History of Holland > New Amsterdam history (New York) > Peter Stuyvesant the last of the Dutch governors in New Amsterdam

Peter Stuyvesant the last of the Dutch governors in New Amsterdam

Peter Stuyvesant the last of the Dutch governors in New AmsterdamIt was some day for the little colony of New Amsterdam, that May morning in the year 1647, when a one-legged man landed at the lower part of the island, and stumped his way up the path that led to the fort. Not only everyone that lived in the town gathered there, but everyone on the island, and many from more distant parts. There were Indians, too, who walked sedately, their quiet serenity in strange contrast to the colonists, who yelled and shouted for joy, and clapped their hands at every salute from the guns. And when the fort was reached (it was only a few steps from the river-bank) the man with the wooden leg turned to those who followed him. The guns were silent, and the people stood still.

"I shall govern you," said he, "as a father does his children."

Then there were more shouts, and more booming of cannon, and the name of Peter Stuyvesant was on every tongue. For the man with a wooden leg was Peter Stuyvesant, the new Governor appointed by the West India Company, and not one of those who shouted that day had an idea that he was to be the last of the Dutch governors.

Stuyvesant had long been in the employ of the West India Company, and his leg had been shot off in a battle while he was in their service.

He was a stern man, with a bad temper, and seemed to have made it a point in life never to yield to anyone in anything. He ruled in the way he thought best, and he let it always be understood that he did not care much for the advice of others. He did what he could for the people to make their life as happy as possible. Of course he had orders from the "West Indische Compagnie" (Dutch West India Company) that he was bound to obey, and these orders did not always please the people. But his rule was just, and he was the most satisfactory of all the Dutch governors.

Stuyvesant's first work was to put the city in better condition. He did this by having the vacant lots about the fort either built upon or cleared. The hog-pens which had been in front of the houses were taken away. All the fences were put in repair, and where weeds had grown rank, they were replaced by pretty gardens. These, and a great many other things he did, until the town took on quite a new air.

Up to this time the people had been ruled by governors who did all things just as they saw fit. They became tired of this, and complained so much that the Company in Holland decided to make a change. So after Stuyvesant had been Governor for a while, some other officers were appointed to help him. There was one officer called a schout, very much the same as a mayor is in these days. Two others were called burgomasters, and five others were called schepens. The burgomasters and the schepens presided over the trials, in the stone tavern which Governor Kieft had built at Coenties Slip, and which had now become the Stadt Huys or City Hall.

With the appointment of these officers, New Amsterdam became a city. But as Governor Stuyvesant named the officers and as he plainly told them that they must not interfere with his orders, and as he still had his own way, regardless of what the officers said and did, the colony was little different as a city from what it had been before.

In the fall of this year, 1652, war was declared between England and Holland. Stuyvesant, fearing that the English in New England, which was on the borders of New Netherland, would attack the city, set about fortifying it. The fence that Governor Kieft had built so that the cattle could not wander away was changed into a wall that extended from river to river. The fort was repaired, and a strong body of citizens mounted guard by day and by night. Everything was prepared for an attack. But the enemy did not come after all.

Matters went along quietly enough for three years, until some Swedes on the Delaware River began to build houses on Dutch lands. Then Stuyvesant, with 160 men, in 7 ships, sailed around to the Delaware River, and conquered the Swedes.

It was quite ten years since the Indian war, and Stuyvesant, by his kindness, had made friends of the savages, and had come to be called their "great friend," But soon after he left to make war on the Swedes, one of the colonists killed an Indian. In a few days there was an uprising of Indian tribes. In New Jersey and on Staten Island they murdered colonists, burned houses, and laid farms waste. Stuyvesant hurriedly returned. He made peace with the Indians, treating them kindly, as though there had never been any trouble. He gave them presents, and used such gentle measures that the war which had threatened to be so serious ended abruptly.

In the calmer days that followed, attention was given to improvements in the city. By this time there were around 1,000 persons on the island. Streets were nicely laid out, and the city of New Amsterdam grew, day by day. It was a tiny place still, however, for it all lay below the present Wall Street. Some distance beyond the city wall was a fenced-in pasture for cattle, which was later to become The Common, and still later City Hall Park. Farther on there was a wide lake, so deep that it was thought to be bottomless. On its banks were a vast heap of oyster-shells, where an Indian village had been. This place was called Kalch-hook, or Shell-point. Afterward it was shortened to The Kalch, and in time was called The Collect. The lake was called Collect Lake. There is no trace of it today, for it was filled in, and the Tombs Prison now stands upon the spot.

The entire province was in a flourishing condition, but danger was near. The English had long looked with covetous eye upon the possessions of the Dutch in America. The English, it must be remembered, claimed not only New Netherland, but a great part of the American continent, on the plea that the Cabots had discovered it.

After all this long time, when the Cabots had been forgotten by most persons, in the year 1664, Charles II. decided that the English claim was just, and gave New Netherland to his brother James, Duke of York. The Duke of York at once sent four ships filled with soldiers to take possession of his property.

When the English war-ships sailed up the bay, the town was ill-protected, and the people had no desire to resist, for Stuyvesant and the West India Company had been most strict, and they hoped to be more free under English rule. Stuyvesant, with scarcely a supporter, stood firm and unyielding. He had no thought of submitting to superior force. "I would rather be carried out dead," he exclaimed. But when at length he realized that he was absolutely alone, and that there were no means of defence for the city, he surrendered.

On this same morning of September 8, 1664, Stuyvesant, with his head bowed sadly, marched at the head of his soldiers out of Fort Amsterdam, with flags flying and drums beating. And the English soldiers, who had landed, and were waiting a little way off, entered the fort with their flags flying and their drums beating.

So the city of New Amsterdam became the city of New York, and the province of New Netherland became the province of New York, and Fort Amsterdam became Fort James - all this in honor of James, Duke of York, who now came into possession.

Stuyvesant went to Holland to explain why he had surrendered New Netherland. But he came back again, and years after he died in the little Bouwerie Village which he had built. In St. Mark's Church to this day may be seen a tablet which tells that the body of the last Dutch Governor lies buried there.