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

When Director-General Pieter Stuyvesant arrived in New Netherland in 1647, he requested the people to select eighteen 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 Joachim Kuyter, demanded that Stuyvesant set up an investigation of Director 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 Adriaen van der Donck, Augustine Heermans, Arnoldus van Hardenburg, Govert Loockermans, Jacob Wolfertsen van Couwenhoven, Hendrick Hendericksen Kip, Michiel Jansen, Jan Evertsen Bout, and Thomas Hall. 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, Couwenhoven, and 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 forty-nine 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.

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