Local Courts in New Netherland

Long Island and Other Local English Courts

In the early 1640s, many English families from Connecticut arrived in Long Island and applied to New Netherland Director Willem Kieft in New Amsterdam for the right to settle there. Kieft granted charters of incorporation to four English towns: Mespath (Newtown), Hempstead, Vlissingen (Flushing) and Gravesend. These charters defined the territorial boundaries of the towns and set up a political structure that included local courts of limited jurisdiction in which laymen administered a form of English common law. The courts administered a very basic form of common law interwoven with religious values. The New Netherland Directors reserved the right to appoint magistrates in the English towns and, if necessary, to suspend the courts.

In 1652 Director-General Stuyvesant had, by virtue of his office, established a court among the English at Beverwyck (Albany). In 1656 and 1659, similar courts were established by Stuyvesant among the English settlers at Canorasset (Jamaica) and Middleburgh (Newton).

The Dutch Towns

Courts similar to the Court of Burgomasters and Schepens were established on Long Island, in that district known as “The Five Dutch Towns” and in Breukelen (Brooklyn). Each of these towns had its separate courts, but also constituted a circuit over which the Schout of Brooklyn presided.



Henry Wilson Scott. The Courts of the State of New York: Their History, Development and Jurisdiction (1909)


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