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Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919). New York. 1906.


New Amsterdam becomes New York. The Beginning of English Rule. 1664–1674

THE EXPEDITION against New Amsterdam had been organized with the Duke of York, afterward King James II., as its special patron, and the city was rechristened in his honor. To this day its name perpetuates the memory of the dull, cruel bigot with whose short reign came to a close the ignoble line of the Stuart kings.

With Manhattan Island all the province of the New Netherlands passed under the English rule; and the arrogant red flag fluttered without a rival along the whole seaboard from Acadia to Florida. Yet the settlements were still merely little dots in the vast wooded wilderness which covered all the known portions of the continent. They were strung at wide intervals along the seacoast, or the courses of the mighty rivers, separated one from another by the endless stretches of gloomy, Indian-haunted woodland. Every step in the forest was fraught with danger. The farms still lay close to the scattered hamlets, and the latter in turn clung to the edges of the navigable waters, where travel was so much easier and safer than on land. New Amsterdam, when its existence as such ceased, held some fifteen hundred souls (many of them negro slaves); yet the sloops that plied from thence to Fort Orange,—now Albany,—or to any other of the small river towns, were obliged to go well armed, and to keep a keen watch night and day for the war-canoes of hostile Indians.

The conquered province had been patented to the Duke of York, and Nicolls acted as his agent. The latter was a brave, politic man of generous nature and good character, and he executed well the difficult task allotted him, doing his best to conciliate the colonists by the justice and consideration with which he acted, and at the same time showing that timidity had no share in influencing his course. By the terms of the surrender the Dutch settlers were guaranteed their full civil and religious rights, and as a matter of fact they were gainers rather than losers by the change. Their interests were as carefully guarded as were those of the English settlers, their prejudices were not shocked, and if anything they were allowed greater, rather than less privileges in the way of self-government. Moreover, it must be remembered that the change was not so violent as if a city peopled exclusively by one race had been suddenly conquered by the members of another. Under Dutch rule all foreigners had been freely naturalized, and had been allowed to do their share of administration,—for our city has always allowed every privilege to that portion of her citizens (generally the majority) born without her limits. The Dutch element was largest among the wealthy people, to whom fell the duty of exercising such self-government as there was; but there were also plenty of rich men among the French Huguenots and English settlers. It is probable that at least a third of the population, exclusive of the numerous negro slaves, and inclusive of the Huguenots was neither Dutch nor English; and to this third the change was of little moment. The English had exercised considerable influence in the government throughout Stuyvesant’s rule, and even before, ranking as third in numbers and importance among the various elements of the composite population; while on the other hand the Dutch continued, even after the surrender, to have a very great and often a preponderant weight in the councils of the city. The change was merely that, in a population composed of several distinct elements, the one which had hitherto been of primary became on the whole of secondary importance; its place in the lead being usurped by another element, which itself had already for many years occupied a position of much prominence. There was of course a good deal of race-prejudice and rancor; and the stubborn Dutch clung to their language, though with steadily loosening grasp, for over a century. But the lines of cleavage in the political contests did not follow those of speech and blood. The constitution of the Dutch settlement was essentially aristocratic; and the party of the populace was naturally opposed to the party of the patroons and the rich merchants. The settlers who came from England direct, belonged to the essentially aristocratic Established Church. They furnished many of the great officials; and many of the merchants, and of those who became large landowners, sprang from among them. These naturally joined the aristocratic section of the original settlers. On the other hand the New Englanders, who were of Puritan blood,—and later on the Presbyterians of Scotland and Ireland,—were the stanchest opponents of Episcopacy and aristocracy, and became the leaders of the popular party. Similarly, the Huguenots and the settlers of other nationality separated (though much less sharply) on lines of property and caste; and hence the fluctuating line which divided the two camps or factions was only secondarily influenced by considerations of speech and nationality.

Nicolls made the necessary changes with cautious slowness and tact. For nearly a year the city was suffered to retain its old form of government; then the schout, schepens, and burgomasters were changed for sheriff, aldermen mayor, and justices. Vested rights were interfered with as little as possible; the patroons were turned into manorial lords; the Dutch and Huguenots were allowed the free exercise of their religion; indeed, the feeling was so friendly that for some time the Anglican service was held in the Dutch Church in the afternoons. No attempt was made to interfere with the language or with the social and business customs and relations of the citizens. Nicolls showed himself far more liberal than Stuyvesant in questions of creed; and one of the first things he did was to allow the Lutherans to build a church and install therein a pastor of their own. He established a fairly good system of justice, including trial by jury, and practically granted the citizens a considerable measure of self-government. But the fact remained that the colony had not gained its freedom by changing its condition; it had simply exchanged the rule of a company for the rule of a duke. Nicolls himself nominated all the new officers of the city (choosing them from among both the Dutch and the English), and returning a polite but firm negative to the request of the citizens that they might themselves elect their representatives. He pursued the same course with the Puritan Long Islanders; and the latter resented his action even more bitterly than did the Dutch.

However, his tact, generosity, and unfailing good temper, and the skill with which he kept order and secured prosperity endeared him to the colonists, even though they did at times just realize that there was an iron hand beneath the velvet glove. He completely pacified the Indians, who during his term of command remained almost absolutely tranquil, for the first time in a quarter of a century. He put down all criminals, and sternly repressed the licentiousness of his own soldiery, forcing them to behave well to the citizens. His honesty in financial matters was so great that he actually impoverished himself during his administration of the province. Meanwhile, the city flourished; for there was free trade with England and the English possessions, and even for some time a restricted right to trade with certain of the Dutch ports.

Nicolls soon wearied of his position, and sought leave to resign; but he was too valuable a servant for the duke to permit this until the war with Holland, which had been largely brought on by the treacherous seizure of New Amsterdam, at length came to a close. The Peace of Breda left New York in the hands of the English; for the cold northern province, where now are States already far more populous than Holland, or than the England of that day, was then considered of less value than any one of half a dozen tropical colonies. On both sides the combatants warred for the purpose of getting possessions which should benefit their own pockets, not to found States of free men of their own race; they sought to establish trading-posts from whence to bring spices and jewels and precious metals, rather than to plant commonwealths of their children on the continents that were waiting to be conquered. The English were inclined to grumble, and the Dutch to rejoice, because the former received New York rather than Surinam. As for Nicolls, when his hands were thus freed he returned home, having shown himself a warm friend to the colonists, especially the Dutch, who greatly mourned his going.

His successor was an archetypical cavalier named Francis Lovelace. He had stood loyally by the king in disaster and prosperity alike, and was a gallant, generous, and honest gentleman; but he possessed far less executive capacity than his predecessor. However, he trod in the footsteps of the latter so far as he could, and strove to advance the interests of the city in every way, and to conciliate the good-will of the inhabitants. He associated on intimate terms with the leading citizens, whether English, French, or Dutch, and established a social club which met at their different houses,—all three languages being spoken at the meetings. Being fond of racing, he gave prizes to be run for by swift horses on the Long Island race-course. Like his predecessor, his chief troubles were with the hard-headed and stiff-necked children of the Puritans on Long Island. When he attempted to tax them to build up the fort on Manhattan, they stoutly refused, and sent him an indignant protest; while on the other hand he was warmly supported by his Dutch and English councilors in New York. With the Indians he kept on good terms.

The city prospered under Lovelace as it had prospered under Nicolls. Its proprietor, the Duke of York, was a mean and foolish tyrant; but it was for his interest while he was not king to treat his colony well. Though an intolerant religious bigot, he yet became perforce an advocate of religious tolerance for New York, because his own creed, Roman Catholicism, was weak, and the hope of the feeble never rests in persecution. New York was thus permitted to grow in peace, and to take advantage of her great natural resources. Trade increased and ships were built; while in addition to commerce, many of the seafaring folk took to the cod and whale fisheries, which had just been started off the coasts. The whales were very plentiful, and indeed several were killed in the harbor itself. The merchants began to hold weekly meetings, thus laying the foundation for the New York Exchange; and wealth increased among all classes, bringing comfort, and even some attempt at luxury, in its train.

This quick and steady growth in material prosperity was rudely checked by the fierce war which again broke out between England and Holland. Commerce was nearly paralyzed by the depredations of the privateers, and many of the merchants were brought to the verge of bankruptcy, while the public distress was widespread. It was known that the Dutch meditated an effort to recapture the city; and Lovelace made what preparations he could for defense. He busied himself greatly to establish a regular mail to Boston and Hartford, so that there might be overland communication with his eastern neighbors; and it was on one of his absences in New England that the city was recaptured by its former owners.

In July, 1673, a Dutch squadron under two grim old sea-dogs, Admirals Evertsen and Binckes, suddenly appeared in the lower bay. The English commander in the fort endeavored to treat with them; but they would hearken to no terms save immediate surrender, saying that “they had come for their own, and their own they would have.” The Dutch militia would not fight against their countrymen; and the other citizens were not inclined to run any risk in a contest that concerned them but little. Evertsen’s frigates sailed up to within musket-shot of the fort, and firing began on both sides. After receiving a couple of broadsides which killed and wounded several of the garrison, the English flag was struck, and the fort was surrendered to the Dutch troops, who had already landed, under the command of Capt. Anthony Colve. So ended the first nine years of English supremacy at the mouth of the Hudson.

The victors at once proceeded to undo the work of the men they had ousted. Dutch was once more made the formal official language (though it had never been completely abandoned), and the whole scheme of the English government was overturned. In the city itself the schepens, burgomasters, and schout again took the place of sheriff, mayor, and aldermen. There was very little violence, although one or two houses were plundered, and a citizen here and there insulted or slightly maltreated by the soldiers,—much as had happened after the original conquest, with the important exception that it was now the Dutch who did the maltreating, and the English who were the sufferers.

When the province was lost it was a mere proprietary colony of the West India Company; but this corporation had died prior to 1673, and the province was regained by the victory of a national Dutch force, and was held for the whole nation. Evertsen, acting for the home government, made Colve the director of the province. Colve was a rough, imperious, resolute man, a good soldier, but with no very great regard for civil liberty. The whole province was speedily reduced. The Dutch towns along the Hudson submitted gladly; but the Puritan villages on Long Island were sullen and showed symptoms of defiance, appealing to Connecticut for help. However, Colve and Evertsen, backed up by trained soldiers and a well-equipped squadron, were not men to be trifled with. They gave notice to the Long Islanders that unless they were prepared to stand the chances of war they must submit at once; and submit they did, Connecticut not daring to interfere. The New Englanders had been willing enough to bid defiance to, and to threaten the conquest of, the New Netherlands while the province was weakly held by an insufficient force; but they were too prudent to provoke a contest with men of such fighting temper and undoubted capacity as Evertsen and Colve, and the war-hardened troops and seamen who obeyed their behests.

Colve ruled the internal affairs of the colony with a high hand. He made the citizens understand that the military power was supreme over the civil; and when the council protested against anything he did, he told them plainly that unless they submitted he would summarily dismiss them and appoint others in their places. Military law was established, and heavy taxes were imposed; moreover, as the taxes took some time to collect, those who were most heavily assessed were forced to make loans in advance. Altogether the burghers probably failed to find that the restoration of Dutch rule worked any very marked change in their favor.

This second period of Dutch supremacy on Manhattan Island lasted for but a year and a quarter. Then in November, 1674, the city was again given up to the English in accordance with the terms of peace between the belligerent powers, which provided for the mutual restitution of all conquered territory. With this second transfer New Amsterdam definitely assumed the name of New York; and the province became simply one of the English colonies in America, remaining such until, a century afterward, all those colonies combined to throw off the yoke of the mother country and become an independent nation.

Thus the province of the New Netherlands had been first taken by the English by an attack in time of peace, when no resistance could be made, and had been left in their possession because it was deemed of infinitely less consequence than such colonies as Java and Surinam; it had then been reconquered by the Dutch, in fair and open war, and had been again surrendered because of an agreement into which the home government was forced, owing to the phases which the European struggle had assumed. The citizens throughout these changes played but a secondary part, the fate of the city and province being decided, not by them, but by the ships and troops of Holland and England. Nor were the burghers as a whole seriously affected in their civil, religious, or social liberties by the changes. The Dutch and English doubtless suffered in turn from certain heart-burnings and jealousies, as they alternately took the lead in managing the local government; but the grievances of the under-party were really mainly sentimental, for on the one hand no material discrimination was ever actually made against either element, and on the other hand the ruler for the time being, whether Dutch direcktor or English governor, always made both elements feel that compared to him they stood on a common plane of political inferiority.

Sir Edmund Andros was appointed by the English king as the governor who was to receive New York from the hands of Director Colve. This he did formally and in state, many courtesies being exchanged between the outgoing and incoming rulers; among the rest, Colve presented Andros with his own state-coach and the three horses that drew it. Andros at once reinstated the English form of government in both province and city, and once more, and this time finally, made the English the official language. New York was still considered as a proprietary colony of James; New Jersey was severed from it, and became a distinct province. The city itself, which had numbered some fifteen hundred inhabitants at the date of the original conquest from the Dutch, included about three thousand when English rule was for the second time established.