The Stillwells of New York -- Nicholas Stillwell


As a family we have had our family history entertainingly chronicled by the late Benjamin M. Stilwell, Esq., in his Life and Times of Nicholas Stilwell.(footnote 1) In his work Mr. Stilwell incorporated, without discrimination, both fact and fiction, sometimes citing authorities insufficiently convincing. He stated therein that Nicholas Stillwell, the First, married Abigail, sister of Lord Hopton, a lady in waiting to Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia, whom he rescued under perilous circumstances.

That the Hoptons were allied to the Stillwells was so strong a matter of belief with the Hon. Samuel Stillwell (born 1763, died 1848), that, had he been blest with a son he would have called him Ralph Hopton is very likely, but how, when or where such an alliance occurred has not been transmitted. Unfortunately, too, Lord Hopton had no sister Abigail, nor does history tell us the names of the maid and the cavalier who escaped with the unfortunate Queen of Bohemia, so of necessity there falls to the ground the tale of an Abigail Hopton, wife of the first Nicholas Stillwell, and the naming of the English settlement on Deutil Bay, Hopton, which, should this name appear in any document, I venture to suggest, by reason of my large acquaintance with the phonetic spelling and orthoganal errors of that day, was Hopetown, awkwardly spelled Hopton. But of the very existence of this name a question may be raised, for, though E. B. O'Callaghan(footnote 2) says: 1639. George Homs and Thos. Hall built a house this year, at a place they called Hopton, near Deutel Bay, two miles above Curler's Hoeck, now corrupted to "Turtle Bay," yet I find the contract of September 7, 1639, and the patent for the same piece of land, November 15, 1639, and the deed for it of September 7, 1639, do not refer to the land as Deutil Bay as Hopton, which provokes the comment the Dr. O'Callaghan, if correct, must have had other information than that contained in the original records. Then again the question naturally arises why should Holmes and Hall, apparently no kin to the Hoptons, apply this name to the locality when the alleged relationship was between not themselves and Hopton, but between Stillwell and Hopton, and at a date six years before the arrival of Nicholas Stillwell in New Amsterdam.

The statement that the wife of Nicholas Stillwell, the First, was a Dutch woman rests on too meager evidence to be entertained. Judge Nicholas Stillwell, a descendant through Nicholas Stillwell, the Second, and a resident of Gravesend, had a hazy tradition that either the first or the second Nicholas Stillwell brought from Leyden, Holland, "a Dutch wife and a couple of children"(footnote 3) and from Benjamin M. Stilwell came the assertion that she was either a Van Dyke or a Van Dincklage, daughter of the New Amsterdam Schout Fiscal of that name. With him, Benjamin M. Stilwell, it was merely a belief that she was a member of one of these two families, based upon some remote association in his mind of these names, but of proof he had none.(footnote 4)

That some of the Stillwells did marry Dutch women is probable, and that confusion concerning them arose is likely, when it is recalled that marriages between the Dutch and English residents of Gravesend were common and that the Dutch language was interchangeably used with English until a quarter century ago. I, myself, have spoken with several residents of that town who were equally familiar with both tongues.

(1.) Early Memoirs of the Stilwell Family, comprising the Life and Times of Nicholas Stilwell, the common ancestor of the numerous families bearing that surname, with some account of His Brothers John and Jasper, and incidentally, A Sketch of the History of Manhattan Island and Its Vicinity, under The Dutch, with some contributions to A Genealogy of the Family. By Benjamin Marshall Stilwell, New York, 1878
(2.) E. B. O'Callaghan, History of New Netherland; or New York Under the Dutch, 2nd Edition, 1855, Vol. I, pp. 207-208. Benjamin M. Stilwell was an intimate friend of this historian, and failing other evidence of its origin, the question arises whether this information concerning Hopton may not have reached him through Benjamin M. Stilwell. The original contracts and original patent issued to Holmes and Hall were lost in the Capitol fire of 1911, but translations of all appear in Vol. 14, pp. 25, 26, 27 and 33 of Documents Relating to the Colonial History of The State of New York. I here quote O'Callaghan in extenso. "The number of English residents, now under Dutch jurisdiction, became sufficiently large to direct the attention of the government to the necessity of obtaining from them some guarantee for their allegience. They were therefore called on to take and subscribe an oath of fidelity 'to their High Mightinesses the Lords States General, his Highness of Orange, and the Noble Director and Council of New Netherland; to follow the Director, or any of his Council, wherever they shall lead; faithfully to give instant warning of any treason, or other detriment to this country that shall come to their knowledge; to assist to the utmost of their power in defending and protecting with their blood and treasure, the inhabitants therof against all its enemies.' "A complete list of those who subscribed this oath does not appear on the Record, owing to the ravages of time. The following are only names appended to it: John Hathaway, Richard Brudnell, Abraham Lowmay, Francis Leslie, Edward Wilson, George Homes, William Williamson. The three last attached their marks. Albany Records, II. Abm. Page, Thomas Belcher, Peter Buyley, 'from Newheer, in Somersetshire,' and Richard Pither, Irishman, are also mentioned as residents under the Dutch at this time. George Homes and Thos. Hall built a house this year, at a place which they called Hopton, near Deutel Bay, two miles above Curler's Hoeck, now corrupted to Turtle Bay."
(3.) Personal communications of Judge Nicholas Stillwell, of Gravesend to John E. Stillwell. (4.) Personal communications of Benjamin M. Stilwell to John E. Stillwell.

Source: John E. Stillwell, M.D.; Stillwell Genealogy, Vol I, pp 35-37; New York City, 1929.


Of Ann, the wife of Nicholas Stillwell, the First, little is known. She was probably an English woman, for she subsequently became the wife of William Wilkins and of William Foster, both Englishmen, and nowhere among the Dutch records, wherein her name appears and where the opportunity has been ample, has her surname been given, as was common among the Dutch of that day. The earliest mention of her name that I have so far seen occurs in the Dutch Church Records of New Amsterdam, when 1647, Jan. 14, Anne, the wife of Nicholas Stillwell, was a sponsor, with Richard Cool, at the baptism of Anna, daughter of John Harten, in the Dutch Church, at New Amsterdam. She was a lady of good birth and breeding and was alluded to in contemporary records as Mistress Anne Stillwell, an appellation of restricted use and confined to those of good station.

Ann Stillwell was the mother of many, if not all, of Nicholas Stillwell's children, and was presumably somewhat younger than her husband Nicholas Stillwell, and perhaps somewhat older than her last husband William Foster. Nicholas Stillwell may have married her in Old England, or perhaps in Virginia. She proved a capable, energetic woman, a loyal and untiring companion, and a mother whose wise councils and loving admonitions reared an admirable family.

Ann Stillwell,(footnote 1) shortly following the death of her husband, removed from Staten Island to Gravesend. Here she had bought, June 21, 1672, while residing at Dover, from Jan Jansen Van Ryn (Rhyn) the house and lot, No. 18, with the meadow reserved, which the grantor originally had purchased from her husband Nicholas Stillwell. Gravesend Town Records. Upon this property she probably took her up residence in company with her children Mary and Jeremiah, and perhaps John. Capt. Nicholas Stillwell, her son, one of the most eminent men of the town, was her neighbor. Her interests therefore were equally divided between the Staten Island and the Long Island settlements.

Dec. 29, 1672, a few months following her arrival in Gravesend, and so close as to be the likely cause of her removal to that town, she married the local magistrate, William Wilkins.

[paragraph not copied]

Mr. Wilkins died in 1676, and after a brief widowhood, she, Ann, married, by license dated Jan. 13, 1679, William Foster, of Jamaica, Long Island, N. Y. Original license in possession of Dr. John E. Stillwell.

Ann Stillwell's death probably occurred about 1686, for she joined her husband, William Foster, in conveyances, as late as 1684, and was alluded to in an inventory of the estate of Cornelius Stenwick, taken about July 29, 1686, as "Nicholas Stillwell's wife," debtor to the amount 177.4.0, wampum value. That her demise must have occurred about 1686, is further confirmed by the fact that William Foster, in 1687, had another wife, Hannah, alluded to in deeds, as also in his will of this date, 1687.

So far as I have seen Ann Stillwell left no will. Her lands on Staten Island she may have given to her daughter Anne, wife of Nathaniel Britton, or to her son Thomas Stillwell. Her Gravesend property she gave, June 20, 1683, by deed, in which her husband William Foster joined, to her son Jeremiah Stillwell, in consideration of his paying 3, annually, during the life of the longest liver.


(1.) T. G. Bergen, Esq., states, without giving any authority: "Thomas Baxter, of Gravesend, married July, 1678, Ann or Annatie Stillwell." Kings County Settlers, p. 24. Herein lies a grave and important error. All the Anns in the first three generations of the Stillwell family are fully accounted for, and Thomas Baxter had decamped long prior to 1678, deserting his wife Bridget, who, following his disappearance, secured a divorce, and took to herself a second husband, Capt. John Palmer, of Staten Island and Westchester County, N.Y. By her first husband, Thomas Baxter, she had Alice, baptised 1652, married John Hunt, and a son, Thomas baxter, 2nd. By her second husband, Capt. John Palmer, she had Mary, who married, about 1686, Rev. Francis Doughty; Abigail, who married Thomas Farrington, and Bridget, who married Roger Barton. Thomas Baxter, 2nd, was living in Westchester in 1675, with wife Rebecca, and in his will of 1714 mentioned his wife Rebecca and many children, of which we know he had eleven, the oldest being Thomas Baxter, 3rd born 1675. All this excludes Thomas Baxter being a resident of Gravesend in 1678, with a wife Ann Stillwell. The error may originate in (1) Mr. Bergen's faulty transcription of a baptismal entry in the Dutch Church Records of New Amsterdam; (2) in an error of punctuation in the original church record; (3) in printer's errors in Bergen's work and in the reprint of the Dutch Church Record by the N. Y. Genealogical and Biographical Society. The erroneous statement apparently emanates from the following entry: "Francois Wicks [Francis Weeks] had his children Annatje and Thomas baptised July 6, 1651, with witnesses Thomas Baxter and his house wife Ann Stillwell." At this date Thomas Baxter's wife was Bridget and Ann Stillwell, the witness, whose name follows, and which should have been separated with a semicolon, was the wife of Nicholas Stillwell. The Dutch Church entry should read: Witnesses Thomas Baxter and his house wife; Ann Stillwell.

John E. Stillwell, M.D.; Stillwell Genealogy, Vol I, pp 88-90; New York City, 1929.