yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee


By Charles R. and Sarah Gill McDaniel

In Holland in 1808, sixteen year old Willem Kolwyck stowed away on a ship bound for America. Like thousands of other young men he was seeking sanctuary from the Napoleonic wars. Little did he know before the century was out he would father sons who themselves would experience the horrors and tragedies of the American Civil War. According to stories handed down in the Kolwyck family the stowaway was discovered soon after sailing and given rough treatment. Consequently he hit the dock running when he disembarked at either Mobile or New Orleans.

Where he went and what he did over the next fifteen years remain a mystery. Life could not have been easy for a teenager alone who spoke little or no English. The Dutch are traditionally water men so it is possible he worked on riverboats moving up the Mississippi River to the Ohio at Cairo, Illinois, then down the Cumberland River to Nashville. This could explain how he got to Lebanon in Wilson County where in 1823 he married Margaret Ann Steel3, a native Tennessean, on August 23rd of that year. His bondsman was James B. Taylor from the neighborhood where the Steels resided. The groom signed the license “Willem Koolwyk”. The court clerk entered his name on the bond as “William Colewick”, the first of many attempts to change it into English. The family Bible also s has it as “Colwick” and “Colewick”. Later family members in Parsons, Tennessee and Sikeston, Missouri spelled it Colwick. Clarence Kolwyck of Chattanooga says it is Dutch for a place where cabbage is grown, and that is correct.

In the 1830’s the family moved westward from Wilson County to Perry County and ultimately Decatur County. In 1840 we find the family in the Perry County census. He was then known as William and the surname is garbled terribly. Next door neighbors included his wife’s brothers Minor Steel4, Nathan Steel, and William Steel, for whom she named three of her sons. William and Margaret had eight children by this tine, five boys and three girls, eventually they had thirteen children. The family Bible lists birth dates of eleven of them. Others were illegible or not listed, but the 1850 census of Decatur County, page 444, reports those living and at home at the time.

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Revised (2011) from an article of the same title printed in The Tennessee Genealogical Magazine “Ansearchin’” News, P. O. Box 247, Brunswick, TN 38014-0247, Vol. 43, No. 4, Winter, 1996,  pp. 181-183. Writers may be contacted at

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