Jan Jansen Damen was born in the Utrecht region of the Netherlands around 1605. Around 1631, he arrived in New Netherland and became a trader at Fort Orange (Albany). Later, he moved to New Amsterdam where he became a privateer (a person authorized by a government to cruise the high seas and seize the ships of enemy nations). Jan Jansen Damen was also one of the original “Kerkmeestors” of the Saint Nicholas church in the fort at New Amsterdam.
Damen played a leading role in the public affairs of his time. In 1641, he was selected as a member of the Twelve Men, but he disagreed with the majority recommendation of patience and conciliation with the local Native American tribes, and advocated for war. Toward this end, Damen is reputed to have hosted a Shrovetide dinner in his home at which New Netherland Secretary Cornelis Van Tienhoven produced a petition urging Director Willem Kieft to attack the Native Americans. It was signed by Damen, Abraham Ver Planck and Maryn Adriaensen. Director Kieft deemed the petition the work of all of the Twelve Men and ordered the massacre of Native people to whom the Dutch had granted shelter at Pavonia and Corker’s Hook. As a reward, Director Kieft granted Jan Jansen Damen a patent to some of the most valuable land in Fort Amsterdam in 1644. It lay between the stockade and Maiden Lane, and Damen farmed there for the remainder of his life.
In 1643, Jan Jansen Damen was selected by the authorities as a member of the Eight Men but because of the role he played in the Pavonia massacres, his colleagues refused to serve with him and Jan Evertsen Bout was chosen in his place. Four years later, Jan Jansen was a member of the Nine Men and when Adriaen van der Donck submitted the 1649 Remonstrance of the Commonality of New Netherland to the Dutch parliament, the parliament ordered the Company to produce Secretary Van Tienhoven and his step-father-in-law, Jan Jansen Damen, in person so that their testimony could be heard.
Jan Jansen Damen sailed to Holland but returned to New Amsterdam, where he died on June 18, 1651.