Dutch Charters & Remonstrances

Letter from the Directors in Amsterdam to the Director General and Council
Letter from the Directors in Amsterdam to the Director General and Council. Courtesy of New York State Archives

Charter of the Dutch West India Company (1621)

In 1621, the parliament of the Dutch Republic awarded a charter to the Dutch West India Company (a private joint stock corporation) granting it a 24-year monopoly on trade and colonization that included the American coast between Newfoundland and the Straits of Magellan. The charter authorized the Company to maintain a military force and granted it almost complete administrative and judicial power, including the power to “appoint and remove governors, officers of justice and other public officers, for the preservation of the places, keeping good order, police and justice in like manner for the promoting of trade” within the bounds of its monopoly. The Company began to settle New Netherland in 1625 and regulated the population through:

  • the Artikelbrief (rules of behavior governing the Company’s employees)
  • the Provisionele Ordere of March 1624 (a contract between the colonists and the Company outlining rights and duties)
  • two sets of Instructions issued by the Company to Provisional Director Verhulst (one in January and the other in April of 1625)
  • Article 20 of the April Instructions that provided “In the administration of justice, in matters concerning marriages, the settlement of estates, and contracts, the ordinances and customs of Holland and Zeeland and the common written law qualifying them shall be observed and obeyed in the first place.”

Charter of Freedoms and Exemptions (1629)

To encourage agricultural settlement in New Netherland, the Dutch West India Company issued a Charter of Freedoms and Exemptions on June 7, 1629 to encourage the agricultural settlement of New Netherland. All stockholders in the Company were authorized to buy land from the Native Americans and set up patroonships that replicated the feudal lordships of Europe. Each stockholder who wished to become a patroon was required to settle the land he purchased by bringing to the colony at least fifty people over fifteen years of age. Patroonships could be set up in any part of New Netherland except Manhattan and could have a frontage of sixteen miles on one bank or eight miles on each bank of any navigable river. The estate could extend “so far into the country as the situation of the occupiers would permit.”

The patroons had full title to the land and their power over their settlers was almost unlimited. Without the patroon’s written consent, no settler could leave the patroonship until a stipulated number of years had been served. The charter promised the tenants exemption from all taxation for ten years and that the Company would provide “as many blacks (slaves) as they conveniently could” to work the farms.

The patroons were empowered to set up courts of civil and criminal jurisdiction. In all cases affecting life and limb, and in suits where the sum in litigation exceeded twenty dollars, an appeal lay to the Director and Council at Fort Amsterdam.

Although several patroonships were set up under the 1629 charter (Swanendael, Pavonia, Staten Island and Rensselaerwyck), all failed before, during or shortly after Kieft’s Indian War with the exception of Kiliaen Van Rensselaer’s patroonship in Rensselaerswyck which lasted into the middle of the 19th century. The patroonship system and the crushing burden it imposed on the farmers working the land led to the New York anti-rent cases in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Charter of Freedoms and Exemptions (1640)

Disputes between the Company and the patroons continued, and in January 1640, the Dutch parliament sought a final settlement between the Company and the patroons. An entirely new charter, the 1640 Charter of Freedoms and Exemptions, was drafted and approved by the two factions, and enacted by the Dutch parliament on July 19, 1640. This charter vested title to land in anyone who could ensure its immediate cultivation. Smaller patroonships (extending one Dutch mile along a navigable river, or two miles landward) were available to any patroon who brought five people over the age of fifteen to New Netherland. Individual settlers could obtain small parcels of land suitable for a family farm. The only condition imposed by the Dutch parliament was that settlers must take oaths of allegiance to the Dutch West India Company and to the Dutch parliament. In addition to the many families that emigrated to New Netherland from Holland, large numbers of people from New England and Virginia moved to New Netherland and took the required oaths of allegiance.

Charter of Freedoms and Exemptions (1650)

This order was promulgated by the Dutch Parliament in response to the Remonstrance of New Netherland. Clause 17 of the order mandated that a municipal government be established in New Amsterdam, to consist of a Schout, two Burgomasters and five Schepens. These officials were to be elected by the citizens in the manner usual “in this City of Amsterdam,” and were also to constitute the City’s court of justice. Despite this mandate, the form of municipal government implemented by Director-General Stuyvesant on February 2, 1653, reserved to the Director-General the right to appoint the municipal officials. Stuyvesant also designated the New Netherland Fiscael to act as the Schout of the City of New Amsterdam, thereby depriving the city of a separate law enforcement official.

The Twelve Men and Director Kieft’s Indian War (1642)

Dutch relations with the Native Americans began well and the Company’s Instructions to Director Willem Verhulst mandated that the indigenous population be treated with “honesty, faithfulness and sincerity.” Indian rights to and possession of the land were to be respected. Two years later, the Dutch soldiers in Fort Orange (Albany) joined a group of Mahicans in a raid on the Mohawks, but the Mohawks ambushed the posse along the way and killed four of the Dutch, including Commissar (Commander) Daniel van Crieckenbeeck. Director Pieter Minuit immediately recalled the settlers in all the outlying trading posts to the relative safety of New Amsterdam, leaving the soldiers to protect the posts. Because there were so few colonists in New Amsterdam, the Manhattan tribes continued to live on the north end of the island, and relations between the Dutch and the Native Americans were generally good.

Director Willem Kieft arrived in New Amsterdam on March 28, 1638. The following year, the Company relinquished its monopoly on fur and other trade, and immigrants from New England, Virginia and Europe flooded into New Amsterdam. The colony’s relations with the tribes inhabiting the lands around New Amsterdam deteriorated when the new settlers set up farms in areas inhabited by the Native Americans. Director Kieft’s open support for the Mohawk tribe, his imposition of a “protection” tax on the local tribes and the colonial traders’ widespread practice of swindling the native people exacerbated the tension.

In 1640, some swine were stolen by settlers on the De Vries‘ plantation on Staten Island, and Director Kieft used the incident to charge the (innocent) Raritans with the theft. He sent a force of one hundred armed men to exact punishment on the tribe and several Raritans, including a sachem, were killed. Anger at this injustice led the neighboring tribes to withhold the corn tax and to attack local European settlers. Matters got worse when a young Wecquaesgeek man, who as a child had vowed to revenge the murder of his uncle by the colonists, came of age. In 1641, he attacked an innocent Dutch wheelwright with an axe, and killed him. Honor vindicated, the young man returned to his tribe, bringing with him the wheelwright’s scalp.

In those tense days, Director Kieft resolved to wage war on the native people but was reluctant to take sole responsibility for such a major decision. On August 28, 1641, he summoned the heads of the settler families to Fort Amsterdam and instructed them to select twelve of their number to advise him on relations with the Native American people. The event is of historical significance because the men selected constituted the first representative assembly in New Netherland.

To Kieft’s dismay, the Twelve Men advised patience and negotiation as a means of resolving the differences with the tribes, and then turned their attention to the government of New Netherland. Although the subject was beyond their remit, they petitioned for popular representation on the Governor’s Council, suggesting that four of their number, chosen by popular vote, should be members of the Council. The Twelve Men also sought the removal of restrictions on trade.

In January 1642, after months of wrangling, Director Kieft announced that he would agree to the terms of the petition if the Twelve Men would authorize his proposed war against the Native American people. Reluctantly, the Twelve Men agreed, but once Kieft obtained their endorsement of his plan, he issued an order abrogating the Twelve Men, and forbidding, on pain of corporal punishment, public meetings of the people without his order. Kieft’s duplicity outraged the population and opposition to war continued.

A few of the Twelve Men supported Kieft’s war plan and, in February 1643, Jan Jansen Damen reputedly hosted a Shrovetide dinner at his house to discuss the matter. Among the guests were Maryn Adriaensen and Damen’s step-sons-in-law Abraham Ver Planck and Cornelis Van Tienhoven. Van Tienhoven, who was the Secretary of New Netherland, drew up a petition requesting the Director to order an immediate attack upon two groups of a local tribe who had sought refuge from Mohawk attacks in the Dutch settlements in Pavonia and Corlear’s Hook. Damen, Adriaensen and Ver Plank signed the petition and presented it to the Director on February 24, 1643. Kieft readily endorsed the petition and ordered Van Tienhoven to lead the soldiers stationed at Fort Amsterdam in an attack on the tribal people sheltering at Pavonia. The raid took place on the of night on February 25, and eighty Native Americans were brutally massacred. Kieft ordered Maryn Adriaensen and a band of volunteers to go to Corlear’s Hook to attack the refugees assembled there. A further forty Indian men, women and children were slaughtered there.

In the Summer of 1643, there were about 400 adult men in New Amsterdam, insufficient to defend the settlement in time of war. The majority of the Twelve Men, the nine who had not known of or signed the petition advocating the attacks, strenuously objected to the action taken in their names. Kieft, seeking to deflect criticism, focused blame on Maryn Adriaensen, who had led the attack at Corlear’s Hook. Goaded by the recollections of all that he had risked and lost, Adriaensen armed himself with a loaded pistol and cutlass, went to Fort Amsterdam and attacked Kieft. The Director escaped injury, but Adriaensen was bound in chains and put on board a ship to Holland to stand trial in Amsterdam.

In September 1643, circumstances again forced Director Kieft to authorize a gathering of the families of New Netherland and from their number, to select eight men to consult with the Director and his Council.

The Twelve Men
David Pietersen de Vries (Chairman)
Maryn Adriaensen
Jacques Bentyn (Schout)
Jan Jansen Damen
Gerrit Dircksen
Hendrick Jansen
Jochem Pietersen Kuyter
Frederick Lubbertsen
Abraham Pietersen van Deusen (Abram Molenaar)
Joris Jansen de Rapelje
Jacob Stoffelsen
Abraham Isaacse Ver Planck

The Eight Men and the Remonstrance of the Manhatas (1643)

The winter of 1643 was an extremely difficult time for the colonists of New Netherland. The Indian War continued, food was scarce, Indian attacks were frequent, and those colonists who escaped from their burning homes often found themselves without winter clothing or household goods. In the summer that followed, the survivors gathered in the fort in New Amsterdam and those Manhattan farmers who ventured outside the palisade to plant their fields were in constant danger of attack.

In September 1643, Director Willem Kieft authorized a gathering of the families of New Netherland and from their number, eight men were selected to consult with the Director and his Council. The Eight Men had no power to call meetings on their own initiative, but were required to attend meetings with the Director and Council every Saturday. Legislative actions approved at the Saturday meetings were valid provided five of the Eight Men were present.

When Director Kieft proposed recruiting mercenaries to assist in the defense of the colony, the Eight Men reluctantly agreed to the imposition of additional taxes on the New Netherland population. Shortly afterward, soldiers were sent from Holland, and Director Kieft sought to raise further taxes for their support. The Eight Men resisted on the ground that the Dutch West India Company had guaranteed protection as an inducement to emigration. Director Kieft ignored the advice of the Eight Men and imposed the tax without their consent.

Outraged, the Eight Men followed in the footsteps of the Twelve Men and acted beyond the scope of authority granted by Director Kieft. On October 28, 1644, they met at Fort Amsterdam to sign the Remonstrance of the Eight Men of the Manhatas, addressed to the Company and the Dutch parliament, the first petition sent to the home government by a popular body in New Netherland. It described the plight of New Amsterdam, the Native American massacre, and concluded with a request for a system of representative government similar to that of the municipalities in the Netherlands.

The Dutch West India Company disregarded the remonstrance, but the document raised concern in the Dutch parliament, which had begun to take an interest in the affairs of the colony. Members of the parliament urged the recall of Director Kieft for examination, and eventually the Company agreed to appointed Pieter Stuyvesant to replace Director Kieft. Director-General Stuyvesant was sworn into office before the Dutch Parliament on July 28, 1846 and Lubbert van Dincklagen, the former Schout-Fiscael under Director Wouter van Twiller, was sworn in as the Vice-Director.

The Eight Men, 1643-1645

Cornelis Melyn (Chairman)
Isaack Allerton
Jan Evertsen Bout (vice Jan Jansen Dam, expelled)
Barent Dircksen
Thomas Hall
Jochem Pietersen Kuyter
Abraham Pietersen Van Duesen
Wolphert Gerritsen van Cowenhoven

Jacob Stoffelsen
John Underhill
Francis Douty
George Baxter
Richard Smith
Gysbert Opdyck
Jan Evertsen Bout
Oloff Stevensen van Cortlandt

The Nine Men and the Remonstrance of the Commonality of New Netherland (1649)

When Director-General Pieter Stuyvesant arrived in New Netherland in 1647, he requested the people to select 18 representatives, from among whom he would appoint an assembly of nine advisors to be known as the Nine Men. Not long afterward, Stuyvesant deemed the assembly of the Nine Men uncooperative and disbanded it. Meanwhile, two of the Eight Men, Cornelis Melyn and Jochem Kuyter, demanded that Stuyvesant set up an investigation of Director Willem Kieft’s misconduct in office. Outraged by their insubordination, Stuyvesant charged the two men with libeling Kieft in the Remonstrance of the Eight Men of the Manhatas, and the Court of Justice of New Netherland sentenced them to banishment and forfeiture. Forced to return to the Netherlands, Melyn and Kuyter appealed their sentences to the Dutch parliament.

To garner public support, the Director-General appointed a second assembly of Nine Men in 1649 and one of its number, Adriaen van der Donck, was selected as president. This assembly suggested calling a convention of the colony’s inhabitants to deliberate on the needs of the colony, and to prepare a remonstrance to be sent to the authorities in Holland. Among the more serious grievances of the colonists were the frequent confiscation of ships and goods in the New Amsterdam port, the high customs duties, the burdensome business restrictions, and the colonial boundaries controversy with New England that had led to a ban on Dutch merchants trading in areas under English rule.

Stuyvesant perceived the proposed convention as a threat to his control of the colony and forbade the gathering. The Director-General ordered the Nine Men make all representations to the authorities in the Netherlands through him. Unable to call a convention, the Nine Men decided to gather the needed information by going from house to house to meet with the colony’s inhabitants. Van der Donck kept a journal documenting their work, but when Stuyvesant learned of these activities, he seized the journal and placed Van der Donck under arrest.

In March 1649, Cornelis Melyn (of the Eight Men), arrived back in New Netherland with an order of the Dutch parliament permitting an appeal from the criminal judgments pronounced against Melyn and Kuyter by the Court of New Netherland. The order suspended all proceedings under the challenged judgments, and summoned Director-General Stuyvesant to appear before the Dutch parliament to justify his acts, a public rebuke to Stuyvesant. This order emboldened the Nine Men to pursue their objections to the Director-General’s policies.

Van der Donck was brought before the Court of New Netherland on March 15, 1649. Lubertus Van Dincklagen, the Vice-Director of the colony and a member of the Director-General’s Council, spoke in favor of Van der Donck, and the court released him from custody but prohibited him from participating further in the assembly of the Nine Men. Stuyvesant perceived Van Dincklagen’s defense of Van der Donck as disloyalty and expelled the Vice-Director from the Council. Van Dincklagen resisted, contending that his commission was from the Dutch parliament, which alone could remove him. The Director-General imprisoned Van Dincklagen in the fort but the Vice-Director escaped and took refuge in Cornelis Melyn’s farm on Staten Island.

Despite Stuyvesant’s opposition, on July 26, 1649, the Memorial and Remonstrance of the Commonality of New Netherland was signed by the Nine Men. The documents sought redress to the problems confronting the colonists:

[N]o one is unmolested nor secure in his property any longer than the Director pleases who is generally very prone to confiscation. And though men act fairly and give him his due, yet it is necessary still to continue to please him, if one would have quietness. Good population should follow good government, as we have demonstrated, according to our ability, in our petition. And although free passages and the fitting out of ships, were such requisite, would, at first, cause expense, yet when the result is considered, such an outlay would be immeasurably well employed, if farmers and laborers with other people in straitened circumstances, of whom Fatherland has plenty to spare, were by that means introduced with what little they may have, into the country. We hope it would then prosper, especially had it, what we consider to be the mother of population, good Privileges and Exemptions, which could encourage the inhabitants; attract navigation and profitable trade, and with the pleasantness, convenience, salubrity and productiveness of the country, allure everyone hither. If a Boundary were added in the protection, to what has been already done, then with God’s help everything would, in human probability, go well, and New Netherland could be, in a short time, a brave place, able, also, to be of service to the Netherland State, to richly repay expended outlays and to thank her benefactors.

Three of the Nine—Van der Donck, Jacob Wolphertsen van Couwenhoven, and Jan Evertsen Bout—were sent as delegates to the Dutch parliament in Holland. Alarmed, Stuyvesant sent Secretary Cornelis Van Tienhoven to Amsterdam to present his side of the case. Although the West India Company vigorously opposed consideration of the remonstrance by the Dutch parliament, the New Netherland delegates were received formally in the great hall of parliament, the Ridderzaal (Knights’ Hall), and a parliamentary committee was appointed to consider the documents they submitted.

The West India Company disputed the authority of the parliament to act in the matter and succeeded in stalling the committee’s consideration of the remonstrance. Adriaen Van der Donck was relentless, constantly augmenting the remonstrance as ships arrived from New Amsterdam with details of the latest grievances. Finally, the parliamentary committee reported in favor of a number of minor reforms, recalled Stuyvesant to report to parliament and approved the implementation of municipal government in New Amsterdam replicating the governance “in this City of Amsterdam.” Thinking that their objectives had been achieved, Couwenhoven and Bout returned to New Netherland.

But the West India Company ignored the parliamentary order, forcing Van der Donck to continue his campaign. He printed the Remonstrance as a pamphlet, Vertoogh Van Nicuw Nederlandt (1650), a quarto tract of 49 pages. The descriptions of New Netherland fascinated the Dutch people and the West India Company, realizing that it might lose control to the Dutch parliament, instructed Stuyvesant to set up a municipal government in New Amsterdam. Stuyvesant, knowing the Company’s reluctance in this matter, did not fully implement the order but put into effect a modified version on February 2, 1653.

The Nine Men
Adriaen van der Donck (President)
Augustine Heermans
Arnoldus van Hardenburg
Govert Loockermans
Jacob Wolphertsen van Couwenhoven 
Hendrick Hendricksen Kip
Michiel Jansen
Jan Evertsen Bout
Thomas Hall

Product added to cart

No products in the cart.