Notes for Cornelius Van Velsor:
Son of Garrit and Maragrieta "Pegge" (Ryder) Van Velsor.
Born: About May 11, 1760 in Oyster Bay, Nassau County, Long Island, New York.
Baptism: May 11, 1762.
Died: August 3, 1839 in Oyster Bay, Nassau County, Long Island, New York.
Buried: August 8, 1839 in Velsor Cemetery, Woodbury, Nassau County, Long Island, New York next to his wife under a plain fieldstone.
Married: (1) Amy Naomi Williams January 9, 1781 in Hempstead, Nassau County, Long Island, New York.
(2) Mrs. Phoebe Houston About 1836 in Oyster Bay Township, Nassau County, Long Island, New York.
His first cousin, John W., married Amy's sister, Hannah. Her sister Mary, married a John Velsor, unsure of relationship to Cornelius.
Walt Whitman commented on his grandfather's second marriage:
"After my grandmother died, in 1826, the old man married again (but did not make a very good investment.) He had a son Alonzo, by his second marriage - now (September 1850), I m California. He is a good young man, I think.
This second marriage of Cornelius Van Velsor is also claimed by Emory Holloway in his book "Free and Lonesome heart" The Secret of Walt Whitman'. (New York: Vantage, 1960), page 22. Holloway claims that Cornelius married at age 78, yet according to "Solitary Singer", page 596, Cornelius died in 1837 at the age of 69. (This is inaccurate because we know that Cournelius was christened in 1760, which would have made him 78 possibly when he passed away in 1837.)
Major Cornelius Van Velsor was baptized either on May 11, 1760 or May 11, 1762 at the Oyster Bay Township Dutch Reformed Church at Wolver Hollow (Brookville). His grandson Walt Whitman's account has him being born in 1858 (?) (Notes and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts page 9). The first born, and only son, of Garret Van Velsor and his second wife Maragrieta "Pegge" Ryder. He had four sisters. Cornelius was the maternal grandfather of Walt Whitman and was pure New York Dutch, a ruddy, hearty man, a horse-breeder, along with other members of his family. He was sometimes referred with the nickname "Kell". The tile of "Major", which Walt Whitman put in quotation marks in his writings, was of the militia, if, indeed, it was military at all. He was the fourth generation from the original Holland immigrants.
Whitman described Major Cornelius Van Velsor as "jovial, red, stout, with sonorous voice and characteristic physiognomy..."" In another passage, he said, ""Major Van Velsor was a good specimen of a hearty, sold, fat old gentleman, on good terms with the world, and who liked his ease""
These Van Velsors were noted for fine horses, bred and trained from blooded stock. The Major's other occupation, however, at least during Walt Whitman's boyhood, was the less romantic one of driver of a stage and transport wagon bringing produce from farm-to-market. For forty years he drove to Brooklyn ferry hauling produce for sale, the young Walt sometimes as his companion. Grandfather Cornelius and Grandmother Naomi lived in a long rambling, shingle-sided house in Cold Spring Harbour and belonged to the Society of Friends, or Quakers. Cornelius Van Velsor was buried next to his wife under a plain fieldstone in the Old Van Velsor Family Burial Grounds off Stillwell-Van Velsor Lane.
In Walt Whitman's book Faint Clews and Recollections, wich is available in the Huntington Public Libray, the following anecdote appears about Cornelius:
IN THE REVOLUTION
"In the Revolution, a squad of Britsh cavalrey, on a raid on their own account, cam to Kell Van Velsor's (mother's father, "Uncle Kell") then a youth, and went to the barn, and were just taking away a very fine young sorrel mare. Amy V.V. and Kell's sisters, prevented him by force for a while from going to interfere, but just as the British soldiers were leading the mare out, K. broke away from the women, made a rush, and seized the bridle from the thieves. They drew their sabres, and flourished them round his head, but he was resolute; and demanded to see their authority for pressing his horse. As usual, great courage, will, and coolness, stood him in hand. The swords flourished and flashed around his head, the women were in tears, expecting he would be killed; but he held on to the mare, and then the upshot of it was, the British rode away without her." - Walt Whitman's notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts, page 19.
In Walt Whitman's poem "I Sing the Body Electric" he writes of an octogenarian farmer, a figure undoubtedly modeled after Cornelius Van Velsor. The poet obviously adored his grandfather Cornelius, and it shows in this poem:
I SING THE BODY ELECTRIC
I knew a man…he was a common farmer…he was the father of five sons and in them were the fathers of sons and in them were the fathers of sons.
This man was of wonder vigor and calmness and beauty of person. The shape of his head, the richness and breadth of his manners, the pale yellow and white of his hair and beard, the immeasurable meaning of his black eyes.
These I used to go and visit him to see. He was wise also He was six feet tall; he was over eight years old - his sons were massive clean bearded tan faced and handsome, They and his daughters loved him; all who saw him loved him.
They did not love him by allowance…they loved him with Personal love; He drank water only…the blood showed like scarlet through the clear brown sin of his face;
He was a frequent gunner and fisher. He sailed his boat himself. He had a fine one presented to him by a ship joiner; he had fowling-pieces, presented to him by men that loved him; When he went with his five sons and many grandsons to hunt or fish.
You would pick him out as the most beautiful and vigorous of the gang. You would wish long and long to be with him…you would wish to sit by him in the boat that you and he might touch each other
(Note: as yet, we do not know the identities of Cornelius' five sons, except Caleb and Garrett, and his daughters, except Louisa and mary.) Cornelius was listed as a "hostler of livestock" in Spooner's Brooklyn directory for the year 1822, published by Alden Spooner at the Office of the Long Island Star, No. 60, Fulton Street, May 23, 1822. The Will of Cornelius Van Velsor of Oyster Bay was dated July 8, 1839 and was proved August 10, 1839. The heirs wer his wife Phoebe, his son Alonzo, and his daughter Phoebe Ann, all three members of his "second family". Executors were Jacob Jackson and Andris Stillwell and Witness were Margaret Stillwell and John Stilwell.
FROM CORNELIUS TO LOUISA TO WALT
"No one could have seen her (Louisa Van Velsor: and her father Major Kale (Cornelius) Van Velsor, either in their prime or in their older age, without instantly perceiving their plainly marked Hollandish physiognomy, color, and body-build. Walt Whitman has all of it; he shows it in his old features now his full flesh and red color."
- Walt Whitman's Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts page 28-9.
THE DUTCH INFLUENCE
"The Van Velsors, (Walt's mother's father) were pure Low Dutch, of the third or fourth remove from the original immigrants. Few realize how this Dutch element has percolated into our New York, Pennsylvania, and other regions not so much in ostensible literature and politics, but deep in the blood and breed of the race, and to tinge all that is to come. Like the Quakers, the Dutch are very practical and materialistic and are great money-makers, in the bulk and concrete of the ostent of life but are yet terribly transcendental and cloudy too. More than half of the Hollandish immigrants to New York Bay became farmers, and a good portion of the rest became engineers or sailors."
- Walt Whitman's Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts page 29.
(Note: we now know that Cornelius' Great Grandfather Matthys Gerritszen Van Velsen was the first of his family to come to the new world.