Here to return to
THE first Director-General of the colony, Captain Cornelis May, was removed by only a generation from those “Beggars of the Sea” whom the Spaniard held in such contempt; but this mendicant had begged to such advantage that the sea granted him a noble river to explore and a cape at its mouth to preserve his name to posterity. It is upon his discoveries along the South River, later called the Delaware, and not upon his record as Director of New Netherland, that his title to fame must rest. Associated with him was Tienpout, who appears to have been assigned to the North River while May assumed personal supervision of the South. May acted as the agent of the West India Company for one year only (1624-1625), and was followed in office by Verhulst (1625-1626), who bequeathed his name to Verhulsten Island, in the Delaware River, and then quietly passed out of history.
Neither of these officials left any permanent impress on the history of the colony. It was therefore a day of vast importance to the dwellers on the North River, and especially to the little group of settlers on Manhattan Island, when the Meeuwken dropped her anchor in the harbor in May, 1626, and her small boat landed Peter Minuit, Director-General of New Netherland, a Governor who had come to govern. Minuit, though registered as “of Wesel,” Germany, was of Huguenot ancestry, and is reported to have spoken French, Dutch, German, and English. He proved a tactful and efficient ruler, and the new system of government took form. under the Director and Council, the koopman, who was commercial agent and secretary, and a schout who performed the duties of sheriff and public prosecutor.
Van Wassenaer, the son of a domine in Amsterdam, gives us a report of the colony as it existed under Minuit. He writes of a counting-house built of stone and thatched with reeds, of thirty ordinary houses on the east side of the river, and a horse-mill yet unfinished over which is to be constructed a spacious room to serve as a temporary church and to be decorated with bells captured at the sack of San Juan de Porto Rico in 1625 by the Dutch fleet. According to this chronicler, every one in New Netherland who fills no public office is busy with his own affairs. One trades, one builds houses, another plants farms. Each farmer pastures the cows under his charge on the bouwerie of the Company, which also owns the cattle; but the milk is the property of the farmer, who sells it to the settlers. “The houses of settlers,” he says, “are now outside the fort; but when that is finished they will all remove within, in order to garrison it and be safe from sudden attack.”
One of Minuit’s first acts as Director was the purchase of Manhattan Island, covering some twenty-two thousand acres, for merchandise valued at sixty guilders or twenty-four dollars. He thus secured the land at the rate of approximately ten acres for one cent. A good bargain, Peter Minuit! The transaction was doubly effective in placating the savages, or the wilden, as the settlers called them, and in establishing the Dutch claim as against the English by urging rights both of discovery and of purchase.
In spite of the goodwill manifested by the natives, the settlers were constantly anxious lest some conspiracy might suddenly break out. Van. Wassenaer, reporting the news from the colony as it reached him in Amsterdam, wrote in 1626 that Pieter Barentsen was to be sent to command Fort Orange, and that the families were to be brought down the river, sixteen men without women being left to garrison the fort. Two years later he wrote that there were no families at Fort Orange, all having been brought down the river. Only twenty-five or twenty-six traders remained and Krol, who had been vice-director there since 1626.
Minuit showed true statesmanship by following conciliation with a show of strength against hostile powers on every hand. He had brought with him. a competent engineer, Kryn Frederycke, or Fredericksen, who had been an officer in the army of Prince Maurice. With his help Minuit laid out Fort Amsterdam on what was then the tip of Manhattan Island, the green park which forms the end of the island today being then under water. Fredericksen found material and labor so scarce that he could plan at first only a blockhouse surrounded by palisades of red cedar strengthened with earthworks. The fort was completed in 1626, and at the close of the year a settlement called New Amsterdam had grown up around it and had been made the capital of New Netherland.
During the building of the fort there occurred an episode fraught with serious consequences. A. friendly Indian of the Weckquaesgeeck tribe came with his nephew to traffic at Fort Amsterdam. Three servants of Minuit fell upon the Indian, robbed him, and murdered him. The nephew, then but a boy, escaped to his tribe and vowed a vengeance which he wreaked in blood nearly a score of years later.
Minuit’s preparations for war were not confined to land fortification. In 1627 the hearts of the colonists were gladdened by a great victory of the Dutch over the Spanish, when, in a battle off San Salvador, Peter Heyn demolished twenty-six Spanish warships. On the 5th of September the same bold sailor captured the whole of the Spanish silver-fleet with spoils amounting to twelve million guilders. In the following year the gallant commander, then a lieutenant-admiral, died in battle on the deck of his ship. The States-General sent to his old peasant mother a message of condolence, to which she replied: “Ay, I thought that would be the end of him. He was always a vagabond; but I did my best to correct him. He got no more than he deserved.”
It was perhaps the echo of naval victories like these which prompted Minuit to embark upon a shipbuilding project of great magnitude for that time. Two Belgian shipbuilders arrived in New Amsterdam and asked the help of the Director in constructing a large vessel. Minuit, seeing the opportunity to advertise the resources of the colony, agreed to give his assistance and the result was that the New Netherland, a ship of eight hundred tons carrying thirty guns, was built and launched.
This enterprise cost more than had been expected and the bills were severely criticized by the West India Company, already dissatisfied with Minuit on the ground that he had favored the interests of the patroons, who claimed the right of unrestricted trade within their estates, as against the interests of the Company. Urged by many complaints, the States-General set on foot an investigation of the Director, the patroons, and the West India Company itself, with the result that in 1632 Minuit was recalled and the power of the patroons was limited. New Netherland had not yet seen the last of Peter Minuit, however. Angry and embittered, he entered the service of Sweden and returned later to vex the Dutch colony.
In the interval between Minuit’s departure and the arrival of Van Twiller, the reins of authority were held by Sebastian Krol, whose name is memorable chiefly for the fact that he had been. influential in purchasing the domain of Rensselaerswyck for its patroon (1630) and the tradition that the cruller, crolyer or krolyer, was so called in his honor. The Company’s selection of a permanent successor to Minuit was not happy. Wouter Van Twiller, nephew of Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, must have owed his appointment as Director to family influence, since neither his career nor his reputation justified the choice.
David de Vries, writing on April 16, 1633, notes that on arriving about noon before Fort Amsterdam he found there a ship called the Soutbergh which had brought over the new Governor, Wouter Van Twiller, a former clerk in the West India House at Amsterdam. De Vries gives his opinion of Van Twiller in no uncertain terms. He expressed his own surprise that the West India Company should send fools into this country who knew nothing except how to drink, and quotes an Englishman as saying that he could not understand the unruliness among the officers of the Company and that a governor should have no more control over them.
For the personal appearance of this “Walter the Doubter,” we must turn again to the testimony of Knickerbocker, whose mocking descriptions have obtained a quasi-historical authority:
This renowned old gentleman arrived at New Amsterdam in the merry month of June.... He was exactly five feet six inches in height and six feet five inches in circumference. His head was a perfect sphere and of such stupendous dimensions that Dame Nature, with all her sex’s ingenuity would have been puzzled to construct a neck capable of supporting it: Wherefore she wisely declined the attempt and settled it firmly on the top of his backbone just between the shoulders.... His legs were short but sturdy in proportion to the weight they had to sustain so that when erect he had not a little the appearance of a beer barrel on skids. His face, that infallible index of the mind, presented a vast expanse, unfurrowed by any of those lines which disfigure the human countenance with what is termed expression.... His habits were regular. He daily took his four stated meals, appropriating exactly an hour to each; he smoked and doubted eight hours, and he slept the remaining twelve of the four-and-twenty.
A later historian, taking up the cudgels in behalf of the Director, resents Knickerbocker’s impeachment and protests that “so far from being the aged, fat and overgrown person represented in caricature Van Twiller was youthful and inexperienced, and his faults were those of a young man unused to authority and hampered by his instructions.”1
In his new office Van Twiller was confronted with questions dealing with the encroachment of the patroons from within and of the English from without, the unwelcome visit of Eelkens, of whom we shall hear later, and massacres by the Indians on the South River. Such problems might well have puzzled a wiser head and a more determined character than Van Twiller’s. We cannot hold him wholly blameworthy if he dealt with them in a spirit of doubt and hesitation. What we find harder to excuse is his shrewd advancement of his own interests and his lavish expenditure of the Company’s money. The cost of building the fort was more than justifiable. To have neglected the defenses would have been culpable; and the barracks built for the hundred and four soldiers whom he had brought over from the Fatherland may also be set down as necessary. But when the Company was groaning under the expenses of the colony, it was, to say the least, lacking in tact to build for himself the most elaborate house in New Netherland, besides erecting on one of the Company’s bouweries a house, a barn, a boathouse, and a brewery, to say nothing of planting another farm with tobacco, working it with slave labor at the Company’s expense, and appropriating the profits. In the year 1638, after he had been five years in office, the outcry against Van Twiller for misfeasance, malfeasance, and especially nonfeasance, grew too loud to be ignored, and he was recalled; but before he left New Netherland he bought Nooten or Nut Island, since called Governor’s Island, and also two other islands in the East River. At the time of his marriage in 1643, Van Twiller was in command of a competence attained at the expense of the West India Company, and there is much excuse for the feeling of his employers that he had been more active in his own affairs than in theirs.
The principal service which he had rendered to the Company in his term of office was the establishment of “staple right” at New Amsterdam, compelling all ships trading on the coast or the North River to pay tolls or unload their cargoes on the Company’s property. But on the reverse side of the account we must remember that he allowed the fort to fall into such decay that when Kieft arrived in 1638 he found the defenses, which had been finished only three years before, already in a shamefully neglected condition, the guns dismounted, the public buildings inside the walls in ruins, and the walls of the fort itself so beaten down that any one might enter at will, “save at the stone point.”
The hopes of the colonists rose again with the coming of a new governor; but the appointment of Kieft reflected as little credit as that of Van Twiller upon the sagacity of the West India Company. The man now chosen to rule New Netherland was a narrow-minded busybody, eager to interfere in small matters and without the statesmanship required to conduct large affairs. Some of his activities, it is true, had practical value. lie fixed the hours at which the colonists should go to bed and ordered the curfew to be rung at nine o’clock; he established two annual fairs to be held on the present Bowling Green, one in October for cattle and one in November for hogs; and he built a new stone church within the fort, operated a brewery, founded a hostelry, and planted orchards and gardens. But on the other side of the account he was responsible for a bloody war with the Indians which came near to wrecking the colony.
His previous record held scant promise for his success as a governor. He had failed as a merchant in Rochelle, for which offense his portrait had been affixed to a gallows. Such a man was a poor person to be put in control of the complicated finances of New Netherland and of the delicate relations between the colonists and the Indians relations calling for infinite tact, wisdom, firmness, and forbearance.
The natives in the region of New Amsterdam were increasingly irritated by the encroachments of the whites. They complained that stray cows spoiled their unfenced cornfields and that various other depredations endangered their crops. To add to this irritation Kieft proposed to tax the natives for the protection afforded them by the Fort, which was now being repaired at large expense. The situation, already bad enough, was further complicated by Kieft’s clumsy handling of an altercation on Staten Island. Some pigs were stolen, by servants of the Company as appeared later; but the offense was charged to the Raritan Indians. Without waiting to make investigations Kieft sent out a punitive expedition of seventy men, who attacked the innocent natives, killed a number of them, and laid waste their crops. This stupid and wicked attack still further exasperated the Indians, who in the high tide of midsummer saw their lands laid bare and their homes desolated by the wanton hand of the intruders.
Some months later the trouble between the whites and the red men was brought to a head by an unforeseen tragedy. A savage came to Claes Smits, radenmaker or wheelwright, to trade beaver for duffel cloth. As Claes stooped down to take out the duffel from a chest, the Indian seized an axe which chanced to stand near by and struck the wheelwright on the neck, killing him instantly. The murderer then stole the goods from the chest and fled to the forest.
When Kieft sent to the tribe of the Weckquaesgeecks to inquire the cause of this murder and to demand the slayer, the Indian told the chief that he had seen his uncle robbed and killed at the fort while it was being built; that he himself had escaped and had vowed revenge; and that the unlucky Claes was the first white man upon whom he had a chance to wreak vengeance. The chief then replied to the Director that he. was sorry that twenty Christians had not been killed and that the Indian had done only a pious duty in avenging his uncle.
In this emergency Kieft called a meeting at which the prominent burghers chose a committee of twelve to advise the Director. This took place in 1641. The Council was headed by Captain David de Vries, whose portrait with its pointed chin, high forehead, and keen eyes, justifies his reputation as the ablest man in New Netherland. He insisted that it was inadvisable to attack the Indians — not to say hazardous. Besides, the Company had warned them to keep peace. It is interesting to speculate on what would have been the effect on the colony if the Company’s choice had fallen upon De Vries instead of on Kieft as Director.
Although restrained for the time, Kieft never relinquished his purpose. On February 24, 1643, he again announced his intention of making a raid upon the Indians, and in spite of further remonstrance from De Vries he sent out his soldiers, who returned after a massacre which disgraced the Director, enraged the natives, and endangered the colony. Kieft was at first proud of his treachery; but as soon as it was known every Algonquin tribe around New Amsterdam started on the warpath. From New Jersey to the Connecticut every farm was in peril. The famous and much-persecuted Anne Hutchinson perished with her family; towns were burned; and men, women, and children fled in panic.
On the approach of spring, when the Indians had to plant their corn or face famine, sachems of the Long Island Indians sought a parley with the Dutch. De Vries and Olfertsen volunteered to meet the savages. In the woods near Rockaway they found nearly three hundred Indians assembled. The chiefs placed the envoys in the center of the circle, and one among them, who had a bundle of sticks, laid down one stick at a time as he recounted the wrongs of his tribe. This orator told how the red men had given food to the settlers and were rewarded by the murder of their people, how they had protected and cherished the traders, and how they had been abused in. return. At length De Vries, like the practical man that he was, suggested that they all adjourn to the Fort, promising them presents from the Director.
The chiefs consented to meet the Director and eventually were persuaded to make a treaty of peace; but Kieft’s gifts were so niggardly that the savages went away with rancor still in their hearts, and the war of the races continued its bloody course. It is no wonder that when De Vries left the Governor on this occasion, he told Kieft in plain terms of his guilt and predicted that the shedding of so much innocent blood would yet be avenged upon his own head. This prophecy proved a strangely true one. When recalled by the States-General in 1647, Kieft set out for Holland on the ship Princess, carrying with him the sum of four hundred thousand guilders. The ship was wrecked in the Bristol channel and Kieft was drowned.
The evil that Kieft did lived after him and the good, if interred with his bones, would not have occupied much space in the tomb. The only positive advance during his rule — and that was carried through against his will — was the appointment of an advisory committee of the twelve men, representing the householders of the colony, who were called together in the emergency following the murder of Claes Smits, and in 1643 of a similar board of eight men, who protested against his arbitrary measures and later procured his recall.
After the departure of Kieft the most picturesque figure of the period of Dutch rule in America. appeared at New Amsterdam, Petrus or Pieter Stuyvesant. We have an authentic portrait in which the whole personality of the man is writ. large. The dominant nose, the small, obstinate eyes, the close-set, autocratic mouth, tell the character of the man who was come to be the new and the last Director-General of New Netherland. As Director of the West India Company’s colony at Curaçao, Stuyvesant had undertaken the task of reducing the Portuguese island of St. Martin and had lost a leg in the fight. This loss he repaired with a wooden leg, of which he professed himself prouder than of all his other limbs together and which he had decorated with silver bands and nails, thus earning for him the sobriquet of “Old Silver Nails.” Still, so the legend runs, Peter Stuyvesant’s ghost at night “stumps to and fro with a shadowy wooden leg through the aisles of St. Mark’s Church near the spot where his bones lie buried.” But many events were to happen before those bones were laid in the family vault of the chapel on his bouwerie.
When Stuyvesant reached the country over which he was to rule, it was noted by the colonists that his bearing was that of a prince. “I shall be as a father over his children,” he told the burghers of New Amsterdam, and in this patriarchal capacity he kept the people standing with their heads uncovered for more than an hour, while he wore his hat. How he bore out this first impression we may gather from The Representation of New Netherland, an arraignment of the Director, drawn up and solemnly attested in 1650 by eleven responsible burghers headed by Adrian Van der Donck, and supplemented by much detailed evidence. The witnesses express the earnest wish that Stuyvesant’s administration were at an end, for they have suffered from it and know themselves powerless. Whoever opposes the Director “hath as much as the sun and moon against him.” In the council he writes an opinion covering several pages and then adds orally “This is my opinion. If anyone have aught to object to it, let him express it!” If any one ventures to make any objection, his Honor flies into a passion and rails in language better fitted to the fish-market than to the council-hall.
When two burghers, Kuyter and Melyn, who had been leaders of the opposition to Kieft, petitioned Stuyvesant to investigate his conduct, Stuyvesant supported his predecessor on the ground that one Director should uphold another. At Kieft’s instigation he even prosecuted and convicted Kuyter and Melyn for seditious attack on the government. When Melyn asked for grace till his case could be presented in the Fatherland, he was threatened, according to his own testimony, in language like this: “If I knew, Melyn, that you would divulge our sentence [that of fine and banishment] or bring it before Their High Mightinesses, I would cause you to be hanged at once on the highest tree in New Netherland.” In another case the Director said: “It may during my administration be contemplated to appeal; but if anyone should do it, I will make him a foot shorter, and send the pieces to Holland and let him appeal in that way.”
An answer to this arraignment by the burghers of New Netherland was written by Van Tienhoven, who was sent over to the Netherlands to defend Stuyvesant; but its value is impaired by the fact that he was schout fiscaal and interested in the acquittal of Stuyvesant, whose tool he was, and also by the fact that he was the subject of bitter attack in the Representation by Adrian Van der Donck, who accused Van Tienhoven of continually shifting from one side to another and asserted that he was notoriously profligate and untrustworthy. One passage in his reply amounted to a confession. Who, he asks, are they who have complained about the haughtiness of the Director, and he answers that they are “such as seek to live without law or rule.” “No one,” he goes on to say, “can prove that Director Stuyvesant has used foul language to or railed at as clowns any respectable persons who have treated him decently. It may be that some profligate person has given the Director, if he has used any bad words to him, cause to do so.”
It has been the fashion in popular histories to allude to Stuyvesant as a doughty knight of somewhat choleric temper, “a valiant, weather beaten, leathern-sided, lion-hearted, generous-spirited, old governor”; but I do not so read his history. I find him a brutal tyrant, as we have seen in the affair of Kieft versus Melyn; a narrow-minded bigot, as we shall see later in his dealing with the Quakers at Flushing; a bully when his victims were completely in his power; and a loser in any quarrel when he was met with blustering comparable to his own.
In support of the last indictment let us take his conduct in a conflict with the authorities at Rensselaerswyck. In 1646 Stuyvesant had ordered that no building should be erected within cannon-shot of Fort Orange. The superintendent of the settlement denied Stuyvesant’s right to give such an order and pointed to the fact that his trading-house had been for a long time on the border of the fort. To the claim that a clear space was necessary to the fort’s efficiency, Van Slichtenhorst, Van Rensselaer’s agent, replied that he had spent more than six months in the colony and had never seen a single person carrying a sword, musket, or pike, nor had he heard a drum-beat except on the occasion of a visit from the Director and his soldiers in the summer. Stuyvesant rejoined by sending soldiers and sailors to tear down the house which Van Slichtenhorst was building near Fort Orange, and the commissary was ordered to arrest the builder if he resisted; but the commissary wrote that it would be impossible to carry out the order, as the settlers at Rensselaerswyck, reënforced by the Indians, outnumbered his troops. Stuyvesant then recalled his soldiers and ordered Van Slichtenhorst to appear before him, which the agent refused to do.
In 1652 Stuyvesant ordered Dyckman, then in command at Fort Orange, not to allow any one to build a house near the fort or to remain in any house already built. In spite of proclamations and other bluster this order proved fruitless and on April 1, 1653, Stuyvesant came in person to Fort Orange and sent a sergeant to lower the patroon’s flag. The agent refusing to strike the patroon’s colors, the soldiers entered, lowered the flag, and discharged their guns. Stuyvesant declared that the region staked out by posts should be known as Beverwyck and instituted a court there. Van Slichtenhorst tore down the proclamation, whereupon Stuyvesant ordered him to be imprisoned in the fort. Later the Director transported the agent under guard to New Amsterdam.
Stuyvesant’s arbitrary character also appears in his overriding of the measure of local self-government decreed by the States-General in 1653. Van der Donck and his fellows had asked three things of their High Mightinesses, the States-General: first, that they take over the government of New Netherland; second, that, they establish a better city government in New Amsterdam; and third, that they clearly define the boundaries of New Netherland. The first of these requests, owing to the deeply intrenched interest of the West India Company, could not be granted, the last still less. But the States-General urged that municipal rights should be given to New Amsterdam, and in 1652 the Company yielded. The charter limited the number of schepens or aldermen to five and the number of burgomasters to two, and also ordained that they as well as the schout should be elected by the citizens; but Stuyvesant ignored this provision and proceeded to appoint men of his own choosing. The Stone Tavern built by Kieft at the head of Coenties Slip was set apart as a Stadt-Huys, or City Hall, and here Stuyvesant’s appointees, supposed to represent the popular will, held their meetings. It was something that they did hold meetings and nominally at least in the interest of the people. Another concession followed. In 1658 Stuyvesant yielded so far to the principles of popular government as to concede to the schepens and burgomasters of New Amsterdam the right to nominate double the number of candidates for office, from whom the Director was to make a choice.
In 1655, during the absence of Stuyvesant on the South River, the Indians around Manhattan appeared with a fleet of sixty-four war canoes, attacked and looted New Amsterdam, then crossed to Hoboken and continued their bloody work in Pavonia and on Staten Island. In three days a hundred men, women, and children were slain, and a hundred and fifty-two were taken captive, and the damage to property was estimated at two hundred thousand guilders approximately eighty thousand dollars. As usual the Dutch had been the aggressors, for Van Dyck, formerly schout fiscaal, had shot and killed an old Indian woman who was picking peaches in his orchard.
It must be set down to Stuyvesant’s credit that on his return he acted toward the Indians in a manner that was kind and conciliating, and at the same time provided against a repetition of the recent disaster by erecting blockhouses at various points and by concentrating the settlers for mutual defense. By this policy of mingled diplomacy and preparation against attack Stuyvesant preserved peace for a period of three years. But trouble with the Indians continued to disturb the colonies on the river and centered at Esopus, where slaughters of both white and red men occurred. Eight white men were burned at the stake in revenge for shots fired by Dutch soldiers, and an Indian chief was killed with his own tomahawk. In 1660 a treaty of peace was framed; but three years later we find the two races again embroiled. Thus Indian wars continued down to the close of Dutch rule.
In spite of these troubles in the more outlying districts, New Amsterdam continued to grow and thrive. In Stuyvesant’s time the thoroughfares of New Amsterdam were laid out as streets and were named. The line of houses facing the fort on the eastern side was called the Marckveldt, or Market-field, taking its name from the green opposite, which had been the site of the city market. De Heere Straat, the principal street, ran north from the fort through the gate at the city wall. De Hoogh Straat ran parallel with the East River from the city bridge to the water gate and on its line stood the Stadt-Huys. ‘T Water ran in a semicircular line from the point of the island and was bordered by the East River. De Brouwer Straat took its name from the breweries situated on it and was probably the first street in the town to be regulated and paved. De Brugh Straat, as the name implies, led to the bridge crossing. De Heere Graft, the principal canal, was a creek running deep into the island from the East River and protected by a siding of boards. An official was appointed for the care of this canal with orders to see “that the newly made graft was kept in order, that no filth was cast into it, and that the boats, canoes, and other vessels were laid in order.”
The new city was by this time thoroughly cosmopolitan. One traveler speaks of the use of eighteen different languages, and the forms of faith were as varied as the tongues spoken. Seven or eight large ships came every year from Amsterdam. The Director occupied a fine house on the point of the island. On the east side of the town stood the Stadt-Huys protected by a half-moon of stone mounted with three small brass cannon. In the fort stood the Governor’s house, the church, the barracks, the house for munitions, and the long-armed windmills. Everything was prospering except the foundation on which all depended. There was no adequate defense for all this property. Here we must acquit Stuyvesant from responsibility, since again and again he had warned the Company against the weakness of the colony; but they would not heed the warnings, and the consequences which might have been averted suddenly overtook the Dutch possessions.
The war which broke out in 1659 between England and the Netherlands, once leagued against Catholic Spain but now parted by commercial rivalries, found an immediate echo on the shores of the Hudson. With feverish haste the inhabitants of New Amsterdam began to fortify. Across the island at the northern limit of the town, on the line of what is now Wall Street, they built a wall with stout palisades backed by earthworks. They hastily repaired the fort, organized the citizens as far as possible to resist attack, and also strengthened Fort Orange. The New England Colonies likewise began warlike preparations; but, perhaps owing to the prudence of Stuyvesant in accepting the Treaty of Hartford, peace between the Dutch and English in the New World continued for the present, though on precarious terms; and, the immediate threat of danger being removed by the treaty between England and Holland in 1654, the New Netherlanders relaxed their vigilance and curtailed the expense of fortifications.
Meanwhile Stuyvesant had alienated popular sympathy and lessened united support by his treatment of a convention of delegates from New Amsterdam, Flushing, Breuckelen, Hempstead, Amersfort, Middleburgh, Flatbush, and Gravesend who bad gathered to consider the defense and welfare of the colonies. The English of the Long Island towns were the prime movers in this significant gathering. There is an unmistakable English flavor in the contention of The Humble Remonstrance adopted by the Convention, that “‘tis contrary to the first intentions and genuine principles of every well regulated government, that one or more men should arrogate to themselves the exclusive power to dispose, at will, of the life and property of any individual.” As a people “not conquered or subjugated, but settled here on a mutual covenant and contract entered into with the Lord Patroons, with the consent of the Natives,” they protested against the enactment of laws and the appointment of magistrates without their consent or that of their representatives.
Stuyvesant replied with his usual bigotry and in a rage at being contradicted. He asserted that there was little wisdom to be expected from popular election when naturally “each would vote for one of his own stamp, the thief for a thief, the rogue, the tippler and the smuggler for his brother in iniquity, so that he may enjoy more latitude in vice and fraud.” Finally Stuyvesant ordered the delegates to disperse, declaring: “We derive our authority from God and the Company, not from a few ignorant subjects, and we alone can call the inhabitants together.”
With popular support thus alienated and with appeals for financial and military aid from the States-General and the West India Company denied or ignored, the end of New Netherland was clearly in sight. In 1663 Stuyvesant wrote to the Company begging them to send him reënforcements. “Otherwise,” he said, “it is wholly out of our power to keep the sinking ship afloat any longer.”
This year was full of omens. The valley of the Hudson was shaken by an earthquake followed by an overflow of the river, which ruined the crops. Smallpox visited the colony, and on top of all these calamities came the appalling Indian massacre at Esopus. The following year, 1664, brought the arrival of the English fleet, the declaration of war, and the surrender of the Dutch Province. For many years the English had protested against the Dutch claims to the territory on the North and South rivers. Their navigators had tried to contest the trade in furs, and their Government at home had interfered with vessels sailing to and from New Amsterdam. Now at length Charles II was ready to appropriate the Dutch possessions. He did not trouble himself with questions of international law, still less with international ethics; but, armed with the flimsy pretense that Cabot’s visit established England’s claim to the territory, he stealthily made preparations to seize the defenseless colony on the river which had begun to be known as the Hudson.
Five hundred veteran troops were embarked on four ships, under command of Colonel Richard Nicolls, and sailed on their expedition of conquest. Stuyvesant’s suspicions, aroused by rumors of invasion, were so far lulled by dispatches from Holland that he allowed several ships at New Amsterdam to sail for Curaçao ladened with provisions, while he himself journeyed to Rensselaerswyck to quell an Indian outbreak. While he was occupied in this task, a messenger arrived to inform him that the English fleet was hourly expected in the harbor of New Amsterdam. Stuyvesant made haste down the river; but on the day after he arrived at Manhattan Island, he saw ships flying the flag of England in the lower harbor, where they anchored below the Narrows. Colonel Nicolls demanded the surrender of the “towns situate on the island commonly known by the name of Manhattoes, with all the forts thereunto belonging.”
Although the case
of New Amsterdam was now hopeless, Stuyvesant yet strove for delay. He sent a
deputation to Nicolls to carry on a parley; but Nicolls was firm. “When may we
visit you again?” the deputation asked. Nicolls replied with grim humor that he
would speak with them at Manhattan. “Friends are welcome there,” answered
Stuyvesant’s representative diplomatically; but Nicolls told them bluntly that
he was coming with ships and soldiers. “Hoist a white flag at the fort,” he
said, “and I may consider your proposals.”
Colonel Nicolls was as good as his word and, to the consternation of the dwellers in New Amsterdam, the fleet of English frigates, under full sail and with all guns loaded, appeared before the walls of the useless old Fort Amsterdam. Stuyvesant stood on one of the angles of the fort and the gunners with lighted matches awaited his command to fire. The people entreated him to yield. “Resistance is not soldiership,” said one of them. “It is sheer madness.” Stuyvesant, who with all his faults was a brave soldier, felt to the quick the humiliation; but he saw also that resistance meant only useless bloodshed. At last he submitted, and the English vessels sailed on their way unmolested, while Stuyvesant groaned, “I would much rather be carried to my grave.”
Without firing a shot the English thus took possession of the rich country which the States-General had not thought worth defending, and New Netherland became New York.___________________________
1 Van Twiller’s advocate, W. E. Griffis, quotes the Nijkerk records in proof that Van Twiller was born on May 22, 1606, which would fix his age at twenty-seven when he was sent out to the colony. The editor of the Van Rensselaer-Bowler manuscript states that Kiliaen Van Rensselaer was born in 1580, that his sister, Maria, married Richard, or Ryckaert, Van Twiller and that the Wouter of our chronicles was their son and therefore Van Rensselaer’s nephew. We are the more inclined to accept the year 1606 as the true date of Van Twiller’s birth because the year 1580, previously accepted by historians, would have been the same as that of the birth of Kiliaen Van Rensselaer himself, and because, according to the author of the Story of New Netherland, Maria Van Rensselaer was betrothed in 1605. Otherwise we should find it almost beyond credence that a youth of twenty-seven should have been so suddenly promoted from the counting-house at Amsterdam to the responsible post of Director of New Netherland.