Mindert Doodes (c. 1621–1666/1667)

The colony of Virginia was chartered by the English government in 1606 and settled in 1607, with some of its earliest settlers hailing from England, Hamburg, Germany, and Zeeland, the westernmost province of the Netherlands.[1] However, several decades passed before international trade began in earnest, and nearly a decade before Virginia came to Dutch notice as a potential trading partner for the colony’s most famous crop: tobacco.

This occurred when the Dutch West India Company was formed in 1621 to establish a trade, shipping, and commerce monopoly with the West Indies, Africa, and the Americas[2] intended to eliminate Spanish and Portuguese competition in the Atlantic slave trade.[3] What they could not have known at the time was that though their enterprise was founded in greed, by supplying Virginians with necessities such as cheese, pitch, liquor, and barber’s chests[4] and in return taking their tobacco, corn, and meat to market in port cities such as Middelburg in Zeeland and Rotterdam and Amsterdam in Holland, the merchants of this company enabled the early colonialists to survive.[5]

 Ironically, in the formative years of the colony, the English would not buy Virginian tobacco, deeming it weak and of much lower quality than that produced in Spain. Thomas Dale, deputy-governor of Virginia, limited the quantities of tobacco his colony could produce, concerned that the settlers would place growing tobacco for profit above basic survival. At first, he was proved correct when the people of Jamestown neglected their city in favor of planting, but within a decade people came to their senses and even the English changed their minds.[6] By 1630, England was importing half a million pounds of Virginian tobacco per year. Not to be outdone, by the year 1700, Holland imported roughly eight million pounds of tobacco from Virginia and Maryland, about one-third of the country’s total consumption.[7]

The Dutch traders truly became power players in trade with Virginia during the English Civil War, which lasted from 1642–1651. The war necessarily distracted the English government and lessened their merchants’ ability to carry on normal maritime trade, not to mention making navigation between England and its colonies nearly impossible.[8] Sensing this loss of control, in October 1642, the English Parliament issued a decree that made it illegal to trade with “any Port or place within His Majesties Dominions, being in Hostility.”[9] This meant that no one knew for certain which colonial ports were off limits or if the English would try to confiscate their ships, as they did with sixty others from 1643–1646.[10]

Abandoned by their King and his ships, Virginians turned to the Dutch for support and sustenance, in 1647 calling trade with them “essential to the colony’s ‘being & subsistence’” and publicly espousing free trade.[11] Unsurprisingly, during those years the number of Dutch ships in Chesapeake Bay grew from four to no fewer than thirty-five, with another twenty-five on the way.[12] Being familiar with Virginia and its merchants by now, the Dutch had the contacts and surety of sale their predecessors only dreamed of and could trade in all seasons, not just when the tobacco was ripe and ready for shipping.[13]

Once the English Civil War drew to a close, the English were eager to take vengeance on the Dutch, whom they felt illegally profited from trade that should have gone to the Crown and the people of England. On October 30, 1650, the Navigation Act of 1650 (sometimes informally called the Anti-Dutch Act) forbade all trade in goods with the colonies unless one had a license from the English government. The following year, Parliament passed the Navigation Law of 1651, which banned foreign ships from transporting goods from Asia, Africa, or North America to England or its colonies.[14] It also required that trade goods be taken to England or her colonies directly from the place they were created instead of stopping off in an import/export center like Amsterdam,[15] essentially excluding the Dutch from all direct trade with England.

As a result of this political theatre, Mindert[16] Doodes,[17] one of the hundreds of Dutch ship captains who had traded in Virginia, chose to leave Holland and relocate to Virginia in 1650 along with his wife, Mary, a woman of social and political distinction in Holland.[18] While such a decision may sound impetuous, it was likely carefully planned. Because it often took months for merchants to sell out their wares once on shore, Mindert had ample time to get to know the area and establish favorite locales.[19] So it was not difficult for him to decide to make his home on the lower waters of the Rappahannock in Nansemond County.[20] Plus, his fellow Dutchmen had been settling in the colony in large numbers since early in the century,[21] so the Doodes family would not be alone in countrymen even though they were leaving their kin behind.

Though no contemporary description of his personality remains, Mindert had to have been an adventurous, entrepreneurial soul, for trading with the colonies in the early 1600s was a bit of a gamble. There weren’t yet the extensive networks of contacts and ready-made guarantees of sale once at a colonial dock, a boon later merchants would enjoy; unless his cargo was specifically ordered, the merchant of this period had to rely upon luck at multiple ports or even selling in person at local plantations to make his long, dangerous journey profitable.[22] It was during these sojourns inland up the rivers that the merchants came to know and love Virginia.

Mindert and Mary had two children, Doodes and Marie.[23] Father and son were naturalized in 1673,[24] under the Virginia Naturalization Act of 1671, which required them to petition the General Assembly and take an oath of allegiance to the Crown in exchange for the right to inherit land. By doing so, they were essentially made equal to native-born Englishmen.[25]

According to descendant John Minor, it was during naturalization that the family’s Christian name of Mindert/Maindort/Meindert was translated into Minor. John writes that it is believed Mindert “intended to designate his son as ‘junior.’ The son, however, came to employ the designation suffixed thereafter as a cognomen, rather than the parental Doodes, a fact probably due to a local custom by way of contradistinction between father and son; and thus it fell that through him a new name [of Minor] was transmitted to his descendants.”[26] Through either a Dutch tradition[27] or a not uncommon process of miscommunication and mistranslation, the name intended to distinguish the son, Minor or “junior,” from the father, became the family’s surname of Minor.

Mindert lived only four years as a full citizen of the English colony of Virginia. He died sometime in late 1677. Like many Dutch settlers, Mindert probably belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church, which had slightly different funeral customs than its English Puritan or Anglican counterparts. While better documented for the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam (modern-day New York) than in Virginia, there is little reason to believe the customs would not be the same in all Dutch areas.

When a person was near death, the family hired a kranck-besiecker, or “Comforter” in English, who attended to the needs of the dying. Once the person had passed, neighbors cleaned and dressed the dead in a pleated garment like a nightgown or long shirt with black trim called a wade, and laid the body in the front parlor. An aanspreecker, or “Speaker” in English,[28] who might also serve as the gravedigger, bell-ringer, or schoolmaster, was hired to go door-to-door to announce the death. A man to be feared as he always brought bad news, he would be dressed head to toe in black from his tri-corned hat with its black streamers, to his black long coat, breeches, and boots.[29] He would also relay funeral information to those who were invited[30] and give them a sprig of rosemary, long associated with remembrance,[31] as an invitation.[32] The aanspreecker, the Comforter, the minister, the neighbors, and the deceased’s family made up the funeral procession to the burial ground. Once there, the person was buried as quickly as possible, with all due reverence, but without any pomp and circumstance.[33]

Mindert’s will—appropriately sealed with a wax impression of a galley— was proved on December 13, 1677.[34] He left his estate to his wife until such time as she remarried, which she did, twice, before her death on January 9, 1686/87.[35] His estate then passed to his children who inherited half of his slaves,[36] with the other half going to Peter Montague, husband of his daughter Marie, for use by his wife and children. There was also a proviso that two slaves, Degoe and his wife Pallis, “shall not serve longer than 10 years after my death and then be freed” and that none of his slaves should serve longer than forty-five years.[37]

[1] Enthoven and Klooster, 95.

[2] Charter of the Dutch West India Company.

[3] Emmer, 732.

[4] Enthoven and Klooster, 97.

[5] Enthoven and Klooster, 90, 92.

[6] Cotton

[7] Enthoven and Klooster, 90-91.

[8] Enthoven and Klooster, 105.

[9] Great Britain, Parliament, House of Commons.

[10] Enthoven and Klooster, 100.

[11] Quoted in Enthoven and Klooster, 101.

[12] Enthoven and Klooster, 99.

[13] Enthoven and Klooster, 106.

[14] Pula, 681.

[15] Enthoven and Klooster, 102.

[16]Also spelled Maindort or Meindert.

[17] Also spelled Doedes or Doode. See Enthoven and Klooster, 95.

[18] Blackford, 390.

[19] Enthoven and Klooster, 98.

[20] Blackford 390; “The Minor Family;” “Genealogies of Virginia Families, 704;” “Minor Family” V8, 196.

[21] Enthoven and Klooster, 105.

[22] Enthoven and Klooster, 97.

[23] “The Minor Family,” Genealogies of Virginia Families., 704.

[24] Pinkney.

[25] “Virginia Naturalizations, 1657-1776.”

[26] Minor, John.

[27] Wise, 15.

[28] Doughty.

[29] Doughty.

[30] Yalom, 84.

[31] Boeckmann.

[32] Doughty.

[33] Yalom, 85.

[34] “The Minor Family,” Genealogies of Virginia Families., 704.

[35]“The Minor Family,” Genealogies of Virginia Families., 704, 708.

[36] They were referred to as his “Negroes” in the will.

[37] “The Minor Family,” Genealogies of Virginia Families., 706-707.