They came for the beaver, he stayed for the corn

Pam’s Ancestors Jan and Maria Van Loon

June 2018 I shed a 53 year old habit of working for a living for new habits in retirement. Instead of waking at 5 am to work for someone else, my routine became to wake at 5 am for personal projects. From June into September 2018 my morning time was spent researching and documenting family history, also known as genealogy: my own and Pam’s.

It was fitting Pam and I spent the last days of that year (June 2018 through May 2019) harvesting our newly acquired knowledge on the ground, a 3 hour drive from our home, to the site of Pam’s earliest ancestor in the New World, at that time Colonial America. Our visit will be book-ended by another this September to Burlington, New Jersey, on the eastern short of the Delaware river, founded by my earliest ancestor, also in Colonial America and 4 hours from our present day home.

A river setting is a link between our ancestors and the two rivers associated in a number of ways. In driving to Athens, New York, a village on the west bank of the Hudson River 31 miles from the state capital, Albany. Our route from Ithaca to Athens included route 23 that passes through the Catskill Mountain, Delaware County, village of Stamford. The headwaters of the west branch of the Delaware River passes through Stamford.

Founded as Loonenberg, named after the first settler Jan Van Loon. Today, Athens is a lovely destination, a historic village on the Hudson River. The rear of the Jan Van Loon house is in the background.

Henry Hudson and the crew of the Half Moon were the first recorded Europeans to visit both the Delaware and Hudson rivers. The Half Moon dropped anchor in Delaware Bay late August, 1609. They reached the estuary of the Hudson (then called the North or the Mauritius). The goal of Hudson was a route to China. Luring him up was the flow and width of the river, Hudson suspected this land was a island, behind which lay the route to the Orient. He navigated up the river for ten days, passing the future site of Athens.

Historical signage with house. One wall remains of the original house, this is a loving restoration on the original site.


Hudson was in the employ of the Dutch East India Company and it was the Dutch who laid claim to the length of the Hudson for the purpose of trade. In summary, when Swedish/Finnish colonists on the Delaware proved successful in shipping huge numbers of beaver pelts and tobacco the Dutch took control of the Delaware under force of arms in the interest of controlling this trade.

The Dutch, AKA the Dutch East/West India Companies, had little interest in establishing colonies. Instead huge areas of land, “patents”, were granted to individuals with the underlying goal of providing a flow of shippable goods. It remained as such for many years, until 1664 when England, under the king Charles II, took control of New Amsterdam and, by extension, trade flowing on the Hudson River.

Overview of the Jan Van Loon House, 39 South Washington Street, Athens New York from the Athens Veterans Memorial Park with view of the Hudson River and the lighthouse. Phlox are in bloom!!

Stayed for the Corn

Jan Van Loon (pronounced Van Loan) comes into the picture with a 1676 marriage to Maria in New Amsterdam. When Jan acquired a major interest in the 1688 Loonenburg patent the land was just opening to European settlers and their tenancy was less than secure. Threatened by incursions of Native Americans and animosities between the French and English. They had eight children who reached adulthood, the house of one of them, Albertus, is one of the oldest continually inhabited residences in New York State.

Athens, New York is the present day name of this town on the Hudson River first settled by Pam’s ancestor in the 17th Century. Pam is pointing to the modern window restoration (aluminum double-hung), the roof is cedar shingle (I believe).

Tradition has it Jan Van Loon acquired the land through a payment of 50 beaver pelts and provided services as a blacksmith, though that had to be after a number of years of residence, since he was a first settler. Pam and I are learning more about those early years, but we know Jan and Maria’s interest in the land was not trade. It was to live peacefully and prosper which they, somehow, did to the benefit of all the people around them.

Detail of the modern restoration of the east foundation wall, Jan Van Loon house, Athens, New York, at the juncture of the field stone/brick joint. The front of the house is to the right.

The lighthouse as viewed from the Jan Van Loon House site. Build 1874, the lighthouse was not part of the environment of Jan and Maria Van Loon.

Click me for the first post in this series, “Around and About Athens, New York, Part 1.”

Click me for the first post of this series.

Copyright 2022 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

17 thoughts on “They came for the beaver, he stayed for the corn

  1. Hello Michael Stephen, how can I call you, Michael or Stephen,
    It is interesting to hear that we are at the same stage of our lives. I too have stopped working for others and enjoy running out the door in the morning, knowing that I’m free.
    I also thought about dealing with my past. And I’m not sure which way to go. I wonder if I should write about my life, or rather tell about my travels.
    I have ever written, or described, about my life from my birth until today. Only so, for my children.
    I found it scary
    My life, from 1 year to the founding of the family, no problem (25years).
    But then, all the time of life during the 35-year career at a company. I could not think of anything except a few vacations maybe.
    Well I learned from it, today I care more about the family, wife, children, grandchildren.
    But back, I like what you do. Hopefully you will learn a lot about your past.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I knew it was coming, when it did I was not expecting it, so there is an adjustment underway. Best wishes on your personal journey, Bernd. I don’t write about work because of nondisclosure agreements….who needs a legal hassle and, besides, there is not much to write about except as a fictionalized account. Ha ha.


  2. Retirement has filled your bucket up with much enjoyment. We both retired at about the same time.

    On my Dad’s side, his brother did extensive research about our Danish roots. It is amazing to study our past.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A wonderful way to enjoy retirement, Michael. You and Pam are very fortunate to enjoy similar pursuits.
    Both Keith and I enjoy car trips. For now, though, they are for visiting with Keith’s ill mother. We are both hoping that, one day, we will get back to travel for enjoyment sake.
    Like you, we enjoy investigating the history of the towns through which we travel. To do so with the personal reason of connecting with one’s own personal past would be, I’m sure, very satisfying. You have me thinking about genealogy!
    Love the images.

    Liked by 1 person

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