The Baron was NOT a Dirty Rotten Scoundrel!
His name was Felipe Enrique Neri, the Baron de Bastrop, namesake of Bastrop County, Bastrop Bayou, Bastrop Bay in the Gulf of Mexico along with the cities of Bastrop, Texas and Bastrop, Louisiana. The unsung founding father who had such an enormous impact on early Texas history that without his ingenuous skills, the Texas we know today probably wouldn't exist.
Alongside Moses and Stephen F. Austin, the Baron formed the first American colonies that would later become the Republic and State of Texas. He was Texas' first Land Commissioner and the first State Representative, a dedicated statesman who worked tirelessly until his death to assure the colonies he helped to create, would prosper.
Yet, for all his efforts in kick-starting the Lone Star State, his contributions have been mostly overshadowed by an unjust “scoundrel” reputation which persists to this day. In 1955, it was revealed for the first time the Baron's real name was Philip Hendrick Nering Bögel, a double last name that didn't include the typical hyphen (pronounced Ner-ring Berg-gol). He was said to be a former tax collector from Holland accused of embezzlement who fled the country leaving behind a wife and four daughters, ages 3 through 10, to fend for themselves while he was in America living the good life as a powerful royal Baron on the stolen tax funds.
What a dirty rotten scoundrel! Regardless of what he did for this great state, few could be proud of a man who would do such a thing to his own family. The Baron quickly became an embarrassment to the history books and his status was reduced from a Texas hero to a Texas zero.
Well, fellow Texans, you can finally stand proud and be ashamed no more. Recently, several documents have surfaced that definitively absolves the Baron of this terrible accusation of family abandonment. Philip Hendrick Nering Bögel, aka the Baron de Bastrop, DID NOT leave his family in the Netherlands as has been reported for over half a century. In fact, he brought his family with him to the United States where they lived on a plantation in Maryland for many years.
To fully appreciate the impact of this new evidence, it’s helpful to review Philip's and his family's movements beginning with the date of his disappearance.
On May 3, 1793, Philip, the tax collector, didn't show up for work at his office in Leeuwarden, a city in the province (much like a U.S. state) of Friesland, in what was once the Republic of Holland. Today, it's known simply as the Netherlands. Within days it was discovered an amount equal to around a quarter of a million 1793 dollars was missing. It appeared obvious that Philip took the money and ran.
On June 1st an advertisement was placed in a local newspaper by a group of men calling themselves the “High Honorable Gentlemen of Deputy States of Friesland” which accused Philip of the crime and offered a reward for his return. The “Honorable Gentlemen” also asked any authorities to arrest this criminal if found, promising reimbursement for expenses of the arrest and extradition in addition to the reward. No arrest was ever made. No one ever claimed the reward. Philip, the tax collector, had vanished into thin air.
History records that Philip abandoned his family and remained hidden somewhere in Europe for about two years. During this time he shed his old identity and transformed into the Baron de Bastrop before arriving in Spanish Louisiana in 1795. All the while back in Holland, his home had been confiscated, his wife and daughters, now penniless, were forced to move in with her family. This has been the story since 1955 and the beginning of the Baron's reputation as the worst dirty rotten scoundrel ever. Except, that's not what really happened and here's the proof.
Residing in the Pennsylvania state archives is a document titled Names of Foreigners Who Took The Oath Of Allegiance To The Province And State of Pennsylvania, 1727-1775, With The Foreign Arrivals 1786-1808. Once you get past the laborious title, this document contains a remarkable entry; one that totally contradicts recorded history.
On Page 541 there is an entry that lists the passenger manifest of the sailing ship “Brothers” which departed Hamburg, Germany, and arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on September 25, 1793. Among those passengers is Philip, his wife Georgina, their daughters Augustina, Martha, Christina and Susanna. But they weren't traveling under the last name of Nering Bögel. Phillip had given his entire family the surname “Bastrop” who all later became citizens of the United States of America after arriving in Pennsylvania.
At first, one might think this is just some crazy coincidence until you examine the family's full names. Annually, since the year 1910 a book known as the Nederland's Patricaat has kept a record of family genealogy and other goings-on in the Netherlands, including the Nering Bögel family. The 1948 edition lists the names of Philip, his wife and their children in order of birth as shown below:
Philip Hendrick Nering Bögel
Georgina Wolfeline Francoise Lycklama à Nijeholt Nering Bögel
Susanna Hendrik Nering Bögel
Christina Martha Nering Bögel
Coenraad Lourens Nering Bögel (died as an infant in 1788)
Martha Hendrik Nering Bögel
Augustina Nering Bögel
The following is the exact wording of the passenger list from the ship “Brothers” as listed in Names Of Foreigners Who Took The Oath Of Allegiance:
Philip Hendrick Bastrop
Georgina Wolfeline Francoise Lycklama Bastrop
Susana Maria Bastrop
Christina Maria Bastrop
Martha Kinnima Bastrop
Aside from the obvious change in surname and the fact the Baron's only son, Coenraad, is not included as he died five years before the journey to America, the two lists are nearly identical – too close to be happenstance. There's no doubt Philip, along with his entire family, left the Netherlands and arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania using the last name of “Bastrop,” a much different account than what accepted history records regarding the Baron and his family.
Where the family settled after arriving in Pennsylvania remains a mystery, but two years later Philip and his family did move to Maryland traveling under the name “P.H.N.B. Tot Bastrop” as listed in a 1795 immigration record titled U.S. and Canada Passenger and Immigration Lists Index –1500s-1900s. It's unclear why Philip would use the initials “P.H.N.B.” which hints at his real name, but it's evident his family did accompany him as his use of the term “Tot” indicates a meaning of “including,” referring to himself and the family “Bastrop.”
After arriving in Maryland the “Bastrops” purchased a plantation in Frederick County as written in the before-mentioned Nederland's Patricaat. Translated to English, the single-line entry states Philip was – Owr. (owner) Plantation Frederickstown near Baltimore – which is corroborated by an 1800 Federal Census taken of the District of Fredericktown in Frederick County listing Philip and family as residents. Although the Patricaat adds an “s” to the name of the District, Frederickstown versus Fredericktown, again the names are too close to be mere coincidence, lending credence to the fact that Philip and his family lived in Maryland, at least until the year 1800. However, it's evident the family didn't stay together much past that last census date.
By 1803, Georgina had moved back to the Netherlands and was living near Amsterdam defending a lawsuit brought against Philip and her by her sister. As of this writing it's unknown why the suit was filed. Five years later, her family’s genealogy records lists Georgina as serving as a witness at the baptismal ceremony of her nephew in the town where she and Philip were married. No record of her ever returning to America has been found and it's assumed she remained in the Netherlands until her death in 1816. In 1805, Philip moved to modern-day San Antonio, Texas, using the Spanish translated version of his name, Felipe Enrique Neri, fully embracing his “baron” persona. Their youngest daughter, Augustine, was married in the Netherlands in 1810 followed by the rest of her sisters through the year 1817. It's clear Philip and his wife did eventually split up after coming to America, but it certainly wasn't because he abandoned them. To the contrary, it appears they abandoned him.
As the Baron de Bastrop, Philip always maintained it was the French Revolution that drove his family from their home country. In January 1793 the French revolutionary forces beheaded the King of France and had already taken over the lands just south of Holland known as the Austrian Netherlands. The French made it clear their next target would be the Dutch territories to the north where Philip and his family once lived, lopping off heads of royalty as they went. It's now known Georgina was from a royal bloodline. Her mother was a baroness and there's no doubt Philip felt his wife's head would be next in line for the guillotine.
For years, historians have discounted the French invasion as the reason Philip fled Holland, stating it was just a ruse to cover his crimes of embezzlement and family-abandonment. But in light of this new evidence, it appears the Baron may have been telling the truth all along.
What actually triggered the family's exodus from Holland may never be discovered, but regardless of the reason, one fact is now absolutely certain, the Baron de Bastrop did not abandon his family. In fact, it appears he was a man desperately trying to keep his family together and willing to make any sacrifice to do so, even at the disgrace of the Nering Bögel name.
The Baron was never seen in the company of another woman. He lived alone in squalor and often lamented to his close friends how terribly he missed his family – not quite the picture of the scoundrel history has painted him.
It's often asked why Philip Hendrick Nering Bögel became the Baron de Bastrop. Perhaps after losing the family he obviously loved, the “Baron” was all Philip had left.
Special thanks to Jan Farber of the Leeuwarden Historical Center in Leeuwarden, Friesland, the Netherlands.