"...this Disgraceful Persecution."

excerpted from

"Peter Stuyvesant: The Last Dutch Governor of New Amsterdam,"

by John S. C. Abbott (1873)

A man like [Peter] Stuyvesant, the warm advocate of arbitrary power, would almost of necessity, be religiously intolerant. Zealously devoted to the Reformed church, and resolved to have unity in religion, notwithstanding the noble toleration which existed in Holland, he issued a proclamation forbidding any one from holding a religious meeting not in harmony with the Reformed church.

Any preacher, who should violate this ordinance was to be subjected to a penalty of one hundred pounds. Any one who should attend such a meeting was to be punished by a penalty of twenty-five pounds.

This law was rigorously enforced. Recusants were fined and imprisoned. Complaints were sent to Holland, and the governor was severely rebuked for his bigotry.

"We would fain," the Directors [of the West India Company] wrote to Stuyvesant, "not have seen your worship's hand set to the placard against the Lutherans, nor have heard that you oppressed them with the imprisonments of which they have complained to us. It has always been our intention to let them enjoy all calmness and tranquillity. Wherefore you will not hereafter publish any similar placards, without our previous consent, but allow all the free exercise of their religion within their own houses."

But Stuyvesant was a man born to govern, not be governed. He was silent respecting the instructions he had received from home. When the Lutherans informed him that the Directors of the Company had ordered that the same toleration should exist in New Netherland which was practiced in the fatherland, he firmly replied that he must wait for further explanations, and that in the mean time his ordinance against public conventicles must be executed.

At Flushing a cobbler from Rhode Island, a baptist, William Wickendam by name, ventured to preach, "and even went with the people into the river and dipped them." He was fined one thousand pounds and ordered to be banished. As he was a poor man the debt was remitted, but he was obliged to leave the province.


It is said that at this time the "public," exercises of religion were not allowed to any sects in Holland except the Calvinists. But all others were permitted to engage freely in their worship in private houses, which were in fact, as if public, these places of preaching being spacious and of sufficient size for any assembly. Under this construction of the law every religion was in fact tolerated.

The Lutherans in Holland sent a clergyman, Ernestus Goetwater, to New Amsterdam, to organize a church. The Directors wrote,

"It is our intention to permit every one to have freedom within his own dwelling, to serve God in such manner as his religion requires, but without authorizing any public meetings or conventicles."

This tolerance, so imperfect in the light of the nineteenth century, was very noble in the dark days of the seventeenth. Upon the arrival of Goetwater at New Amsterdam, the clergy of the Reformed church remonstrated against his being permitted to preach. The governor, adhering to his policy of bigotry, forbade him to hold any meeting, or to do any clerical service, but to regulate his conduct according to the placards of the province against private conventicles. Soon after this the governor ordered him to leave the colony and to return to Holland. This harsh decree was however suspended out of regard to the feeble health of Goetwater.

On the 6th of August, 1657, a ship arrived at New Amsterdam with several Quakers on board. Two of them, women, began to preach publicly in the streets. They were arrested and imprisoned. Soon after they were discharged and embarked on board a ship to sail through Hell Gate, to Rhode Island, "where," writes Domine Megapolensis, "all kinds of scum dwell, for it is nothing else than a sink for New England."

One of the Quakers, Robert Hodgson, went over to Long Island. At Hempstead he was arrested and committed to prison, and was thence transferred to one of the dungeons of fort Amsterdam. He was brought before the Council, convicted of the crime of preaching contrary to the law, and was sentenced to pay a fine of six hundred guilders, about two hundred and forty dollars, or to labor two years at a wheelbarrow, with a negro.

After a few days' imprisonment he was chained to the wheelbarrow and commanded to work. He refused. A negro was ordered to beat him with a tarred rope, which he did until the sufferer fell, in utter exhaustion, almost senseless to the ground. The story of the persecutions which this unhappy man endured, is almost too dreadful to be told. But it ought to be told as a warning against all religious intolerance.

"Not satisfied," writes O'Callaghan, "his persecutors had him lifted up. The negro again beat him until he fell a second time, after receiving, as was estimated, one hundred blows. Notwithstanding all this, he was kept, in the heat of the sun, chained to the wheelbarrow, his body bruised and swollen, faint from want of food, until at length he could no longer support himself and he was obliged to sit down.

"The night found him again in his cell, and the morrow at the wheelbarrow, with a sentinel over him, to prevent all conversation. On the third day he was again led forth, chained as before. He still refused to work, for he 'had committed no evil.' He was then led anew before the director-general, who ordered him to work, otherwise he should be whipt every day. He was again chained to the barrow and threatened, if he should speak to any person, with more severe punishment. But not being able to keep him silent, he was taken back to his dungeon, where he was kept several days, 'two nights and one day and a half of which without bread or water.'

"The rage of persecution was still unsatiated. He was now removed to a private room, stripped to his waist, and then hung up to the ceiling by his hands, with a heavy log of wood tied to his feet, so that he could not turn his body. A strong negro then commenced lashing him with rods until his flesh was cut in pieces. Now let down, he was thrown again into his loathsome dungeon, where he was kept ten days, in solitary confinement, after which he was brought forth to undergo a repetition of the same barbarous torture. He was now kept like a slave to hard work."

His case eventually excited so much compassion that Stuyvesant's sister interfered, and implored her brother so importunately that he was at last induced to liberate the unfortunate man. Let a firm Quaker resolve that he will not do something, and let a Governor Stuyvesant resolve that he shall do it, and it is indeed "Greek meeting Greek."

Henry Townsend, of Jamaica, ventured to hold prayer-meetings in his house, in defiance of the ordinance against conventicles. The governor sentenced him to pay a fine of eight pounds and to leave the province within six weeks, under pain of corporeal punishment. This sentence was followed by a proclamation, fining any one fifty pounds who should entertain a Quaker for a single night, and confiscating any vessels which should bring a Quaker to the province.

The inhabitants of Flushing, where Townsend had formerly resided, and where he was very highly respected, issued a noble remonstrance to Governor Stuyvesant against this persecution of their former townsman.

The remonstrance was drawn up by the town clerk, Edward Hart, and was signed by all the adult male inhabitants, twenty-nine in number. The memorial said:

"We are commanded by the law of God to do good unto all men. The law of love, peace and liberty, extending in the state to Jews, Turks and Egyptians, forms the glory of Holland. So love, peace and liberty extending to all in Christ Jesus, condemn hatred, war and bondage. We desire not to offend one of Christ's little ones under whatever form, name or title he may appear, whether Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist or Quaker. On the contrary we desire to do to all as we could wish all to do to us. Should any of those people come in love among us, we cannot lay violent hands upon them. We must give them free ingress and egress into our houses."

This remonstrance was carried to New Amsterdam by Tobias Feake, and presented to the governor. His indignation was roused. Feake was arrested and committed to prison. The sheriff was sent to Flushing to bring Hart and two of the magistrates, Farrington and Noble, to the presence of the enraged governor. It was a fearful thing to fall into his hands when his wrath was inflamed. They were imprisoned for some time, and were then released upon their humbly imploring the pardon of the governor, expressing their deep regret that they had signed the remonstrance and promising that they would sin in that way, no more. The town itself was punished by the prohibition in future of all town meetings, without the permission of the governor. Indeed the mass of the settlers were no longer to decide upon their local affairs, but a committee of seven persons was to decide all such questions. All who were dissatisfied with these arrangements were ordered to sell their property and leave the town.

It is not necessary to continue the record of this disgraceful persecution. The governor was unrelenting. Whoever ventured to oppose his will felt the weight of his chastising hand.

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