THE ROWING DUTCHMAN
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For well over 300 years people have reported seeing an odd boat being rowed along the Hudson River by a strange looking man dressed in old-style clothing. No matter the weather, no matter the season, the solitary oarsman rows on and on. For this is the fate of Rambout Van Dam, forever striving to reach his home in Bergen (now Jersey City, New Jersey). For no matter how hard Rambout rows, he can never reach his destination.
The story of the eternal voyage of Rambout Van Dam goes back before the days of the English conquest of present day New York and New Jersey. This was the time of the Dutch colony in the New World named New Amsterdam, under the stern, but watchful eye of Peter Stuyvesant. Rambout's excursion began one Saturday night when he set sail in his small craft up the Hudson River from his hall in Bergen, to the shores of Tappen Zee.
The purpose of young Rambout's visit was to attend a party, and perhaps dance with a pretty girl or two. Although the Dutch Reformed Church, of which he was a member, frowned upon such "frolicking," it was not forbidden. What was forbidden, however, was to allow the frolicking to extend past midnight when the Sabbath would begin. In fact, it was even forbidden to travel on the holy day, except to church. There was a feeling among the citizens of New Amsterdam that anyone outside their home at the stroke of midnight on Sunday morning would be cursed and doomed for violating God's commandment, "Remember to keep holy the Sabbath."
Rambout was well aware of all this, but he was also young, and like young people throughout time got caught up with the fun time he was having. The late hour was upon him before he knew it, and he headed for his boat to race home to arrive before midnight. Ignoring the pleas of his friends to stay the night in Tappen Zee, Rambout pushed off for home swearing he would not touch land till he got there.
Unfortunately for Rambout, the night air was calm and his sail was useless. He was forced to row, and row he did. With all his might he pulled the oars through the water, but he made little progress. By the time he had reached Spuyten Duyvil (a stream that separated the northern tip of Manhattan from the Bronx, translated as "Devil's Spite"), the church bells were ringing out the start of the holy day. Rambout did not make it home that evening, and never did, but he is still trying.
The phantom rower has been seen at various times over the years, always between Tappen Zee and Spuyten Duyvil. The captain of a sloop in the early 1800's reported being hailed by a man in an old-fashioned boat speaking Dutch and asking for a tow. A Dobbs Ferry fisherman also spotted him in the 1860's. The last sighting was by some shad fishermen in the now defunct village of Undercliff, below the Palisades, on the Jersey side of Hudson at the turn of the century. Perhaps with few fellow Dutch to communicate with, Rambout, if he is still out there, prefers to keep to himself.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: According to Jack Rushing, founder of the
Great Swamp Folklore Project, there are four stories in the Rambout
Van Dam series, and they are some of the oldest original
"Dutch" stories (stories that are authentic and that are
still told by Dutch descendants today) they have collected. Few of
these original Dutch stories survive, so Rambout is extremely
important as both a marker of both Unitied States, and regional history.]
Myths & Legends of Our Own Time
Tales & Towns of Northern New Jersey
The Begen Record
SPECIAL THANKS TO:
Robert D. Griffin
TITLE IMAGE (SLIGHTLY ALTERED) FROM:
Historical Collection of the State of New Jersey