Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Who was Ots Toch?

In conducting genealogical research using secondary sources, it can sometimes be difficult to sort out fact from myth. One such case is the parentage of the Mohawk woman Ots Toch, wife of Cornelius Antonissen Van Slyck (Van Slyke).

The dominant traditional story that was published for many years in Van Slyck and Bradt genealogies is that a French trader named Hartell or Hertel came to the Mohawk valley around 1620, where he married a Mohawk woman who under the law of the Five Nations owned Hog Island in the Mohawk River. Hertel is said to have had two children with this woman. Nelson Greene, writing in History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West, 1614-1625, describes the two daughters, Ots Toch and Kenutje, who would later go on to marry Cornelius Van Slyck and "a Bradt," respectively: "Ots Toch was wild and savage like her mother while Kenutje was small and handsome and very white like her father, Hartell."
Another theory was published by Giles Yates in 1857 in his column in the Schenectady Reflector, where he compiled, in his own words, "segregated fragments and broken facts of unwritten traditionary history." Yates advanced the idea that the last native owner of Van Slyck's Island was an Oron [Huron] chief named Shononsise who married the daughter of a trader named Jacques Hartel and had two daughters, "Otstock" and "Kanudesha."
Cynthia Brott Biasca, in an article in the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, promotes the theory that Van Slyck's wife was a full-blooded Mohawk and was not the daughter of a French trader. Biasca also discredits Yates' story based on the discrepancy in dates and in the absence of any recording of Shononsise or the Huron in the published Jesuit Relations. Biasca attempted to find the earliest recording of the Hertel/Ots Toch story, tracing back to the Paige Diaries and a footnote in Jonathan Pearson's History of the Schenectady Patent. Biasca also points to the Journal of Jasper Danckaerts, 1679-1680, which includes a passage where Danckaerts speaks with Hilletie, daughter of Van Slyck. Danckaerts describes her as a "half breed," the daughter of a Dutch father and an Indian mother.
Barbara Sivertsen, in Turtles, Wolves and Bears: A Mohawk Family History, acknowledges the identification of Hilletie's mother as a full-blooded Mohawk in Danckaert's journal, but writes that Hertel's Mohawk daughters Ots Toch and Kenutje "may have been adopted by their mother's parents, a practice not uncommon in the Iroquois; thus the tradition of their being daughters of a chief would coincide with their fathering by a Frenchman. This would probably account for their being thought of as full-blooded Mohawks. The fact that Ots Toch and Kanetis [Kenutje] married (at least in the Indian sense) white suggests however that they were half-breeds." Sivertsen notes that a trader Jacques Hertel is recorded in the early records of New France and she hypothesizes that he could have had contact with the Mohawks near Schenectady around the time of Ots Toch's conception. Further, she claims that the French name of Van Slyck's first son, Jacques, around 1840 in a Dutch family suggests that the Hertel legend is accurate.
Given the paucity of original records in this case, researchers are left with questions and controversy, but little documentation -- and must draw their own conclusions.
For additional information about the Ots Toch question, see the following materials, all in the holdings of the Grems-Doolittle Library: New York Genealogical and Biographical Record; Turtles, Wolves and Bears: A Mohawk Family History; Journal of Jasper Danckaerts, 1679-1680; Forts and Firesides of the Mohawk Country; History of the Schenectady Patent; Van Slyck family file; Paige Diaries.
Thank you to Grems-Doolittle Library volunteer Dianne Gade, who researched and compiled the sources outlined.


  1. Hi
    Speculating and promoting a theory is still not a fact. It is further not possible for any "Kenutje" of Jacques Hartel (said 1603-) and an "Indian queen" to marry said "Andries Arentse Bratt".
    It is a fact that some "Andries/Andros/Anders" was father of Albert Andriessen rec. in 1632 being 24 years old, so Kenutje (said Eva Kinetis) would be born at earliest 13 years after Albert was born in 1607.
    Everybody loves a good Indian story, but genealogy is based on facts, not stories

  2. Hertel would be the French name and Van Slyke would be the Dutch name Most names with Van or Von are usually dutch or German in this case Dutch I come from this family Ots-Toch is my 9X great grandmother.

    1. Ots toch An cornelius Van Slyke are my direct 8th great grandparents please contact me I would like to find our how we are related
      Email me at veterands@yahoo.com
      Debi van slyke

  3. Sounds to me you’re like the Bradt family of NY and like to white wash your own history. Andries wife “Kinetis” was a Mohawk woman and mother of Kenutje and Ots Toch.

  4. So a young Indian girl was the mother of a girl who was fathered by Frenchman who then married another woman. I am sure this story has been repeated many times throuhout history. What I do like about the story is that the Indian grandparents raised the girl as their own daughter and she was seen as being full Indian and no different that their own children. I can relate very well to this version because I have also raised both grandchildren and great grandchildren as my own and love them the same as my own. Indeed their grandfather really was a noble Indian.

  5. I am also a descendant (and not the same as the one who commented in April)

  6. The earliest written version of the Hertel story is the Giles Yates newspaper column, but it's a reprint that was first published in 1836. Hertel appears in the story, but it actually highlights Shononsise, a shadowy Indian chief. There is no reason to see any historicity in the Shononsise legend, suggesting that the entire Hertel story simply grew out of a story-telling tradition. (People didn't always have television to entertain them!) After a generation or two of retelling, people no longer knew that they were just hearing entertainment, and they ascribed historicity to it. This is the way that most legends come to be: