Adriaen van der Donck was born in Breda, Netherlands. His maternal grandfather, Adrian van Bergen took part in the Eighty Years’ War against Spain and helped capture the city of Breda in 1590. Starting in 1638, van der Donck attended the University of Leiden, where he studied law, earning a degree in both civil and canon law.
Image 1.12. Presumed Portrait of Adriaen van der Donck
Van der Donck’s interest in the New World led him to obtain a post as schout, a sheriff and prosecutor, from Kiliaen van Rensselaer, who owned territory near what is now Albany. He later worked for the Dutch West India Company. As a reward for negotiating peace with American Indian tribes, the Dutch West India Company gifted van der Donck land north of what is now the island of Manhattan. There, he became known as the Gentleman, or Jonker in Dutch, from which the modern day Yonkers derives.
He worked as administrator to Peter Stuyvesant and was appointed to the Council of Nine, New Amsterdam’s governing body. His petitioning for democratic reform in the colony won him the ire of Peter Stuyvesant, who briefly jailed van der Donck. Van der Donck returned to the Netherlands, where he continued to petition the Dutch government for democratic reform. He also wrote A Description of New Netherland, the Country. He returned to America in 1653 and lived on his estate until his death in 1655.