Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 August 2012
In the late nineteenth century, Robert Bayles, president of the Market and Fulton National Bank of New York City, reviewed historical records of his ancestry. He discovered that family heirlooms, including a bronze pan, a copy of the Qur'an, and a copper teapot probably belonged to Anthony Jansen van Salee, also known as Anthony Jansen van Vaes and Anthony “the Turk.” Bayles would have known that “Turk” was the contemporary and derogatory term for Muslim (regardless of ethnicity); “van Salee” and “van Vaes” signified that Anthony was “from Salé” or “from Fez,” Morocco. Anthony immigrated to New Amsterdam some time around 1630 as a colonist for the Dutch West India Company. There, in what eventually became New York City, he settled down as a farmer and at times dealt in real estate. Upon his demise, he left behind four daughters, the youngest of whom, Eva, was an ancestor of Mr. Bayles.
Anthony at some unknown time was joined by Abraham Jansen van Salee, a possible brother or half-brother, who was also referred to as “the Turk” and “the Mulatto.” Anthony may be the first settler from a Muslim background in the territories that eventually formed the United States, but he was not the first person of Muslim heritage to traverse America. From the time Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic, West and North Africans served as involuntary servants to Europeans arriving in the Americas.