Cornelis van Tienhoven was born in Utrecht, the Netherlands, around 1601. An employee of the Dutch West India Company, he sailed to New Netherland in 1633 with the new Director, Wouter van Twiller. Van Tienhoven served as the Company's bookkeeper from 1633-1647, the Company's surveyor from 1647-1652, and the Receiver General from 1649-1652. In 1651, he was appointed Secretary of New Netherland and held office as Schout-fiscael during the years 1652-1656. Van Tienhoven owned an estate where the present-day streets of Pearl and Maiden Lain are located.
Although deeply disliked by the citizens of New Amsterdam, Van Tienhoven strongly influenced Directors Kieft and Stuyvesant. In 1643, the representatives of New Amsterdam's citizens, the Twelve Men, declined to support Director Kieft's war plan against the local Native American tribes. Reputedly, at a dinner held in February, 1643, Secretary of State Van Tienhoven produced a petition requesting the Director to attack two groups of local Native Americans who had sought refuge from Mohawks in the Dutch settlements at Pavonia and Corlear's Hook. Three of the Twelve Men (Jan Jansen Damen, Abraham Ver Planck and Maryn Adriaensen) were present, and they signed the document. Director Kieft chose to regard this document as an authorization of the assembly of the Twelve Men to go to war, and immediately ordered Van Tienhoven to organize an attack on the Native American people sheltering at Pavonia. Van Tienhoven led the soldiers stationed at Fort Amsterdam in an attack on the night of February 25 and brutally massacred some eighty Native American men, women and children. This was the beginning of Kieft's disastrous Indian War.
The Dutch parliament, dismayed at the conflict between the settlers and the Native Americans, recalled Director Kieft to Holland in 1646 to testify concerning the war. Director-General Peter Stuyvesant was appointed in his place. Stuyvesant's rule was repressive and when he banished two leading citizens from the colony, they returned to Holland and brought Stuyvesant's mal-administration in the colony to the attention of the Dutch parliament. Stuyvesant was ordered to appear before the parliament, either in person or through an agent, and Stuyvesant appointed the sharp-witted and eloquent Van Tienhoven as his representative to the Hague. At the hearings, Van Tienhoven's strategy was to discredit the Nine Men.
Van Tienhoven spent the winter in Amsterdam and the Dutch West India Company marked their appreciation of his "long and faithful services," by renewing his appointment as Provincial Secretary, appointing him to a second office, Receiver General of Revenue, and granting him a well-stocked farm in New Netherland. During this time, although he had a wife and family in New Amsterdam, Cornelis Van Tienhoven seduced a young girl named Liesbeth Jansen Croon, the daughter of a basketmaker, and lived with her openly during the time he spent in Holland. The Dutch parliament ordered Van Tienhoven to report to the Hague on April 28, 1651, where he was arrested on charges of adultery, but released upon payment of a fine. Although disgraced in the eyes of the Dutch community, Van Tienhoven persuaded Liesbeth with promises of marriage to sail with him to New Netherland. When the ship reached New Amsterdam, Van Tienhoven's wife Rachel was waiting on the dock and Liesbeth, the victim of deception, filed a charge in court against Van Tienhoven, but it appears that a settlement in her favor was not obtained.
When the Schout, Hendrick Van Dijck was removed from office in 1652, Cornelis van Tienhoven was appointed to replace him. The following February, when burger government was instituted in New Amsterdam, Director-General Stuyvesant appointed Van Tienhoven to act also as the city's Schout, much to the dismay of the population.
In 1655, Director-General Stuyvesant and the Company's soldiers traveled to the Delaware valley to negotiate with the Swedish settlers there. In his absence, tribes from the North River moved through New Amsterdam on their way to fight rival tribes on Eastern Long Island. The appearance of Native Americans in New Amsterdam frightened the town's residents, and when an Indian woman gathering peaches in an orchard was found murdered, some of the Native American men killed the alleged murderer. The settlers, led by Van Tienhoven, attacked the Indians and killed many of them, whereupon the Native Americans withdrew to Staten Island and New Jersey, where they killed the colonial settlers and destroyed their farms. When the authorities in Holland learned of the massacre on Staten Island , they demanded that Van Tienhoven be removed from office, and banned his future re-employment by the Company. Nicasius De Sille was appointed Schout of both New Netherland and New Amsterdam in his place.
Not long afterward, Van Tienhoven was charged with embezzlement and while his case was pending, he disappeared, leaving behind his pregnant wife and three children. Although Van Tienhoven's hat and cane were found floating in the Hudson River on November 18, 1656, his body was never located and many believed that he had absconded. Meanwhile, the Stuyvesant Administration issued an order to seize his papers and had an inventory of his property taken.
Edmund Bailey O'Callaghan. History of New Netherland
John Romeyn Brodhead. History of the State of New York
Documents relative to the colonial history of the state of New York, procured by J.R. Brodhead, ed. by E.B. O'Callaghan