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Peter Stuyvesant, the Last Dutch Governor of New Amsterdam (New York)


Peter Stuyvesant, the Last Dutch Governor of New Amsterdam (New York)It is estimated that the whole population of New Netherland, in the year 1646, amounted to about 1,000 souls. In 1643, it numbered 3,000. Such was the ruin which the mal-administration of Kieft had brought upon the colony. The male adult population around New Amsterdam was reduced to 100. At the same time the population of the flourishing New England colonies had increased to about 60,000.

On the 11th of May, 1647, Governor Stuyvesant arrived at Manhattan. He was appointed as "Redresser General," of all colonial abuses.The Dutch West India Company had a colony upon the island of Curacao, in the Caribbean Sea. For some time Stuyvesant had been its efficient Director. He was the son of a clergyman in Friesland, one of the northern provinces of the Netherlands.

He received a good academic education, becoming quite a proficient in the Latin language, of which accomplishment, it is said that he was afterwards somewhat vain. At school he was impetuous, turbulent and self-willed.

Upon leaving the academy he entered the military service, and soon developed such energy of character, such a spirit of self-reliance and such administrative ability that he was appointed director of the colony at Curacao.

He was recklessly courageous, and was deemed somewhat unscrupulous in his absolutism. In an attack upon the Portuguese island of Saint Martin, in the year 1644, which attack was not deemed fully justifiable, he lost a leg. The wound rendered it necessary for him to return to Holland in the autumn of 1644, for surgical aid.

Upon his health being re-established, the Directors of the Dutch West India Company, expressing much admiration for his Roman courage, appointed him Governor of their colony in New Netherland, which was then in a state of ruin. There were also under his sway the islands of Curacao, Buenaire and Aruba. The Provincial Government presented him with a paper of instructions very carefully drawn up. The one-man power, which Kieft had exercised, was very considerably modified. Two prominent officers, the Vice-Director and the Fiscal, were associated with him in the administration of all civil and military affairs. They were enjoined to take especial care that the English should not further encroach upon the Company's territory. They were also directed to do everything in their power to pacify the Indians and to restore friendly relations with them. No fire-arms or ammunition were, under any circumstances, to be sold to the Indians.

Van Diricklagen was associated with the Governor as Vice-Director, and ensign Van Dyck, of whom the reader has before heard, was appointed Fiscal, an important office corresponding with our post of Treasurer. Quite a large number of emigrants, with abundant supplies, accompanied this party. The little fleet of four ships left the island of Texel in The Netherlands on Christmas day of 1646.

The expedition, running in a southerly direction, first visited the West India islands. On the voyage the imperious temper of
Stuyvesant very emphatically developed itself.

Holland was then at war with Spain. A prize was captured and the question arose respecting its disposal. Fiscal Van Dyck claimed, by virtue of his office, a seat at the council board and a voice in the decision. The governor rudely repulsed him with the words, "Get out. Who admitted you into the council. When I want you I will call you."

When they arrived at Curacao, Van Dyck again made an attempt to gain that place in the Council to which he thought his office legitimately entitled him. Stuyvesant punished him by confining him to the ship, not allowing him to step on shore. All the other officers and soldiers were freely allowed to recruit themselves by strolling upon the land.

Upon reaching Manhattan, Stuyvesant was received by the whole community with great rejoicing. And when he said, "I shall reign over you as a father governs his children," they were perhaps not fully aware of the dictatorial spirit which was to animate his government. With wonderful energy he immediately devoted himself to the reform of abuses. Though he availed himself of absolute power, taking counsel of no one, all his measures seem to have been adopted, not for the advancement of his own selfish interests, but for the promotion of the public good.

Proclamations were issued against Sabbath desecration, intemperance and all quarrelling. No intoxicating liquors were to be sold to the "savages" under a penalty of 500 guilders. And the seller was also to be held responsible for any injury which the "savage" might inflict, while under the influence of strong drink. After the ringing of the 9 o'clock bell in the evening, intoxicating drinks were not to be sold to any person whatever.

To draw a knife in a quarrel was to be punished with a heavy fine and 6 months imprisonment. If a wound was inflicted the penalty was trebled. Great faults accompanied this development of energy. The new governor assumed "state and pomp like a peacock's." He kept all at a distance from him, exacted profound homage, and led many to think that he would prove a very austere father. All his acts were characterized by great vigor.

New Amsterdam, at that time, presented a very dilapidated and deplorable appearance. The fort was crumbling to ruins. The skeleton of an unfinished church deformed the view. The straggling fences were broken down. The streets were narrow and crooked, many of the houses encroaching upon them. The foul enclosures for swine bordered the thoroughfares. A system of taxation upon both exports and imports was introduced, which speedily replenished the treasury.

Governor Stuyvesant was a professing christian, being a devout member of the Reformed Church of the fatherland. He promptly transferred his relations to the church at fort Amsterdam. He became an elder in the church, and conscious that the christian religion was the basis of all prosperity, one of his first acts was the adoption of measures for the completion of the church edifice. Proprietors of vacant lots were ordered to fence them in and improve them. Surveyors of buildings were appointed to regulate the location and structure of new houses.

The embarrassments which surrounded the governor were so great that he found it necessary to support his authority by calling public opinion to his aid. "Necessity," writes Brodhead, "produced concession and prerogative yielded to popular rights. The Council recommended that the principle of representation should be conceded to the people. Stuyvesant consented."

An election was ordered and 18 "of the most notable, reasonable, honest and respectable persons" in the colony were chosen, from whom the governor was to select nine persons as a sort of privy council. It is said that Stuyvesant was very reluctant to yield at all to the people, and that he very jealously guarded the concessions to which he was constrained to assent. By this measure popular rights gained largely. The "Nine Men" had however only the power to give advice when it was asked. When assembled, the governor could attend the meeting and act as president.

Governor Stuyvesant, soon after his arrival at fort Amsterdam, addressed courteous letters to the governors of all the neighboring colonies. In his letter to Governor Winthrop, of Massachusetts, he asserted the indubitable right of the Dutch to all the territory between the Connecticut and the Delaware, and proposed an interview for the settlement of all difficulties.

An Amsterdam ship, the Saint Benino, entered the harbor of New Haven, and for a month engaged in trade without a license from the Dutch West India Company. Stuyvesant, ascertaining the fact, sent a company of soldiers on a secret expedition to New Haven, seized the vessel on the Lord's day, brought her to Manhattan, and confiscated both ship and cargo.

Emboldened by success, Stuyvesant sent a letter to the authorities at New Haven claiming all the region from Cape Henlopen to Cape Cod as part of the territory of New Netherland, and affirming his right to levy duties upon all Dutch vessels trading within those limits.

Governor Eaton, of the New Haven colony, sent back a remonstrance protesting against the Dutch governor as a disturber of the public peace by "making unjust claims to our lands and plantations, to our havens and rivers, and by taking a ship out of our harbor without our license."