Douwe Ditmars – Senior and Junior – Loyalists

Douwe Ditmars Jr was born in 1750 in Jamaica, on Long Island, New York. He was the fourth in line with that name, after Douwe Senior born 1723, Douwe born 1697, and Douwe born 1662. His family tree shows he was part of the community of Dutch who settled in New Amsterdam, New Netherlands, or what we now call New York. Douwe’s mother was Catrytje (Catherine) Snedeker. The younger Douwe also married a woman named Catherine Snedeker, a cousin.

The Ditmars family remained loyal to the British Crown during the Revolutionary War. Sons Douwe, Isaac, John, and Garrit all signed a loyalty petition in Queens Co, NY, on 21 Oct 1776. Most Loyalists were ambivalent and hoped for peaceful reconciliation but were forced by the Patriots to choose sides.  Reasons for remaining conservative and loyal to the king were varied. Some families were well established and resisted change. Some were opposed to rebellion and the violence perpetrated by the Patriots. Many had business or family links to Britain. Whatever the reason, many of the tenant farmers in New York, especially of Dutch descent, were Loyalists. They gave aid to the British armies and joined forces help put down the rebellion. Douwe senior was designated to provide fuel and other articles for the hospital in Long Island, and was an ensign in the loyal forces. Where the Patriots were in control, Loyalists were subject to confiscation of property, tarring and feathering, or physical attack.

Douwe Senior’s first wife died about 1760, and his second wife, Sara Remsen, died in 1781 in Jamaica, New York. After the war, having lost everything, in September 1783, the extended Ditmars family moved to Nova Scotia. Besides Douwe’s own children, several of Sara Remsen’s children by her previous husbands had married into the Ditmars family. Sons Isaac and Garrit apparently died before the move, but I don’t know if they died because of the War. The rest all settled at Clements, a township laid out in 1784 to accommodate the Loyalists and disbanded regiments.

Most United Empire Loyalists in Canada were compensated with land or British cash after filing formal claims. Douwe filed for compensation. In his claim, he stated that he “joined his majesty’s troops on their landing on Long Island and provided every assistance in his power to suppress this Rebellion and Re-establish his Majesty’s Government in America.” Ditmars stated that he had been indicted under the laws of New York and his property confiscated. He valued his lost property at £2162 five shillings sterling money of Great Britain. Douwe described his property as a farm of about 200 acres with a good dwelling house, barn, and outhouses and orchard within about nine miles of the City of New York, and another farm in the same county of about 100 acres and a good dwelling house, all lost on account of his Loyalty to the Royal cause and the late “Desentions in America.” He stated that before the British evacuated New York, he moved his family to Annapolis Royal in Nova Scotia. Douwe Senior was given a 200-acre grant in Clements township.

A 1903 newspaper (The Brooklyn NY Daily Eagle) gives a different viewpoint of Ditmars’ loss of property, describing important real estate transactions taking place then, saying that a company bought the Wyckoff farm at Jamaica and Benedict Avenues. “From an historical standpoint the transaction was notable, for the Wyckoff farm has been in existence since the Revolutionary times. It one consisted of 400 acres lying north and south of what was formerly known as the Jamaica Turnpike.” After describing the development which would occur on the farmland, the newspaper story went on to say, “The Wyckoff farm, as it has been known in recent year, was owned by one Douwe Ditmars about the time of the Revolutionary War. Ditmars was a Tori and when it became evident that the American cause would be victorious and that his lands would be forfeited to the new government, Ditmars was anxious to find more congenial quarters.” The story continues that John Suydam, ancestor of Wyckoff, had hidden about $5000 on his property. “Hearing that Tory Ditmars was desirous of selling Suydam handed over the $5000 and took possession and Ditmars fled to Nova Scotia.  Land records seem to support this story, as there is a record of a land sale from Douwe Ditmars, Aug 8, 1783, to John Suydam.

Douwe Junior also filed a claim which included a report of his actions on behalf of the Crown. He stated that he distributed ammunition to the “Friends of Government” but because of “the Rebels getting intelligence I was obliged to leave my family.” He was employed by the Governor “as a spy to give intelligence of what the Rebels was doing on Long Island.” He later joined his Majesty’s forces and served on Staten Island, still as a spy and intelligence gatherer, where he had several narrow escapes. He served as a guide, until he moved with his family to Nova Scotia. Douwe Junior asked the Claims commission to take his “Services and Labors into consideration and order such compensation as you may think they merit.”

Another claim was made by Douwe Ditmars (but unknown if Junior or Senior) for damages by His Magesty’s troops: two horses and a wagon entered into service and never returned, nine cows, one heifer, and one young bull, for a total claim of £ 150. A separate claim was filed for £ 195 for timber trees cut for the Engineers department. These claims documents can be found at Ancestry.com, but other than the land grant, I do not know if the financial losses were reimbursed.

The elder Douwe Ditmars donated land for St. Edward’s Church at Clements. He died in 1796 and is buried there, along with many of his descendants. The younger Douwe had at least seven children with the first five born in New York, and the last two born in Nova Scotia. Douwe died as an infant. Daughter Phoebe was born in September 1783, which was when the family moved to Nova Scotia – she would have been a newborn, or perhaps even born at sea.

In 1800, Douwe Junior served as Commissioner of Roads in Annapolis county, and was contractor for the bridge over the Allain River, and a few years later, over Moose River. Douwe apparently had trouble collecting payment for his work on the first project. Legislative papers from 1806 say that while £300 had been approved for the project, only £240 was collected. Commissioner Winniett gave contractor Douwe Ditmars a bill of exchange for the remainder. However, the Bill was refused by the treasurer, and since “Ditmars is desirous to obtain payment of the said balance, and if not shortly paid, may be induced to use measures unpleasant as well as injurious” to Winniett, he asked for relief (payment) so that he could finish paying Ditmars. (I did not find the outcome of this case.)

Douwe died in 1831, and his wife Catherine in 1833, and both are buried at Old St. Edwards cemetery. There are many men who were given the name Douwe Ditmars or Ditmars in honor of the original Douwe – and carry the name with different surnames, such as Williamson, Purdy, Rapelje, Devries, Dibona, Van Dine, Jones, Burns. Douwe Ditmars Senior is my 6th great grandfather, and I descend from his sons Douwe Jr and John. The Ditmars name was passed down in my family, and found as recently as my great grandfather’s middle name.

The United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada exists to promote knowledge about the history of the Loyalists and their contribution to the development of Canada. Similar to Daughters of the American Revolution, UELAC invites descendants to join the Association, and use genealogical proof to establish their family link to a Loyalist ancestor.