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Episode 23 - Vrooman: A Harvest of Violence


In 1664 my 9th great-grandfather, Hendrick Mees Vroomam, moved from the Netherlands, to New Amsterdam, an area that is now within the state of New York. It was a difficult move for him, he was 46, and alone with 5 children. Although I do not know much about his mother, I do know that his father had long since passed, and his wife died during childbirth 2 years prior to the move. In need of family support, Hendrick made the decision to move to a Dutch colony in North America. Hendrick had two brothers there who were established and had families, who could help him with his children while he tried to start a new life. Initially, Hendrick worked on farms doing whatever he could, eventually he was able to lease land, and then finally purchased land. My 8th great-grandfather, Hendrick’s eldest son, Adam, did the same, he worked alongside his father, and did very well for himself. Adam became a millwright, he opened a mill, became a brewer, and manufactured guns. All of which he used to make direct trades with the Mohawk communities there, for large parcels of land. One trade he made was recorded as being paid with 80 barrels of rum and a few blankets. By the time Adam had grown children he owned a large portion of what is now Schenectady, NY. Even with large and growing families, the businesses, farms, and trading required labour which they achieved with enslaved people from Africa.


So, welcome to the 23rd episode of the Maple Family Treehouse – Vrooman: A Harvest of Violence, I am Kael, thank you so much for coming by, I am researching, recording, and publishing migration stories from my tree, to share with my family and anyone else willing to listen. I do this to understand my family’s settler histories here in North America, under the assumption that as a person with a predominantly European heritage here in Canada, I can’t reconcile a relationship with anyone else unless I reconcile with the wounds of the past on my family tree. The story I am sharing today is tough to tell, but it needs to be told.

The Vrooman’s are a branch from my father’s side of my family tree. My father’s paternal grandmother is Bella Bouk. Her Great-Grandfather, Frederick Bouk, emigrated here as a loyalist who claimed land for his service to Britain in 1797 with his wife, Eve Bowman. The Vrooman line stems from Frederick Bouk’s maternal Grandmother who is Catarine Vrooman, she is the great-grandaughter of Hendrick Vrooman, and the granddaughter of Adam Vrooman, both of whom, emigrated here from the Netherlands.

The Vrooman’s were part of a wave of Dutch migration that capitalized on opportunities afforded via national efforts to strengthen shipping and trading for the Dutch in the face of fierce competition with Britain.


The Dutch East India Company had established its place in the triangle trade, and the Vrooman’s made the most of the privileges and opportunities the trade network afforded. In 1602, the Dutch claimed and settled a Goree Island off the coast of Africa for the specific purpose of claiming their stake in the slave labour market. Suriname in South America, along with Islands in the Caribbean to source molasses to make rum. Land was needed in the US for grains, metal, and coal. The people and resources were all used and exploited for economic gain and dominance. Once the Voorman’s had land and millwright skills, and the labour to keep it all going, controlling the manufacture of weapons and alcohol served as a strong foothold in the exploitative colonial economy.


During 3 naval wars, England tried to gain control of shipping and trading from the Dutch but failed. Out of these conflicts, the Dutch negotiated the surrender of Surinam, and Barbados, from England, and from the Dutch, England received New Netherlands, a large swath of land from what is now Albany, NY, to Delaware. In 1664, the English sent a naval fleet to New Netherlands, to follow-through on that agreement.

So, in the same year that Hendrick arrived, New Netherlands, it was surrendered to the British and we have a rare glimpse into how Hendrick felt about the British presence. By a stroke of luck, one of Hendrick’s letters survived in a British archive. In this letter, Hendrick wrote to his brother, Jacob with an update since his move. He reports,

It has been a good summer. Very fine corn grows here. At Schenectady and the surrounding area, the land is more beautiful than I have ever seen in Holland.

Hendrik at this time, worked in Schenectady with his eldest son Adam (my 8th Great-grandfather). The other children are staying with his brother Pieter near Albany. Hendrik and Adam had found farm work. Hendrik describes his farm work in detail and how both he and Adam will each earn more than a dozen bushels of wheat. And then, very, matter-of-factly, he states, that three English naval ships arrived at the Manhattans and the soldiers claim the land belongs to their king. Stuyvesant [the governor of the New-Netherlands] has given it to them without one shot and made an agreement. But the English soldiers say that Stuyvesant and Decker sold the land to them two years earlier. On September 28th, one hundred soldiers with their officers occupied Fort Orange and the guardhouse with permission and the English now keep watch. According to Vrooman, it is not all bad, the English seem to control the place better than the Dutch, and there is less fighting with the “Indians”. Vrooman ends the letter with a material concern, asking that his sister send some black, grey, and yellow thread.[i]

So, by the tone of Hendricks letter, the British presence was not inconvenient at all. Of course, this is due to an agreement that allowed the Dutch settlers to continue as per usual. The British honoured all land claims. And did not interfere with the established community, including the churches, and businesses. The only thing dismantled was the military stationed there to protect trade process and goods.

The Dutch West India Company was set up in 1629. Patroons were given huge estates, which they rented to tenant farmers. Patroons had the power to control such aspects of settlers lives as their right to move, establish businesses, and marry. With the main patroons gone, Styvesant and Dekker, the tenants most likely had more freedom under British rule.

It is this freedom allowed Vrooman to gain a foothold and start a new life. It took a while though.

In 1664 Hendrick is listed among the Dutch settlers of Albany, formerly Beverwyck. Hendrick is also documented in Jermias Van Rensselaer's, 1663 account of the colony. In this account Hendrick has the role of "pruning the trees in the colony's garden".

According to the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Hendrick married a widow in the spring of 1671.

In 1676 or 1677 Hendrick moved to Schenectady, 15 miles northwest of Albany, where he acquired a home on the north side of present-day State Street. His land of 40 acres included the present-day site of the New York Central Railroad passenger station. On Apr.4 1678 he pledged his house and barn "standing and lying in the south end of the village of Schenectady" as part of a note.

Things seem to be finally settling down for Hendrick. But that peace came to an abrupt end in 1690 when the Schenectady Massacre took place.

As the value of beaver pelts increased along with the competition for resources, so too did the fighting. In retaliation for an earlier attack in 1688, 114 French settlers and 96 Sault and Algonquin allies, trekked from Montreal to Schenectedy to attack the English outposts.

A total of 60 people were killed at the Schenectady Massacre. The report of the investigating party sent out from Albany stated: Hendrick and Bartholomeus were both killed. 2 men who had been enslaved by Hendrick, their names are unknown, were also slain.... Adam’s wife Engel was shot, and their infant child was killed as well.[ii]

Hendrick's son Adam escaped with 3 of his children, Christina, Hendrick, and Peiter (who is my 7th great-grandfather). His wife and child were killed and his son Barent along with a person who was enslaved by Adam, and whose name is also unrecorded, were taken captive and brought to Canada. Barent was later returned, but no mention is made of the two people enslaved by Adam. I can only hope they found freedom.

The entire village was burnt down, Peiter, my 7th great-grandfather who escaped with his father Adam, established themselves in Schoharie, NY. There, they once again, acquired massive landholdings that were eventually named Vroomansland. And that is where the Vrooman’s remained for three successive generations. Catarine Vrooman, my 6th great-grandmother was born in Schoharie, and so was her daughter, Catherine Lawyer. It is Catherine Lawyer’s son, Frederick Bouk who would eventually move to Canada as a United Empire Loyalist. Once American independence was solidified, Loyalists who fought for Britain lost everything, and faced harsh discrimination from Americans.

About 7,500 Loyalists came to Upper Canada.[iii] One of those was a cousin of Catherine Lawyer – Adam Vrooman, namesake of my 7th great-grandfather. Once in Canada, Adam Vrooman proceeded to build a new life for himself, a life that included labour from enslaved people. One of those people was Cloe Cooley, and her acts of resistance against my not-great-at-all-uncle would change Canada forever. Cloe Cooley is my hero, in a story now known in Canada, as the Cooley Incident.

Cloe was first enslaved by a Canadian named Benjamin Hardison, a member of the Canadian Legislative assembly. By 1793 Hardison had sold Cloe to Adam Vrooman. She worked as a domestic servant.

According to the Canadian Encyclopedia:

"Her forced labour at the Vrooman residence…included taking care of the first five Vrooman children of Vrooman and his wife Margaret… Cooley would have also completed a range of household chores such as cooking, washing laundry, making soap, candles and preserves, churning butter, and harvesting crops and tending to the farm animals...

Vrooman enslaved at least one other person, a Black man named Tom. Tom was in Vrooman's possession in 1783 and Vrooman sold Tom to Adam Krysler in 1792, seven months before the Cooley incident.

Chloe Cooley Incident

What is known today about Chloe Cooley is because of the documentation of her violent sale by Vrooman across the Niagara River into New York on 14 March 1793. This incident was reported to the Executive Council of the Parliament of Upper Canada in Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario). On that fateful day, Vrooman violently tied Cooley up with a rope. Vrooman was assisted by two other men — his brother Isaac Vrooman and one of the five sons of United Empire Loyalist McGregory Van Every. The three men put Cooley in a boat and transported her across the Niagara River to sell her into New York State. Cooley resisted fiercely, but to no avail. Her piercing scream alerted Peter Martin, a Black Loyalist formerly enslaved by John Butler, to what was transpiring.

Martin witnessed Chloe’s struggles and heard her screams. He, along with another witness William Grisley, a white man who worked as a labourer for Vrooman and was a resident of nearby Mississauga Point, reported the incident to Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe and other members of the Executive Council. Grisley was able to provide a detailed account of the events as he was on the boat that transported Cooley but did not assist in restraining her.

This was not the first time Cooley resisted her bondage and the authority of her enslaver. According to Vrooman, she regularly protested her enslavement by behaving in “an unruly manner,” stealing property entrusted to her on his behalf, refusing to work and engaging in truancy (leaving her enslaver’s property without permission for short periods of time and then returning).

The Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada

At the time of the Chloe Cooley incident, whispers of abolition and freedom circulated in the Niagara area among white settler enslavers and enslaved Black people alike. These rumours pushed Vrooman and other colonists who held property in slaves to liquidate their chattel property rather than suffer a financial loss should the reports prove true. William Grisley further testified that he saw another Black person bound in the same manner as Cooley and also mentioned the fact that other enslavers planned to sell their slaves in the United States.

Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe and Attorney John White wanted to put an end to the violent removal of enslaved people outside of the province and used the Chloe Cooley incident to introduce a law to abolish slavery in Upper Canada. Simcoe had begun planning to introduce legislation prior to that day. Within a few weeks, the Attorney General filed charges against Vrooman for disturbing the peace…on 18 April 1793, Vrooman responded [by denying he broke any laws.]

[Vrooman’s response] confirms that a charge…was filed against Vrooman as the Executive Council had recommended. Additionally, Vrooman identified who he purchased Cooley from, which gives credence to the legality of the buying and selling of slaves in Upper Canada. Lastly, Vrooman’s petition reveals that he provided a defence of ignorance to his sale of Cooley, stating that he did not break the law. According to Vrooman, he was well within his legal rights, as Cooley was his property. The charges against Vrooman were dropped. Cooley and other enslaved Black persons in the province were considered chattel (personal property) and did not have any rights to defend themselves in court.

Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865)

Library and Archives Canada/205131

Two months later, Simcoe and White introduced legislation to abolish slavery in Upper Canada. On 19 June 1793, Attorney General John White proposed an abolition bill to the House of Assembly. The bill received opposition, because from between 1792 and 1816, several colonial officials and politicians enslaved Black people in the province. The Provincial Secretary William Jarvis enslaved six people. From the First Parliament of Upper Canada through to the Sixth Parliament of Upper Canada, three members of the Executive Council, 10 members of the Legislative Council, and 20 members of the Legislative Assembly held property in slaves. Three politicians came from direct ancestors (father or grandfather) who enslaved Black people in Upper Canada.

The result of Simcoe and White’s abolition bill was a compromise and the bill was amended. Following the revision, the legislative assembly passed An Act to Prevent the further Introduction of Slaves and to limit the Term of Contracts for Servitude (also known as the Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada). Simcoe gave the bill Royal Assent on 9 July 1793. The Act did not free any enslaved persons in the province. At the outset, it confirmed and validated the institution of slavery. The Act prohibited the importation of enslaved persons into Upper Canada but did not outlaw the sale of slaves within the province or across the border into the United States. It did however, lay the foundation for gradual abolition, ending slavery after twenty-five years. The new law stipulated responsibilities for enslavers upon manumission (freedom from enslavement) and encouraged former enslavers to employ their former slaves as indentured servants.


Little is known about Chloe Cooley’s early life or where she went after March 1793. Still, her plight is a testament to the struggle of enslaved Black persons in Canada and the Atlantic World and the various ways in which they resisted their servitude. Although a Black woman without any citizenship status or rights, Cooley left an indelible mark on Canadian history. She was one of over two hundred Black women enslaved in Upper Canada, one of few that is known. Cooley’s struggle against her enslavement and imminent sale garnered attention that contributed to the passage of the Act to Limit Slavery. The Act was the first piece of legislation in the British colonies to restrict the slave trade and it changed the trajectory of life for the generations of people of African descent that followed.

For her courageous act of resistance, Chloe Cooley was designated a person of national historic significance by the Government of Canada in 2022. To mark Black History Month 2023, Chloe Cooley was recognized by Canada Post with a commemorative stamp."

As she should be!

To Chloe, I want to say, on behalf of my family, from the bottom of my heart, I am sorry for what you endured. I also want to say thank you Chloe, your resistance, your agency, your strength, has left a lasting legacy on us all. Even beyond the changes in law, your resistance, and the subsequent opposition to the laws by officials, politicians and legislators who themselves were enslaving people, has started a much-needed conversation today, a conversation about Canada’s official compliance with the institution of slavery. That legacy is valuable and much needed. For too long Canada has whitewashed its history and denied truths. I will tell your story Chloe. I will say your name – Chloe Cooley. And if a descendent of Adam Vrooman can do it, you can too.

Until people with a settler past reconcile that past with themselves it will be very difficult to move forward without defensive walls, denial, and shame that will drive the narrative of the past for us, we need to embrace the past, good and bad – And your story Chloe is starting that process at a national level. Thank you.

[i] University of Leiden, New-Netherland: land more beautiful than I have ever seen in Holland. May/June 2009 issue. December 2009 issue. [ii] [iii] Encyclopedia, The Canadian. "Loyalists in Canada (Plain-Language Summary)." The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada. Article published July 09, 2021; Last Edited July 09, 2021.

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