The Tale of the Onrust

by Allie Delyanis, Communications & Marketing Intern

As we continue to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the construction of Fraunces Tavern, Communications & Marketing Intern, Allie Delyanis, uses her experience in investigative journalism to dive deeper into 54 Pearl Street’s history. Her efforts reveal a lesser known story in the many past lives of Fraunces Tavern and the site upon which it was built.

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A hundred years before a building was constructed at 54 Pearl Street, the plot of land at the corner of Pearl and Broad Streets bordered the harbor on its southern side (on current day Water Street). It is on the lot where Fraunces Tavern Museum and Restaurant now sit that allegedly a trading ship was built in 1614. This ship was named the Onrust (Onrest).

According to Dutch archival records, Dutch explorer Adrian Block journeyed between Manhattan and the Netherlands four times between 1611 and 1613. After Henry Hudson’s survey of the area in 1609, Block set out with the goal of establishing fur trading networks between the Dutch and Manhattan island’s Native Americans.

However, shortly after his arrival in the fall of 1613, Block’s ship, the Tiger, caught fire—stranding Block and his crew on the island. While he contemplated how to proceed with the journey, Block and his crew set up camp near what is now Bowling Green Park; this encampment is thought to be the first European settlement on the island of Manhattan. Today, a plaque marks the location of Block’s camp at 41 Broadway.

The crew quickly got to work building a new ship, salvaging ironwork from the charred remains of the Tiger. By April 1614, the Onrust was complete. The small “yacht” measured 44 ½ feet long, 11 ½ feet high, and sported a keel 38 feet long, according to Dutch records. While not the first vessel to be built on the continent, the Onrust is thought to be the first ship constructed entirely of native wood.

Historians believe Block chose the name Onrust—the Dutch word meaning unrest, or restless—to reflect the “unrest” amongst his crew. Financial disputes erupted during construction, and half of the disgruntled crew threatened to set the unfinished ship on fire. The “restless” crew eventually settled down and the Onrust went on to sail into the Long Island Sound, discovering among other places, Block Island, named after Captain Block himself.

So, how does all this connect to Fraunces Tavern? While it is impossible to know for certain whether or not the Onrust was constructed on the site of 54 Pearl Street, there is a good case for believing so.

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According to this map created by the Wildlife Conservation Society for the Manhattan Project, which reconstructed the landscape of Manhattan as of 1609, the waterline of the Hudson River runs right up to what is now Pearl Street. Additionally, a small stream ran down modern day Broad Street directly into the river. The Fraunces Tavern Historical Block—which includes 54 Pearl Street—is denoted on this map as Block 29. That particular block is adjacent to both the shoreline and the stream, an ideal spot to build and then launch a small ship.

What we know about the geography of 17th century Manhattan and the location of Block’s encampment support the claim made by historians that the Onrust was the first European construction to call 54 Pearl Street home.

Though the fate of the Onrust is unknown (some historians believe it sailed back to Holland under a different name), its story has not been forgotten. In 2006 the Mabee Farms Historic Site in Upstate New York began the laborious process of reconstructing the yacht, which now serves as a floating museum and a testament to 17th century maritime history. You can learn more about The Onrust Project at http://www.theonrust.com/.

Stay tuned as we uncover more history behind 54 Pearl Street!