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A New Book About David Demarest And His Times

David C. Major and John S. Major
A Huguenot on the Hackensack: David Demarest and His Legacy.
Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2007.
ISBN: 13-978-0-87413-939-6.
Library of Congress Catalog Number: 2006021792.
Price $29.50.

This richly illustrated volume is the first full-length study of David Demarest, a prominent seventeenth-century Huguenot (French Protestant) emigrant to America. Arriving in New Netherland just before it became New York, he first settled on Staten Island and then lived for more than a decade in the village of New Harlem before acquiring the “French Patent,” a large tract of land on Hackensack River in New Jersey. This pathbreaking book will be welcomed by everyone interested in regional history, in New Netherland, in the history of northeastern New Jersey and the “Jersey Dutch,” and by the many descendants of David Demarest and other Dutch and Huguenot families who formed a remarkably cohesive, long-lived community in northeastern New Jersey.

Demarest was born about 1620 in the French province of Picardy. He first appears in the historical record with his marriage to Marie Sohier in Middleburg, the Netherlands, in 1643. After marriage and the start of a family his life unfolded in a four periods of about a decade or a bit more: Middleburg 1642 to about 1651; Mannheim, Germany, from about 1651 to 1663; Staten Island and New Harlem, 1663-1678, and finally the French Patent along the Hackensack, 1678 to his death in 1693.  The book draws on rich historical sources, some newly discovered and interpreted, to illuminate Demarest’s own life and times (Chapters 1-3). Demarest is shown to be an ambitious and upwardly mobile entrepreneur with an unusual talent for balancing risk and opportunity, a dedicated churchman and community leader under both Dutch and English rule, and a man fortunate enough to found a numerous and regionally influential family.

The family rose to prominence in Bergen County in the eighteenth century (Chapter 4), when its members played important roles in New Jersey political and commercial life, in the Revolutionary War, and in the affairs of Reformed Church in Hackensack and Schraalenburgh. Demarests also began to spread out to other parts of the country.  Mirroring David Demarest’s own career as an entrepreneur and land developer, some of his descendants settled parts of central Pennsylvania, upstate New York, and Kentucky.

In the period after the Civil War, enormous changes in Bergen County, including the spread of railroads and the transition from a farming economy to a suburban one, spelled the beginning of the end for the prominence of old Jersey Dutch and Huguenot families such as the Demarests, an era of change that is described in Chapter 5.  A concluding chapter assesses the Demarest family’s long history, examines how pioneer students of Demarest family history shaped and interpreted David Demarest’s life and legacy in the fast-developing America of  the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and suggests what might yet be learned about Demarest through genetic evidence and the availability of digitized records.

A Huguenot on the Hackensack, marshaling wide-ranging historical evidence, illuminates the circumstances that shaped David Demarest’s life and the reasons why his heirs retained significant local influence for many generations.  The book provides the most complete picture now available of  Demarest and his legacy. The volume shows that his legacy is not dependent on the body of legend that has accumulated about David Demarest over the years, including his presumed noble descent and the idea that he was a rough pioneer in the wilderness, rather than an entrepreneur in the rapidly-developing Hackensack Valley.   Demarest’s accomplishments and legacy transcend the legends: he was a man both of his time and for his time, who succeeded admirably in establishing his prosperous family in the New World. This new and more realistic (and more interesting) account of Demarest’s life and legacy provides a richly contextualized view of the history of northeastern New Jersey through the experience of one family.

The book includes detailed analytic appendices on the origin of the Demarest name, Demarest’s birthplace, the probable dates of the Demarest House and other topics, a glossary, bibliography, and index.

Table of Contents

  • List of Maps and Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • A Note on Names
  • Introduction: A New Biography of David Demarest
  • Chapter 1: David Demarest in Europe
  • Chapter 2: David Demarest in New Netherland
  • Chapter 3: David Demarest on the Hackensack
  • Chapter 4: The Demarest Family Through the Revolution and the Early 19th century
  • Chapter 5: The Descendants of David Demarest to Modern Times
  • Chapter 6: The Demarest Legacy
  • Appendix A. The Origin of the Demarest Name
  • Appendix B. David Demarest’s Father
  • Appendix C. The Birthplace of David Demarest
  • Appendix D. The Marriage of David Demarest and Marie Sohier, and their Children
  • Appendix E. Demarests and Sohiers in Mannheim from the Records of the French Congregation
  • Appendix F: The Demarest House
  • Appendix G: Glossary
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index