kolff: history: geography: 2: 1

kolff family coat of arms

Three skippers on the river Waal - 1600-1740 (1/3)*

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In The Family and our Rivers I showed how intense the relation is between the Kolff family and the big rivers in our country (the Netherlands [Ed.]). This applies mainly to the period 1600-1740, although this connection has stayed with some family members up to the present day. Whichever way one looks at them, as boatsmen or vicars, ar rheir marriages, or at the places where they settled themselves: all of these years Kolffs lived from Nijmegen up to the Dutch estuaries. Facing the waters and earning their daily bread, directly or indirectly, thanks to inland navigation and sweet water fishing.

Pieter Nouwt, MA, who does historical research on assignment for the Kolff family, has recently found much material that illustrates, even confronts us with this aspect of the family history. Not many families will be researching the toll registers of the big rivers in which - if they were not lost - all the movements of freight ships can be followed. For us the registers of the tolls on the river Waal at Nijmegen, Tiel, and Zaltbommel add a lot to understand the lives of Wolter Woltersz. Kolff (approx. 1579-1635), his widow Peterken van Niedecke (approx. 1585-1649) and their son Wouter Kolff (1610-1654). All three of them managed shipping companies. Father Wouter (or Wolter, both names are used) had worked on a warship until the year 1600, its base being Geertruidenberg. In those years there was still a lot of fighting going on about the navigation rights on the rivers Maas and Waal.

CarvelHowever in that very year 1600 Prince Maurits conquered the fortresses of Crèvecoeur and St. Andries. Both fortresses very strategically positioned between the two rivers, at the place where the Land van Maas en Waal and the Bommelerwaard almost touched each other (1). The result of Maurits' successes was that the river Waal became safely navigable from Nijmegen, via Tiel and Zaltbommel, up to Gorinchem. Wouter made use of that. In april 1601 he married at Nijmegen and ten days later he was registered as citizen of that city. For a boatsman - for that was what he then probably already was - citizenship was of crucial importance. Nijmegen citizens, after all, did not have to pay tolls sailing the river for freight that was their property. Only in case they took on freight from non-citizens they were charged.
Business went well. In 1617 Wouter had become one of "the fourteen", likely something as the board of the guild of boatsmen. Wouter and Peterken exchanged their 'caeghschuyt' for a true carvel, which they bought from an Arnhem skipper.
Image: Carvel - Note 1: A.Th. van Deursen, Maurits van Nassau 1567-1625, Amsterdam 2000, 100, 114, 173.
* Sub-title of this contribution at De Colve is: "1600-1740, and some till date; how Kolff's earned their living."