Society Saturday: NYG&B and John and Phebe Sales


Johannes Vingboons - Image of Vinckeboons map at Library of Congress ([1]). Joan Vinckeboons (Johannes Vingboon), "Manatvs gelegen op de Noot [sic] Riuier", 1639, via Wikipedia, Public Domain.
Johannes Vingboons – “Manhattan located on the North River.” Image of Vinckeboons map at Library of Congress ([1]). Joan Vinckeboons (Johannes Vingboon), “Manatvs gelegen op de Noot [sic] Riuier”, 1639, via Wikipedia, Public Domain.
McMurray Family, Helbling and Springsteen Family (Click for Family Tree)

“Hopefully, John Sales, a “Black Sheep” in 1633 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and his daughter Phebe, had a better life in New Netherland.”

Those were what I thought were words to finish up the saga of John and Phebe. However, the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society (NYG&B) has some articles in their NYG&B Record that mention John and Phebe, and I was finally able to gain online access to that article. So here are a few more tidbits about the family- some that answer questions in our previous posts, and some that flesh out the story a bit more.

Back in England, the parish registers of Little Waldingfield, Suffolk, England, included an entry for a marriage on 11 August 1625 of John Sales and Philip Soales.” Philip was a name used by women named “Philippa,” which is the feminine of Philip in Latin, the language used in the churches in those days.

John may have been older at his marriage than expected, (possibly not born ~1600) since his property was called “Old Jan’s Land” after his death in 1645- even in that time, 45 was not “old.”.

Those parish registers also included baptisms for “Phoebe Sales, daughter of John” on 1 May 1626, and for another daughter of John, “Sarah Seales,” who was christened 27 July 1628. No other mention of this family is made in these registers.

John Sales, his wife, and daughter Phebe did sail with the Winthrop Fleet in 1630, as surmised in our first post. The wife is not named, nor was she listed as a member of the First Church of Boston when John was noted as #21. Wives were listed for some members, however, so this may indicate that she died on the voyage or shortly after landing in the colony. Little Sarah may have died while they were waiting to sail and not in their own parish, or even once on board, since she only has the one entry in the parish register.

In 1664, colonist John Greene made a transcript of the Charlestown, Massachusetts town records. He noted that John Sales stayed and became an inhabitant of Charlestown in1629- though it was actually 1630- his was listed as #13 out of the 17 names recorded. The transcript goes on to explain how the colonists were in such dire straits:

“The summer this year [1632] prooving short, and wett, or [our] Crops of Indian Corne (for all this while wee had noe other) was very small and great want threatened us…”

The transcript goes on to describe the crimes of John Sales, and that he was openly punished, all his goods were to be sold to pay restitution, and he would be bound to Mr. Coxeshall until the year 1636.

Phoebe was to be bound out until 1647, and, if the above baptism is indeed the same Phebe, she would have been 21 when she gained her freedom, along with a “cowe cafe” from Mr. Coxeshall. Becoming an apprentice was a way to protect Phebe while her father was bound out, and it would teach her a trade so that she would not follow in the criminal footsteps of her father. This action does lend credence to the idea that she had no mother living, nor siblings.

John Winthrop, the Governor of the Colony, gave some details in his writings concerning John running away to the Indians. Winthrop states that Sales ran away to “… a place twelve miles off, where were seven Indians, whereof four died of the pox while he was there.” John must have been immune to smallpox since he survived, but the Indians did not have immune systems strong enough to fight the new disease brought by colonists to their lands.

John and Phebe Sales were not the only Massachusetts Bay Colonists who wished to remove themselves from the strict communities of the Puritans. Others also left for New Netherland, and John is first found in those records in 1638. As “Jan Celes” he was given a lease or permission to live at a plantation north of a place later called Rutgers Swamp. This area became known as “Old Jan’s Land” and his son-in-law took possession of some of the land, in the midst of Manhattan, after John’s death.

Phoebe is listed with a variety of first names and a variety of spellings of her last name in the Dutch records, but she was married 11 February 1640 to Theunis Nyssen. Thus she would have been only about 14, which was legal in New Netherland at that time. She had at least seven children, and they lived in Gowanus, Flatbush, and Brooklyn. There are no known daughters named Philippa, which would have been the Dutch custom, to name a daughter after the wife’s mother. If Phebe’s mother had died when she was very young, as was earlier hypothesized, she might choose to forego the custom. She did have a daughter named Mary, however- possibly after her step-mother, Mary Roberts?

Of course, we wondered what life was like for John and Phebe in the Dutch Colony, and this excellent article in the NYG&BR gives us more information concerning their daily life. (Our Helbling-Springsteen ancestors lived in Dutch New York possibly in this time period, too, so this information can give us some context to their lives.)

Apparently, Jan Celes made a number of court appearances due to various conflicts with neighbors. The first of those was when Jan was called in for “damage which the defendant’s hogs have caused the plaintiff.” He also still had some legal dealings in Massachusetts, as on 28 December 1639 he gave a power of attorney to a man from New Plymouth, and it was noted that John was living on Manhattan at that time.

“The fiscal vs. old Jan Selis” was a court case recorded on 26 November 1643. Neighbors testified that “old Jan drove many cows and horses into the swamp” and that he had “cut the cow of little Manuel with a chopping knife.” He was required to pay a fine, pay damages to his victims, and court costs for “having chased and wounded cattle.” Jan was also told that if committed such a crime again, he would be banished.

What may often be dismissed as dry genealogy in society journals can really help us learn more about our family. These articles can add much context, as in the case of John and Phebe Sales and the New York Genealogical & Biographical Record (NYG&BR). These articles also give us an idea of how the investigation progressed to learn the facts of a life, something we all might be able to use when researching other ancestors. Some say that societies are dead in this age of the internet, but societies provide valuable information for all who pursue the stories of their family- or even, those crazy people who become entranced by the stories of other families.


Notes, Sources, and References: 

  1. “The True Identity of John Sales Alias Jan Celes of Manhattan” by Gwenn F. Epperson, New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Vol. 123, No. 2, Pages 65-73, April 1992.
  2. Additions and Corrections to “The True Identity of John Sales Alias Jan Celes of Manhattan,” New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Vol. 124, No. 4, Pages 226-7, October 1993.
  3. “Jan Cornelius Buys (Alias Jan Damen) and Teunis Nyssen (or Denyse) and Roelof Willemszen,” by John Reynolds Totten, New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, Vol. 66, No. 3, Page 284, July 1935.


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