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Peter Stuyvesant - Appletons Edited By Stanley L. Klos

Peter Stuyvesant


Dutch Governor of the New Netherlands

Peter Stuyvesant illustration copyright Stan Klos

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STUYVESANT, Peter, governor of New York, born in Holland in 1602?; died in New York city in August, 1672. He was the son of a clergyman of Friesland, and at an early age displayed a fondness for military life. He served in the West Indies, was governor of the colony of Curacoa, lost a leg during the unsuccessful attack on the Portuguese island of St. Martin, and returned to Holland in 1644. Being appointed director-general of New Netherlands, he took the oath of office on 28 July, 1646, and reached New Amsterdam on 11 Nay, 1647, amid such vehement firing of guns from the fort that nearly all the powder in the town was consumed in salutes. Soon after his inauguration on 27 May he organized a council and established a court of justice. In deference to the popular will, he ordered a general election of eighteen delegates, from whom the governor and his council selected a board of nine, whose power was advisory and not legislative.

Among his first proclamations were orders to enforce the rigid observance of Sunday, prohibit the sale of liquor and fire-arms to the Indians, and protect the revenue and increase the treasury by heavier taxation on imports. He also endeavored to erect a better class of houses and taverns, established a market and an annual cattle-fair, and was also interested in founding a public school. One of the first acts of the new governor was to enter into a correspondence with the other colonies regarding the decisive settlement of the boundary question; but New England would not agree to terms. He also became involved in a controversy with Governor Theophilus Eaton, of Connecticut, over the claim of the Dutch to jurisdiction in that state.

In 1648 a conflict arose between him and Brant Arent Van Slechtenhorst, the commissary of the young patroon of Rensselaerswyek at Beverswick, Stuyvesant claiming power irrespective of the special feudal privileges that had been granted in the charter of 1629. In 1649 Stuyvesant marched to Fort Orange with a military escort, and ordered certain houses to be razed to permit of a better defence of the fort in case of an attack of the Indians, also commanding that stores and timber should be taken from the patroon's land to repair the fortifications. This Van Slechtenhorst refused to do, and the director sent a body of soldiers to enforce his orders. The controversy that followed resulted in the commissary's maintaining his rights and the director's losing some popularity The first two years of his administration were not successful. He had serious discussions with the patroons, who interfered with the company's trade and denied the authority of the governor, and he was also embroiled in contentions with the council, which sent a deputation to the Hague to report the condition of the colony to the states-general. This report was published as " Vertoogh van Nieuw Netherlandt" (The Hague, 1650). The states-general afterward commanded Stuyvesant to appear personally in Holland; but the order was not confirmed by the Amsterdam chamber, and Stuyvesant refused to obey, saying, " I shall do as I please."

In September, 1650, a meeting of the commissioners on boundaries took place in Hartford, whither Stuyvesant travelled in state. The line was arranged much to the dissatisfaction of the Dutch, who declared that "the governor had ceded away enough territory to found fifty colonies each fifty miles square." Stuyvesant grew haughty in his treatment of his opponents, and threatened to dissolve the council. A plan of municipal government was finally arranged in Holland, and the name of the new city of New Amsterdam--was officially announced on 2 February, 1653. Stuyvesant made a speech on this occasion, knowing that his authority would remain undiminished. The governor was now ordered to Holland again ; but the order was soon revoked on the declaration of war with England. Stuyvesant prepared against an attack by ordering his subjects to make a ditch from the North river to the East river, and to erect breastworks. In 1665 he sailed into the Delaware with a fleet of seven vessels and about 700 men and took possession of the colony of New Sweden, which he called New Amstel.

In his absence New Amsterdam was ravaged by Indians, but his return inspired confidence. Although he organized militia and fortified the town, he subdued the hostile savages chiefly through kind treatment. In 1653 a convention of two deputies from each village in New Netherlands had demanded reforms, and Stuyvesant commanded this assembly to disperse, saying" "We derive our authority from God and the company, not from a few ignorant subjects." The spirit of resistance nevertheless increased, and the encroachments of other colonies, with a depleted treasury, harassed the governor. In 1664 Charles II. ceded to his brother, the Duke of York, a large tract of land, including New Netherlands; and four English war vessels bearing 450 men, commanded by Captain Richard Nicholls, took possession of the harbor. On 30 August Sir George Cartwright bore to the governor a summons to surrender, promising life, estate, and liberty to all who would submit to the king's authority. Stuyvesant read the letter before the council, and, fearing the concurrence of the people, tore it into pieces. On his appearance, the people who had assembled around the city-hall greeted him with shouts of "The letter ! the letter ! " and, returning to the council-chamber, he gathered up the fragments, which he gave to the burgomasters to do with the order as they pleased. He sent a defiant answer to Nicholls, and ordered the troops to prepare for an attack, but yielded to a petition of the citizens not to shed innocent blood, and signed a treaty at his Bouwerie house on 9 September, 1664. The burgomasters proclaimed Nicholls governor, and the town was called New York.


In 1665 Stuyvesant went to Holland to report, and labored to secure from the king the satisfaction of the sixth article in the treaty with Nicholls, which granted free trade. During his administration commerce had increased greatly, the colony obtaining the privilege of trading with Brazil in 1648, with Africa for slaves in 1652, and with other foreign ports in 1659. Stuyvesant endeavored unsuccessfully to introduce a specie currency and to establish a mint in New Amsterdam. He was a thorough conservative in church as well as state, and intolerant of any approach to religious freedom. He refused to grant, a meeting-house to the Lutherans, who were growing numerous, drove their minister from the colony, and frequently punished religious offenders by fines and imprisonment. On his return from Holland after the surrender, he spent the remainder of his life on his farm of sixty-two acres outside the city, called the Great Bouwerie, beyond which stretched woods and swamps to the little village of Haarlem. The house, a stately specimen of Dutch architecture, was erected at a cost of 6,400 guilders, and stood near what is now Eighth street. Its gardens and lawn were tilled by about fifty negro slaves. A pear-tree which he brought from Holland in 1647 remained at the corner of Thirteenth street and Third avenue until 1867, bearing fruit almost to the last. The house was destroyed by fire in 1777. He also built an executive mansion of hewn stone called Whitehall, which stood on the street that now bears that name.

Governor Stuyvesant was above medium height, with a fine physique. He dressed with care, and usually wore slashed hose fastened at the knee by a knotted scarf, a velvet jacket with slashed sleeves over a full puffed shirt, and rosettes upon his shoes. His lost leg was replaced by a wooden one with silver bands, which accounts for the tradition that he wore a silver leg. Although abrupt in manner, unconventional, cold, and haughty, full of prejudice and passion, and sometimes unapproachable, he possessed large sympathies and tender affection. His clear judgment, quick perception, and extent of reading were remarkable. Washington Irving has humorously described him in his " Knickerbocker's History of New York." The illustrations represent the old Stadt Huys, and the tombstone of Stuyvesant in the outer wall of St. Mark's church in New York city.


--His wife, Judith Bayard Stuyvesant, born in Holland; died in New York in 1687, was the sister of Samuel Bayard, of Amsterdam, who married Anna Stuyvesant. She spoke several languages, possessed an excellent voice and a cultivated taste in music, displayed artistic skill in dress, and extended a wide hospitality. She left a fund to the Dutch church in New York for St. Mark's chapel.--Stuyvesant's son, Nicholas William, born in 1648; died in 1698, married Maria, the daughter of William Beckman, and afterward the daughter of Brant Van Slechtenhorst. Of their three children, GERARTDUS married his second cousin, Judith Bayard, and only one of their four sons, PETER, born in 1727, left descendants. He married Margaret, daughter of Gilbert Livingston, and their sons were Peter Gerard and Nicholas William. Their daughters were Judith, who married Benjamin Winthrop; Cornelia, who married Dirck Ten Broeck ; and Elizabeth, who married Colonel Nicholas Fish, and became the mother of Hamilton Fish. --Peter's son, Peter Gerard, lawyer, born in New York city in 1778; died at Niagara Falls, New York, 16 August, 1847, was graduated at Columbia in 1794, studied law, was admitted to the bar, and practised in New York city. He was a founder of the New York historical society, of which he was president from 1836 till 1840. His residence, " Peters-field," and that of his brother Nicholas William, the "Bowery House," were built before the Revolution, and were situated on their father's Bouwerie farm. The chief portion of this property is still (1888) in the possession of his descendants, Hamilton Fish, Benjamin R. Winthrop, and Lewis M. Rutherford, the astronomer.

Edited Appletons Encyclopedia, Copyright © 2001 VirtualologyT

Editors Note: Christopher Stuyvesant Fish writes, "to my knowledge the last remaining direct descendant of Peter Stuyvesant who bears the Stuyvesant name. I am currently living in London England. I would love to begin a correspondence with your website." If you would like to contact him CLICK HERE

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