Jacob Steendam

Jacob Steendam Poems

Jacob Steendam Biography

Jacob Steendam was a 17th century Dutch-born poet who was amongst the early American settlers around the year 1650.  The place that is now known as New York was, at that time, named New Netherland but all this changed when the English arrived.  It is generally believed that he was the first-known poet from that town. Besides poetry Steendam also wrote pamphlets for the benefit of those back home about how good it was living in this New World, citing “the purity of the air…” amongst other qualities pertaining to his new home.  It could therefore be said that he was the first known public relations man for North America.

He was born Jacob Jacobsz Steendam sometime during the year 1615 in Kniphausen which could be found in the northerly East-Frisia region.  He actually grew up in nearby West-Frisia, in the town of Enkhuizen.  He was keen on writing as a young man and his first published work will have been poems that it is believed were written around 1636.  Like most budding writers everywhere in the world he gravitated towards others of his ilk and it is reported that he joined the literary circle run by a famous Dutch poet named Jan Zoet.

It soon became apparent though that he needed to earn some serious money and he obtained a post with the Dutch West India Company, an organisation heavily involved in trade, especially in tropical regions.  Steendam was sent to the Gold Coast area of Ghana in 1641 and he had a brief romantic dalliance with a local.  On his return to Holland he decided to marry and found a wife in Amsterdam, the marriage taking place in 1649.  About the same time he was inspired to take up his pen once more and a triple volume of poetry was published under the title Den Distelvink (The Goldfinch) between 1649-50.

The call of the new colonies across the Atlantic was strong and the newly married couple set sail sometime during the year 1650, setting up home on Manhattan Island, although the place was then called New Amsterdam.  Alas this exciting adventure was short-lived.  When the English arrived, and took over the Manhattan area, life became hard for the Dutch ex-patriates there and the Steendams lost a great deal of money on property that they had built and developed.  They were back in Holland by 1662.  However, during the years spent there he was inspired to write a great deal about life in the new colonies, a good example being a poem called In Praise of New Netherland.  In this piece he waxed lyrical about the riches to be found in the sea and on the land, and the good living to be had in this location between the Delaware and Connecticut Rivers. The poem is reproduced here:
When he returned to Holland he sought employment once more and, this time, found a position with the Dutch East India Company.  He and his wife were sent to Batavia, then the capital city of the Dutch East Indies, now known as Jakarta.  While running an orphanage there he continued to write and found publishing outlets for his poetry right up to the year before he died.

Jacob Steendam died in Batavia some time during the year 1672.  He was 57 years old.