A City Lost, a City Gained

Although New Motherland appeared to be recovering nicely, Stuyvesant grew increasingly fearful that its very progress had undermined the authority of the West India Company. The arrival of thousands of settlers—too many, he said, lured by “an imaginary liberty in a new and, as some pretend, a free country”—seemed only to have raised the level of irreligion, immorality, and lawlessness in the colony. This was the worry as well of New Amsterdam’s Reformed dominies: Johannes Megapolensis, formerly the pastor at Rensselaerswyck, whom Stuyvesant had persuaded in 1649 to lead the “feeble lukewarm and faint hearted congregation” that still worshiped in the church in the fort; and Samuel Drisius, who came over in 1652 to assist Megapolensis. Staunch Calvinists, the two dominies would join with Stuyvesant (himself the son of one clergyman and son-in-law of another) in an attempt to establish order and righteousness in the colony before it was too late.

Stuyvesant and the dominies were especially troubled by the resurgence of popular holidays, feasts, and carnivals in the colony. For well over a century, European churches, militant Protestant and reforming Catholic alike, had been waging a campaign to stamp out or regulate all such folk pleasures, both because they had popish (or pagan) roots and because they often spilled over into riot or rebellion. Like its Puritan counterparts in England, the Dutch Reformed Church had been very vigorous in this regard. Since the 1580s—and inseparably linked to the struggle for national independence—synods of the Reformed Church had repeatedly attacked popular music, maypoles, plays, dances, and even such apparently innocent amusements as filling children’s shoes, on the feast of St. Nicholas, with sweets and toys. Ecclesiastical suppression of these traditional practices was also strongly endorsed by the Dutch upper classes, who though once willing to join in the general merriment were now cultivating distinctively genteel patterns of recreation, entertainment, speech, and conduct.

In the Netherlands, the outcome of this great conflict over the form and content of public culture was as yet far from certain, for the ever pragmatic Dutch had struck a series of compromises between religious and secular imperatives, between Calvinism and humanism, between sobriety and festivity. In New Netherland, however, Stuyvesant and the dominies had no intention of compromising. When told about a man who “last Shrove Tuesday walked along the street in woman’s clothes,” Stuyvesant announced that while such behavior “may be tolerated and looked at through the fingers in some places in the Fatherland,” he wouldn’t permit it on this side of the Atlantic.

In 1654, accordingly, Stuyvesant banned all Shrove Tuesday festivities, calling it “altogether unprofitable, unnecessary and censurable for subjects and neighbors to celebrate such pagan and popish feasts and to practice such evil customs in this Country.” Two or three farmers’ servants defied the ban and were caught at a game of Pulling the Goose. Hauled before Stuyvesant to account for themselves, the culprits behaved “in an insolent and contumacious manner, threatening, cursing, deriding and laughing at the chief magistracy.” Stuyvesant, in a sulfurous rage, threw them into prison and reiterated his determinadon to combat the “sins, scandals, debaucheries and crimes” to which the “rabble” of the colony were prone.

In an effort to reform popular manners and morals, Stuyvesant likewise ordered all “brewers, tapsters, and innkeepers” to close their doors at nine P.M. and directed them to apply to him for proper licenses. He warned the people against “quarreling, fighting and hitting each other” and imposed harsh new penalties (up to a year and a half at hard labor on a diet of bread and water) for those convicted of fighting with knives or swords. He outlawed sexual intercourse with Indians and (because “we see and observe daily drunken Indians run along the Manhatans”) forbade the sale of liquor to them under any circumstances. Unlike officials in Amsterdam, he favored the building of a proper schoolhouse, not only (or even primarily) for the sake of learning but “to keep the youth off the street, and bring them under discipline.” He and the magistrates decreed that “no male and female shall be allowed to keep house together like man and wife, before they have legally been married,” and he summarily deported women “of bad reputation.”

Mindful that the residents of New Amsterdam were indifferent churchgoers, Stuyvesant scheduled Sunday services for the afternoon as well as the morning and charged “all officials, subjects and vassals” of the West India Company to attend both. He enjoined everyone from “going on pleasure parties in a boat, cart, or wagon” on the Sabbath and banned “all tapping, fishing, hunting and other usual occupations, handicrafts and business, be it in houses, cellars, shops, ships, yachts or on the streets and market places.” In the same spirit, he set aside the first Wednesday of every month for fasting and obligatory prayer. The travails of “our sister state of Brazil,” Stuyvesant said, should serve as a premonition of the wrath that would rain down “from a sky laden with vengeance” if the people of New Amsterdam failed to mend their ways. Observed one townsman, “Stuyvesant is starting a whole reformation here.”

The rabble continued nonetheless to have their fun, which may help to explain why Stuyvesant and the magistrates resorted to more and more draconian punishments. In 1658 a man found guilty of deserting his bride-to-be after the publication of their marriage banns was sentenced to have his head shaved and his ears bored, then to be flogged and put to work for two years with the company slaves. In 1660 a soldier convicted of a “crime condemned by God as an abomination” was ordered “to be taken to the place of execution and there stripped of his arms, his sword to be broken at his feet and he then to be tied in a sack and cast into the river and drowned till dead.” (Sodomy had been fiercely punished once before, in 1646, when a black man named Jan Creoli was sentenced “to be conveyed to the place of public execution, and there choked to death, and then burnt to ashes”; Manuel Congo, “a lad ten years old, on whom the above abominable crime was committed,” was tied to a stake and flogged.) In 1662 a runaway servant was hanged for resisting arrest and his head set on a stake as an example to others. In 1664 Lysbet Antoniosent—one of the three children of half-freed slaves whom the company had kept in bondage—set her master’s Nieuw Utrecht house on fire. The court ordered her chained to a stake, strangled, and burned, though it commuted the sentence on the day appointed for her execution.


Vexing Stuyvesant as much as the intransigence of traditional popular culture were challenges to the supremacy of the Reformed Church. The revised Freedoms and Exemptions of 1640 and 1650 had stipulated that “no other religion shall be publicly admitted in New Netherland except the Reformed,” as defined by the Synod of Dort. That was the rule in the Netherlands as well, where it had been interpreted over the years to mean that other Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Jews wouldn’t be molested by the authorities so long as they worshiped in private. The West India Company expected that similar allowances would be made for immigrants to New Netherland who didn’t belong to the Reformed communion: they could worship as they pleased, providing they did so out of the public eye. But the company underestimated Stuyvesant’s fanatical loyalty to the national church. On several important occasions during the 1650s it would be embarrassed to discover that he, Megapolensis, and Drisius seemed bent on imposing a degree of religious conformity on the colony that was unthinkable as well as impracticable in the Netherlands.

First to feel the heat of Stuyvesant’s displeasure was New Amsterdam’s growing Lutheran population—mostly Swedes, Germans, and Finns. At issue was their opposition to the Reformed rule that at baptism both parents be present and acknowledge the authority of the Synod of Dort. In 1653 the Lutherans asked Stuyvesant to let them organize their own church. He refused, and New Amsterdam’s two dominies urged the Classis of Amsterdam to advise the directors of the West India Company to support Stuyvesant’s decision. If they didn’t, the two said, other sects would want similar privileges and “our place would become a receptacle for all sorts of heretics and fanatics.” The directors did as asked.

The Lutherans didn’t go away, though, and in 1656 Stuyvesant learned they were holding conventicles—unauthorized services—in Newtown and perhaps elsewhere on Long Island. He issued a strongly worded ordinance banning all such gatherings and threw a few offenders in jail. Unluckily for him, the directors of the West India Company (three of whom were Lutherans) now began to worry that too much zeal would discourage settlement. They told Stuyvesant to let the Lutherans enjoy “free religious exercises in their houses.” He did so, but it was all he did, and the controversy continued to simmer for years. (Megapolensis and Drisius were pointedly warned that if they failed to accept the compromise the company would replace them with younger ministers who weren’t “infected with scruples about unnecessary forms, which cause more division, than edification.”)

As with the Lutherans, so with the Jews. New Amsterdam’s first known Jewish residents, two traders from Holland named Solomon Pietersen and Jacob Barsimson, arrived in the summer of 1654. A little while later, around the beginning of September, they were joined by twenty-three exhausted refugees from Brazil. Mostly Sephardim, the newcomers—four couples, two widows, and thirteen children—had been trying to get to Holland since Recife fell to the Portuguese the previous January. After their first ship was captured by Spanish pirates, they were rescued by a French privateer, which then took them to New Amsterdam.

Their ordeal was far from over, however. When they couldn’t raise the money to pay for their passage, the magistrates authorized the French captain to auction off whatever property they had brought with them and held a few in jail as hostages until the entire sum had been paid. Stuyvesant let it be known that he wanted no Jews in New Amsterdam. “Their usual usury and deceitful business towards the Christians” made them undesirable colonists, he explained to his superiors in the company.

More Jews arrived from Holland in 1655—five wealthy merchants and their families, to whom the company gave passports, partly in the hope they would “take care of their own poor.” Rumors flew around New Amsterdam that many others were on their way and that construction would soon begin on the town’s first synagogue. To Stuyvesant, Drisius, and Megapolensis, this sounded even more ominous than conventicles of Lutherans. “For as we have here Papists, Mennonites and Lutherans among the Dutch; also many Puritans or Independents, and many atheists and various other servants of Baal among the English,” Megapolensis told the Classis of Amsterdam, “it would create a still greater confusion, if the obstinate and immovable Jews came to settle here.” After all, he grumbled, “These people have no other God than the Mammon of unrighteousness, and no other aim than to get possession of Christian property.”

The company’s managers didn’t see it that way. Under pressure from Amsterdam’s Jewish leaders, they rebuked Stuyvesant for his intolerance and pointed out to him that it would be “unreasonable and unfair” to expel the Jews from New Amsterdam, because they had done so much for the defense of Brazil and also—no small point—“because of the large amount of capital, which they have invested in this Company.” They ought to have the same civil and political rights in America as in Holland, the directors concluded, “without giving the said Jews a claim to the privileges of exercising their religion in a synagogue.” Stuyvesant obediently withdrew an order expelling the Jews from New Amsterdam “forthwith,” but his persistent harassment of them forced the directors of the company to rebuke him again in 1656. The next year he reluctantly admitted the Jews to full citizenship in New Netherland. Although neither he nor the company was ready to let them build their synagogue, they were allowed to worship in a private house on the corner of the Heere Gracht (Broad Street) and Slyck Steegh (Mill Lane). Asser Levy, one of the Recife refugees, pressured Stuyvesant for even more extensive civil rights. He eventually won the right to serve in the militia, to engage in retail trade, to be licensed as a butcher, and to own a house—the first Jew to do so in New Amsterdam or anywhere in North America.

Stuyvesant had no better luck with the various radical sectarians, mostly English, who arrived in New Amsterdam during the later 1650s. Unlike the Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and other mainstream Calvinists whose views broadly conformed to the Reformed creed, these newcomers appeared to reject all existing forms of religious and political authority. In 1656 one William Wickendam—“a troublesome fellow, a cobbler from Rhode Island,” said Megapolensis—began to preach at Flushing, claiming “he had a commission from Christ.” When he started baptizing people in the East River as well, it became obvious that Wickendam was some kind of Baptist or Mennonite. Stuyvesant promptly threw him out of the colony.

One year later, in 1657, a boatload of English Quakers showed up and astounded everyone with their behavior. Their ship flew no flag and fired no salute; their leader, one Robert Fowler, spoke with Stuyvesant but (Megapolensis said) “rendered him no respect, but stood still with his hat firm on his head, as if a goat.” Fowler departed on the next tide, leaving behind two young women who immediately “began to quake and go into a frenzy and cry out loudly in the middle of the street, that men should repent, for the day of judgment was at hand.” Megapolensis added dryly, “Our people, not knowing what was the matter, ran to and fro, while one cried ‘Fire,’ and another something else.” The schout marched them both off to prison “by the head,” and they too were soon on their way out of the colony.

Only a few months later, another Quaker, one Robert Hodgson, began preaching to enthusiastic crowds in the English towns of Long Island. Stuyvesant, informed of Hodgson’s arrest at Hempstead, had him bound to a cart and dragged back to Manhattan, there to be thrown in a dungeon, tried and convicted without an opportunity to defend himself, and sentenced “to work at the wheelbarrow two years with the negroes.” When he refused, Stuyvesant had him hung in chains and whipped until near death. After a number of appeals for clemency from the shocked inhabitants of New Amsterdam, Stuyvesant deported the unfortunate Hodgson to Rhode Island—“a place of errors and enthusiasts,” Megapolensis explained.

Stuyvesant now issued a proclamation that any ship bringing a Quaker into New Netherland would be confiscated and anyone caught harboring a Quaker would pay a stiff fine. In December 1657 thirty-one residents of Flushing signed an eloquent defense of religious toleration—known ever after as the Flushing Remonstrance—declaring that they couldn’t in good conscience abide by such regulations. Remember, they said, that in the Netherlands, the “law of love, peace and libertie” extended even to “Jews, Turks and Egyptians.” Dismissing the Remonstrance as a “seditious, mutinous and detestable letter of defiance,” Stuyvesant ordered the arrest of the town’s officials.

The Quakers, who thrived on persecution, continued to gain adherents on Long Island, prompting Stuyvesant in January 1659 to order a day of fasting and prayer throughout the colony against their “unheard of abominable Heresy.” The effect, if any, was short-lived. By the summer of 1662 the magistrates of Jamaica advised him that a majority of the town’s inhabitants attended Quaker conventicles at the Flushing home of John Bowne. Stuyvesant had Bowne returned to New Amsterdam for trial and, following the now predictable conviction, banished him to Holland. Soldiers were quartered in Jamaica while the town’s officials attempted to administer an anti-Quaker oath to its inhabitants. When Bowne shrewdly took his case to the West India Company, however, the company’s directors decided that, once again, Stuyvesant had gone too far. Quakers might well be disagreeable, they rebuked him in early 1663, but trying to “force people’s consciences” would almost certainly discourage immigration.


In matters of government, too, Stuyvesant was forced to accept limitations on his authority. The company’s instructions to him (as to his predecessors) had vested the “supreme government” of New Netherland in a council composed of the director, a vice- or deputy director, and the schout.Stuyvesant made it clear from the outset that this system left no room for discussion, much less dissent. “We derive our authority from God and the West India Company,” he thundered, “not from the pleasure of a few ignorant subjects.” When Cornells Melyn asked for a retrospective investigation of Kieft’s administration, Stuyvesant warned him that private citizens had no business questioning the conduct of lawful authorities, even a scoundrel like Kieft. When Melyn suggested that only company employees need obey the council, Stuyvesant had Melyn clapped in irons for sedition and banished. Ironically, Melyn sailed for home on the same ship that carried Kieft and Dominie Bogardus. Kieft and Bogardus were drowned when the ship foundered off the English coast, but Melyn survived. To Stuyvesant’s dismay, the States-General suspended Melyn’s sentence and allowed him to return to New Amsterdam, where he continued to stir up opposition.

Stuyvesant’s expectation of obedience from the residents of New Amsterdam quickly ran up against their own expectation, derived from conventional Dutch practice, of a proper municipal government. The Netherlands had no landed aristocracy to speak of, urban capital dominated its agricultural production, and a decentralized political system ensured the power of merchant oligarchies over its cities. So the more Stuyvesant insisted on his authority, the more he was resented—above all among the colony’s burgeoning merchant elite. “Our great Muscovy Duke,” they called him (behind his back). He set up an advisory council of prominent colonists—the Board of Nine, it was called—but only made matters worse by treating them too with contempt. He often “burst into a violent rage,” they complained, “if we in our advice didn’t fall in with his humor.” Some thought he was mad. His “head is troubled,” one said; he “has a screw loose.”

After a year or so of intolerable abuse, the Board of Nine became the nucleus of a loose alliance of men who called themselves the “commonality” of New Amsterdam and agitated tirelessly to have Stuyvesant recalled. They derided him for issuing proclamations that nobody paid any attention to. They accused him of paying too much attention to the company’s balance sheets and too little to the well-being of the colony. They blamed him for arbitrary taxation, political favoritism, and corruption.

Stuyvesant responded by arresting their ringleader, the suave young Adriaen van der Donck, and throwing him too out of the colony. Van der Donck and ten current or former members of the board then sent off a blistering “Remonstrance” to the States General that depicted Stuyvesant as a “vulture [who] is destroying the prosperity of New Netherland.” “All the permanent inhabitants, the merchant, the burgher and peasant, the planter, the laboring man, and also the man in service,” despised him, declared Van der Donck and his allies (who included Melyn as well as former director Wouter van Twiller). The only solution was for the West India Company to surrender the colony and let the States-General provide it with a regular government of “godly, honorable and intelligent” men. Besides, now that the conflict with Spain had ended, what good was the debt-ridden West India Company anyway?1

“Frivolous talk!” Secretary Van Tienhoven scoffed in reply. “Gross ingratitude.” Yet for a time it seemed that the States-General might indeed revoke the company’s charter and assume direct control of New Netherland. Plainly nervous, Stuyvesant’s superiors warned him to be more circumspect. “Govern the people with the utmost caution and leniency,” they wrote, “for you have now learned by experience, how too much vehemence may draw upon you the hatred of the people.”

What saved Stuyvesant, in the end, was the threat of war between England and the Netherlands. The Puritans had now executed Charles I, and Parliament was aflame with plans to protect the nation’s trade—primarily from the Dutch, who were driving the English out of one market after another in Europe and the Caribbean. In 1650 Parliament authorized privateers to begin seizing Dutch vessels; the following year it adopted the first of numerous Navigation Acts that restricted trade with England and English colonies to English merchants. For the Dutch, whose prosperity hinged on freedom of the seas, this belligerence on the part of their sometime ally was alarming indeed. By the spring of 1652, reluctant to tamper with things in New Netherland at so critical a juncture, the States-General had decided against revocation of the West India Company’s charter. The company in turn decided to keep Stuyvesant as director-general. To placate his critics, however, he was told to equip New Amsterdam with a proper municipal government—“a Burgher Government,” the company emphasized, with a schout-fiscall, two burgomasters (co-mayors), and five schepens (aldermen).

Naval warfare between the Netherlands and England erupted three months later. Close to home, the fighting went badly for the Dutch, who lost twelve hundred ships and thousands of seamen in clashes off the coast of Britain. Elsewhere, however—in the Baltic, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and Asian waters—English losses ran so high that within a year Parliament had declared its willingness to make peace.


Early in February 1653, as he had been instructed to do, Stuyvesant launched New Amsterdam’s first municipal government in a large second-floor room of the Stadt’s Herbergh (soon renamed the Stadhuis, or City Hall). Clad in their long cloaks and huge bell-crowned hats, the burgomasters and schepens appointed by Stuyvesant solemnly took their oath of office and bowed their heads for a benediction. “We thank Thee that . . . it has pleased Thee to make us the rulers of the people in this place,” they prayed. “Incline also the hearts of the subjects to dutiful obedience,” they added somewhat apprehensively. They would have done better to pray for Stuyvesant’s cooperation.

For as the magistrates settled into their seats it still wasn’t evident who in fact governed New Netherland. Were they really “the rulers of the people in this place”? Or did ultimate authority in the colony still reside with the authoritarian director-general and his advisory council?

There wasn’t time to get an answer from the company, even if the company had an answer, for the spring and early summer of 1653 brought warnings that the New England colonies were preparing to attack Manhattan. Captain Underbill, moreover, had called for the English inhabitants of Hempstead and Flushing, where he was now the schout, to throw off “the iniquitous government of Peter Stuyvesant.” Ordered out of New Netherland, Underbill went to Rhode Island to raise troops for an invasion of the Dutch colony.

At an emergency meeting between Stuyvesant, his council, and the magistrates, it was agreed that repairs should begin immediately on Fort Amsterdam. It was also decided to build a “high stockade and a small breastwork” across the town’s northern frontier (the site of present-day Wall Street). Stuyvesant contributed the labor of “the Company’s Negroes,” and the magistrates collected five thousand guilders from New Amsterdam’s forty-three wealthiest citizens, who loaned the funds at 10 percent interest, creating the town’s first municipal debt. Ironically, the stockade’s fifteen-foot planks and oaken posts were supplied by an Englishman, Thomas Baxter. (In the early 1660s the wall would be strengthened by the addition of six bastions with brass cannon and two gates—the Water Poort at the East River road, today the corner of Wall and Pearl, and the Landt Poort, at what is now the intersection of Wall and Broadway.) No sooner was the wall finished, though, than Stuyvesant demanded more money to complete work on the fort and pay for weapons distributed to the public from the company armory.

Coolly, the magistrates informed Stuyvesant that they had run out of funds and wouldn’t think of soliciting more until he turned the wine and beer excise over to the municipal treasury. An independent revenue, they knew, would allow the municipal government to be something more than a rubber stamp for the director-general. Impossible, Stuyvesant said: without the excise he couldn’t pay the soldiers in the fort, and the city would be left defenseless. When this argument failed to impress, he announced that he was calling in all the West India Company’s “outstanding debts [and] the tithes and other royalties that are due” from the town’s inhabitants. The magistrates stood their ground.


In 1660 surveyor Jacques Cortelyou drew up a map of the town that served as the basis for this bird’s-eye view (sometimes called the Castello Plan because it was discovered in a villa of that name near Florence). There were now over three hundred houses in New Amsterdam, but when the directors of the West India Company saw this plan of the city, they complained that the place still didn’t seem built up enough. Much of the property below the “Cingle,” the area adjoining the new city wall, was in fact being used for gardens or orchards while the owners waited for property values to rise. (I.N. Phelps Stokes Collection. Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs. The New York Public Library. Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations)


A showdown of sorts occurred in the autumn of 1653, when Stuyvesant convened a “General Assembly” of delegates from New Amsterdam and the Long Island towns, English as well as Dutch. He wanted them to deal with the Englishman Thomas Baxter, who, having sold the town the lumber for its wall, had promptly turned pirate and was now preying on vessels of New Netherland and New England alike. The delegates, however, wanted to discuss the management of the colony, and they threatened to suspend the payment of taxes to the West India Company unless they were allowed to do so; a few muttered darkly about setting up their own government.

Emboldened by the Assembly’s stand, the magistrates summoned “some of the principal burghers and inhabitants of this City” to the Stadhuis and got them to sign a pledge—New Amsterdam’s Mayflower Compact, as it were—that they would submit to the authority of the burgomasters and schepens “in all things as good subjects are bound to do.” Then, early in December, they invited delegates from the Long Island towns to a second meeting in the Stadhuis. Nineteen men, all of New Amsterdam’s burgomasters and schepens among them, signed a “Humble Remonstrance and Petition” that described their “apprehension of the establishment of an Arbitrary Government among us.” It was, they declared, “one of our privileges that our consent or that of our representatives is necessarily required in the enactment of . . . laws and orders.” Stuyvesant curtly rejected the petition and ordered the “so-called delegates” to disperse at once “under pain of our extreme displeasure and arbitrary correction.” They sent the petition to the West India Company and went home.

The company sided with Stuyvesant. In the spring of 1654 it rebuked the magistrates for allowing themselves to become “stirred up by the disaffected,” for holding “an independent Assembly without authority,” and for drawing up “inexpedient” petitions containing “forged pretexts for an imminent factious sedition.” Yet Stuyvesant didn’t win everything. The company allowed the magistrates to have the wine and beer excise and authorized them to collect “any new small excise or impost with consent of the Commonality . . . unless the Director General and Council have any reason to the contrary.” The magistrates also received a city seal for registering deeds and mortgages on municipal real estate and were given permanent occupation of the City Hall.

The summer of 1654 brought news that the war between England and Holland had ended with the signing of a formal treaty of peace. Although neither side had won, New Amsterdam at least was safe—for the time being. “Praise the Lord!” Stuyvesant exclaimed in his official proclamation of the event. “Praise the Lord!” In mid-August the town celebrated its deliverance with a giant bonfire and free beer supplied by the magistrates.

Over the next decade, Stuyvesant and the magistrates jointly ran the town, constantly bickering over precedence and maneuvering for petty advantages with no clearcut division of duties between them. On one important measure, however, they managed to cooperate without apparent difficulty, and that was the creation, in 1657, of a two-tiered system of municipal citizenship. Any native-born resident of the town, anyone who had lived there (“kept fire and light”) for at least one year and six weeks, or anyone willing to spend twenty guilders for the privilege was eligible for the common or small burgher-right. This provided full freedom of New Amsterdam and the all-important right to practice a trade or carry on business. For fifty guilders, city residents, ministers of the gospel, and military officers could purchase the great burgher-right, qualifying them to fill all “offices and dignities within this City, and consequently be nominated thereto.” Both the great and small burgher-rights were open to women.

Stuyvesant and nineteen others immediately had themselves enrolled as great burghers. Their ranks included one woman, Ragel (Rachel) van Tienhoven, wife of Cornelius. An additional 238 persons subsequently received the small burgher-right, among them ten carpenters, six shoemakers, five tailors, four coopers, two masons, two smiths, two sawyers, one pot baker, one chimney sweep, and one carter.


In 1650 Stuyvesant journeyed up to Hartford to resolve the long-standing boundary dispute between New Netherland and the New England colonies. The resulting Treaty of Hartford recognized English control over all of Connecticut east of Greenwich and over Long Island east of Oyster Bay. It wasn’t a bad deal, since the English had previously claimed sovereignty over the whole of New Netherland, but New Amsterdam’s resurgence underscored the need for settlements on western Long Island and upper Manhattan—both to provision its growing population and to create a buffer against the English and Indians. For obvious reasons, Stuyvesant hoped that their inhabitants would be Dutch and that they would see the need to live together in compact villages, like the people of New England. Yet here too his authority came under attack, and things didn’t turn out as he wanted.

New Amersfoort (Flatlands), the oldest Dutch village on the periphery of New Amsterdam, came closest to fulfilling Stuyvesant’s expectations. Its few dozen residents—Schencks and Strykers, Van Sigelens and Van Kouwenhovens—lived close by one another in palisaded farmhouses near the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Kings Highway, not far from where Andries Hudde and Wolphert Gerritsen first broke ground in the mid-1630s. Breuckelen, chartered by Kieft in 1646, was somewhat larger and less well defended. Dominie Henricus Selyns, who arrived there in 1660 to preach the gospel, counted 134 people in thirty-one households, predominately Dutch, scattered along what is now Fulton Street, not far from the ferry landing—“an ugly little village with the church in the middle of the road,” he said.

In 1651 Stuyvesant set out to organize a new settlement in the thickly wooded land between Breuckelen and New Amersfoort. He christened it Middlewout, or Midwout; to its residents and neighbors it was also known as Vlachte Bos (Flatbush). Land was distributed to settlers, and in 1654 they received a formal charter permitting them to choose their own magistrates, to raise taxes, to build a church and school, and to provide for their common defense.

Despite Stuyvesant’s repeated demands and warnings, the residents of Midwout stubbornly refused to live near one another, as did the English or their New Amersfoort neighbors. After much argument, he ordered them to lay out forty-odd plots of about fifty acres each along an Indian trail (now Flatbush Avenue) that ran down from Breuckelen to Jamaica Bay. Where Church Avenue now crosses Flatbush Avenue, he had them build a stockade and blockhouse as well as a small house of worship for the village’s first dominie, the Rev. Johannes Polhemus, who arrived in 1654 from Brazil.

In 1652, the year after creating Midwout, Stuyvesant permitted fifty-odd English Independents and Presbyterians to settle west of Flushing Creek near Mespat Kill. He called the place Middelburgh after the capital of Zeeland; they called it Newtown. The West India Company didn’t want them there under any name, however, for with war looming between Parliament and the States-General, the English settlements in New Netherland looked too much like “serpents in our bosom, who finally might devour our hearts.” Stuyvesant realized his mistake when Middleburgh joined Gravesend, Hempstead, and Flushing in the clamor against him. In retaliation, he reneged on his promise to give Middleburgh a charter and slammed the door on further English settlements in the colony.

Stuyvesant’s settlement-building program very nearly came to grief when he turned his attention to New Sweden, a colony of four-hundred-odd fur traders and tobacco planters on the western flank of New Netherland. For a dozen years the West India Company had done little or nothing to dislodge the Swedes, but after 1650 they became more troublesome, building new trading posts along the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers and harassing Dutch merchants. Stuyvesant vowed to erase New Sweden from the map, and in the autumn of 1655 he descended on the Delaware community with four heavily armed ships and several hundred soldiers. The Swedes gave up without firing a shot.

There was no time to celebrate, however, for bad news had arrived from New Amsterdam. In Stuyvesant’s absence, nearly two thousand Hackensacks, Mahicans, Wappingers, and assorted other “river Indians” came down the Hudson to raid Canarsee camps on Long Island. While gathering food and water on Manhattan, one of their women was killed by a Dutchman for taking peaches from his orchard. That night, enraged Indians poured into town, hammering on doors, ransacking houses, and terrifying the residents. Though no one was seriously injured, the panicky burgomasters, urged on by Secretary Van Tienhoven, organized a militia and drove them away with the loss of several lives on both sides. The Indians then turned their wrath against settlers in upper Manhattan and on Staten Island. Colonists on Long Island feared they would be next.

Before the so-called Peach War sputtered out a month or so later, several dozen of the invaders and fifty whites lay dead. More than a hundred whites, mostly women and children, had been taken captive. Twenty-eight bouweries were destroyed, along with six hundred head of cattle and twelve thousand bushels of grain. Stuyvesant, who hurried back from the Delaware to marshal the colony’s defenses, was shocked at the extent of the destruction. New Netherland has “gone backward so much,” he wrote pessimistically to the States-General, “that it will not be in the same flourishing state for several years.” The burgomasters complained to the company that Stuyvesant and Secretary Van Tienhoven had failed to protect New Amsterdam and again demanded their immediate recall. Stuyvesant survived, but the company sacked Van Tienhoven. (He later vanished, and his hat and cane were found floating in the river. Suicide? Murder? No one knew.)

Despite Stuyvesant’s initially dismal assessment of its impact, the Peach War marked the end of Lenape resistance to European expansion on western Long Island. Not long after the fighting ended, a Massapequa sachem named Tackapousha pleaded with Stuyvesant not to exact revenge on his people. They had done no harm to the Dutch, he said, “even to the value of a dog.” In 1656, on behalf of a half-dozen Lenape groups, including the Canarsees and Rockaways, Tackapousha signed a treaty with Stuyvesant accepting the governor of New Netherland as their “protector” and vowing to live in peace with settlers.

After Tackapousha’s treaty, the pace of Dutch settlement on the island picked up noticeably. Stuyvesant approved the “purchases” of at least a half-dozen large tracts of land from Lenape groups during the later 1650s and early 1660s. As colonists moved in, many of the Lenapes drifted away, often merging with Algonkian-speaking peoples in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and further west; those who remained fell prey to one or more epidemics of smallpox. By the mid-1660s, less than fifty years after Minuit’s purchase of Manhattan, virtually all of modern Kings and Queens counties lay in European hands.

The pacification of Tackapousha’s followers didn’t necessarily strengthen Stuyvesant’s authority in the villages around New Amsterdam, however, least of all in Nieuw Utrecht. Situated on the headlands of western Long Island overlooking the Narrows—including also what are now the Bay Ridge and Fort Hamilton sections of Brooklyn—Nieuw Utrecht originally belonged to the inhabitants of a Lenape campsite called Nayack. In 1652 Cornelis van Werckhoven, a sometime magistrate of Utrecht and major shareholder in the West India Company, persuaded two Nayack chiefs to sell him the entire area, a thousand or more acres in all, for “six shirts, two pairs of shoes, six pairs of socks, six axes, six hatchets, six knives, two scissors, [and] two combs.” (When the Nayack realized that Van Werckhoven expected them to leave, they asked for, and got, a second payment of “six coats, six kettles, six axes, six hatchets, six small looking glasses, twelve knives and twelve combs” before decamping to Staten Island.) Van Werckhoven himself died shortly thereafter, but the project went ahead under the leadership of Jacques Cortelyou, Nicasius de Sille, and others, who received an official charter from Stuyvesant in 1657.2

By the terms of the charter, twenty initial settlers would each receive fifty acres, divided between small house lots in a central village and elongated out-lots behind it. Despite repeated warnings, though, many grantees failed to build on or enclose their land, and three years later Nieuw Utrecht consisted of only eleven houses and one barn. Its inhabitants were bitterly divided by allegations of fence stealing and by disputes over use of the common meadows, the organization of a watch, and the construction of a palisade.

Stuyvesant came out for a personal inspection of the troubled town. Its residents raised the Dutch flag and gave him “a dinner or public entertainment in as good a stile as the place could afford.” In return, he obligingly let them borrow some slaves to finish the palisade and sent “a half dozen shackles with an iron rod and a good lock” to help maintain law and order. But Nieuw Utrecht wasn’t going to be built in a day. A year later Stuyvesant learned that it was still torn by “controversies, misdeeds, and difficulties” and that new measures were needed “to stimulate the people to build dwelling houses, a block house and public pound, and to dig wells for the benefit of the community.”

In Nieuw Haarlem, by comparison, things proceeded rather more smoothly. Several attempts had been made between the later 1630s and the early 1650s to plant settlements on the rich flats that bordered the Manhattan side of the Harlem River, several miles to the north of New Amsterdam. None had survived Kieft’s War and subsequent Indian troubles, but the land was too valuable to ignore, and settlers there would form an important line of defense for New Amsterdam. (Dutch residents of the colony wouldn’t have forgotten how Nieuw Haarlem’s namesake in the Netherlands put up a legendary seven-month resistance to the Spanish army before capitulating.)

In 1658 Stuyvesant tried again. Grants of between forty and fifty acres of arable land were oifered to prospective colonists, along with promises of a court, a minister, and regular troops in time of danger. Two parallel streets, cutting the modern block pattern diagonally, were laid out to meet the Harlem River between the present 125th and 126th streets. The first twenty-odd house lots were sandwiched between them in two ranges, with garden plots and planting fields assigned to each on the surrounding flats. To emphasize his support for the fledgling settlement, Stuyvesant set company slaves to work on a wagon road linking it with New Amsterdam.

Within a few years Nieuw Haarlem had thirty male residents. Most were heads of families and landowners; some were probably tenants of well-to-do investors in New Amsterdam who had begun to speculate in real estate. They nonetheless made up a strikingly diverse group, including eleven Frenchmen, four Walloons, four Danes, three Swedes, three Germans, and seven Dutchmen. One, Jean La Montaigne, was a veteran colonist, an experienced Indian fighter, and a perennial member of Stuyvesant’s council. The majority of La Montaigne’s fellow settlers, by contrast, were recently arrived tradesmen who had little or no experience with farming. One was a butcher, one a carpenter, another a mason. Others had previously occupied themselves with making barrels, shoes, pots, soap, or beer. Their diversity and inexperience seem not to have been sources of conflict, however, and they appear to have escaped the troubles that beset their counterparts elsewhere in New Netherland.

Despite the differences among these and a half-dozen other such towns and villages, they were the raw material out of which a distinctive rural society was taking shape on the outskirts of New Amsterdam. These Dutch towns and villages were quite different from the closed, self-sufficient, egalitarian, organic communities of New England. Their inhabitants were essentially strangers, often of widely mixed national backgrounds—imagine the confusion of tongues in Nieuw Haarlem—and they had been brought together by nothing more elevated or complex than the West India Company’s promises of land and protection. None had the history of communal sacrifice and struggle, much less radical dissent, that solidified early New England towns, although Flatbush residents strove to maintain a rough equality in the ownership of land and to emphasize cooperative rather than competitive behavior (each household, for example, owned a share of the village’s public brewery).

Nor did the Dutch towns encourage the broad popular participation characteristic of their English counterparts. As a rule, each was governed by a court—made up of three schepens and a schout—who were appointed by the director in New Amsterdam. Although many of the English towns of New Netherland had contrived to obtain charters with more liberal provisions for self-government, they never felt at ease with the West India Company’s unwillingness to relax its grip on New Amsterdam’s hinterland.


The challenges to Stuyvesant’s authority in and around New Amsterdam might not have mattered so much as they did, or mattered so quickly, were it not for events unfolding abroad. Although the first Anglo-Dutch War had ended without a clear-cut victor, England now had the Netherlands on the defensive. In 1655, just a year after the loss of Brazil, parliamentary forces seized Jamaica from Spain and turned that strategically located island into a base for the further expansion of English influence in the Caribbean. By the end of 1655, as word of New Netherland’s recent Indian troubles deepened the gloom on the Amsterdam exchange, West India Company stock had sunk to 10 percent of par, an all-time low. It soon fell to 5 percent, then 3.

Then, in 1660, after a decade of Puritan rule, Parliament restored the Stuarts to the throne. Charles II, the new king, was a cordial and witty man, conciliatory by temperament and conviction. Trailed by mistresses and illegitimate children—his court nicknamed him “Old Rowley” after one of the stallions in the royal stud—he would give his country twenty-five years of jolly sexual intrigue, extravagant private entertainments, and baroque scandals. When Parliament refused him enough money to pay for it all, he accepted secret bribes from Louis XIV of France.

The Restoration didn’t derail England’s pursuit of the Dutch, however, for even royalists now believed that the proper business of the state was business. Within months of Charles IPs accession, Parliament adopted a second Navigation Act reiterating Britain’s intention to drive the Dutch out of the American colonial trade. The new measure stipulated that the most valuable colonial products—sugar, tobacco, and indigo—could be shipped only to England in English ships, while all goods imported into British colonies from elsewhere were required to pass first through English ports. Concurrently, Charles II created a new body, the Lords of Trade, to supervise relations between the colonies and the mother country. The first imperial customs collectors weren’t far behind.

The King’s younger brother, James—duke of York, lord high admiral, master of vast estates in England and Ireland, and a far more conscientious man—played a key role in charting the course of British commercial policy. During the early 1660s, not quite thirty years old, he joined a circle of peers, navy officers, and great merchants whose envy of the Dutch was exceeded only by their visions of the rewards to be reaped in the field of colonial enterprise. Their diverse activities included the organization of several firms to spearhead the British assault on Dutch commercial supremacy. One, the Royal Fishery Company, undertook to break Dutch control over the lucrative Baltic fishing industry. Two others, the Morocco Company and the Company of Royal Adventurers Trading to Africa (later reorganized as the Royal African Company), both led by the duke, aimed to smash the Dutch West India Company’s domination of the slave trade and to monopolize the importation of slave labor into the British colonies of the Caribbean and North America. The first expedition of the Royal Adventurers, sent out in 1663 in vessels borrowed from the Royal Navy, quickly captured almost every West India Company factory on the African coast, a blow that doomed the company’s hope of making New Amsterdam a base for the slave trade.

The duke’s circle also collected detailed accounts of rising Anglo-Dutch tensions along the borders of New Netherland. Only a few years earlier, Gravesend’s troublesome magistrates had raised Parliament’s colors over the town and declared that it would henceforth be subject only to the “laws of our nation and [the] Republic of England.” Stuyvesant threw them into jail. Despite the Hartford Treaty of 1650, however, and despite his efforts to reestablish Dutch communities in their path, Stuyvesant was powerless to stem the flood of English settlers into his colony. By the early 1660s thirteen English towns had been planted on Long Island as against only five Dutch. In 1663, then again in 1664, Stuyvesant tried to bolster the authority of the West India Company by inviting all the towns to send delegates to provincial meetings, but it didn’t work.

Connecticut governor John Winthrop Jr. meanwhile opened a campaign to bring the English towns on Long Island and Westchester under the authority of his government. Connecticut agents stirred up support for the idea; in Gravesend, where they caused “a greate Hubbub and furie,” it was rumored that armed parties were planning to put both “English & Dutch to fyre & to Sword.” With the entire island in an uproar, the English towns rejected Winthrop’s meddling and banded together in a combination with an adventurer named John Scott as their president. Scott tried to force the Dutch towns into the combination as well, assisted by none other than Captain John Underbill, lately returned to Flushing. Justifiably alarmed, the West India Company ordered Stuyvesant to hold the line. But in February of 1664, with the situation completely out of hand, Stuyvesant arranged a one-year truce with Scott. The alternative, he explained, was “an inevitable surprise and capture of all the Dutch villages on Long Island.”

As New Netherland disintegrated, York and his friends closed in. Ousting the Dutch from North America, they reasoned, would make Britain master of the whole eastern seaboard from Maine to Cape Fear, linking settlements of the Chesapeake and New England and clearing the way for more effective enforcement of the Navigation Acts. By virtue of New Amsterdam’s position at the southern end of the Hudson-Champlain corridor to Montreal, its conquest would also give Britain an invaluable base of operations against the French in Canada and their Indian allies. This would mean not only enhanced security for the frontier of New England but a stronger grip on the fur trade as well.

Furthermore, as the West India Company too had known, the plantation economies of the West Indies needed an entrepot on the mainland from which they could obtain slaves and food in exchange for raw sugar and molasses. Because it was the only city of any size between Boston and Havana, New Amsterdam was the obvious choice: to wrest it from the Dutch West India Company would be an act of mercantile acumen, not to mention the highest patriotism.

The acquisition of New Netherland promised to improve the duke’s own finances too. According to his personal Commission of Revenue, possession of the colony could bring him between ten and thirty thousand pounds a year in rents and customs duties. (On the Amsterdam exchange in 1664, Stuyvesant’s annual salary of three thousand guilders was the equivalent of just three hundred pounds.) Finally, as many people suspected but few knew for certain, the duke was about to abandon Anglicanism for Roman Catholicism. An American province the size of New Netherland would make an attractive refuge for his sorely oppressed coreligionists, and perhaps for himself as well.


In March 1664 York persuaded the king to make him the proprietor of all the territory between the Delaware and Connecticut rivers, plus part of Maine and various islands off the coast—the entirety, that is, of New Netherland. In return for this vast domain, he was to acknowledge the sovereignty of the king with a token gift of forty beaver skins a year. At his own expense, York immediately dispatched Colonel Richard Nicolls with four frigates and nearly two thousand fighting men to secure the “entyre submission and obedience” of his new estate. Nicolls anchored in Gravesend Bay on August 26 and began disembarking his troops. An advance party of 450 soldiers and sailors marched up from Gravesend to seize the ferry at Breuckelen, just across the East River from Manhattan. A smaller force occupied Staten Island.

Loyal to the end, Stuyvesant prepared to make a fight of it. He had little to work with, however. Fort Amsterdam was (as usual) in no condition to withstand an assault, and its 150 or so soldiers were short on guns and ammunition. The town itself had no more than 250-odd men capable of bearing arms, and owing to the recent arrival of nearly three hundred slaves, its reserves of food were insufficient for a siege. After years of acrimonious strife with Stuyvesant, moreover, few of its residents were willing to risk themselves and their property for him or the West India Company.

So when Nicolls sent him a letter guaranteeing “every man in his Estate, life, and liberty” if New Amsterdam capitulated peacefully, Stuyvesant showed it to no one, certain that the revelation of its contents would only increase “popular murmurs and disaffections” in the town. Three days later he tore up a “friendly” letter from Governor Winthrop of Connecticut repeating Nicolls’s offer and begging him to “avoid effusion of blood.” But word of both letters had leaked out. A crowd of irate workmen and magistrates gathered at the Stadhuis, where they made Stuyvesant reassemble Winthrop’s letter and read it aloud. That same afternoon he suffered a second humiliation when Nicolls moved his frigates up through the Narrows and trained their guns on the town. Stuyvesant climbed the bastion of the fort and made ready to open fire, but Dominie Megapolensis took him firmly by the arm and led him down again.

Early the next day, ninety-three of New Amsterdam’s most prominent men, including virtually every present or former municipal officeholder as well as his own seventeen-year-old son, sent Stuyvesant a petition reiterating the folly of resistance against “so generous a foe.” Finally accepting the hopelessness of his position, Stuyvesant informed Nicolls that he would give up. Negotiators from both sides met at his bouwerie and drafted formal Articles of Capitulation.

On September 8, 1664, the West India Company’s colors were struck, and the soldiers of the garrison marched down to the East River shore, drums beating and flags flying, to board a ship for the long trip home. Scarcely had it raised anchor than Nicolls announced that in honor of his master Fort Amsterdam would henceforth be called Fort James, while Fort Orange would become Albany. Both New Amsterdam and New Netherland would be known as New York.

When he received news of New Netherland’s capitulation, the Dutch ambassador in London hurried to the court to demand that Charles II return the colony at once. Not only did the king refuse—the Dutch had no right to be there in the first place, he said—but the duke of York added an angry warning that the crown was as determined to put the States-General in its place as Cromwell had been. The idea of another fight with Holland was in fact becoming more and more popular by the day. Parliament appropriated the money for it in February 1665; in March Charles II declared war.

The West India Company had meanwhile ordered Stuyvesant home to explain what had happened. He gathered his papers—including a testimonial from the magistrates that he had always been “an honest proprietor and patriot of the province and a supporter of the reformed religion”—and left for Amsterdam in the spring of 1665. The company, he discovered on his arrival, wanted a scapegoat. It publicly accused him of lying, incompetence, and cowardice, adding that New Amsterdam’s merchants and clergy hadn’t exactly distinguished themselves, either. Stuyvesant angrily rebutted the charges in a remonstrance to the States-General. If anything, he wrote, it was the company’s own penny-pinching stupidity that had lost the colony, not his eighteen years of “trouble, care, solicitude and continued zeal.”

The States-General had other things to think about, though. Its war with England was going better than expected, and in June 1667 a Dutch fleet sailed boldly up the Thames, burned three British men-of-war, and towed off the Royal Charles, pride of His Majesty’s navy. This blow, falling less than a year after the Great Fire that destroyed much of London, prompted Charles II to sue for peace. In the negotiations that ensued, the States-General agreed to let the English keep New Netherland in exchange for Surinam (Dutch Guiana), whose slaves and sugar plantations were more highly valued by the West India Company. Aware that his quarrel with the company was now moot, Stuyvesant returned to Manhattan in the spring of 1668. He, Judith, their children, and their slaves lived quietly on his beloved bouwerie until his death in February 1672.

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