St. John Tradewinds News

Historical Bits & Pieces

The van Beverhoudts of New Jersey, Formerly of St. John, St. Croix

by Chuck Pishko 

Chuck Pishko

These days grateful statesiders are vacationing and moving to the Virgin Islands. Two hundred years ago, Dutch Virgin Islanders were moving in large numbers to the northern British colonies soon to become the United States. They had had enough of the tropical climate and wanted to establish themselves in the new democracy. Some of their loans which allowed them to operate the sugar plantations here had been called by the Dutch banks and they didn’t have the funds to satisfy them. Others had established their children in the states with relatives and they wanted to join them.

Below is the account of one such family and their move to New Jersey. They led a privileged life here and soon found a privileged life there.

Around 1787, General Lucas van Beverhoudt emigrated from the Danish West Indies to New Jersey and bought a 3,000 acre estate he named “Beverwyck” near Parsippany. The Dutch name “Beverhoudt” means “house of beaver” which would indicate that the family was involved in the trade of either trapping for beaver furs in the New World or manufacturing hats or other items of fine apparel using the pelts. This was a craze of the early 1600s, not dissimilar to the Holland tulip craze.

Beverhoudt’s plantations, Work and Rest on St. Croix and Rustenberg on St. John were hopelessly indebted to Abraham Ter Borchs & Son of Amsterdam. This banking firm had lent substantial monies to the planters before going bankrupt and calling in the loans.

Widow of Governor-General
He was able to afford the estate because of his wife’s inheritance (Maria Malleville Suhm). She was the widow of Governor-General Christian Suhm and inherited plantations on St. Croix worth over 33,000 pounds sterling.

Needless to say, they left the islands with enough money to live well. Her first husband, Christian, was the son of Henrik Suhm who had also served as Governor-General of the Danish West Indies as well as Commander Captain of Fort Christianborg on the Gold Coast of Africa.

The General had imported his coach and coachmen from England. The white satin-lined coach was powered by three teams of four horses each; one English, one Danish and one Arabian. The harnesses were silver plated and the General drove four-in-hand, i.e. holding four sets of reins in one hand. A real class act.

While camped at Morristown, New Jersey, General Washington and his staff had dined at Beverwyck and Martha Washington stayed with the Beverhoudts for six weeks. The estate was located on the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route 1781-1783 that was surveyed and studied in 2006 by Robert Selig and the New Jersey Historic Trust. The house site is now on the National Historic Register. The “Route” was the one followed by Washington from New York City to Yorktown, Virginia where he and the French defeated the British Army under Lord Cornwallis, thus winning the war.

Dartmouth College Connection
Unfortunately, General van Beverhoudt’s expenses out ran his income but not before his step-daughter married John Wheelock, the second president of Dartmouth College. The General passed in 1796, his wife in 1798. Her brother, Thomas von Malleville (1739-1798) was also the Commandant of the Danish West India Islands and died shortly thereafter.

It may well be that Beverhoudt’s final money problems could have been the results of loaning money to Washington. Washington was desperate for funds to pay his armies and to acquire supplies for the Yorktown battle.

We know that Robert Morris contributed heavily to the cause and de Grasse arrived from the Caribbean with gold from the generous Cubans. Wouldn’t it be noble if some of Beverhoudt’s financial shortages came from supporting the cause of freedom? We’ll never know.