Hilletie Van Slyck Van Olinda


Hilletie Van Olinda is one of my favorite ancestors. My ultimate goal is to have the best source of information on her anywhere on the Internet. This page is organized into four sections: background info, a biographical sketch, photos and maps from my 2005 research in Schenectady, Albany & Niskayuna, New York, and finally, the crown jewel, the eye witness report by Jasper Danckaerts from his interview with Hilletie on April 25, 1680.


In the 1980s as I traced my family tree, I discovered that I had Dutch ancestors in the basically English Parrish branch. As I traced my Dutch ancestors, I was surprised and delighted to discover that I had Mohawk Indian blood because Cornelius Van Slyke had married a Mohawk Indian woman (actually a woman of mixed Mohawk and French blood). Their daughter Hilletie had married Peter Van Olinda. Hilletie Van Slyke Van Olinda is my 8 x Great Grandmother. Her son Daniel married Lysbeth Cregier, descendant of Martin Cregier, Burgomeister of New Amsterdam (New York City). Read an informative sketch of Martin Creiger.

In 1996, in an attempt to find out more about my Mohawk ancestors, I typed the word "Mohawk" into Google and got 150,000 hits (In 2006, you get almost 8,000,000). I started researching each hit in order. By the 17th hit, I had located a 9th cousin in Canada, Lorine Schulze, who had written a book on Cornelius Van Slyke. I learned from this book the name of Hilletie's mother, Ots-Toch, and her grandfather, Jacques Hertel.

In 1999, at the New York Public library I read the first chapter of Barbara Sivertsen's book, "Turtles, Wolves, and Bears: A Mohawk Family History". The entire first chapter was devoted to Hilletie, and it confirmed what Lorine Schulze had written.

In 2000, when the Federal Government required me to list my race on the census form, out of respect to Hilletie and my Mohawk Indian ancestors, I recorded that I was of mixed blood.

In 2002, in a discovery unrelated to Hilletie, I found that my 11 x great grandmother was the second owner of the land on which the World Trade Center stood. I have ancestors on the first ship to New Amsterdam (New York City) in 1624.

In 2003, I stood on the spot in Honfleur, in Normandy in France where Jacques Hertel as a boy of 10 or 12 sailed with Champlain either on March 6, 1613 or in April 1615 to Canada. This was an emotional moment because although I have 5 ancestors on the Mayflower, here is where my first ancestor from Europe sailed to America. Jacques was sent to live among the Indians and learn their languages. He was one of the main interpreters of Samuel de Champlain, the famous explorer of Canada. Jacques had a daughter, named Ots-toch, with a Mohawk Indian woman reputed to be the daughter of a chief. Later Jacques would found the town of Trois-Rivières in Quebec in 1633 and become the progenitor of one of the distinguished families of Quebec.

In 2005, I visited Schenectady, Albany & Niskayuna, New York and researched where Hilletie and her husband had lived. Hilletie's husband, father and brother are among the dozen or so founders of the town of Schenectady. I also hunted down and photographed what is left of the Great Island at Niskayuna. This page records my results.

As points of interest, our Founding Fathers studied the Iroquois Confederation (Mohawks were part) to learn its governing principles when they were framing the U.S. Constitution. Hiawatha, of the famous Longfellow poem, was a Mohawk and a leader of the Iroquois Confederation. Alexander Graham Bell learned the Mohawk language when he lived in Canada and was even adopted into their tribe.

The Mohawks of the 17th century commonly used torture. A captured prisoner would typically have a digit cut off of the finger on one hand and have a digit burned off of the other hand on the first day. This would be followed by additional cutting and burning until your hands were consumed. The final torture was being burned alive slowly over several days.

One of the aspects of Hilletie's story that I find so compelling is that she made a conscious choice between living as an Indian or as a European. She was a very confident and independent woman. She appears to be the first person who understood Mohawk spiritual concepts and practices as well as Dutch Christianity. She was invaluable in the conversion of Mohawks to Christianity.

Biography of Hilletie Van Olinda

This brief biographical sketch of Hilletie will be replaced with an expanded one in the future.

Hilletie was born about 1646 in New York of a Dutch father, Cornelius Van Slyck, and Ots-Toch, whose father was Jacques Hertel, a Frenchman, and whose mother was reputed to be a Mohawk Indian princess. Cornelius was about 42 at the time of her birth and her mother was about 23.

Hilletie had several brothers and sisters. Her brother Jacques Van Slyck was 4 years older than she was, and his name is a key piece of evidence in reconstructing a sparse historical record. (He was the owner of Van Slyck Island; today attached to the mainland.) Using all available evidence, my conclusion is that Hilletie was 75 per cent European and 25 per cent Mohawk.

Yet Hilletie was raised with her mother among the Mohawks. As Hilletie grew up the feeling of affinity to the Dutch increased year by year. This created a lot of conflict with her mother who had a very low opinion of Christians. Finally in 1663, Hilletie left her mother and went to work as a servant for a Dutch woman who taught her to read, write and speak Dutch. She also explained Christianity to Hilletie who was later baptized. By 1666, Hilletie was hired as an interpreter by the Dutch authorities.

Yet she remained a popular figure among the Mohawks. On June 11, 1667, the Mohawk sachems gave her the Great Island at Niskayuna (today called Shaker Island). The exact date of her marriage to Peter Van Olinda is not known, but it was by 1669. My speculation is that this gift from the Mohawks might be a kind of wedding gift to her. She became 21 in 1667 and June is a perfect month for a wedding. In 1669, her husband sold the Great Island, and the Mohawk sachems gave her more land.

In 1683, Dominie Godfrey Dellius, a new church leader arrived in New York and by 1685 had replaced the aging leader of the Albany church. In the fall of 1689, he formed an alliance with Hilletie and between them, they made their first convert in December. The first of hundreds of Mohawk converts to the Dutch Reformed Church.

Prior to Hilletie's involvement, there were virtually no converts to Christianity after 70 years of attempts by the Dutch. She, and she alone, was uniquely qualified to succeed where all others had failed. She had an in-depth understanding of not only both languages, but the spiritual traditions of both sides. She was able to translate concepts where others could barely translate the words.

Hilletie died in Albany on February 10, 1707. Her husband Peter died in 1716.

Photos and Maps

 Maps & photos of the Great Island at Niskayuna (Shaker Island), owned by Hilletie 1667-69. See satellite view:

Shaker Island Map Niskayuna 1898 Niskayuna 1995 Hilletie Island Shaker Bay Road Hilletie Island
Shaker Island about 1850 Niskayuna 1898 Niskayuna 1995 Bank view of Shaker Island Shaker Bay Road view Distant view of Shaker Island

 Maps & photos of old Schenectady. See satellite view of Van Slyck Island joined to mainland (left of red dot):

Schenectady 1850 Map Stockade Map Historic District 108 Union Street Court House Court House Plaque
Schenectady about 1850 Stockades from 1664 and 1703 Map oriented as photos below 108 Union St. - Hilletie's home Court House built 1831 Court House Site Plaque

 Photos from Van Slyck Island looking east toward old Schenectady. Jacques' Tavern located at confluence:

Mohawk River Mohawk BinneKill Historic District Van Slyck Island Gateway Landing Gateway Landing Close Up
Mohawk River, Hog Island left Mohawk left, Binne Kill right Jacques' Tavern was just across Van Slyke Island eastward Gateway Landing Plaque Harbor from 1660 to 1820

Eye Witness Report

To appreciate the dialog and the rhythms of 17th century life, I urge you to read the Journal entry below out loud. It will heighten the emotional impact of these words written over 325 years ago. This is the only unabridged version of Jasper Danckaerts's description of his meeting with Hilletie on April 25, 1680 on the Internet.


Journal of Jasper Danckaerts 1679-1680

Published by Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1913

Pages 201 - 205: Entry for Thursday, April 25, 1680

Danckaerts meets Hilletie

We had thought of riding a little further on, and so back to Albany; but my comrade was too sick, and had the chills and fever again. The weather, too, was windy and rainy. We concluded therefore to postpone it till the following day; and in the meantime I accompanied Sanders to the before mentioned Adam’s.

While we were there, a certain Indian woman, or half-breed, that is, from a European and an Indian woman, came with a little boy, her child, who was dumb, or whose tongue had grown fast. It was about four years old; she had heard we were there, and came to ask whether we knew of any advice for her child, or whether we could not do a little something to cure it. We informed her we were not doctors or surgeons, but we gave her our opinion, just as we thought.

Sanders told me aside that she was a Christian, that is, had left the Indians, and had been taught by the Christians and baptized; that she had made profession of the reformed religion, and was not of the unjust. Not contenting myself with this account, and observing something in her that pleased me, I asked her to relate to me herself how it had gone with her from the first of her coming to Christendom, both outwardly and inwardly.

Hilletie Speaks

Looking at me she said, "How glad am I that I am so fortunate; that God should permit me to behold such Christians, whom I have so long desired to see, and to whom I may speak from the bottom of my heart without fear; and that there are such Christians in the world. How often have I asked myself, are there no other Christians than those amongst whom we live, who are so godless and lead worse lives than the Indians, and yet have such a pure and holy religion? Now I see God thinks of us, and has sent you from the other end of the world to speak to us."

She had heard me give reasons to the others, and address them generally, before I made this request of her. I answered, that all who professed the Christian religion did not live as that religion required, that such were false professors, and not Christians, bearing the name only, but denying the truth. She had said all this with a tender and affectionate heart, and with many tears, but tears which you felt proceeded from the heart, and from love towards God.

I was surprised to find so far in the woods, and among Indians – but why say among Indians? Among Christians ten times worse than Indians – a person who should address me with such affection and love of God; but I answered and comforted her. She then related to me from the beginning her case, that is how she had embraced Christianity.

Hilletie’s Childhood with the Mohawks

She was born of a Christian father and an Indian mother, of the Mohawk tribes. Her mother remained in the country, and lived among the Mohawks, and she lived with her, the same as Indians live together. Her mother would never listen to anything about the Christians, or it was against her heart, from an inward, unfounded hate.

She lived then with her mother and brothers and sisters; but sometimes she went with her mother among the Christians to trade and make purchases, or the Christians came among them, and thus it was that some Christians took a fancy to the girl, discovering in her more resemblance to the Christians than the Indians, but understand, more like the Dutch, and that she was not so wild as the other children. They therefore wished to take the girl and bring her up, which the mother would not hear to, and as this request was made repeatedly, she said she would rather kill her.

The little daughter herself had no disposition at first to go; and the mother did nothing more with the daughter than express continually her detestation and abhorrence of the Christians. This happened several times, when the daughter began to mistrust that the Christians were not such as the mother told her; the more so, because she never went among them without being well treated, and obtaining something or other.

She therefore began to hearken to them; but particularly she felt a great inclination and love in her heart toward those Christians who spoke to her about God, and of Christ Jesus and the Christian religion. Her mother observed it, and began to hate her and not treat her as well as she had done before. Her brothers and sisters despised and cursed her, threw stones at her, and did her all the wrong they could; but the more they abused and maltreated her, the more she felt something growing in her that attracted and impelled her towards the Christians and their doctrine, until her mother and the others could endure her no longer; while she, feeling her love of the Christians, and especially of their religion, which she called their doctrine, to increase more and more, could no longer live with the Indians. They ceased not seeking to wrong her, and compelled her to leave them, as she did, and went to those who had so long solicited her.

Hilletie Grows Up with the Dutch

They gave her the name of Eltie or Illetie. She lived a long time with a woman, with whom we conversed afterwards, who taught her to read and write and do various handiwork, in which she advanced so greatly that everybody was astonished. She had especially a great desire to learn to read, and applied herself to that end day and night, and asked others, who were near her, to the vexation and annoyance of the other maids, who lived with her, who could sometimes with difficulty keep her back.

But that did not restrain her; she felt such an eagerness and desire to learn that she could not be withheld, particularly when she began to understand the Dutch language, and what was expressed in the New Testament, where her whole heart was.

In a short time, therefore, she understood more about it than the other girls with whom she conversed, and who had first instructed her, and particularly, was sensible in her heart of its truth. She had lived with different people, and had very much improved; she spoke of it with heart-felt delight. Finally, she made her profession, and was baptized.

Hilletie’s Experience with Christians

Since that time, she said, the love she felt in her heart had not diminished, but had increased, and she sighed to live near Christians, who were good and faithful, and lived up to their religion. Therefore it was that she was so glad to see us, and that God, who had so loved her before, still so loved her as to permit her to see and speak to us, "me," she said, "who have been such a heathen."

I told her that God had showed her still more love, as she well knew. She believed it, she said, melting into tears, but she could not express her heart. "Might I only live with such people, how would my heart do good." “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied,” I repeated to her, and further expressed what was necessary.

"How many times," said she, "have I grieved over these Christians, not daring to speak out my heart to any one, for when I would sometimes rebuke them a little for their evil lives, drunkenness, and foul and godless language, they would immediately say: ‘Well, how is this, there is a sow converted. Run, boys, to the brewer’s and bring some swill for a converted sow,’ words which went through my heart, made me sorrowful and closed my mouth. But I see that God thinks of me and loves me, now that he causes me to see and converse with such people as you."

Danckaert’s Evaluation of Hilletie

We told her she must so much the more receive with love and affection what we said to her, out of regard to God and her soul. "Oh!" said she, "what you have told me is as dear to me as my heart," and she spoke with such feeling and tenderness, such depth of love, that I cannot describe it, and it affected me.

Yes, she expressed to me more reality of the truth of Christianity, through the emotions of her heart, although in language according to the genius of the person, which nevertheless was nothing but loving – more, I said, than any one, whether minister or other person, in all New Netherland.

Hilletie’s Family

She had a brother [Jacques Van Slyck] who was also a half-breed, who had made profession of Christianity, and had been baptized, and who was not by far as good as she, but on the contrary very wicked; though, I believe, he has been better, and has been corrupted by the conversation of impious Hollanders; for this place is a godless one, being without a minister, and having only a homily read on Sundays.

He was married, and so was she. She has some children; her husband is not as good as she is, though he is not one of the worst; she sets a good example before him, and knows how to direct him.

Printed References

Author Title of Book Year Page References to Hilletie
 Lorine McGinnis Schulze  The Van Slyke Family in America 1996  10, 18, 19, 27, 30, 51, 54-57, 60, 64, 67-69
 Barbara J. Sivertsen  Turtles, Wolves, and Bears: A Mohawk Family History 1996  1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 16, 20, 21, 25, 26, 30, 42, 48, 50, 196, 311
 Dr. Susan J. Staffa  Schenectady Genesis 2004  13, 22, 24, 43, 44, 67, 72, 101-103, 110, 119, 151

Website References

Creator Web Link Year Comment
 Steve VanSlyke  The Magical History Tour 2007  Personal genealogical odyssey including photos of area where Hilletie's parents are buried