Friday, February 3, 2012

New Netherland, Sheep and Ice Cream

On April 15, 1660, Cornelis Jacobsz Van Leeuwen sailed from Amsterdam on the ship Bontekoe (The Spotted Cow). The ship was filled with families, soldiers and Cornelis’ employer, Roelof Swartwout; all were on their way to the colony of New Netherland.  After a few months at sea, the twenty-four foot wide ship, reached New Amsterdam, which today is New York City.  Swartwout was a farmer but had recently been appointed by the Dutch India Company to serve as a schout or sherrif in the town of Wiltwijck. He had been on business in The Netherlands and was returning on the Bontekoe to his home in the New World.

In the colony of New Netherland, a schout was responsible for keeping the town orderly, and free “from rabble and dicing,” and monitoring the weight of baked bread (Jacobs, 90). Carrying out these duty required him to be among the people of the town and attend meetings with other town authorities every fourteen days, expect during harvest time. During these meetings, various civil cases and disagreements were brought before the schout and leaders to be discussed and an outcome decided upon.

We do not know what Van Leeuwen’s exact duties were as he assisted Swartwout. Most likely, he was out among the people as well, observing the interactions of the colonists and stepping in when needed. For our purposes here, it is of interest to note that there was an individual with the name of Van Leeuwen, in 1660, who live in what would one day become New York.

In the late 1800s, near where Van Leeuwen had lived 200 years previously, a unique sight was beginning to unfold. The caretakers of Central Park in New York made the decision to grow and maintain a lawn. Many of us today may not understand the distinctive importance of this, but before the nineteenth century, not many people had lawns because it was simply too expensive to keep a “greensward” as they were called. There were basically two ways to maintain a lawn in the 1800s. First, a crew of people could be hired to scythe, gather and haul away the cut grass continually during the growing season. The second option was to keep a flock of sheep that would roam through the grass and nibble it down to keep it trimmed. The gardener of Central Park decided to use a herd of 200-300 sheep to do the job; he also employed a shepherd who watched over these sheep. Each morning and evening the sheep were herded in front of the beautiful building where they slept at night. Here visitors could watch them eat, look at paintings of different kinds of sheep and even examine sheep’s wool under a microscope.  All of the sheep along with their shepherd lived in this building until the 1930’s when it was changed into the Tavern on the Green Restaurant.

After decades of being in business, the Tavern on the Green has closed and the building is now being used as a gift shop for Central Park visitors. Various food vendors come and go but there are three mobile food vendors that are always set up on the outdoor terrace of the old sheep building. They are: Pera Mediterranean Brasserie, Rickshaw Dumpling Truck and Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream. Not only is Van Leeuwen’s Artisan Ice Cream one of New York’s best but it’s name also sounds quite familiar. I’m certain that Cornelis would be quite surprised with the transformation of his little town into what New York is today; and he might even enjoy an ice cream cone with his name on it.

Jacobs, Jaap. The Colony of New Netherland: A Dutch Settlement in Seventeenth-Century America (New York: Cornell University, 2009).


  1. I have a friend who lives in New York and spends time in Central Park. I'll have to send him there and see if he likes the ice cream. :)

  2. Interesting Lana. Thanks.

  3. Let me know about the ice cream.

  4. I am glad you found this interesting. Thanks for reading