In spite of all the disappointment over never getting the caretaker position and not even being allowed to be a docent due to my attitude over JOINING the DAR (did some research, WASN’T pleased with what I found), I worked on her dress for this performance. $100 worth of material and supplies later, I had whatever Butterick felt was an accurate 1700’s ladies’ dress (although I did use strips of mini-blinds for the corset stays as I was really stuck on finding whalebone)


What stalled the whole thing, even though I did wear it out to a “Self-Employed Group”s monthly dinner, was the HAT. The HAT, my research told me, was ALL wrong. For a Dutch woman of her stature, she would never have left the house with that classic little ‘mob cap’ that Butterick had come up with. And SHE, as a widow, would most likely not have worn a WHITE cap. I half-heartedly dove into research on clothing of the early 1700’s but this project was just running out of steam.

So perhaps I never will ‘play’ her. Perhaps the BOOK I need to write is ABOUT not only her life and times, but about my hunting for her. So hunt I did. Nights were spent on the computer pouring over Internet research trails that led me through the streets of New Amsterdam during the time she was living in what is now NYCity. I dug and dug to get a sense of what it was to be raised in a Dutch family, especially as a female. It was VERY different from being French or English. Dutch girls were raised to understand business and keep financial records and think for themselves. This was all important, it made her who she was.

Her father did appoint 4 male businessman guardians for his only daughter child when he died. That alone was pretty remarkable. They were carefully chosen and took an active role in Catharyna’s education from what I could find

At one point I careened over into chasing the Wappingers Indians, with whom she was close, despite the disapproval of her neighbors, to learn just everything about them. (Wappingers meaning “The opossum people” and opossums were often tattooed on bodies or painted on buildings.) While this trail of research strengthened my conviction that the reason we can’t find any record of how Rivery died was that, at the time, there were horrible reports of entire white settlements being massacred by various Indian tribes and if word got out that Rivery died while in the presence of the Indian boys he so often spent time with, there would be dreadful trouble. However, the eldest Indian boy would NOT be the Daniel Nimham who became the best known of the Wappinger chiefs, as Daniel Nimham would have been 5 at the time that Rivery died.

I repeatedly went back to the Henry Cassidy book, “Catharyna Brett: Portrait of a Colonial Businesswoman” where he states early on that he is NOT writing the historical novel. That’s what I wanted to write; the historical novel – the story of THEM, of HER. Not getting all bogged down in land deeds and dates.

So I sat up late into the night on the computer and spent days prowling about Fishkill getting so frustrated that I wanted to tear up all the blacktop with my bare hands to FIND her from 300 years ago.

I spent a lot of time at Denning’s Point which is very near to Fishkill Cove where Roger died. One afternoon, I was standing at the edge of Fishkill Cove, looking at the trails of currents that could be seen through the water vegetation, when I was treated to exactly the sudden, black sky, screaming wind STORM that would have caused the boom to come loose on the sloop and knock Roger into the water with its massive weight. I stood there absolutely wide-eyed as the sky changed, my hair danced every which way and the winds suddenly screamed through the trees ONLY THERE. Everywhere else that I could see the sky was clear, the trees were quiet, and the storm was over in minutes. I left with quite the case of goosebumps.

That same summer, I was able to join a former high school classmate on a trip up the Hudson on his boat. We started at the 72nd street boat basin in NYCity


and boated all the way up to New Hamburg where I was attempting to open a doomed herbal center in a tiny RiverTown that just didn’t WANT me there. Whit and I watched current maps and charts as I tried to figure out why Roger’s body couldn’t be found for entire days. Sure enough, we could see a current that went right from Fishkill Cove out and back to Denning’s Point. We all slept on the River that night. That’s the only time I’ve ever been able to do that and it was wonderful. Rocked to sleep by the mighty Hudson. I awoke right at sunrise to see the colorful, elaborate Sojourner Truth sloop right outside my window.


We felt the eerie silence near West Point where the River becomes frighteningly deep.


All in all it was a wonderful trip, something I just needed to do.

At some point, I also decided to attend a service at HER Church.

So for all the goosebumps I got upon seeing her signature on the Frankfort Storehouse document, THIS was going to have me more in her ~presence~ than anything yet. Folks at the Church immediately spotted a new face and greeted me, I told them I was doing research on Madam Brett for a book and they mostly seemed pleased at that. I slid into a pew on the left side of the Church where I could gaze at the plaque that noted where she was buried. What happened next I was NOT prepared for.

As the congregation began to sing a Hymn, tears began pouring down my cheeks making me very glad I’d tucked myself into a corner on the far left side of the pew. I couldn’t stop them and I had no idea why this was happening. I glanced down at the hymnal in my hands and caught the date that this particular hymn was written – during her lifetime. The next hymns that were sung had so such effect on me and sure enough, checking the dates, they were all written after she’d died.

Again, tears of recognition. This is where research is truly SEARCH.

What does this woman want from me? Why am I being shown things about her?

Yet again, one of those tiny sign-post things happens where I’m just going through research papers and make note of the date…Nov 25, 1703….their wedding anniversary. And as, at the time, it was late November of 2003, this would be their THREE HUNDREDTH Anniversary. I set about immediately to write an article for the tiny local paper hoping to get it in before the fact:

“On November 25, 1703, In Trinity Church in NYCity, 16 year old Catharyna Rombout and Lt Roger Thomas Brett were married, which officially began one of the greatest love stories the Hudson River has known. Although Catharyna’s father died when she was only 4, he left to her a tract of 28,000 acres that under the guidance of herself and her husband would become what are now Dutchess and Putnam counties. She came into possession of this land upon the death of her mother which left her holding exactly nine pence and the deed to a massive piece of land far away, as well as the first of the four sons she would bear.

Catharyna and Roger left the life they knew in NYCity and set out for virtual wilderness, with Roger going ahead for months on end to build their house and a grist mill. The very River that connected them to their former lives in NYCity (a mere five hours’ sail if the wind was good) would eventually become the birthplace of their fourth son, aptly named Rivery. He was born on the River, in a sloop returning from the City when Catharyna was 25.

But that very River that helped to birth their son, took the life of dashing Lt Roger Brett of the Royal Navy a mere six years after Rivery’s birth. In June of 1718, on of those sudden storms blew up (as we all know the Hudson does sometimes) sending the boom of the sloop Roger was sailing back from NY suddenly around and striking him, knocking him off the boat. The River currents took hold of his body which wasn’t found until days later. In spite of heartbreak we can only imagiNe, the 31 year old Catharyna buried her husband in the family plot, in Beacon where South Avenue, Tioranda and Newlin’s Mill Rds all meet. There, he joined their first son, Thomas, who had died at the age of nine.

In 1718 it was unheard f for a woman to stay widowed for more than a few months, especially one with wealth and children to raise,. But Catharyna never married again. She raised her boys and kept her land, ran her multiple businesses, built the First Reformed Church at the intersections of 52 and Route 9 in Fishkill and died in her 70’s a most revered, well-loved and respected woman.

I’ve been investigating her life for a few years now and only just spotted this date again…Nov 25, 1703. As we all stand on what they built together, it seems only fitting that we should make note of their three hundredth anniversary…..all these years later.”

I knew exactly what I was doing here….trying to rekindle some interest in the entire tale, but somewhere within fax problems and having to email the article in, it was never printed. But somehow, I needed to do MORE. By now a friend of mine had bought a house right next to the burial ground, so I had access from his yard. I dressed up because I felt like it, and bought a bunch of white roses to lay on the porch of the homestead mostly to freak the DAR ladies out.

But once again, I wanted to just WALK the burial grounds. THIS time I very much felt a strong pull to the BACK of the property. When I stand there, in my mind’s eye, I see SHAPES of the mourning family members. First I see Catharyna with just Francis and Robert clinging to her as they bury Thomas. Roger stands a few steps away.

Then I see a different shape, with Catharyna standing with her THREE boys clinging to her they bury Roger. I feel the tension in her body as she wants to just collapse with weeping, but must stay the pillar for these three young boys.

And then the final shape. She stands between Francis and Robert, 22 and 20 respectively, both of whom are far taller than she as they bury Rivery. I tell my friend all this and he listens most respectfully. When I leave the burial ground, I bring my roses to the homestead and lay them on the small ‘back’ porch. The Homestead cat hisses at me as she always does…….