Belgian immigrants


In Battery Park in Lower Manhattan stands a ten-foot granite monument that honors the Walloon Settlers, a group of 32 Belgian families who traveled with Dutch immigrants on the ship Nieu Nederland to colonize New Amsterdam in 1624. The Belgian Protestants had fled to Holland because of religious persecution, but were not welcomed there either. At first they had asked to settle in Virginia. Then the group, led by Jesse DeForest (1576-1624), my ninth great grandfather, asked the Dutch West India Company for permission to settle in New Amsterdam.  They arrived in New York on May 20, 1624.

Jesse DeForest was a cloth dyer and a merchant. He wound up not staying in New York, but heading on to the West Indies, where he died.

His sons, born in the Netherlands, prospered in New Amsterdam. One of his sons, my eighth great grandfather Isaac Deforest (1616-1674), was born in Leyden, Netherlands. He married a French woman, Marie du Cloux, before emigrating.  In New Amsterdam, he and his brother settled in Harlem, where they had a tobacco farm. He also had a brewery, sold beaver skins, and lent money.

The monument was dedicated on May 20, 1924. It was a gift of the Conseil Provincial du Hainaut and is made of Hainaut granite, a Belgian stone. New York Governor Alfred E. Smith and the New York State Senate issued a proclamation recognizing the Walloons’ place in New York history. The monument was relocated to its current location during of the construction of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.


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