Who is Peter Stuyvesant?

THE College of XIX changed the mode of government in New Netherland in the spring of 1645. All power for the management of the public concerns of the colony was vested in a Supreme Council, consisting of the director-general or governor, a lieutenant-governor, and fiscal or treasurer. At that time Peter Stuyvesant, a brave Dutch soldier, who had served gallantly in the West Indies and lost a leg in an attack upon the Portuguese island of St. Martin, was at Amsterdam. He had been governor of Curacoa, in which capacity he had shown great vigor and wisdom. The loss of his leg compelled him to return to Holland for surgical aid, and the College appointed him to succeed Kieft as governor of New Netherland. He was then forty-four years of age; strong in physical constitution; fond of official show; admiring the arbitrary nature of military rule; a thorough disciplinarian, and a stern, inflexible, just and honest man. Owing to disagreements concerning some of the details of policy in the proposed management of New Netherland, Stuyvesant did not arrive at Manhattan until late in May, 1647. Meanwhile the inhabitants, who had been informed early of his appointment, openly showed their dislike of Governor Kieft. Dominie Bogardus, whom the governor had charged with drunkenness and sedition, denounced Kieft and some of his official companions from the pulpit as men who thought of "nothing but to plunder the property of others, to dismiss, to banish, to transport to Holland." To avoid these severe censures, they absented themselves from church, and the governor encouraged all sorts of noisy amusements near the place of public worship on Sundays. Drums were beaten and cannon were fired in the fort in which the church was situated, while the people were worshipping; and the communicants were insulted. The quarrel ended only when Kieft and Bogardus left for Holland in the same ship and were lost on the coast of Wales.

Stuyvesant came with the commission of director-general over New Netherland and adjoining places, and also over the islands of Curacoa, Buenaire, Aruba, and their dependencies. He was accompanied by Lubbertus Van Dincklagen, who had caused the recall of Kieft, as vice-director or lieutenant-governor. They landed on a fine morning in the presence of all the people, who came out with guns and received them with shouts. So vehement was their welcome that nearly all the breath and powder of the city was exhausted. Stuyvesant marched to the fort in great pomp, displaying a silver-mounted wooden leg of fine workmanship. After keeping the principal inhabitants who went to welcome him waiting for several hours bareheaded, while he remained covered, "as if he were the Czar of Muscovy," he told the people that he should govern them "as a father his children, for the advantage of the chartered West India Company, and these burghers and this land." He assured them that justice should rule; at the same time, he asserted the exclusive privileges of the directorship, and frowned upon every expression of republican sentiment. He declared it to be treason to "petition against one's magistrates, whether there be cause or not;" and he defended Kieft's conduct in rejecting the interference of the Twelve, saying: "If any one during my administration shall appeal, I will make him a foot shorter, and send the pieces to Holland, and let him appeal in that way." These sentiments made the people suspect that the new governor would be an inflexible despot instead of an indulgent father.

Stuyvesant was despotic, yet honesty and wisdom marked all his acts. He set about needed reforms with great vigor. The morals of the people, the sale of liquors to the Indians, the support of religion and the regulation of trade, commanded his attention; and it was not long before he infused much of his own energy into the community, and enterprise took the place of sluggishness. His foreign policy was as decided, and its execution was energetic. He sent a protest southward to the offending governor of the Swedes, and an invitation eastward to commissioners of New England to meet him for the adjustment of mutual rights. His kindness toward the Indians soon won their confidence and friendship; and so affectionate was their bearing toward him, that the foolish story went abroad that he was forming an alliance with the Indians to exterminate the English.

The grand principle announced by the founders of our Republic, that taxation without representation in tyranny, had prevailed in Holland for two centuries. The principle was favorable to the growth of republicanism in New Netherland, for Stuyvesant was compelled to respect it. He found the finances of the colony in such a low state that taxation was a necessity. He dared not tax the people without their consent, for fear of offending the States-General; so he called a convention of citizens, and directed them to choose eighteen of their best men, of whom he might select nine as representatives of the tax-payers, who should form a co-ordinate branch of the local government.

Stuyvesant was careful to hedge around this germ of representative government as closely as possible, with restrictions. The first Nine were to select their successors, so that the people should not be choosers after that; and the governor was careful to hold nearly all the power in his own hands. But the Nine were far more potent than the Twelve, under Kieft. They nourished the prolific seed of democracy which burst into vigorous life in the time of Jacob Leisler, fifty years afterward.

By prudent and adroit management, Stuyvesant soon swept away annoyances in the shape of territorial claims. When the Plymouth Company, at the time of its dissolution, mentioned in the Fifth Chapter of the Second Book, assigned their American domain to twelve persons, they conveyed to Lord Stirling, the proprietor of Nova Scotia, "a part of New England and an island adjacent called Long Island." Stirling had tried to take possession of Long Island, but failed. At his death, in 1647, his widow sent a Scotchman to assert the claim, and act as governor. He proclaimed himself as such, at Hempstead. Stuyvesant had him arrested, and put on board a ship bound for Holland. She touched at an English port, where the "governor" escaped, and no further trouble with the family of Lord Stirling ensued.

In 1650, Stuyvesant went to Hartford, and, by treaty, settled all disputes with the New Englanders which had annoyed his predecessors. Then he turned his attention to the suppression of the expanding power and influence of the Swedes on the Delaware. The accession of a new queen to the throne of Sweden made it necessary to make a satisfactory adjustment of the long-pending dispute about the territory. Stuyvesant was instructed to act firmly but discreetly. Accompanied by his suite of officers, he went to Fort Nassau, on the New Jersey side of the Delaware, whence he sent to Printz, the governor of New Sweden, an abstract of the title of the Dutch to the domain, and called a council of the Indian chiefs in the neighborhood. These chiefs declared the Swedes to be usurpers, and by solemn treaty gave all the land to the Dutch. Then Stuyvesant crossed over, and near the site of New Castle in Delaware he built a military work, which he called Fort Cassimer. Governor Printz protested in vain. The two magistrates held friendly personal intercourse, and they mutually promised to "keep neighborly friendship and correspondence together." That was in the year 1651.

An important concession was made to the inhabitants of New Amsterdam the following year. There was continual antagonism between Stuyvesant and the Nine. The governor tried to repress the spirit of popular freedom; the Nine fostered it. They wished to have a municipal government for their growing capital, and made direct application to the States-General for the privilege. It was granted. To the people of New Amsterdam was allowed a government like the free cities of Holland, the officers to be appointed by the governor. Under the new arrangement, New Amsterdam (afterward New York) was organized as a city, early in 1653. The soul of Stuyvesant was troubled by this "imprudent entrusting of power with the people."

Stuyvesant had scarcely recovered from his chagrin, when a new danger appeared. For several years English families had come to New Netherland from the East, to escape the intolerance of the authorities of New England, excepting in Rhode Island, and to enjoy liberty of conscience in church and state. They had been encouraged by the Dutch. Land was freely granted to them, and an English secretary for the colony had been appointed. They intermarried with the Dutch, and readily embraced the republican doctrines of the Hollanders. These formed strong allies of the friends of the Nine, and bore a conspicuous part in the democratic movements which gave Stuyvesant so much trouble during the latter years of his administration.

Republicanism, like any other truth, has remarkable vitality. Persecution promotes its growth. The more Stuyvesant attempted to stifle it, the more widely and vigorously it spread. His methods of rule were so arbitrary that all classes of citizens became discontented. He made his own will the supreme law. His councillors had to be his obedient servants or the subjects of his animosity. The powerful patroons of Rensselaerwyck and the poorest laborer were alike regarded as his subjects, and were required to submit to his tyrannous rule. He was an honest despot--it was his nature to be so--and opposition to his commands as governor he regarded as rank rebellion. The Dutch sighed for the freedom enjoyed in Holland, and the English settlers determined to exercise the liberty which English subjects then enjoyed under the rule of Cromwell. Stuyvesant saw the tidal wave of popular feeling rising, but like Canute he sat still, firm in his integrity and convictions of his righteousness, until he was compelled to yield or perish.

That popular feeling had expression when, late in the autumn of 1653, a convention of nineteen delegates, who represented eight villages or communities, assembled at the town-hall, in New Amsterdam, ostensibly to take measures to secure themselves against the depredations of Indians and pirates. The governor tried to control their action, but they paid very little attention to his wishes and none to his commands. When they adjourned, they gave a parting collation, to which Stuyvesant was invited. Of course he would not sanction their proceedings by his presence; and the delegates told him bluntly that there would be another convention soon, and that he might do as he pleased and prevent it if he could.

The ire of the governor was fiercely kindled by the revolutionary movement in his capital. He stormed and threatened, but prudently yielded to the demands of the people that he should issue a call for another convention, and so give legal sanction for the election of delegates thereto. These met in New Amsterdam on the 10th of December, 1653. Of the eight districts represented, four were Dutch and four were English. Of the nineteen delegates, ten were of Dutch and nine were of English nativity. As this was the first real representative assembly in the great State of New York in its infancy--now an empire containing about five million souls--it seems proper to give here the names of the delegates, and the districts they represented. They were as follows:

From the capital (New Amsterdam), Van Hattem, Kregier, and Van de Grist; from Breucklen (Brooklyn), Lubbertsen, Van der Beeck, and Beeckman; from Flushing, Hicks and Flake; from Newtown, Coe and Hazard; from Heemstede (Hempstead), Washburne and Somers; from Amersfoort, (Flatlands), Wolfertsen, Strycker, and Swartwout; from Midwout (Flatbush), Elbertsen and Spicer; and from Gravesend, Baxter and Hubbard. Baxter was the English secretary of the colony, and led the English delegates.

The object of the Convention was to form and adopt a remonstrance against the tyrannous rule of the governor. It was drawn by Baxter. After expressions of loyalty to the States-General, it proceeded with a statement, under six heads, of the grievances endured by the colonists. It was a severe indictment of Stuyvesant for mal-administration or bad management of public affairs. The paper was signed by all the delegates and sent to the governor, with a demand for a "categorical answer" to each of its heads.

Stuyvesant met this severe document with his usual pluck. He denied the right of some of the delegates to seats in the Convention. He denounced the whole thing as the wicked work of the English, and doubted whether "George Baxter, the author, understood what he was about." He wanted to know if there was no one among the Dutch in New Netherland "sagacious and expert enough to draw up a remonstrance to the director and council," and severely reprimanded the city government of New Amsterdam for seizing "this dangerous opportunity for conspiring with the English [with whom Holland was then at war], who were ever hatching mischief but never performing their promises, and who might to-morrow ally themselves with the North," meaning Sweden and Denmark.

The Convention was not to be silenced by bluster or threats. They told the governor by the mouth of Beeckman, of Brooklyn, that if he refused to consider the several points of the remonstrance, they would appeal to the States-General. At this threat the governor took fire, and, seizing his cane, ordered Beeckman to leave his presence. The plucky ambassador folded his arms and silently defied the magistrate. When Stuyvesant's wrath had subsided, he politely begged the representative to excuse his sudden ebullition of passion and receive assurances of his personal regard. But he was not so complaisant with the Convention as a body. He ordered them to disperse on pain of his "high displeasure." He said, "We derive our authority from God and the Company, not from a few ignorant subjects; and we, alone, can call the inhabitants together." The Convention executed their threat by sending an advocate to Holland, with papers, to ask the reforms which their enumerated grievances demanded.

In the midst of these domestic troubles, the tranquillity of Stuyvesant's foreign relations was disturbed. Governor Printz had returned to Sweden, and in his place was John Risingh, a more warlike magistrate, who came to the Delaware with some soldiers under the bold Swen Schute. They soon appeared before Fort Cassimer and demanded its surrender. "I have no powder; what can I do?" said Bikker, the commander, to the Dutch residents, who fled to the fort for protection. Bikker went out an hour afterward, leaving the gate of the fort wide open, and shook hands with Schute and his men, welcoming them as friends. The Swedes fired two shots over the fort in token of its capture, and then blotting out its Dutch garrison and its name, called it Fort Trinity. The surrender occurred on Trinity Sunday, 1654.

When news of this event reached Stuyvesant, he was enraged and perplexed. He was expecting an attack from the English. They did not come, and the governor prepared to wipe out the stain on Belgic prowess by that "infamous surrender." After a day of fasting and prayer, and after a sermon on the first Sunday in September, the following year (1655), seven vessels, carrying more than six hundred soldiers, sailed from New Amsterdam for the Delaware, under the immediate command of Stuyvesant. His flagship was The Balance. Some of his civil officers, and the pastor of the church, were with him. They landed on the beach between Fort Cassimer and Fort Christina near Wilmington. An ensign with a drum was sent to demand the surrender of the former. Schute complied the next day, and in the presence of Stuyvesant and his suite, he drank the health of the governor in a glass of Rhenish wine. So ended the bloodless expedition against Fort Cassimer; and before the end of the month, the conquest of New Sweden was accomplished. Like Alfred of England, Stuyvesant wisely made citizens of the conquered, and they became loyal friends of the Dutch.

When Stuyvesant returned to Manhattan, he found the wildest confusion there. Van Dyck, a former civil officer, detected a squaw stealing peaches from his garden, and killed her. The fury of her tribe was kindled. The long peace with the Indians for ten years was suddenly broken. Before day-break one morning almost two thousand of the River Indians appeared before New Amsterdam in sixty canoes, landed, distributed themselves through the town, and under pretence of looking for Northern Indians, they broke into several dwellings in search of Van Dyck. A council of the inhabitants was immediately held at the fort, and the sachems of the invaders were summoned before them. The Indian leaders agreed to leave the city and pass over to Nutten (now The Governor's) Island before sunset. They broke their promise, and in the evening they shot Van Dyck and menaced others. The people flew to arms and drove the Indians to their canoes. The Indians crossed the Hudson, and ravaged New Jersey and Staten Island. Within three days a hundred inhabitants were killed, one hundred and fifty were made captives, and the estates of three hundred were utterly desolated by the dusky foe. Stuyvesant returned at the height of the excitement, and soon brought order out of confusion. Yet distant settlements were broken up, the inhabitants, in fear, flying to Manhattan for safety. To prevent a like calamity in the future, the governor issued a proclamation ordering all who lived in secluded places in the country to gather themselves into villages "after the fashion of our New England neighbors."

Excepting difficulties between the governor and the citizens, growing out of his arbitrary rule. New Netherland prospered in quiet for almost ten years after the Indian invasions, when a crisis in its political affairs approached. The people were generally industrious, and happy homes abounded. In them were many uncultured minds but affectionate hearts, and life was enjoyed in a dreamy, quiet blissfulness, unknown in these bustling days. The city people arose at dawn, dined at eleven o'clock, and went to bed at sunset in the summer. Fashionable parties began at three o'clock in the afternoon in winter and ended at six, so that all the members of a family might be ready for evening devotions and bed at seven. Very little attention was paid to political questions by the "commonalty" or the mass of the people; but there were many wide-awake men and women who were restive under the sharp administration of Stuyvesant. Some declared that they would be willing to endure English rule for the sake of enjoying English liberty. They very soon had an opportunity to try both.

Charles the Second assigned to his brother James, Duke of York, the whole territory of New Netherland, with Long Island and a part of Connecticut. Charles had no more right to that domain than the Prince of Darkness had to the "kingdoms of the world" which he offered to the Redeemer if he would worship the Evil One. But the brutal argument that "might makes right" justified the royal brothers, in their own estimation, in sending ships, men and cannon, the "last argument of kings," to take possession of and hold the territory. Four ships-of-war, bearing four hundred and fifty soldiers commanded by Colonel Richard Nicolls, a court favorite, arrived before New Amsterdam at near the close of August, 1664. Stuyvesant had been warned of their approach, and tried to strengthen the fort; but money, men, and will were wanting. English influence and the governor's temper had alienated the people, and they were indifferent. Some of them regarded the invaders as welcome friends. Stuyvesant began to make concessions to the popular wishes. It was too late; and New Amsterdam became an easy prey to English conquerors--freebooters in the eye of justice.

Revolutionary movements had taken place among the English on Long Island, early in this year, which the governor could not suppress, and the province was rent by internal discord for several months. A war with the Indians above the Hudson highlands had also given the governor much trouble, but his energy and wisdom had brought it to a close. The anthems of a thanksgiving day had died away, and the governor, assured of peace, had gone to Fort Orange (Albany), when news reached him of the coming English armament. He hastened back to his capital, and on Saturday, the 30th day of August, Nicolls sent to the governor a formal summons to surrender the fort and city. He also sent a proclamation to the citizens, promising perfect security of person and property to all who should quietly submit to English rule.

Stuyvesant assembled his council and the burghers or magistrates, at the fort, to consider public affairs. They favored submission without resistance. The governor, true to his superiors and to his own convictions of duty, would not listen to such a proposition, nor allow the inhabitants to see the proclamation. The Sabbath passed without any answer to the summons. It was a day of great excitement and anxiety in New Amsterdam, and the people became impatient. On Monday the magistrates explained to them the situation of affairs, and they demanded a sight of the proclamation. It was refused; and they were on the verge of open insurrection, when a new turn in events took place.

Governor Winthrop, of Connecticut, with whom Stuyvesant was on friendly terms, had joined the English squadron. Nicolls sent him to Stuyvesant as an ambassador, with a letter in which was repeated the demand for a surrender. The two governors met at the gate of the fort. When Stuyvesant read the letter, he promptly refused to comply. Closing the gate, he retired to the council chamber and laid the letter before his cabinet and the magistrates. They said, "Read the letter to the people and so get their mind." The governor stoutly refused. The council and magistrates as stoutly insisted that he should do so, when the enraged governor, who had fairly earned the title of "Peter the Headstrong," unable to control his passion, tore the letter into pieces. The people at work on the palisades, hearing of this, hastened to the State-House, where a large number of citizens were soon gathered. They sent a deputation to the fort to demand the letter. Stuyvesant stormed. The deputies were inflexible, and a fair copy of the letter was made from the pieces, taken to the State-House and read to the inhabitants. At that time the population of New Amsterdam did not exceed fifteen hundred souls. There were not more than two hundred men, excepting the little garrison, capable of bearing arms.

The impatient Nicolls sent a message to the silent governor, saying: "I shall come for your answer to-morrow with ships and soldiers," and anchored two war-vessels between the fort and the Governor's Island. Stuyvesant's proud will would not bend to circumstances, and from the ramparts of the fort he saw their preparation for attack, unmoved. And when men, women and children, and even his beloved son, Balthazzar, entreated him to surrender that the lives and property of the citizens might be spared, he replied: "I had much rather be carried out dead." At length, when the magistrates, the clergy and many of the principal citizens entreated him, the proud old governor, who had "a heart as big as an ox and a head that would have set adamant to scorn," consented to capitulate. He had held out for a week. On Monday morning, the 8th of September, 1664, he led his troops from the fort to a ship on which they were embarked for Holland, and an hour afterward the red cross of St. George, as the flag of England (whose most conspicuous figure is a red cross) is sometimes poetically called, was floating over Fort Amsterdam, the name of which was changed to Fort James, in compliment to the duke.

The remainder of New Netherland soon passed into the possession of the English, and the city and province were named New York, also in compliment to the duke. Colonel Nicolls, whom the duke had appointed his deputy-governor, was so proclaimed by the magistrates of the city; and all officers within the domain of New Netherland were required to take an oath of allegiance to the British crown.

In the curious fort the new governor made his abode. It must have appeared ludicrous as a fortification, to the eyes of an experienced European soldier like Nicolls. It contained besides the governor's house and barracks, a steep gambrel-roofed church with a high tower, a wind-mill, gallows, pillory, whipping-post, prison, and tall flag-staff. There was, generally, a cheerful submission to the conquerors on the part of the inhabitants, and profound quiet reigned in New York after the turmoil of the surrender.

So passed into the domain of perfected history the Dutch dominion in America, after an existence of half a century. By that unrighteous seizure of a territory which had been discovered and settled by the Dutch, England became the mistress of all the domain stretching along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean from Florida to Acadie, and westward across the entire continent. But upon New Netherland the Dutch, in that brief space of time, had made so deep an impression of their institutions, their social and religious habits, their modes of thought and peculiarities of character, that, like the Greeks when overcome by the brute force of the Romans, they remained unconquered in the loftier aspect of the case. The best characteristics of the Dutch of New Netherland are now, after the lapse of more than two centuries, marked features in the society of New York.

In 1665, Stuyvesant went to Holland to report to his superiors. They wished to shift the responsibility of the disaster from their shoulders to that of their last director. They declared that the governor had not done his duty, and asked the States-General to disapprove of "the scandalous surrender" of New Netherland. Stuyvesant made a similar counter-charge and begged the States-General to come to a speedy decision of his case, that he might return to America for his family. Their High Mightinesses, as the representatives of Holland were called, required him to answer the charges of the West India Company. He sent to New York for sworn testimony, and at the end of six months he made an able report, its allegations sustained by unimpeachable witnesses. Among other affidavits was that of Van Ruyven, the then agent of the Company at New York and former secretary of the province, in which it was distinctly charged that the disaster was owing to the neglect of the Company. The latter made a petulant rejoinder, when circumstances put an end to the dispute. War between England and Holland, then raging, was ended by the peace concluded at Breda in 1667, when the latter relinquished to the former its claim to New Netherland. This finished the controversy between Stuyvesant and the West India Company.

Stuyvesant now departed for New York by way of England, where he obtained from King Charles the concession of the privilege for three Dutch vessels to have free commerce with New York for the space of seven years. Then he sailed for America, with the determination of spending the remainder of his life in New York. He was cordially welcomed by his old friends; and he was kindly received by his political enemies, who had learned by experience that he was not a worse governor than the duke had sent them. Stuyvesant retired to his bowerie or farm on the East River, and in the quiet of domestic life he enjoyed the respect of his fellow-citizens. There he died in 1682, at the age of eighty years; and under the venerable St. Mark's Church, in the city of New York, his remains repose. With all his faults magnified by prejudice, Peter Stuyvesant stands out conspicuous in our annals as a grand historic character.

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