Manhattan, New York
Dutch director general of New Netherland
" . . . if any one should [appeal a law], I will make him a foot shorter, and send the pieces to Holland, and let him appeal in that way."
Peter Stuyvesant was the colorful and controversial director general of the Dutch colony of New Netherland (presentday New York State). During his seventeen years in office, he caused considerable unrest by imposing heavy taxes and passing laws that prohibited religious freedom. However, Stuyvesant was also responsible for some important progress in the colony, such as improving relations with nearby English settlements and promoting commerce. Nevertheless citizens of New Amsterdam (now New York City) ultimately forced him to declare the city a municipality (self-governing political unit). Stuyvesant's harsh rule eventually led to the downfall of New Netherland, which was taken over by the English with no resistance from the Dutch in 1664.
Petrus Stuyvesant (called Peter by the English) was born in 1592. His mother died in 1625, and his father, the Reverend Balthazar Johannes Stuyvesant, remarried two years later. Before his mother's death, Peter lived with his family in Scherpenzeel (now in West Stellingwerf), where his father was pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church. (The Dutch Reformed Church was a branch of Calvinism, a Protestant Christian faith based on the concept of a church-dominated state.) After remarrying, the Reverend Stuyvesant was assigned to a parish at Delfzyl in Groningen. Peter had two half-brothers, two half-sisters, and a full sister.
Always an adventurous person, Stuyvesant entered the military in order to serve his country both at home and abroad. In 1635 he joined the Dutch West India Company in Brazil, where he remained for nine years. The Dutch West India Company was a privately owned enterprise that promoted trade and settlement in the New World, the European term for North America and South America. Then, in 1643, Stuyvesant was appointed governor of Dutch possessions in Curaçao (an island in the Caribbean Sea) and the Leeward Islands (a chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii). In 1644 Stuyvesant used his military training when he led an expedition against the French and Spanish on Saint Martin, one of the Leeward Islands. The attack was waged in March, with the final siege taking place on April 16. During the battle Stuyvesant was shot in his right leg, which had to be amputated. Contrary to legend, his leg was buried in Curaçao, not in Holland. He returned to Holland to recuperate and to be fitted with an artificial limb. In keeping with Stuyvesant's flamboyant personality, the limb became known as his "silver leg" because he decorated it with many adornments. In 1645 he married Judith Bayard in the Walloon Church of Breda, where her father had been minister of the congregation for years. The couple had two sons.
Becomes director general
In 1645, Stuyvesant went before the Zealand Chamber of the Dutch West India Company and requested a commission to go to New Netherland. Less than a year later he was officially appointed director general of New Netherland and the islands of Curaçao, Buen Aire (now Bonaire), and Aruba (all located in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Venezuela). On Christmas Day 1646, Stuyvesant set sail for his new destination with his wife, his widowed sister, and her three sons. The party of four vessels, carrying countless soldiers, servants, and adventurers, was ordered by Stuyvesant to stop first in Curaçao. They stayed at the island for a few weeks, and then sailed on to New Amsterdam, where they anchored on May 11, 1647. Stuyvesant's critics said he arrived "like a peacock, with great state and pomp" (see box).
"Stuyvesant's Bad Government"
Junker van der Donck, formerly a lawyer in the Netherlands, served on a committee that reported on conditions in the New Netherland colony. He correctly predicted that mismanagement would eventually doom New Netherland; for in 1664, seventeen years after Peter Stuyvesant was appointed governor, the colony was taken over by the British during a peaceful invasion. Following is an excerpt from van der Donck's scathing description of Stuyvesant's arrival in New Amsterdam in 1647.
Stuyvesant's first arrival—for what passed on the voyage is not for us to speak of—was like a peacock, with great state and pomp. The appellation of Lord General, and similar titles, were never before known here. Almost every day he caused proclamations of various import to be published, which were for the most part never observed, and have long since been a dead letter, except the Fine excise [tax], as that yielded a profit. . . . At one time, after leaving the house of the minister, where the consistory [church governing body] had been sitting and had risen, it happened that Arnoldous Van Herdenbergh related the proceedings relative to the estate of Zeger Teunisz, and how he himself, as curator [caretaker], had appealed from the sentence; whereupon the Director [Stuyvesant], who had been sitting there with them as an elder [church official], interrupted him and replied, "It may during my administration be contemplated to appeal, but if any one should do it, I will make him a foot shorter, and send the pieces to Holland, and let him appeal in that way." In our opinion this country will never flourish under the government of the Honorable Company [Dutch West India Company], but will pass away and come to an end of itself, unless the Honorable Company be reformed.
Reprinted in: Colbert, David, ed. Eyewitness to America. New York: Pantheon Books, 1997, pp. 28–29.
Prohibits religious freedom
Stuyvesant wasted no time in utilizing his authority. By May 27 he had appointed a naval commander as well as a superintendent of naval equipment. This was the beginning of his preparation for an expedition against the Spanish, who were operating within the confines of the Dutch West India Company's chartered territory. The first ordinance he enacted after his arrival was a direct reflection of his personal politics: it prohibited the sale of intoxicants and decreed the observance of Sunday as a religious day. This led to his appointment as a church warden on July 22, when he took it upon himself to oversee the reorganization of the Dutch Reformed Church in New Amsterdam. As a son of one minister and the son-in-law of another, Stuyvesant had rigid ideas about religion. He was a strict follower of the Reformed Church and had little tolerance for liberal (free-thinking) religious views.
Within nine years Stuyvesant had gained the full support of like-minded clergymen and the governing council. On February 1, 1656, Stuyvesant issued a harsh ordinance that prohibited meetings and gatherings of people who were not members of the Dutch Reformed Church. This made it nearly impossible for other religious groups to assemble and worship. Although Stuyvesant's order was aimed mainly at Lutherans, it affected Quakers and other groups as well. The following June the directors of the Dutch West India Company in Amsterdam asked Stuyvesant to be more lenient, because the rule was resented by many of the settlers. Their plea landed on deaf ears, and the ordinance stayed in place throughout the Dutch regime in New Netherland.
Citizens demand change
Stuyvesant did make some progress during his career as director general, perhaps as a result of his stern approach to government. He promoted friendly relations with English settlements, drove the Swedes out of Delaware, and increased commerce in the region. Nevertheless, his harsh, dictatorial rule proved to be his downfall. Despite instituting a Board of Nine Men to improve everyday life in New Netherland, hard times fell upon the colony. Unhappy and tired of living under harsh rule, citizens of New Amsterdam pressured Stuyvesant to make the city a municipality (a self-governing political unit). On July 28, 1649, representatives of the people drew up a document titled "Remonstrance," which detailed Stuyvesant's handling of contraband (smuggled goods) he sold arms to Native American tribes. The document also charged Stuyvesant with seizing land for nonpayment of taxes, despite the fact that many landowners were unable to pay because of the economic impact of a recent war. The people felt that New Netherland had no chance of becoming as economically prosperous as Virginia or New England because it was established solely for the benefit of the Dutch West India Company. They won their case on February 3, 1653, when New Amsterdam was declared a municipality. Stuyvesant retained all of his power, however, and the proclamation did very little to change the structure of the colonial government.
New Netherland falls to English
Fearing war with England, the following year Stuyvesant summoned representatives from other New Netherland settlements, hoping for economic support. When no money was offered he merely imposed additional taxes on land, livestock, and rents. Stuyvesant wanted to finish the fortifications before the English invasion. His efforts were in vain. James, Duke of York (later King James II), the younger brother of the English King Charles II, wanted to expand the English kingdom. The New World, especially areas under Dutch rule, became James's main target. This plan was agreeable to Charles, who would profit from yearly taxes on the new territory. On March 12, 1664, Charles issued a charter that granted James rights to all territory between the Connecticut and Delaware Rivers. In addition, James would be able to establish laws and taxes as long as they agreed with English laws. On August 18, 1664, four hundred English troops, several frigates (battleships), and a bomb easily intimidated Stuyvesant's forces. The Dutch surrendered peacefully in only nine days, but the terms of surrender were very generous. The property of New Netherland landowners was protected, and anyone wishing to leave had a year to do so. New settlers from Holland would be admitted, and Dutch inheritance laws would be respected. In fact, many New Netherland citizens felt they were better off under English rule than they had been under Stuyvesant. Within a short time New Netherland was renamed New York, and New Amsterdam became New York City.
After losing his colony, Stuyvesant withdrew from public life. In 1665 he went back to the Netherlands to defend his official conduct. He then returned to New York and settled on a farm that had been given to him in 1650 by the directors of the Dutch West India Company. He lived there until his death in 1672, and was buried under the chapel he had built on his farm. The chapel is still standing in Manhattan, and it is now known as St. Mark's Episcopal Church. In 1922 the two hundred fiftieth anniversary of Stuyvesant's death was commemorated at the church.
For further research
Colbert, David, ed. Eyewitness to America. New York: Pantheon Books, 1997, pp. 28–29.
Crouse, Anna, and Russel Crouse. Peter Stuyvesant of Old New York. New York: Random House Books for Young Adults, 1963.
De Leeuw, Adéle. Peter Stuyvesant. Champaign, Ill.: Garrard Publishing Company, 1970.
Quackenbush, Robert. Old Silver Leg Takes Over: A Story of Peter Stuyvesant. Paramus, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1986.
Peter Stuyvesant (ca. 1610-1672), Dutch director general of the New Netherland colony in America, was compelled to surrender his colony to England.
The last and most efficient of Dutch proconsuls in the European struggle for control of North America, Peter Stuyvesant is remembered as the stubborn, somewhat choleric governor of the Dutch West India Company's base on the mainland. A zealous Calvinist, he brought a relatively effective government to the colony, absorbed the nearby rival Swedish settlements, and attempted to remold New Netherland in his own and the company's image. His efforts at reform were cut short with the seizure of New Amsterdam (later, New York) by a British force in 1664.
Born at Scherpenzeel, Friesland, Stuyvesant was the son of a Calvinist Dutch Reformed minister. He attended school in Friesland, where he heard much about New Netherland and about Holland's war with Spain. He became a student at the University of Franeker but was apparently expelled, for reasons unknown, about 1629.
Patriotic, and desiring adventure, Stuyvesant entered the service of the Dutch West India Company—first as a clerk and then, in 1635, as a supercargo to Brazil. By 1638 he had become chief commercial officer for Curaçao; in 1643 he returned there as governor. The following year he led an unsuccessful attack against the Portuguese colony of St. Martin in the Leeward Islands. During the siege he was wounded in the right leg, and the crude amputation required resulted in a lengthy convalescence and a trip to Holland to obtain an artificial limb. (Because of its adornments ments, he was thereafter often nicknamed "Silver Leg.") In Breda he married Judith Bayard, the sister of his brother-in-law.
On Oct. 5, 1645, Stuyvesant came before the chamber of the nearly bankrupt West India Company and volunteered his services for New Netherland. The next July he was appointed director general of that colony. On Christmas Day he sailed for America with four vessels carrying soldiers, servants, traders, and a new set of officials. Also on board were his widowed sister and her children, together with his wife. The ships, proceeding by way of Curaçao, arrived at New Amsterdam on May 11, 1647, to be greeted by cheering settlers.
The inhabitants soon learned, however, that their new governor was not so liberal as themselves. Stuyvesant's first domestic order restricted sale of intoxicants and compelled observance of the Sabbath. He became a church warden of the Reformed congregation and commenced rebuilding its edifice. Clerics and councilmen easily persuaded him (in a move aimed at Lutherans and Quakers) to forbid meetings not conforming to the Synod of Dort. Though Amsterdam reproved him on this point and counseled tolerance, under the narrowly religious Stuyvesant dissent was always frowned upon.
Though harsh and dictatorial, Stuyvesant introduced a number of needed reforms, particularly directed toward improving New Amsterdam's living conditions. He appointed fire wardens and ordered chimney inspections, instituted a weekly market and annual cattle fair, required bakers to use standard weights, somewhat controlled traffic and sanitation, repaired the fort, and licensed taverns. Stuyvesant concerned himself about all aspects of town life. He organized a night watch, had streets paved, encouraged local bakeries and breweries, and promoted the colony's commerce whenever possible.
Stuyvesant expected the people to obey his will and opposed the New Amsterdam citizen's desire for a separate municipal government for the city, but he early established the Board of Nine Men to advise him in promoting the public welfare. Citizens found onerous his diligent attempts to enforce Dutch trading restrictions and to collect taxes and tolls—though when their "Remonstrance" to Holland finally procured a distinct government for New Amsterdam (1653), they continued their delinquency about such obligations.
One of Stuyvesant's first official acts was to organize a naval expedition against the Spaniards operating within the limits of the West India Company's charter. A force sent against Ft. Christina in 1655 conquered Sweden's province on the Delaware River and absorbed the settlements into New Netherland. Peace was made with marauding Native Americans, and captive Dutch colonists were ransomed. Stuyvesant promoted trading relations with New England and succeeded in achieving a modus vivendi respecting the troublesome boundary with Connecticut. In 1657 he granted a system of "burgher rights, " providing (at a price) eligibility for trading and office holding; at first limited to New Amsterdam, this came to apply throughout the province.
The governor's salary plus allowances (approximately $1, 600, all told) enabled Stuyvesant to purchase a bouwerie, or farm, of 300 acres north of the city wall and a town lot for a house with gardens beside the fort. He lived comfortably in these, and his two sons were both born in New Amsterdam.
In 1664, while England and Holland were still at peace, Charles II decided to seize New Netherland for his brother James, Duke of York. When four British warships under Col. Richard Nicolls reached New Amsterdam, the colony was completely unprepared. Stuyvesant wanted to resist this aggression, but word of Nicolls's lenient terms eroded his already scanty support, and after lengthy negotiations he capitulated on September 7. He obtained provisional trading rights for the West India Company in the province and, to defend his official conduct, went to Amsterdam in 1665—though his evidence as to the company's neglect of colonial defense did not endear him to its directors. Returning to New York in 1668, Stuyvesant retired to his farm until his death in February 1672.
Henry Kessler and Eugene Rachlis, Peter Stuyvesant and His New York (1959), is the most scholarly and readable study of Stuyvesant. Informative is John Franklin Jameson, Narratives of New Netherland (1909; new ed. 1952). Bayard Tuckerman, Peter Stuyvesant (1893), although outdated, is valuable. Hendrick Willem Van Loon, Life and Times of Pieter Stuyvesant (1918), provides a provocative character interpretation.
Picard, Hymen Willem Johannes, Peter Stuyvesant, builder of New York, Cape Town: Hollandsch Afrikaansche Uitgevers Maatschappij, 1975. □