaf was on his way to establishing himself as a land baron in the not so friendly confines of what would become the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia.
Olof joined other families from Sweden in establishing a plantation they called Techoherassi (present day Eddystone, Pennsylvania). The term plantation in this case refers to a tract of land worked by a community of settlers. In this case the citizens were freemen, not indentured servants. It appears that the Swedes were on friendly terms with the Indians. The village location on the river brought with it frequent visits by the Indians. The Swedish historian Israel Acrelius wrote in 1759:
“The savages stayed much with Olof Stille at Techoheraffi, and were very fond of the old man; but they made a monster of his thick black beard, from which also they gave him a special name.”
The European need to think of the Native American as a ’savage’ was a handy way to justify eradicating the population along with the buffalo from the face of the Earth or civilizing one or both of the species. Europeans ignored their own history of internecine wars, regicides and the enslavement of Africans, as well as natives of the Americas and subcontinent of India. Non-whites were often viewed as subhuman chattel to be used as tools in the manufacture of civilization. There were exceptions to that rule. Stille appeared to be one of those pioneers who understood that the Native had a handle on how to live a good life in this land, which did not mean the Native should be viewed as savage. It appears from Israel Acrelius’s account, in the prevous paragraph, that Indians who visited Olaf viewed him as the ‘wild man’. The mutual respect that evolved has a touch of respect for machismo and integrity attached to it.
The Indian would not be the only group with whom Olaf Stille would learn to coexist. The Dutch continued to move in next door. That is to say, they were occupying Wall Street long before it was a hip, activist thing to do. The Dutch were fortifying their hold not only on Manhattan but on the Hudson Valley all the way up to Albany, New York and eastward to the Connecticut River Valley and present day community of New Haven. Our ancestral British Puritans including the Davenports, Piersons, Bruehns, Kitchells and company were encroaching on the Connecticut shoreline from the northeast. The Parkers, Doolittles and Blakeleys were already at home in the Connecticut River Valley with modest accomodations in a village they would call Wallingford. This will become interesting in terms of family history.