Sisters of St. Joseph of CarondeletJune 20, 2018

Harvesting the Wood


The OnRust Replica Project

OnRust Volunteers

Rittner's OnRust

OnRust Is Launched!

Sisters Board Onrust

OnRust Project

Revolutionary Seventeenth-Century Dutch Building Method

The Original Onrust of 1614

Sisters Mary Ellen Putnam, Lauren Van Dermark and Carol Rohloff meet with Don Rittner and Greta Wagle from New Netherland Routes, Inc.

A Fallen Oak Finds New Life

by Don Rittner

Schenectady County and City Historian


There is an old saying that small beginnings can often produce huge results. It certainly was proven when the Sisters of St Joseph were founded in LePuy, France in 1650; came to Carondelet, Missouri 170 years ago, and to Oswego, NewYork in 1858. The countless humanitarian contributions by the Sisters have been felt worldwide. Likewise, almost 400 years ago, a small acorn began its life at the base of the Sisters’ Albany Province grounds and grew into an impressive swamp white oak with a circumference of nineteen feet. It provided home and shade for a number of God’s creatures. Unfortunately, the tree was recently blown over by high winds, and it was feared that the usefulness of the oak had come to an end. The tree had become symbolic of the strength and longevity of the mission of Sisters of St. Joseph.

Meanwhile, an idea was germinating in nearby Schenectady when historians from the Capital District and the Netherlands proposed to build a replica of America’s first decked ship, the Dutch “Onrust.” The OnRust (Dutch for Restless) was built at the tip of Manhattan, between January and April 1614, by Captain Adriaen Block and his crew, after their ship the Tyger burned and sank. It became America’s first research vessel.

            A new non-profit organization, New Netherland Routes, Inc. (NNR), was created last year to build the OnRust replica. It will be built over a three-year period, beginning this fall, with authentic seventeenth-century shipbuilding techniques, and this floating museum will offer a first-hand education in maritime exploration and a unique opportunity to learn about early shipbuilding methods, New York maritime history, and the impact of early Dutch settlement in the Mohawk and Hudson Valleys.

We are striving to make The OnRust as historically accurate as possible. Fortunately, the dimensions of the OnRust were recorded as well as many of its journeys. Unfortunately, seventeenth-century Dutch building techniques were lost during the eighteenth century. Luckily, we have the expertise of Gerald de Weerdt, Director of the Maritime Museum of Terschelling in the Netherlands and former Director of the National Institute of Ship Archaeology in Lelystadt as our master shipwright. A nautical engineer and historic ship architect, Mr. de Weerdt is an internationally recognized expert on seventeenth-century Dutch shipbuilding and has been conducting painstaking research on sunken ships recovered from Dutch waters for the last 40 years. He recently has rediscovered how seventeenth-century Dutch ships were built and will be using this expertise in the Onrust Project.

As a teaching tool, the OnRust shows the challenges of a group of men stranded thousands of miles away from home, who had to rely on their ship building knowledge, adjust to a new environment, utilize local resources, and create safe working relationships with the local Native population, all within a three-month period. The project also will illustrate the importance of map-making to the river routes of the east which was one of the primary missions of the OnRust. In addition to creating trading relationships with the Native population, several invaluable maps were produced that charted the Connecticut, Hudson, and Delaware Rivers. These maps showed detailed geographical features of coastal and inland waterways and recorded the location of many native villages for the first time ever.

         The OnRust was launched into Upper New York Bay in April 1614 and its crew explored the New York coastal areas and rivers, sailed through the treacherous passage called Helle-gat (Hell Gate) in the East River, explored the harbors of Long Island and Connecticut discovering the Housatonic and Thames Rivers, and sailed up the Connecticut (de Versche Rivier) River past the site of Hartford. The Onrust continued on to Narragansett and Buzzards Bays, and Cape Cod.

         In his honor, Block was immortalized with a small island, named Block Island. On the basis of this voyage, the Dutch laid claim to the territory of New Netherland, an area that included parts of what are now the states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware and Pennsylvania.

         Block is credited with the 1614 manuscript map of his voyage on which many features of the mid-Atlantic region appear for the first time, and on which the term New Netherland is first applied to the region.

         The last historical account of the OnRust describes her 1616 expedition down the coast of New Jersey to explore the New River (Delaware River) under the command of Captain Cornelius Hendrickson. No one knows the final disposition of the ship since it was too small to travel by itself over the ocean. It is believed to have been abandoned and perhaps is waiting for rediscovery some day by underwater archeologists.

Construction of the OnRust replica will take place on the banks of the Mohawk River at the well-known Mabee Farm Historic Site of the Schenectady County Historical Society in Rotterdam Junction, NY. It will be open to the public and school groups will be encouraged to attend. Students, adult volunteers, historians, archeologists, maritime experts and shipbuilding professionals will all participate.

(Several months ago, NNR received an e-mail from Jim McKinney, an architect working on the Albany Province restoration, who suggested that the fallen 400-year-old Swamp White Oak be used on the OnRust Project. After all, it was reasoned, if we are building a 400-year-old ship replica, why not use 400-year-old wood? After meetings with Sister Lauren Van Dermark, CSJ, who presented the proposal to all concerned at the Provincial House, an agreement was reached between NNR and the Sisters to use the fallen oak for the shipbuilding project!)

The OnRust replica was launched on May 20, 2009!


Click HERE to view an exciting video update which features Sister Mary Ellen Putnam, CSJ!



Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet • 385 Watervliet-Shaker Road • Latham, NY 12110-4799
Main Provincal House Number (518) 783-3500 • Fax (518) 783-5209

All Artwork Copyright © 2012 Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet