Pieter Stuyvesant

c. 1612-1672

Director-General of New Netherland, 1647-1664

Pieter Stuyvesant was born in Friesland in the Netherlands around 1612. He studied languages and philosophy in the University of Franeker, the second university established in the Netherlands. Joining the Dutch West India Company around 1635, he was Director of the Dutch colony of Curaçao from 1642 to 1644. In April 1644, Stuyvesant led an attack on the Spanish island of Saint Martin during which he was hit by a cannonball. His right leg was badly injured and he was forced to return to Holland for medical treatment. Eventually, his leg was amputated and afterward he wore a prosthetic limb, a wooden pegleg ornamented with silver bands.

Director-General Stuyvesant was sworn into office before the Dutch parliament on July 28, 1646 to replace the recalled Director, Willem Kieft, and arrived in New Netherland in May 1647. In September of that year, he appointed an advisory council to represent the citizenry, the Nine Men. The first assembly was appointed in 1648 but Director-General Stuyvesant deemed the members uncooperative and appointed a second Council in 1649. Adriaen van der Donck was a member of the second Council and became its president. In 1649, the Nine Men drafted the Great Remonstrance of New Netherland and sent three delegates to Holland to present the remonstrance to the Dutch West India Company and the Dutch parliament. Director-General Stuyvesant sent the Secretary of New Netherland, Cornelis van Tienhoven, to Holland as his representative in opposition to the Remonstrance. The Dutch parliament ordered Stuyvesant to return to the Hague to testify, but the outbreak of the first Anglo-Dutch war led them to rescind the recall. In September 1650, Director-General Stuyvesant agreed to the Treaty of Hartford that defined a border between the Dutch and the English in Connecticut. The Nine Men opposed this agreement, stating that “the governor had ceded away enough territory to found fifty colonies each fifty miles square.” This too was added to the Remonstrance.

The Remonstrance of New Netherland resulted in the Provisional Order, 1650, promulgated by the Dutch Parliament. Clause 17 established a municipal form of government in New Amsterdam, to consist of a Schout, two Burgomasters and five Schepens, to be elected by the citizens in the manner usual “in this City of Amsterdam,” and to act as a court of justice. This system of government was implemented in part in New Amsterdam by Director-General Stuyvesant on February 2, 1653. The right of election was not granted to the citizens. Stuyvesant retained the right to appoint the municipal officials and he designated the New Netherland Fiscael to act as the Schout of New Amsterdam.

Pieter Stuyvesant was strongly committed to the supremacy of the Dutch Reformed Church in New Netherland and issued an ordinance forbidding Lutheran services. It was not until the Directors of the Dutch West India Company (three of whom were Lutherans) intervened that the order was rescinded and the gathering of Lutherans in private homes for worship was permitted. On 26 January 1654, the Dutch surrendered their colony in Brazil to the Portugese and many Jews were among those who fled. Stuyvesant refused to allow the refugees to settle in New Amsterdam and wrote to the Dutch West India Company urging that “the deceitful race–such hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ–be not allowed to further infect and trouble this new colony.” Stuyvesant expressed a wider concern – that “Jewish settlers should not be granted the same liberties enjoyed by Jews in Holland, lest members of other persecuted minority groups, such as Roman Catholics, be attracted to the colony.” The board of the Dutch West India Company, many of whom were Jews, forced Stuyvesant to allow the Jewish immigrants to stay, although the Director-General mandated that the Jewish community be self-supporting and forbade the construction of a synagogue.

The Quakers arrived in New Netherland in 1657, causing Director-General Stuyvesant to engage again in a campaign of religious persecution. He issued an ordinance that made harboring a Quaker a crime punishable by fine and imprisonment. This led the people of Vlissingen (none of whom were Quakers) to lodge a protest now known as the Flushing Remonstrance, a remarkable document advocating religious freedom that has had influence well beyond its time. In 1663, the Dutch West India Company, fearing that too rigorous a policy of religious repression might reduce immigration, instructed Director-General Stuyvesant to end religious persecution in the colony.
Following the Surrender of 1664, when the colony was ceded to the English crown, Director-General Stuyvesant returned to Holland to report to the Dutch authorities. Afterward, he returned to New Amsterdam and lived the rest of his life on his Manhattan farm, the Great Bouwerie.

Pieter Stuyvesant died in August 1672, just one year before the English ceded the colony to Dutch rule once more. His remains lie in the Stuyvesant family burial vault under St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery, at the intersection of Stuyvesant Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan.


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