Peter Stuyvesant
Posted by Admin on January 07 2013 03:37:50

Peter Stuyvesant


Peter StuyvesantThe irresistible genius of Washington Irving has so covered the period of the Dutch settlement and government of New York with a comical aspect that it is almost impossible to consider seriously the characters and adventures of the sturdy phlegmattic founders of the American metropolis. Stuyvesant was the most prominent representative of that worthy people in the present limits of the United States. Peter Stuyvesant was born in the year 1602, the son of a clergyman in Friesland, one of the northern provinces of the Netherlands. Peter received a good education, and s said to have distinguished himself as a Latin scholar. Even at school he exhibited the impetuosity and self-will for which he was afterwards noted. He entered the army and shortly exhibiting administrative ability, he was appointed Director of Curacoa in the Caribbean sea, which had been settled by the Spaniards, but afterwards captured by the Dutch. He attacked the Portuguese on the Island of St. Martin, and in the engagement which followed lost a leg. He returned to Holland in 1644 to procure medical assistance.


The Colony of New Netherland, by the maladministration of Governor Kieft, was in a deplorable condition. He had estranged the Indians by cruelty and baseness, and for five years war had raged between those people and the Dutch Colony. Governor Kieft, on petition to the home government, had been recalled. Stuyvesant, his health being restored, was appointed to succeed him. He arrived at Manhattan in May, 1647, and immediately set himself to reform the abuses of the last administration. He conciliated the Indians, passed laws for the strict observance of the Sabbath, and curtailed the sale of intoxicating liquors; but we are also told assumed "state and pomp like a peacock's." On the 17th of September, 1650, Governor Stuyvesant sailed from Manhattan for Hartford, Connecticut. Here he arranged with the New England Commissioners a boundary line, which had for a long time been in dispute between the two Colonies. In 1651 he erected 011 the Delaware river, near the present site of New Castle, a fort, which he called Casimer.


A municipal government was organized in the year 1653 for the city of New Amsterdam now New York. Swedel1 now claimed the land on which Fort Casimer was built, and in 1654 sent a force to capture it. Bikker, who held the fort for Stuyvesant, had but a small garrison, and surrendered it to John Rising, the Swedish commander. The Governor of New Netherland was highly indignant, and shortly after seized a Swedish ship which had anchored off Staten Island. He sent word to Rising that he should hold the ship, cargo and crew, "until a reciprocal restitution shall have been made." Rising refused to parley Oil the matter. Stuyvesant, with seven vessels and over six hundred men, surrounded Fort Casimer, which soon capitulated. The Swedish Governmor also surrendered Fort Christiana, which was two miles further up the river. Thus, after seventeen years, Swedish dominion on the South River was brought to an end.


The arbitrary mle of Stuyvesant was obnoxious to the majority of his subjects, and a. convention, made up of two deputies from each village in New Netherland demanded a popular government, and remonstrated against the establishment of arbitrary power. They also complained that laws had been enacted without the consent of the people. There ensued a bitter controversy between them and the Governor. Stuyvesant ordered them to disperse" on pain of our highest displeasure;" adding, "We derive our authority from Cod, and from the company, not from a few ignorant subjects." Petitions were sent to Holland protesting against his administration. Stuyvesant was rigorously rebuked by the home government but this made little difference to such a man.


He was born to govern, not to be governed. He prosecuted. all those who did not agree with him on religious matters. The Quakers especially received the most cruel treatment at his hands. A person for entertaining a Quaker, even for a single night, was fined fifty pounds. Upon the restoration of Charles II. In England, Republicans and Dissenters, disappointed and persecuted, were disposed, in ever-increasing numbers, to take refuge in the New World. Relations between Holland and England had been greatly strained. In 1667 little Holland inflicted on England such a humiliation as she had never before endured. the Dutch fleet destroyed Sheerness, burned the ships lying off Chatham, and sailed up the Thames as far as Tilbury Fort. The roar of foreign guns was heard for the first and last time by the citizens of London.


England claimed the New Netherlands, and Charles H. granted to his brother James, the Duke of York, all laud lying between the Connecticut River and the Delaware. On August 20, 1664, an English fleet, undercommand of Colonel Nicholls, anchored off Coney Island. He sent four men ashore to demand the surrender of Fort Amsterdam. Stuyvesant was for resisting the demand, hut the people forced him to yield, and on September 3d he delivered up the city of New Amsterdam. Stuyvesant died ill New York City in August, 1682. After the English occupation he lived on his farm or bouwerij, just outside the city limits, until his death. He was buried at St. Mark's Church in that city.


Peter Stuyvesant exhibited a character of high morality in private life, as well as in his negotiations with the English and Indians. He showed in these firmness of manner, sharpness of perception, clearness of argument, and soundness of judgment. As a Church and State man, he was thoroughly conservative. As usual with the majority on governors sent from Europe, he took sides, on his arrival, with the officeholders whom he found in the country, and who had already inflicted SO much injury on the Province. Thus he became separated from the mass of his countrymen, and proved himself really a tyrant against the people in their struggles for freer institutions.




Peter Stuyvesant was the last, and, like the renowned Wouter Van Twiller, the best of our ancient Dutch governors, Wouter having surpassed all who preceded him, and Pieter or Piet, as he was socially called by the old Dutch burghers, who were ever prone to familiarize names, having never been equalled by any successor. He was, in fact, the very man fitted by nature to retrieve the desperate fortunes of his beloved province, had not the fates, those most potent and Unrelenting of all ancient spinsters, destined them to inextricable confusion.


To say merely that he was a hero would be doing him great injustice: he was, in truth, a combination of heroes; for he was of a sturdy, rawboned make like Ajax Telamon, with a pair of round shoulders that Hercules would have given his hide for meaning his lion's hide, when he undertook to ease old Atlas of his load. He was, moreover, as Plutarch describes Coriolanus, not only terrible for the force of his arm, but likewise of his voice, which sounded as though it came out of a barrel; and, like the self-same warrior, he possessed a sovereign contempt for the sovereign people, and an iron aspect, which was enough of itself to make the very bowels of his adversaries quake with terror and dismay. All this martial excellency of appearance was inexpressibly heightened by an accidental advantage, with which! am surprised that neither Homer nor Virgil have graced any of their heroes. This was nothing less than a wooden leg, which was the only prize he had gained in bravely fighting the battles of his country, but of which he was so proud, that he was often heard to declare he valued it more than all his other limbs put together indeed, so highly did he esteem it, that he had it gallantly enchased and relieved with silver devices, which caused it to be related in divers histories and legends that he wore a silver leg.


Like that choleric warrior Achilles, he was somewhat subject to extempore burst of passion, which were rather unpleasant to his favorites and attendants, whose perceptions be was apt to quicken, after the manner of his illustrious imitator, Peter the Great, by anointing their shoulders with his walking-staff. Though I cannot find that he had read Plato, or Aristotle, or Hobbes, or Bacon, or Algernon Sydney, or Tom Paine, yet did he sometimes manifest a shrewdness and sagacity in his measures that one would hardly expect from a man who did not know Greek, and had never studied the ancients. True it is, and I confess it with sorrow, that he had an unreasonable aversion to experiments, and was fond of governing his province after the simplest manner but then he contrived to keep it in better order than did the erudite Kieft, though he had all the philosophers, ancient and modern, to assist and perplex him. I must likewise own that he made but very few laws, but then again he took care that those few were rigidly and impartially enforced and do not know but justice, all the whole, was as well administered as if there had been volumes of sage acts and statutes yearly made, and daily neglected or forgotten.


He was, in fact, the very reverse of his predecessors, being neither tranquil and inert, like Walter the Doubter, nor rest· less and fidgeting, like William the Testy; but a man, or rather a governor, of such uncommon activity and decision of mind, that he never sought nor accepted the advice of others i depending bravely upon his single head, as would a hero of yore upon his single arm, to carry hint through all difficulties and dangers. To tell the simple truth, he wanted nothing more to complete him as a statesman than to think always right, for no one can say but that he always acted as he thought.


He was never a man to flinch when be found himself ill a scrape: but to dash forward through thick and thin, trusting by hook or by crook, to make all things straight in the end. In a word, he possessed in an eminent degree that great quality in a statesman, called perseverance by the polite, but nicknamed obstinacy by the vulgar,-a wonderful salve for official blunders, since he who perseveres in error without flinching gets the credit of boldness and consistency while he who wavers in seeking to do what is right gets stigmatized as a trimmer. This much is certain, and it is a maxim well worthy the attention of all legislators, great and small, who stand shaking in the wind, irresolute which way to steer, that a ruler who follows his own will pleases himself, while be who seeks to satisfy the wishes and whims of others runs great risk of pleasing nobody. There is nothing, too, like putting down one's foot resolutely, when in doubt, and letting things take their course. The clock that stands still points right twice in the four-and-twenty hours, while others may keep going continually, and be continually going wrong. Nor did this magnanimous quality escape the discernment of the good people of Niew Nederlands on the contrary, so much were they struck with the independent will and vigorous resolution displayed on all occasions by their new Governor, that they universally called him Hard·Koppig Piet, or Peter the headstrong-a great compliment to the strength of his understanding.


If from all that I have said thou dost not gather, worthy reader, that Peter Stuyvesant was a tough, sturdy, valiant, weather-beaten, mettlesome, obstinate, leathern-sided, lionhearted, generous-spirited old governor, either have written to but little purpose, or thou art dull at drawing conclusions. -W. IRVING.


Peter Stuyvesant