The Mystery and Legacy of Ots-Toch

The Mystery and Legacy of Ots-Toch

Much of what we know of Ots-Toch is third-hand accounts.  A Mohawk woman born in the village at Canajahorie, her birth was not written in official records, and most of what is known about her birth is in context of her life.

Ots-Toch was born to a woman who in her own right was something of a legend.  She was known as the Queen of Hog Island, and the Europeans would often refer to her as a “princess”.  Of course, Native tribes did not have these types of distinctions within their own culture, but the Europeans often romanticized and labelled such figures in the history books in terms they could understand.  In reality, Ots-Toch’s mother was likely the daughter of the Chief at the Great Castle at Canajahorie.  Even the label “Castle” was a misnomer – the Mohawks at Canajahorie built their towns with great defensive palisaides – perhaps giving the impression or look of a European castle.

Ots-Toch and her sister, Kenutje, were said to have been fathered by a well-known French trader, Jacques Hertel.  Hertel travelled to the Mohawk valley around 1620.  It’s believed that he romanced the Princess and fathered the two girls.  Some historians contend that Ots-Toch and her sister were actually full-blooded Mohawk, but many historical descriptions of the sisters, along with some of the decisions they made in their lives lend to the theory that they were half-white, fathered by Hertel.

Hog Island

Hertel was drawn to the valley in pursuit of trapping and work as an interpreter.  When the Kirk brothers regained control in the north, he returned to New France, leaving his Mohawk wife and two daughters behind.  They stayed with their family in the “Mohawk Castle”, at Canajahorie – placed on an Island in the Mohawk River at Schenectady.

During this time period, the Dutch traders and settlers were beginning to move into the area in greater numbers.  Other Europeans were also travelling through, one of these being Nelson Greene.  Nelson wrote The History of Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1625, and wrote this comment about Ots-Toch and her sister, Kentutje.

“Ots Toch was wild and savage like her mother, while Kentutje was small and handsome and very white like her father, Hartell.”

Some sources cite Ots-Toch’s birth date as 1620, however, nobody knows for certain if this date is accurate.

A Dutch carpenter by the name of Cornelius Van Slyck arrived in the New World at 30 years old looking for adventure.  He became an interpreter for the Mohawk Nation, and was even adopted into the tribe and considered family.  It’s no surprise then, that this is where he met the fiery Ots-Toch.   Cornelius engaged in fur trading and had gained much recognition among the Indians, he would have been a good match for the Mohawk woman.

After the marriage, Ots-Toch and Cornelius settled down in the village at Canajahorie.  There, they had five children together. All of their children were well known and respected in the Dutch community.  All except one left the village and married Dutch settlers.

Their first son was Itsychosaquachka, or Jacques Cornelius Van Slyck.  He, like his father, was an interpreter for the Mohawks.  It was actually to him that Van Slyck’s Island was given to by the Mohawks.

Their second child was Marten Maurice.  Raised in the village, he lived amongs the Natives as an interpreter, and was involved in several important historical events in that role.  He witnessed a deed of sale at Schenectady, and he inherited Hog Island from his Mother.  He died in 1662.

Cornelius, the third child of Ots-Toch and Cornelius was born in 1643, and unfortunately died only a few short years later in 1649.

Alice, also known as Hilletje, was the fourth child and first daughter of Ots-Toch and Corenlius, and went on to eclipse her mother in the history books.  She was a devoted Christian, but raised among the Mohawks.  Ots-Toch was not a fan of religion, and let her daughter know how she felt about her Christian beliefs.  She was educated at Albany and Schenectady and acted as an interpreter.  She later married a man named Peter Danielse Van Olinda and acted as a Mohawk interpreter for the government at $50/year salary.  Hilletje also continued to grow her Christian faith, and when a new Church leader arrived in the Albany Church, she was ready to help him convert her people.  Prior to her involvement, no converts to Christianity had been successfully made, even after 70 years of attempts by the Dutch to do so.  With Hilletje’s help, many Natives joins the Christian church.  In his Journals, Jasper Danckaerts talks much about Hilletje’s life and devotion to her beliefs.

Leah, the youngest daughter, followed in the footsteps of her older siblings and also became an interpreter.  She gave aid to many of the early missionaries in the area, as well as settlers newly

Religion was a point of contention for Ots-Toch, but her children grew up to be Christians.

arriving to the country.  She often served as the official interpreter at Indian Conferences at Fort Orange.  Her signature can be found on many deeds in the area from this time period as she witnessed these transactions.

Ots-Toch and Cornelius lived at Beverwyck, New York for some time, but moved back to the “Indian Castle” at Canajahorie.  Her death date is unknown, and it’s said by stories and legend that she is buried on Van Slyck Island, now known as Hog Island.  Cornelius passed away in 1676.  His grave is under an old willow at the eastern point of the Island.

One particularly interesting legend involves a song, attributed to Ots-Toch and passed down through the generations of the family.  The true authorship of the song is not certain, and given the stories of Ots-Toch’s disdain for religion from her daughter, Hilletje, it’s no more clear.

O’er the dark woods and forest wild

My father in his wild nature smiled

with tomahawk and bended bow

to slay the reindeer and buffalo

My brother in his bark canoe

across the lake so gaily flew

to catch the whitefish in the lake

and shoot the wild ducks in the brake

my mother in her wigwam sat

with copious work and curious chat

and I poor little Indian maid

with acorn shells and wildflowers played

and I beside my mother all day

to weave the splintered baskets gay

to pound the samp and tan the skins

and mend my fathers moccasins

I could not read, I could not sew

my Saviors name I did not know

till white man to the forest came

and taught poor Indian Jesus name

He built a church and school house near

with Holy hymns and wildwood cheer

Now I can read, now I can sew

My Saviors name I’m taught to know

Now my Redeemer I implore

God bless the white man forever more.”

 

The song is part of the legend and mystery that is Ots-Toch.  Mohawk “Princess”, mother, and enigma.  A woman of history, who’s family impacted history and passed on a legacy that still survives today.

 

See the References for this article here.

60 thoughts on “The Mystery and Legacy of Ots-Toch

  1. Wow! I just stumbled across your website and found your article about my 9th great grandmother Ots Toch. Her son Jacques is who I proudly claim my Metis status through. There are many references including Danckaerts, Pearson, Burke, Reid, and Monroe to Jacques and his sister Hilltje being called half-breeds which in today’s language means Metis. Thank you for posting this.
    Rick

    1. Where can I find the sources calling them half breeds? I am also descended from Ots Toch and am curious on obtaining Metis status too

      1. I have French Canadian ancestry from Quebec. Jacques Hertel is from the same family tree though.

      2. I am related to her on my mother’s and father’s side but I am related to a few Indigenous Chiefs and Sachems from Canada. I know that you are supposed to join only one tribe, but can you join a tribe and the Metis organization? I am just curious of course. Thanks.

  2. I quickly read this… Can I become a member of Metis. My 9th great was Otstoch Hartell-French Mohawk. If yes.. How do i join?
    Thank You Donna

    1. Hi Donna,

      Please call our office at 1-613-332-4789 and the wonderful office staff would be pleased to talk to you!

  3. I now believe that I may be a descendant however my DNA profile does not reflect it. Wondering of this os possible? My connection is through my paternal grandfather.

  4. Wow! I have no words. What an amazing tribute to my 10th great grandparents. I am barley learning about my new found bloodline. My cousin had her DNA done through Ancestery.com and connected us to these wonderful ancestors . I would love to know more about my Mohawks. My budget is not so great for me traveling right now Yet would love to skype or something simular . Since my blood line is very mixed and have been learning so many great things. What a great journey i have been on. My family is reffered to as Melungeon by outsiders or as one of those[what ever that means]. I have been told about Native blood but over time the tribes names may have been lost. I believe my lines back in the day became a big mix of southeastern tribes of the US[Mingo, Cherokee, etc] ,white[ 7 different countries], middle eastern, sub saharah african, and Mohawk is now a wonderful addition to my family history. I am in training myself to become my families historian. Please let me know if i am allowed to contact yall. May all of you always walk in sunshine. Thank you and many blessings to all of you.

  5. Very exciting reading the history of Ots-Toch. I hope that you can help clarify part of my pedigree. My 9th ggrandparents are supposedly Willem Pieterse Van Slyke and Baertji, a daughter of Cornelis Antonissen Van Slyke & Ots-Toch. This was published in the Van Slyke Family History, but in reading other histories, I do not see Baertji’s name listed. Did she go by another name? I would appreciate your help with this matter. Thank you very much, Carolyn Fitzgarrald

  6. It is so crazy to see how many people have lineage leading back to ots-toch. My mother has also discovered that we are related to the famous Mohawk “princess” after digging through our genealogy. It is so nice to be able to read about my ancestors and learn more; it definitely makes me feel more connected to them!

  7. Are we sure it’s Hog Island in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, (then a part of Long Island)? No other reference to Log Island in the account and I’m unaware of any French influence on Long Island. Van Schaick’s Island was know as Long Island to the Dutch, so maybe one of the adjoining, or nearby island, was know as Hog Island? Would fit the geographical locations in the account better.

    1. I thought this was a reference to Van Slyke’s Island near Schenectady, about 38 miles from Canajoharie on the Mohawk River. Seems more plausible to me.

    2. It can’t be. The events that we are talking about are in the Albany / Schenectady area. They googled “Hog Island New York”, found a map, and accepted it at face value, I fear, without further research – a grave sin in genealogy.

  8. Ots-Toch is my 10th great grandmother, through her son Jacques Van Slyck. This is so cool! I would love to learn more.

    Angie Mintz
    Perrysburg, Ohio

  9. How can I claim Metis status if I’m in the U.S? I’m also a descendant of Ots toch she is my 9th Grandmother and Jacques her son is My 8th Great Grandfather.

  10. I directly descend from Cornelis Antonissen Van Slyck and Ots Toch. And of course from Jacques Hertel and his Mohawk wife.
    Is there any way for a US Citizen to be recognized as Metis by the Canadian Metis Nation?
    If not, how can we ever have that?
    Phil Reed Halfhill Hanson

  11. I’m also related to Otis she is my 9 th great grandmother I show no dna of native America!! Would love to meet ppl also I found a pic of her at the library in nyc

    1. We have also found our linage goes back to ots Toch it is 11 generations but it is very exciting to know we came from American Indian ancestry through my grandmother whose maiden name was van zandt

    2. Ots-Toch is my 11th great grandmother! I just found out!!! I’m shocked that she was the princess of hog island.

    3. Hi, Ots Toch Hertel is also my 9th gg through her son Jacques, can you post or email me the photo please? I can’t find one anywhere! 🙂

  12. To whom this may concern. I recently discovered that I too descend from Ots-Toch and Cornelis Antonissen van Slyck. I can prove my lineage. I knew I descended also from the Bratts but when I saw the file on my ancestor, Elizabeth van Slyck (1639-1683). Her married name was van Buren – The file said born in the Netherlands by mistake. It should have read New Netherlands as the birht place and I would have opened it as I knew that the van Slyck lineage comes from Ots-Toch. I opened the file and sure enough, there it was and I too desend from her. There was a strong Black Dutch tradition in my family, and through our ancestral lines I found Mohawk, but it was unproven as it was on the Bratt side. But I believed it and identified myself as Metis. When I discovered I descended from Ots-Toch (and I descend also from the van Valkenburgs who kept meticulous records, this helped me find my lineage) the bit of doubt was gone! I am Metis. May I please apply to join your Nation?
    Best regards, Phillip Reed Halfhill (Hanson by affidavit).

  13. I’m so happy I found this site. Ots Tock and Cornelis Van Slyck are my 8th Grand Grandparents through Jacques Van Slyck. My DNA also does not show Native American but from what I hear you have to request it. ?? I just want to say HI to all my cousins out there. Sandi Walsh, Binghamton NY

  14. Ots-Toch is my 8th great grandmother, and we are descended through her son Jacques. For the poster earlier, the island (Van Slyke or Hog Island) is in the Mohawk River at Schenectady New York, not at Long Island New York.

  15. I hope this story of Otis is accurate as I also am related. My grandmother whose last name was Van Slyke, which during the years came from Van Slick, died in 1975 at age 102. She often told us grandchildren of the Van Slyke ancestry, settleing near Utica, and VanSlyke Island. Many VanSlykes were and are still settled in Wyoming County, NY. My grandmother had siblings settle all over the United States in the late 1880s and early 1890s (Calif, Mich, Penn).

  16. Hello,
    Otis-Toch is my grandmother, 10 generations back.
    I did my DNA through Ancestry. The compiling of my DNA does not show Native American Heritage. My DNA links me back to Van Syckle, Otis-Toch’s husband.
    What I have learned is that it is difficult to have actual Native American in your DNA. If your bloodline is 3 or less generations back than your chances are much greater for DNA to reveal Native American Heritage.

  17. I just discovered last night that Ots Toch is one of my 10th great-grandmothers. I heard from a distant cousin a couple of years ago that it was rumoured there was Indigenous ancestry on my maternal grandfather’s side, but it didn’t turn up in my recent Ancestry DNA results and I was expecting it to be more recent, like 18th or 17th century at the earliest. And I certainly wasn’t expecting it to come from someone who was some kind of legend.

    I kept tracing back and first there were English, then I came across Germans, then lots of Dutch, and suddenly there was a Mohawk woman and I thought, “finally, I found you!” I was also surprised to find her south of the border. I thought the Mohawk were all in Canada. And I had no idea that the Métis had anything to do with my ancestry. You’d never know it to look at me.

  18. I’m also related to Ots toc “Alstock” Mohawk Tribe, Turtle Clan 8th great grandmother, through her son my 8th great-grandfather Jacques Cornelise Itsychosaquachk VanSlyck and through his son my 7th great-grandfather Marten Cornelis VanSlyck Mohawk Indian through his daughter my 6th great grandmother Margaret Van Slyck my Van Slyck line started with Margaret VanSlyck b 1700

  19. I too as related to Ots-Toch and Cornelis Antonissen Van Slyck, through their Son Jacques Cornelise Van Slyck and Grietje Ryckman, through their Daughter Geertruy Van Slyck (Johannes Myndertse Van Iveren), through their Daughter Margaret Mynderse Van Slyck (Pieter Groenendyck), through their Son Peter Martin Smith AKA Groenendyck (wife unknown – maybe Livingston?), through their Daughter Elizabeth Smith who married Joseph Birdlebough from Prussia Germany.

    I am working with a few Smith (Groenendyck)/Van Slyck Descendants on our line.

    Does anyone have information on Peter Martin Smith or his parents?

    Thank you!

    Elizabeth Birdlebough Vidal

  20. Ots Toch is my 10th great grandmother and I do register a small amount of Native American dna. Autosomal dna and maternal name is Green.

  21. Hello all! I am curious; if I pursue my connection with Octs-Toch, can I still pursue my other Métis connections in Quebec as well as in Nova Scotia? I guess I’m not quite sure what group I’d rather be a part of. I wish we didn’t have to choose; Acadian, Huron, Mic-Mac, Abenaki, Montaigne, etc… In my opinion they are all rich history worth knowing.

  22. I just got into genealogy and I believe Ots-Toch is my 11x or 12x great grandmother, according to familysearch.org record. I had no idea but see indigenous lines My family has been in Schdy for generations and my grandparents and parents have passed so this s very meaningful. I would like to learn more.

  23. wow lots of you are my relatives,Otis is my 10th great grandmother on my dads mothers side, on my family tree it is not branched, it shows straight line from me to her..this is wild..i never knew the family history due to my line all passing away when i was very young..i would love to connect with people who know my Native history

    Wade Sallows
    Queensland,Australia

  24. My 4th great father, Jacob Bastedo married Clarisse Van Slyck in 1767. Not sure who her father was, but have heard the stories of Ots-Toch passed down.

  25. Great story, my grandmother was Eva Van slyke. My dad always talked of very distant Indian blood. Great reading

  26. I am a direct descendant of OtsTach several times over on both my mother an father’s side, and trace to all the early Dutch settlers, Vrooman, Yates, Barheight, Bradt, Van Patten, Putman, Veeder, Van Schaick, Van Slyke, Shermerhorn, Newkirk, also Anneka Jans (NYC),etc. etc. My family goes back 11 generations to Francois of Luxemberg, Prince of Egmont. My family donated the Mabie Farm to NY State in 1994 as a living museum. I am 90 yrs old and have a wealth of information on Early Schenectady that I would like to share.
    It was my understanding that Jacque owned a tavern in Schenectady. I was also told that OtsTach was born at Cagnawaga, (Fonda) by Farther Grassman where Techawatha was born. I was told Jacque and OtsTach were burried on Van Slyke Island, the big island behind the Van Curler Hotel. Hog island was a smaller island behind Old Schenectady, where the old covered bridge used to be. I remember the old bridge.

  27. The legacy of Ots-Toch extends in many directions. I’m interested in further information, writings, images if any are available.
    (writing from Ottawa, Ontario)

  28. This is an excellently-done website and a beautifully-written story. I am a Van Slyke descendant. However it is well-documented that Jacgues Hertell was born in 1603 and that Cornelis Antonissen Van Slyk was born in 1604. The Van Slyke children begin circa 1635 with Marten Mouris. Ots-Toch, daughter of Jacgues Hertell would not be the wife of Cornelis Antonissen Van Slyk. You do the math. However there is no doubt that Cornelius’ wife was Mohawk.

    Here is an actual Mohawk marriage, also my descendants……

    Hendrick A House was born in 1765 in Montgomery County, New York. In 1789, he married Anna Nancy Ogh in the same county. Henry’s parents were Conrad A House born in 1743 in the same county and Enjeltje Hendrickse Van Slyke born about 1745 also in Montgomery County, daughter of Hendrick Cornelius Van Slyke born in 1703 in Schenectady County and Catharina Slingerlandt born in 1710 in Albany.

    Anna Nancy Ogh was born in 1768, the 3rd child of John “George” Ogh and Susannah Weber.

    The preacher of The Dutch Reformed Church in Schoharie would travel on occasion to Weiser’s Dorf (present day Middleburgh) to baptize Mohawks and take their confessions. Unlike his regular parishioners, he only recorded the year for these baptisms and not the day and month. He recorded their Christian names and only on occasion their last name. Most often he replaced the last name with “Savage”.
    Hans Jurrie the Savage, the son of Hans Jurrie the Savage and Susannah the Savage was baptized in 1740. From further baptisms I determined that Susannah was Susannah Quinnebus.
    In baptisms of George and Susannah Weber Ogh’s children in Stone Arabia, George is referred to as Hans George or Johann George depending on the record.

    Tryon Military records for George refer to him most often as “George Och” which I would image is the way it sounded to the Palatines of Montgomery County. One military record used Oak which I would imagine was recorded by someone of English descent. In census records it is Ogh as well as it it for the marriage of Henry House and Nancy Ogh. Male descendants used Ough and Och. The ones who used Och mostly morphed into Oak, Oaks and Oakes.

  29. I’ve known for 6 years that Octs Toch, and Van Slyck, Cornelius was my 6 the great grandparents. Their first son Jacques Cornelius Van Slyck was my 5th great grandfather. Octs was from Turtle clan, of the Iroquois. The other clans were Bear, and Wolf. I’ve done exhausted research on my family history before confirmation of 90% accuracy. First Nation people of Mohawk are mostly in Canada. I’ve been very careful about how to approach First Nation Mohawk Turtle clan due to respect and accuracy. I honor my ancestors in special ways to let them know I love them.

    Any advice on who to contact from The Mohawk Turtle clan about finding out more accurate history and ways to honor my 5th great grandmother Octs? I would greatly appreciate it.

  30. I am also related to Ots-Toch, but have been told that her son is my ancester (turtle clan) I could not claim Mohawk ancestry. On a somewhat humorous side note, my motber always thought my grandmother, Harriet Van Slyke, was Jewish because of her black hair and slightly hooked nose. After doing our family tree and looki g at pictures of Mohawk women, that is what my grandmother looked like. I have always felt an affinity to indigenous people, and now I know it is in my DNA.

  31. Ots Toch is my 11th Great Grandmother. I had the pleasure of tracing her footsteps in the majestic Mohawk Valley, having grown up on the South banks of the Mohawk River in Caughnawaga (Fonda area). As an avid kayaker, I would paddle around the Noses near Canajoharie and always felt this spiritual connection. Some things have changed, but there are special and deeply sacred places that have gone unchanged that the white man has never touched or destroyed in this sacred valley. That’s what makes this place special. As a historian and journalist, I’ve written and documented this region and will always call this place home. I encourage all to travel to explore the Mohawk Valley!

  32. I am descended from Ots-Toch through Hilletje, which I am so happy to read here is also Helen. Thank you for this beautiful summary, and I will try to join in the team. I love it that Ots-Toch refused to be converted to Christianity (Though I am Christian clergy myself). So many questions! I was able to visit the homelands at Canajoharie, and find the pot that washes itself, in the waterfall, and swim in it myself. Incredibly grateful for all of this good research. Now I am writing a Mother’s Day sermon and will fold all this good research into it. grateful.

  33. Greetings, cousins, from your sister in Massachusetts, descended from Ots-Toch through Hilletje, which I am so happy to read here also has the name Helen. Thank you for this beautiful summary, and I will try to join in the team. I love it that Ots-Toch refused to be converted to Christianity (Though I am Christian clergy myself). So many questions! I was able to visit the homelands at Canajoharie, and find the pot that washes itself, in the waterfall, and swim in it myself. Incredibly grateful for all of this good research. Now I am writing a Mother’s Day sermon and will fold all this good research into it. grateful.

  34. Otis is my 10th great grandmother. I am descendant of hers through her son Jacques Cornelius Van Slyck. My DNA test didn’t show any Native American Blood , but a cousin who is a generation up did show a little Native American Blood which sealed the deal for us. I live in Canada and would love to talk to anyone who is kin to her.

  35. my children are descendants of ots-toch..but my question is..after reading comments, does this mean they have mohawk or metis lineage? and what are the advantages of acquiring ontario metis status?

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