The Legend of Ots Toch

While researching this family story, I have begun to realise more and more just how subjective and incomplete history is. Take the legend of Ots Toch, Herman Thorn’s great, great, great grandmother. Historical accounts differ on who her parents were and we may never know the truth.

Ots Toch was a Mowhawk woman from the village of Canajahorie near Schenectady where she lived with her sister Kenutje. She married a Dutch carpenter and adventurer, Cornelius van Slyck around 1645. Cornelius worked as an interpreter for the Mohawks and lived on their land for a time. He then applied to buy Native American land and became one of the first fifteen permanent settlers of Schenectady. Ots Toch has been compared to Pocohontas.

Some historical accounts say she is the daughter of a French trader called Jaques Hartell (Hertel), while others disagree, believing that both her parents were Mohawk.

Cynthia Brott Biasca did some in depth research on this mystery and came to this conclusion:

What remains from the whole myth of Hertel and his daughters that can be substantiated? The only unchallenged facts are that Cornelis Van Slyck “married” an Indian woman from the Mohawk Castle at Canajoharie. Nowhere in Danckaerts’ Journal, where he discusses the Van Slycks, and Hilletje in particular, does he give her mother a name, and his information indicates she was a full-blooded Indian. We know Van Slyck fathered at least four children, and that his wife probably had other fully Indian children. And we know that Jacques Cornelisse, son of Cornelis Van Slyck, had three children who married Bradts, passing on somewhat diluted Indian blood to many Bradt descendants.

Since 17th century primary sources do not support the Hertel tradition, it seems ill-advised to accept as accurate the versions of that tradition that appear two or three centuries later, backed by no factual data. It is time to drop the myth of Hertel, Ots-Toch, and Kenutje; drop the idea that Arent Bradt was the son of an Indian princess; and stop romanticizing a genealogy that can stand on its own feet without the need to invent details, names, and dates that have no substance in fact.

Don Parrish, also has an in depth account of Ots Toch’s daughter Hilletje, from whom he is descended. Hilletje apparently embraced Christianity and moved away from her mother.

The name Hilletje was given to her by a Dutch woman, when she was evicted from the Mohawk village by her mother Ots-Toch expressed a desire to convert to Christianity. [Journal of Jasper Danckaerts 1679-1680]

Herman Thorn descended from Hilletje’s brother’s line – Jaques Cornelius van Slyck (Slyke). Jacques first name is one of the reasons local records may have made the connection back to Jaques Hertell. So, Herman’s ancestry was strongly Dutch and English, with a Native American influence.

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