WHEN Van der Kemp finished the translations, he deserved a rest, an easy life for his remaining years. He was seventy-three years old, his income was sufficient, and his home was comfortable. His eyes were too weak for extensive efforts as a scholar. Yet he could not have enjoyed sitting under a shady tree or by his fireplace for the rest of his days. He needed to be active, and he was. His land still required gardening and his correspondence required the composing of letters.
Perhaps these activities prevented vain regrets that his estate was small, with a cozy cottage, ten acres of land, and his library comprising the dreamed-of inheritance for his children. He may also have regretted that his academic seclusion had prevented more success in publishing his literary efforts. Yet his major speeches had been printed in the newspapers and also in pamphlet form. In addition to his early religious writings in the Netherlands, his more recent religious essays had been published in England and in extract in America. Editorials and editorial comments appeared in magazines and newspapers in unknown number. Though some of his longer works written in recent years were unpublished and his sketches of important works unfulfilled, he had to his credit the completion of the voluminous research on military law back in the Netherlands, and his translations of the Albany Records. Through the years in the Oneida wilderness and his “corner” in Oldenbarneveld, he and his friends had suspected certain factors holding him back. His “uncouth” English had resulted in some rejections. Adams had warned him his scholarly topics, requiring deep thought, were not often to popular taste. He lived far from the centers of the publishing world, and research materials often had not been available in the wilderness. His efforts toward publication had been accomplished almost entirely through correspondence, and the long months when his carefully handwritten copies made the round-robin circuit from helpful friends to prospective publishers had sometimes caused material to be outdated before it was ever set in type.
Perhaps Van der Kemp should have attached himself to one of the educational institutions. The idea never seems to have occurred to him, even though he was well-acquainted with President John Kirkland of Harvard, whose father had founded Hamilton College, and also with Dr. Azel Backus, president of Hamilton for some years. At Fairfield Medical College he had a good friend, Dr. Westell Willoughby, with whom he exchanged materials and ideas, and from whom Van der Kemp received advice on his eyes.
In addition to his warm associations at Harvard, he was in correspondence with Professor Benjamin Silliman of Yale who was founder and editor of the American Journal of Science, and had enlisted Van der Kemp’s assistance in its beginning.1 Dr. David Hosack of Columbia University was an admirer of the scholar of Oldenbarneveld over a period of years and gave him a copy of his Memoir of De Witt Clinton, published in 1829 and inscribed to Van der Kemp “from his friend the author.”2 However, these associations did not draw Van der Kemp to college teaching. Perhaps he knew he would have been too impatient with students who exhibited less than his own drive and thirst for knowledge.
In the 1820’s he renewed his friendship with a man of scholarly ability and political eminence—John Quincy Adams. Francis had first met him in Holland, when John Quincy had attended the University of Leyden. In recent years, Adams had known Van der Kemp was one of his most ardent supporters and well-wishers. Van der Kemp had followed his career as a politician, a professor, a diplomat and as a writer of both prose and poetry. He confidently predicted the presidency for John two years before he was a candidate.
When Monroe appointed Adams secretary of state, Van der Kemp was very happy. When the secretary sent him a copy of his treatise on weights and measures, he was delighted and honored. He thanked the author through his father “for this distinguished mark of attention—to an old friend of his revered Parents.” He approved the weights and measures proposal to Congress wholeheartedly.3 A few months later John Quincy sent a copy of his Independence Day address. Van der Kemp liked it, though he was sorry it aroused slander, and felt the treatise on weights and measures far outshone the address. Van der Kemp was pleased to write to the elder Adams that Judge Platt and his friends had praised the treatise highly.4
Francis’ pleasures in his years of “retirement” did not depend entirely on correspondence. He occasionally saw Jonas Platt, Peter Smith or other friends on his travels to Utica and elsewhere. When visitors came to his cottage, he was proud to show his garden, particularly his flowers, and to offer a sip of his wine. He had good wine, most frequently imported through the firm of the Bayards, and his year’s supply was usually a quarter cask of sherry and a case of bottled wine. To get it from New York to Oldenbarneveld was not easy but possible. Once he wrote to the Bayards that the sherry arrived in safety, likewise the “Rhine cavaliers” but only nine “Redcoats,” three having died “broken hearted on the Road.” He had the sound ones “confined in close custody” until he should issue orders “for their execution.” Then he would judge their “intrinsic worth.”5 In ordering his supply for 1822 Van der Kemp asked for the oldest and best sherry obtainable and a supply of good Bordeaux or Hermitage because “old men require some good old wine.”6
Van der Kemp continued to handle his Dutch correspondence through the Bayards and frequently sent and received books, preserved herring, and flower and vegetable seeds. Sometimes he charged the expenses to his son or to Adam Mappa. Sometimes he sent a sum of money to be drawn on as long as it lasted. As Van der Kemp’s financial agent, William Bayard was drawn into a misunderstanding which distressed Francis. Gerrit Boon had criticized Mappa’s handling of the Holland Land Company’s business and apparently threatened Mappa. Van der Kemp tried to clear the matter between his friends but in vain. Now Sophia Mappa had written to Boon to end their friendship. Van der Kemp asked Bayard to intervene with Boon to give Mappa more time.7 Perhaps he did. But a year later Van der Kemp was again concerned. He asked Bayard to place the last four hundred dollars from Albany to Mappa’s credit and with Mappa’s approval send it to Boon. The latter had ordered prosecution of Mappa and Van der Kemp was sure this transfer of funds would prevent it.8 This was a strange echo of the occasion many years before when Van der Kemp had come to Boon’s rescue by swift repayment of a loan from the company, after Boon had been criticized for his handling of company funds and the extending of personal loans.
In the summer of 1822 Van der Kemp happily sent Boon a twenty-five pound keg of superior maple sugar from Fairfield to prove that Boon’s idea of commerical production of maple sugar was possible. The friends remembered the days when this long-ago project had failed on the Holland Patent lands. Mappa, Boon, and Bayard were as important to Van der Kemp in their ways as were Clinton and Adams.9
With Adams he continued the discussion of current topics, one of which was the success of Wesley and Wesleyanism in America. Van der Kemp related the phenomenon to his whole picture of civilization, as usual:
Wesley’s appearance is certainly a wonder in the moral world—and yet—how awkward—how terrible such appearances are—they contribute finally to ameliorate and enlighten the moral world—as earthquakes and Volcanoes and Inundations the Physical, or Revolutionary convulsions and the hurricanes of Despotism do on the Political State of mankind.10
Although Van der Kemp made no mention of the appearance of the great revivalist, Charles G. Finney, over in the neighboring village of Western, he must have been impressed by Finney’s Wesleyan-like success. In his own village Van der Kemp could observe revivalism also. However, the most pressing religious problem to the Unitarians in Oldenbarneveld was the series of sermons by the minister of the Presbyterian church, the Reverend David Harrower, in defense of Trinitarianism. In 1822 the series was published. In 1826 the Reverend Oliver Wetmore, also Presbyterian, led a revival movement which he directed toward the complete destruction of this “stronghold of Socinianism” (the Unitarian Church). Van der Kemp’s friend and fellow churchman, Ephraim Perkins, wrote a pamphlet in reply. Attacks and counter-attacks grew acrimonious. Apparently Van der Kemp counseled moderation and freedom of conscience to both sides. Wetmore wrote:
It becomes me to state that in the opposition which has been made to the revival from Unitarians, there are honorable exceptions; and without being invidious, I will mention the Honorable Adrian Vanderkemp, whose talents and affability of manners I highly esteem.11
In 1822 Adams commented on the influence of New York State in national politics and how its vote would probably swing the balance in the next presidential election. Adams was perfectly aware of his son’s availability but was brutally realistic. “All I have to say is that whoever is chosen he will be but a President with a crown of thorns upon his head.”12 Van der Kemp was apprehensive that the “growling hurricane” at Washington would upset his hopes for the election. On the international scene he was interested in “South America’s regeneration.”13
From time to time friends asked Van der Kemp for recommendations and he complied when possible. In 1821 he recommended Joseph Salter, a brother-in-law of John Mappa, to William Bayard and also to Frederick Gebhard. The young man was a fine, able clerk and wanted a position with a future in business.14 A few months later Van der Kemp recommended Philo Birdseye, a neighbor boy, as a printer’s apprentice.15 In the same year he proposed to John Quincy Adams the name of George Stroutbridge as consul at St. Thomas.16 Adams replied that no vacancy existed but he would hold the recommendation. He added a friendly and respectful paragraph as an invitation for Van der Kemp to write again.17 In a few months another letter was sent asking Adams to look at his manuscripts On the Use of Copper and the Achaian Republic. He was advised that his (Adams’) niece, Caroline Amelia De Wint, might send two others, the Tour to Oneida Lake and the Symposium.18 On his way to New York for an eye treatment Van der Kemp had spent a few days at Caroline’s home on the Hudson, enjoying her company and that of her children immensely.19 If Adams had had the time to criticize these manuscripts, perhaps Van der Kemp would have made another attempt at publication.
De Witt Clinton told Van der Kemp that the historians Van der Donck and De Laet were being translated and asked if Megapolensis were sufficiently interesting to publish in translation.20 Van der Kemp doubted the value of the first two as to their entirety. He had translated Lambrechtsen and it was collecting dust. He had not seen Megapolensis and did not indicate a desire to translate anything.21
Van der Kemp was not able to keep his hand from another matter. In late 1822 a meeting was held in Albany in support of Greek independence. The orator, Joseph Yates, made an erroneous allusion to the Dutch during the American Revolution and the oration was printed. Van der Kemp read it and immediately wrote a letter to the editor explaining the actions of the Dutch and the great work of John Adams at the time. The letter was printed on December 4 and resulted in a controversial correspondence between Yates and Van der Kemp and Yates and Adams.22
Adams chuckled about being drawn into such a controversy at the age of 88 and told Van der Kemp that a committee had even contacted him. However, he was convinced that the opposition of the Dutch to England, the cooperation of the Netherlands with France and Spain and their treaty with the United States was the turning point of the Revolutionary War. He hoped it would be recognized some day.23 Van der Kemp joined to this sentiment the wish that Americans would come to appreciate the Dutch contributions in New Netherland, perhaps through the Albany Records. Holland had received from Americans first neglect and then scurrilities. Perhaps John Quincy Adams would come forth and “do justice to the Dutch.”24
In February, 1823, John asked Van der Kemp if he would give to the Quincy library his extra copy of Manilius and inscribe it. Van der Kemp sent Manilius and Virgil but had to ask that one of his friends give them proper hard bindings. Adams was pleased and wished he had begged the Manilius when he could still see to read it.25
Van der Kemp’s interest in books for his own entertainment and enlightenment, as well as for others, is attested by the books he acquired in these years. At the time of his death, his library consisted of nearly 1,400 books. Clinton sent numerous volumes including Memoirs of the Board of Agriculture, Statistical Account of the County of Albany, Silliman’s Tour to Quebec, Stephen H. Long’s Expedition from Pittsburg to the Rocky Mountains, Sir James Prior’s Life of Burke, and By Ways and Highways. Van der Kemp mentioned to Adams Niebuhr’s Roman History, Morse’s Revolution, and in general Italian and German literature. Van der Kemp indicated interest in numerous subjects which probably were inspired by periodicals or newspapers. His religious interest was as strong as ever, one of his concerns at this time being getting a fine Bible for Peter. He sent two back to the Websters because they were not what he had requested. He wanted engravings and the Apocrypha, and he wanted a short address from father to son bound in the front.26
Clinton sent Van der Kemp some anti-slavery pamphlets in 1823. They were quite welcome not only to the recipient but to his friends. Van der Kemp had been disturbed about the slavery which existed in early New Netherland when he was translating the Records and his feeling was intensified by the Missouri Compromise debates. He told Clinton that the institution “must cause finally the ruin of the Southern States” if an “heroic medicine” were not applied soon. He supported gradual emancipation and suggested that the best slaves be put on small farms with a small rental and that they receive freedom after a definite period of “good conduct.”27
His national concern of deepest interest was the presidential election of 1824. He thought Clinton would be a good president, and he said in early 1824 that he respected General Jackson “as a man of original worth and energy.”28 Since Clinton was tied up in the New York governorship, John Quincy Adams was the one he wanted most. John Adams hesitated to say that John Quincy wanted the presidency. He contended that his son was not playing politics but was defending himself from hypocritical, insidious, imprudent and brutal attacks.29 Van der Kemp said he admired John Quincy Adams as a great statesman, an accomplished scholar, and as an honorable son, husband and father. “He may in my opinion ardently aspire at the Presidency, because he may, under God’s blessing promote the welfare of his country.”30
New York had as much politics and confusion in its selection of presidential electors as it did in the choice of governor. There was a great demand for the electors to be chosen by the people instead of the legislature. Governor Yates called a special session of the legislature on August 2, 1824, to provide for this change. The majority of that body was controlled by anti-Clinton forces who expected to name the electors, and they voted adjournment without action. The People’s party called a convention at Utica for nomination for governor which was a popular change such as the change in the electoral choice. DeWitt Clinton was chosen at this convention in late September. He favored Jackson for the presidency, though not with great vigor. The state legislature met on November 2 to choose electors, with the old guard for Crawford and strong support for Adams and Clay. Much electioneering took place. The final decision came with general revolt in the lower house against the old guard. The result was a divided vote, Adams 26, Crawford 5, Clay 4 and Jackson 1.
Van der Kemp was wholeheartedly for the revolt but gave up immediate hope a few days before the results were announced. He said to John Adams on November 18 that he had delayed writing until the legislature should choose. But “the current cabal” disappointed him although he still had “some faint hope.”31 A few days later he heard the results and was pleasantly surprised, although he would have preferred a unanimous vote for Adams.
The electoral vote was counted in the United States Senate on February 9 without a majority. This was expected. It took a few days for the House to come to a decision and again Van der Kemp became impatient. He started a letter about the recently published letters of Adams and again urged publication of all his important papers. He then asked for a copy of George Washington Adams’ orations which had been mentioned in the North American Review. At this point the news came and he sent his congratulations to the father.32
Van der Kemp also wrote a warm letter of congratulation to the son, saying, “It is listening to a deep sense of duty—that I take the Liberty—at this momentous period of congratulating you and My Dear Country at the long desired election of a man of your character and talents to the Presidency of the United States.” He made a wish for the promotion and expansion of prosperity in a manner that would reward the new executive’s services and mentioned the great pleasure the election must give to John Adams. Then in a postcript he asked for the return of his manuscripts inasmuch as the president-elect would now be too busy to criticize them.33
John Adams was touched by all the letters from his friends, including one from Adam Mappa, but said none was “more cordially welcomed” than that from his friend Van der Kemp. He said he had only one copy of George’s oration left but he sent it. He ended his letter with comments on the fine administration of Josiah Quincy as mayor of Boston and the poor state of his own health, the latter as a reason for so short a letter.34
In December Van der Kemp wrote to John again, particularly commending his grandson, George, and praising the recent presidential address. He approved strongly the proposed monument to Washington and the establishment of a national university, but had qualms about the strengthening of the standing army.35 One more letter Van der Kemp wrote to John, on the following July 5, not knowing John had died the day before. Francis wrote of their long friendship and of his own infirmities which required special efforts to make his letter legible. He had just about given up the faint hope of ever going to Montezillo again. He asked for the loan of a new book on the human nervous system if John had it or could get it. Otherwise he extended his best wishes for the continued success of the new Adams administration and for the happiness of the whole Adams clan. When Van der Kemp read the news a few days later, he wrote letters of condolence to both John Quincy and Thomas Adams. The president replied in a few weeks with a warm letter recognizing the long friendship between Van der Kemp and the Adams family and closing with a statement of his own friendship.36
In his last years Van der Kemp had to rely more and more on the members of his own family for stimulation and companionship. It was a close-knit family, even with John living in Philadelphia. The son made frequent trips (frequent for those days) to Oldenbarneveld and on at least one occasion took his sister with him on a business trip to western New York. She stopped off to visit the Lincklaens in Cazenovia and then returned as he came back from Batavia. All the Van der Kemps had visited John in Philadelphia at some time. In 1824 they were saddened by the death of John’s wife, but grateful for the growing boy, Adrian, John’s only living child.
When Adrian was born in 1810 Francis had written in the family record a blessing for the infant.
May this boy grow up in wisdom and virtue and inherit the piety and intellectual endowments of his old Uncle Adraen s’Gravezande—then he shall be the delight of his parents & the ornament of Society, a firm Supporter of the Gospel—and a blessing to the age he lives in.37
Now the boy was ready for college, although he was not sure which one. Apparently Union College in Schenectady was his first thought, but his interest dropped when Francis could not furnish full, immediate information. Harvard was next considered, a pleasant thought to Francis, but the final choice was Yale. Adrian took a two-hour entrance examination, passed, and was admitted in September, 1825.38 In November all was going well and grandfather Van der Kemp had scholarly hopes for the boy.39 *
The grandparents, Aunt Betsy and Uncle Peter continued a comfortable existence, marred from time to time by sickness or infirmities but made happy again by birthday and other celebrations and visits from friends and neighbors. Their finances were satisfactory although Francis was careless in a scholarly way with his accounts. On one occasion De Witt Clinton endeavored to handle some personal business for him in New York City and clear his account with the Bayards. First, Van der Kemp wanted a meat thermometer ($10) for his friend, Dr. Willoughby; then he wanted a case of surgical instruments ($6 to $8) for Dr. Coventry’s son; next, a lamp for Mrs. Guiteau and a few flower bulbs for Betsy; and last a lottery ticket for himself—“the last tribute I can pay to that Literary institution.”40 After purchasing these things Clinton was to pay Van der Kemp’s account with Bayard and send the balance of his money. Clinton had difficulty and delays in taking care of the matters but made the purchases. Then he found that Van der Kemp’s indebtedness with Bayard was some forty dollars more than the whole payment.41 Instead of $180 as Van der Kemp thought, it was $290.40. Van der Kemp said he was “mortified” and “utterly disappointed”; when he had asked Bayard a few months back about his account, the man said not to worry because it was not much over fifty dollars. Van der Kemp suspected he had “consulted with his generous heart; not with his Books.”42 Either Clinton or Bayard took care of the deficiency until Van der Kemp could get the sum from his son. A few years later he forgot that he received a payment of $140 interest in December and expected it again in April.43
Such difficulties were always adjusted without loss to anyone and then Van der Kemp would resume his interests in the higher things of life. In 1827 he wrote to Abraham Varick in Utica about some business matters, then told about the “brightening” prospects in Oldenbarneveld. Two stores and two new houses were under construction and two pieces of property had been purchased by Captain James Douglas. He invited the Varicks and Mrs. Morris Miller to visit and hoped he might, see them in Utica. Mrs. Van der Kemp was recuperating from an illness, but he was “vigorous as ever” although he had suffered recently from working too long in his garden “in a severe blast of wind.” Betsy added a note to the letter that her mother had run out of knitting cotton and needed some to make “a pair handsome fine stockings” for the grandson, Adrian. A half pound of number 18 was desired and could be sent by the stage driver.44
The year 1828 was a year of sorrow. Van der Kemp relied heavily on religion for consolation and many times wished for release from the cares of life. On February 11 of that year De Witt Clinton wrote him a warm letter about a political appointment and a book he intended to send.45 Clinton died later in the day of a heart condition. In April, Adam Mappa died, the oldest friend he had since the death of Adams. In September Mrs. Van der Kemp died at the age of eighty-one, ‘‘bewailed at her death—beloved and respected by all her Relatives—friends and acquaintances here and in Europe.”46
By this time Van der Kemp’s correspondents had dwindled to just a few people, John Quincy Adams being one. However, their letters were not as intimate as those between his father and Francis. Van der Kemp sent some Dutch papers to Adams and received in return a paper on the life of John.47 In a letter of 1829 Adams wrote of his return to Quincy and his “delight” in Van der Kemp’s correspondence. He was sorry Van der Kemp’s eyes troubled him and hoped they would strengthen as did the eyes of his father.48
In April Van der Kemp wrote the last letter that is available. It was a happy letter to Abraham Varick that indicated he still knew how to live. In addition to matters of business, he added a note to the wife of his friend saying he was preparing “a few general remarks” illustrating the Holy Scripture. He intended soon to send the first parts to her for criticism. The essays had been written for his Betsy. If Mrs. Varick liked the papers, she might pass them “to Mrs. Susan Lansing—Mrs. Seymour and Mrs. Miller—Mother and Daughter.” A postscript requested the return of an address by Josiah Quincy’s son on the life of his father. Bryan [?] Johnson and Dr. Coventry should have it and Coventry should return the April issue of the North American Review together “with a long affectionate letter.”49 Early in August Van der Kemp visited Scriba at Oneida Lake once more.
In the middle of August John Van der Kemp visited his father and found him in good health. By this time John had remarried and a son, John Jacob, had arrived. Adrian apparently stayed at Oldenbarneveld while John made a business trip; when John returned his father was dead. He wrote in the old book, “My venerated father Fr. A. Vander Kemp died at Oldenbarneveld, Town of Trenton Oneida Country New York with a violent attack of cholera morbus on the 7th September at 15 min past 7 o’cl. P.M.”50 On September 10, 1829, the Reverend Isaac B. Peirce delivered the funeral oration in Van der Kemp’s church and Francis was buried in the village cemetery south of town. The minister eulogized Van der Kemp for his good works, his enduring friendships, and for a strong religious faith combined with a remarkable tolerance for the differing views of others:
While true to his own faith he conceded to others their equal right to differ from him, with a cheerfulness that to the eye of bigotry might at times have appeared the offspring of indifference. But where religion was concerned, nothing was to him indifferent. No man searched deeper for truth, his faith was the fruit of honest, enlightened, just and laborious research.51
In his lifetime he was honored in many ways. Tributes by the governor were printed in the newspapers and spoken to the legislature upon several occasions. Some years before his death, a tribute appeared in A Gazeteer of the State of New York, published in 1824. In the section on Oldenbarneveld the Gazeteer says:
The venerable Mr. Van Der Kemp, a fine classical scholar and a volunteer patriot in the cause of America, while struggling for Independence, resides on the border of this Village. This gentleman is now employed in decyphering and translating the old Dutch Colonial Records, of the Colony of New-York, appertaining to the Secretary’s office—smoothing the way for the labors of the Historian, whom, it is much to be wished may soon appear.52
Molded from European stock and from European strife, Van der Kemp had become a patriotic American, eager to contribute in any way he could to the advancement of his adopted country.
John Quincy Adams wrote the warmest letter of their correspondence to Van der Kemp on September 10, not knowing of his death. He commented on Van der Kemp’s new grandson and other family interests, wrote of his own family, and told of the elevation of Josiah Quincy to the presidency of Harvard.
The rewards of Van der Kemp’s scholarship, and what John Adams called his “vast view of civilization,” were many and varied. He never aspired to a position of power, recognizing early in life that his contributions to his fellow man could best be made through the written word.
He used this medium in his youth, not only to provide religious inspiration, but especially to advance the cause of freedom in the Netherlands. There his writings brought to the people an awareness of lost liberties and the need for eternal vigilance. He achieved significant advances toward freedom of the press, and brought about changes in the court system. Though the cause for which he labored seemed to have been lost when he was imprisoned, he actually had helped to pave the way to freedom. His writings had kindled a “revolutionary spirit” in his countrymen and hastened the day when Dutch independence became a reality.
When Van der Kemp came to America, he turned his back upon the old world and looked forward. Taking Adams’ advice, he gave up his calling as a minister. While wresting a living for his family, he pursued his literary career in a new language and a new land.
In Oldenbarneveld he was a recognized leader. He was chosen as town orator for special occasions and respected as an official in various capacities, including that of judge. He was revered by his townsfolk as a man of wisdom and beloved as a friend.
Van der Kemp was known in Oldenbarneveld as “the old Judge,” at Harvard as an honorary doctor of laws, in Albany as a state translator; but to the world at large he was recognized as a man of letters. His contributions to the learned societies and to the scholarly and religious journals of his day were well received.
However, his influence was most often at the grass roots level. He had contacts but not power. He advised but did not command. He was able to relate the past to the present and future in a comprehensive fashion envied by John Adams as a sharp contrast to his own admittedly “superficial and narrow view.” His legacy might best be measured in terms of his influence upon the thought of the early leaders of America, who valued his opinions as a historian and astute political scientist.
* Adrian did not live to fulfill his early promise. He died young, as did all but one of John’s children by both his first and second marriages. John was survived by a daughter, Mrs. Bernard Henry of Philadelphia. She had no descendants, and the Van der Kemp line came to an end.