Disappearance of the Historic Ship Tijger

Part of New York’s heritage vanished when bulldozers dug the foundation for the World Trade Center


It is known that during the winter of 1614, some of Block’s crew became disgruntled. In March, eight men seized the Nachtagael while Mossel and his crew were ashore purchasing furs. When Block realized what had happened, he and Mossel and the remaining loyal crew members ran up and down the shore firing their muskets at the raiders on the ship.

Block sent word of the ship’s seizure up the river to Christiaensen, captain of the Fortuyn, who returned just after the raiders set sail and headed out to the Atlantic. Christiaensen gave chase but was impeded by large chunks of floating ice. When he finally got within firing range, his crew refused to fire on their fellow mates, and he was forced to turn back.

Free of pursuers, the Nachtagael headed for the West Indies to join the pirate fleets that were preying upon Spanish ships returning from Mexico and South America with gold and silver and on the British ships sailing to Jamestown. According to one of the crew members, who had been impressed into sailing on the Nachtagael, the ship sailed the Caribbean for several months. Then it returned to Manhattan, where the crew spent three weeks on repairs before setting sail for Spain. When the ship inadvertently arrived in the waters off Ireland, then a haven for pirates, the impressed seaman escaped and made his way to Amsterdam, and the ship’s eventual fate is unknown.

Block and his remaining crew members are believed to have sailed the Onrust north to what is now Boston, then back toward the tip of Cape Cod. Meeting the Fortuyn on her return trip to Holland, Block abandoned the Onrust and joined his old friend Christiaensen.

In the years following the burning of the Tijger, relations between the increasing numbers of Dutch traders and the Indians deteriorated. The Dutch constructed a fort at the southern tip of the island and built wharves in both the Hudson and East rivers. The Indians, weakened, eventually retreated.

The settlers, unconcerned about preserving the environment, dumped trash wherever there was unused space, and one of the greatest expanses of unused space was the edge of the river. Modern construction sites in lower Manhattan are often full of old bottles, pottery shards, shoes, cow bones, lumber, and other miscellany, which were dumped along the shore in the seventeenth century, gradually filling it in and pushing it out.

In the latter half of the eighteenth century, however, the Hudson shoreline was given an even greater thrust outward by a landfill project, which involved dumping, in addition to earth and rocks, a great many stumps, boards, and old pilings. Today the shore of Manhattan at the mouth of the Hudson is some 200 to 300 yards west of where it was when the Tijger sank. But in 1916, it was the seventeenth-century shoreline the workers were gouging out when they came across the Tijger. Their discovery of the timbers proves that the Tijger was buried in silt while the remains lay either on the shore or in the shallows. But what of the remains of the remains, the approximately seventy feet of keel, ribs, and planking that were left in the tunnel wall?

On the strength of the historical accounts of the Tijger’s fate and the supportive analyses dating the ship’s wood and iron, James Kelly and representatives of the Museum of the City of New York in 1959 tried to interest the city’s political powers in a project to excavate the rest of the ship. The enthusiasm of Manhattan Borough President Hulan E. Jack paved the way for interviews and presentations before Mayor Robert F. Wagner. The museum’s business manager, Lawrence Beattie, investigated the extent of the required excavation and compiled a cost estimate of $44,288. The museum and Kelly then petitioned the city Board of Estimate for this amount, but the Board refused the petition, stating that the amount was excessive and that traffic in busy Globe Square, at the intersection of Dey and Greenwich Streets, would he disrupted by the excavation shaft.

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