Captain Willem Albertsen Blaeuvelt, New Amsterdam's Privateer1
“Of the dozens of Dutchmen who profoundly affected Central American developments through the first half of the seventeenth century, only a few have left any trace of their individuality in the written record.” 2
Among those who did were the father and son pair Albertus (a.k.a. Abraham) Blauvelt and Willem Albertsen Blauvelt. Most of the information on these two Blauvelts comes from English records relating to the Providence Island Colony in the Caribbean Sea just off the mainland coast of Nicaragua.
Dutch privateers had been in the Caribbean at least since the Dutch West India Company started operating there in the 1620s. Albertus started working for the Providence Island Company no later than 1632. He was among the first group of colonists to settle the Mosquito Keys and the Cape Gracias region on the mainland of Nicaragua by 1633. Albertus commanded his own vessel and likely carried people and goods back and forth between the Cape, the Mosquito Keys, and Providence Island. Albertus’s son Willem was a woodworker and shipwright based on St. Andreas, an island south of Providence and somewhat closer to what became known as Bluefields on the coast of Nicaragua. 3
In 1637 Albertus and Willem traveled to London where Albertus gave a lengthy report on his exploration of the mainland and extolled the area that became Bluefields as an advantageous region to establish a settlement. The Blauvelts were known by the English as Bluefields. The city of Bluefields in Nicaragua and Bluefields Bay in Jamaica were most likely named after them. After Albertus gave his report, the Providence Island Company sent Willem to the Netherlands to buy two pinnaces, or light boats, for the company. It was at this time, if not before, that Willem may have engaged his relative, Gerrit Hendricksen van Deventer, to join his crew.
Willem returned to the Caribbean and was documented sailing to and from Providence Island between February 1639 and May 1640. By this time the English colony had become merely a base for privateering against the Spaniards, who in turn, conquered and suppressed it in 1641. Willem then showed up in New Amsterdam to recruit investors in his ship La Garce. He returned to the Caribbean to capture a “prize” (a Spanish cargo ship) and divided the spoils among his investors by the summer of 1642. In subsequent years, his investors included the wealthy citizens of New Amsterdam, as well as Willem Kieft, the Governor of the Dutch West India Company in New Netherland. Willem Blauvelt was an enterprising entrepreneur and maintained his flourishing privateering business in New Amsterdam virtually without competition for eight years. During Willem’s final expedition to the Caribbean, his capture of the Spanish ship Tabasco in 1649 is well documented because it was challenged in the courts. The Peace of Munster was signed in 1648 ending eighty years of war between Spain and the Netherlands. The capture of the Tabasco apparently violated the treaty. Narratives of the capture in the court records document the role of Gerrit Hendricksen:
“About eleven o’clock at night, the said [Captain Willem] Blaeuvelt hoisted the Prince’s flag aloft and at the stern, and Blaeuvelt’s quartermaster, named Gerrit Hendricksz, called: ‘Flip, Flip, mate Flip,’* but received no answer and seeing it was the enemy’s ship cried out, ‘Strike for the Prince of Orange!’
[The Spaniard] answered, ‘Strike for the King of Spain!’ and immediately fired four cannon shots.”
* “Flip” for “Philip.”
1 Ralph Blauvelt, A Blauvelt Descendant, Researching Family History (Spring Valley, NY: Blauvelt Productions, 2016), p. 91-102 for a more detailed account of Captain Willem Albertsen Blaeuvelt.
2 Letter, Karl Offen to Ralph Blauvelt, 24 Jan 2009 (Original in possession of Ralph Blauvelt)
Officers of the Association
Brian M. Blauvelt
Marilyn N. Bisgrove