The Story of New Netherland/Chapter 22

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THE existence of New Netherland as a political entity ceased in 1664, after which, except for a short time in 1674, the Dutch people and their descendants were cut off from vital connection with Patria. All accounts and descriptions of the New York Dutchmen after these dates, especially when penned or drawn by persons living much later, are to be read with caution and taken with much critical salt.

Happily for all, Colonel Richard Nicolls, the first governor of the Duke of York’s province, spoke both Dutch and French. He was a conscientious Irish gentleman, who soon became master of hearts, winning all by his firmness, tact, and justice. Among his first works were friendly consultation with the leading men in the province, rectification of its boundary lines, and renewal of covenant relations with the Indians.

Nicolls and Stuyvesant became good friends. It is even suspected that the Irishman learned much from the Dutchman; for, despite his merit, the King’s officer was as arbitrary in action as was the servant of the late “John Company.” Nicolls broke his promises of popular representation by summoning only a portion of the people, instead of all, by their delegates, to consider the new code of laws; but against this sweeping away their rights as citizens of New Amsterdam, the Dutch made vigorous protest. Nor was the English system of trial by jury (vulgarly supposed to date from Magna Charta) at all popular.

After four years, Nicolls was succeeded by Sir Francis Lovelace, a man of less ability and character, and even more arbitrary. Lovelace was the leader in a grand procession of English land speculators, who, making full use of their office, were in a hurry to get rich. Yet so long as the people saw that their governors meant even fairly well, and that their old customs or convictions were not disturbed, they loyally upheld them. The Duke’s laws were accepted as surprisingly liberal (their real purpose not being yet revealed), and the Dutch, being ever a law-abiding people not given to quarreling over things apparently evil, so long as the desirable substance remained, acquiesced. Nevertheless, after two years, the general verdict seemed to be that, as compared with the sort furnished by kings and dukes, republican government was by far the better thing.

When, therefore, Charles II of England joined Louis XIV in a compact of despots to destroy Dutch freedom, and war broke out, the news of a fleet of fifteen ships floating the orange, white, and blue flag, and approaching New York, was received with joy. In Patria the Dutch cut the dikes, put their country under water, and drove out the French invaders. In New York Americans were quite ready to welcome Admiral Cornelius Evertsen and Jacob Bincks. On August 7, 1673, twenty-three splendid Dutch warships with sixteen hundred soldiers of the Republic dotted the waters of New York Bay. Once more, on August 9, the flag of seven stripes, red and white, of the federal Republic floated over Manhattan. There were many tears of joy shed, caps thrown into time air, and huzzas of “Oranje boven” (up with the orange) given, as the symbol of freedom and federation once more kissed the breeze.

New York became New Netherland again. There were dissolving views of names and forms, as on the white sheet in lantern light, but the substance of society and daily custom scarcely knew change. The fort, enlarged and renamed Willem Hendrik, after the new stadtholder, William II, at home, and King William III in England, now mounted nearly two hundred guns. Colonel Anthony Colve was the military administrator.

By this time “John Company” was defunct. The people, through their burgomasters and schepens, petitioned the States-General to assume the government of the province, which was agreed to, and Admiral de Ruyter’s secretary, Joris Adringa, was appointed civil governor; but little beyond routine was, or could be, done, as we shall see.

In England, Parliament having had enough of King Charles, compelled him to stop the war, refusing to vote money or supplies, unless the royal job of doing the vile work of Louis XIV was called off. At the treaty made at Westminster, the Dutch, as many Englishmen thought, got the best of the bargain in diplomacy, for tropical regions were then considered much more valuable than colder lands. New York was given back to England, and Holland received Surinam, or, as it was then, Surreyham.

Down in South America, on its north front, we find a country which we English-speaking people call Dutch Guiana, but which the Netherlanders have corrupted into “Surinam.” Through this region Sir Walter Raleigh vainly strove to penetrate, to find the famed El Dorado, or country of the Gilded Man. Yet all the European colonies in South America, English, Dutch, and French, were at first failures. Dutch Guiana had been settled by the English, and British Guiana by the Dutch. When, after many trials, the English settlement became a success, the country was named after the Earl of Surrey. The tourist’s impression of the country to-day is that of a transported Holland, in which the official language is Dutch and the parlance of the people is “taki-taki.” The streets of the capital, Paramaribo, are lined with great mahogany trees, making arches that suggest cathedral aisles, or the “high embowéd roof” of Milton’s poetry. Thus is Dutch America transferred from the north to the south, from the continent beneath the Dipper to the continent under the Southern Cross.

At once Charles Stuart, the King, handed over the American province to James, Duke of York, who appointed Andros, a young major of dragoons, to be governor. In October, 1674, Andros arrived with the English frigates, Diamond and Castle. He was destined to play the role, so common in history, of a man successful in military life who becomes a failure in civil affairs.

Good dinners and speeches, with complimentary presents, between Colve and Andros, made the exchange of ownership as polite and pleasant an affair as were those parlor reunions of diplomats in Europe which unleashed armies to soak the earth with human blood. Perhaps Andros did not know he was to be such a cat’s paw and got so badly burned while trying to govern freemen, who, in both New England and New Netherland, loved the statutes of the realm, and law, which is older than kings or thrones, better than “secret instructions.” The Duke’s were again put in force in New York.

One of the first things Andros did was to revert to a mediæval practice as unjust to the province at large as anything ever done by the hated West India Company. He took away from the people of the interior towns the right to bolt and export flour, that is, sift meal from bran and sell it as fine flour. This outrageous monopoly, which meant little less than robbery and oppression of the farmers and millers of the province, so enriched New York City that its wealth during the sixteen years of the monopoly’s existence was tripled. At Albany and Schenectady this act caused men to grind their teeth in rage at such flagrant injustice, and created a state of feeling which made Leisler’s power possible. In other ways, Andros, the ultra-royalist, made himself hateful to both Puritan New England and Dutch New York. Nor did he satisfy his master, King James II, who recalled him and sent over Governor Thomas Dongan in his place.

Dongan convened a general assembly by votes of the people, which met October 17, 1683, — a large majority of the representatives being Dutchmen. They immediately passed the Charter of Liberties, which was intended to limit the powers of the governor and to secure the rights of the people, by means of a permanent popular representative assembly. This charter enacted that “the supreme legislative authority under His Majesty and His Royal Highness, James, Duke of York, Albany, etc., Lord Proprietor of the said Province, shall forever be and reside in the governor, council, and the people met in a general assembly.”

The people were thus made a constituent part of the Assembly by their chosen representatives, and the principle which Holland bad already for more than two centuries maintained, that is, taxation only by consent, was incorporated in the charter. This is the first use of the words “the people” in any American document. Governor Dongan approved and the Dnke signed this charter, October 4, 1684, commenting favorably upon it. He even went so far as to say that if any amendments were made, they should be more advantageous to the people. Everything looked now as if a long bright day of absolute religious freedom had dawned upon New York, and this, notwithstanding the fact that several Jesuits had arrived with Dongan. There was great rejoicing, and the Dutch and other free churchmen felt happy indeed. The charter really gave more privileges to New York than wore enjoyed by any other province, for no other charter had in it the expression “the people,” who wore thus recognized as an equal factor in the government.

The document had been engrossed, but was not yet registered, when Charles II died, on February 6, 1685. Then the Duke of York became King of England, and at once everything was changed. The transmission of the New York charter was suspended, for the dukedom of New York had become a royal province.

In becoming sovereign, the quondam Lord Proprietor revealed at once the cloven foot. He declined flatly to complete the work he had once approved. Nevertheless, being an adept in cunning and deception, be did not at once withdraw his signature or veto the charter, but actually allowed it to remain temporarily in force, while in the secret instructions which he as King sent to Governor Dongan, May 29,1686, he wrote, annulling the Charter of Liberties. He said: “We declare our will and pleasure that the said bill or charter of franchise be forthwith repealed and disallowed.”

New York was placed under the care of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was to license all the schoolmasters who should come from England. The absurdity of this measure is seen in the fact that as yet there was only a handful of English Conformists in New York, — who had not one church building in all the province.

The Dutch at once took the alarm, and began to organize that sturdy resistance which, ten years later, secured for them a charter that virtually annulled what King James and all his host had tried to foist upon them. In reality, the one object of this seemingly religious freedom, arrayed in the sheep’s clothing of apparent liberality, was to secure an entrance of that form of Christianity, to be established by royal decree, for which King James later posed as champion. Yet, whereas one order in the Roman Communion was patronized by the French Governor, Denonville, in Canada, another one was favored by the Irish Governor Dongan in New York, who had his own chapel and worship under Father Hervey. There was much clashing, and the correspondence between the governors of Canada and New York, especially that relating to French brandy and Irish whiskey, and of fresh and rotten oranges, is decidedly amusing.

Dongan gives a lively picture of the variety of religious forms, and his letter reads like a United States Census Report. There were Calvinism in four languages, Lutheranism in German, which he called “Dutch,” abundance of Quaker preachers, men, and especially women, “singing Quakers, ranting Quakers, Sabbatarians, anti-Sabbatarians, some Jews, in short, of all sorts of opinion there are some and the most part of none at all. . . . But as for the King’s natural born subjects, that live on Long Island and other parts of the government, I find it a hard task to make them pay their ministers.”

The direct emigration from England to Manhattan was very slow and never very great. Dongan wrote in 1686 that not more than twenty families had come over from Great Britain, but on Long Island the Dutch and English population was increasing.

Dongan, who deserves a biography, held back, as long as he could, the news from the people that their liberties were abrogated. Under him city charters were given to New York and Albany, — the first true cities in North America. In January, 1687, he issued the King’s proclamation. Then he and his council assumed all authority. Then he left New York again a helpless, conquered province, the people having no voice in legislation or taxation. This for Dutchmen, who for centuries had paid only the taxes they themselves voted, could not last long. It meant revolution. After such tyranny, Bunker Hill and Yorktown were sure to come. The Declaration of 1776 was counter revolution against crowned law breakers.

King James was determined to unite New England and New York in one province, even if he had to trample on law and blot out charters. He recalled the good Governor Dongan, and sent over his own more pliable tool Andros, who annexed New York, New Jersey, and the eastern colonies as one royal province to the autocrat of all the Englands. Andros’s commission over this enlarged territory is dated April 7, 1688, but already Englishmen in the old home, who valued their endangered liberties, were preparing a secret invitation to a Dutch deliverer to come over and save them. On November 5, William III unfurled his banner bearing the ancient legend of the House of Nassau, “I will maintain.” Two days before Christmas, in 1688, the despot James fled the country.

William III, brought up in the Reformed Church of the Netherlands, which was the Church of four fifths of the people of New York, was very tolerant in church government and modes of worship.

Reality was his constant quest. It troubled him little to adopt the form of worship used in the Anglican Church, and in a few months the Act of Toleration was passed which began for modern England its career of freedom, hastening; the time when the free churchmen should exceed by seats in the chapel and church edifices the Conformists. Yet before matters in New York settled down to peace under liberty, there was to take place “the Leisler episode,” the truth concerning which has so long suffered eclipse.