Throughout my lifetime, I’ve never given a lot of thought about my ancestry. I know that both my parents were born in Arkansas and their ancestors had settled to that state from Tennessee. I also know that there were several Native Americans sprinkled throughout my family tree, as well, but I have never researched the specifics. I was content to know that the vast majority of my ancestral relatives, according to oral records from living Crownovers, were farmers – with a few loggers and maybe a horse thief or two thrown in for good measure.
While I have never possessed the patience (most likely a dominant Crownover trait) to sit in front of a computer screen for dozens of hours to trace the exact roots of my family tree, my wife has. Her complete research uncovered the very first member of my family, other than the Native Americans, to set foot in this country and… I was shocked.
According to my wife, the first of my family to get off the boat from Europe and call America home was, in fact, a farmer. In the early 1600s, a Mr. Van Kouwenhoven (a surname that eventually morphed into mine) arrived in New York from the Netherlands and was named the Master Farmer of Long Island, New York. During that time in America’s early history, the Master Farmer for each settlement made all the decisions concerning what, when and where to plant each crop for the assigned population center. He was in charge of all the decision-making related to agriculture for the relatively new group of people living on the island. Evidently, my many-generations removed grandfather had both the knowledge and experience to be named to this important position in a new country and, based on records obtained by my wife, he was quite successful in carrying out his responsibilities.
While I will never be mistaken for anything close to a Master Farmer, you would have to imagine how an artist would feel if they could trace their ancestry back to Michelangelo, or a writer finding out that their 10th great-grandfather was old Bill Shakespeare, himself. I always knew I came from a long line of farmers, but I had no idea the line was that long and would culminate with finding a farmer that esteemed. Of course, I’m still not going to publicize the horse thieves my wife uncovered during her study of my familial background.
Armed with my newfound information about my famous ancestor, I still can’t decide whether my pride in knowing of Mr. Kouwenhoven’s position within the agricultural community outweighs the shame I feel in knowing my lineage traces back to New York City.
Jerry Crownover is a farmer and former professor of Agriculture Education at Missouri State University. He is a native of Baxter County, Arkansas, and an author and professional speaker. To contact Jerry about his books, or to arrange speaking engagements, you may contact him by calling 1-866-532-1960 or visiting ozarksfn.com and clicking on’Contact Us.’