When New York really became New York

On this day in 1664, then-Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant surrendered what was known as New Amsterdam, the capital of New Netherland, to English naval Colonel Richard Nicolls. The European settlement on Lenape indigenous lands extended as far as Wall Street at the time and was the cause of a protracted war, despite the lore of the sale of Manhattan for trinkets.  Stuyvesant wanted to resist the English, but the Dutch subjects did not want to heed his calls. Perhaps his moniker, Old Silver Leg, was further caution to a populace that knew that as the director of the Dutch West India colony of Curacao, he led a failed attack on the Spanish occupied island of Saint Martin and a cannonball crashed into his right leg. Thereafter he would wrap his wooden leg in silver bands for greater stability. Right after it’s capture by four warships and only five hundred soldiers, New Amsterdam’s name was changed to New York, in honor of the Duke of York, who organized that colonial mission.

Leon Ferris, The Fall of New Amsterdam. From a 1932 postcard. Library of Congress

Stuyvesant lived out his life on an estate of 62 acres which he referred to as the Great Bouwerie, which lay east of the present-day Bowery in the East Village and Lower East Side. He died in 1672 at the age of 80. A pear tree which he brought back from Holland to plant stood at Thirteenth Street and Third Avenue before dying, and there is now a plaque or tablet on the side of the building (currently occupied by Kiehls) where the tree stood.

A cropped version of the Stuyvesant pear tree, N.E. corner, 13th and 3rd. Ave, NY City, from Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views.

Stuyvesant replaced the 6th Director General Willem Kief, no relation to the original homeopathic Kiehl’s that opened in 1851 on East 13th Street.

He was interred in the floor of his private chapel, which was replaced in 1799 by St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery.  From the New York City Cemetery Project:

During the 18th century, the chapel fell into a state of dilapidation, until little remained except the foundation and the Stuyvesant family vault beneath.  In 1793, Stuyvesant’s great-grandson, Peter Stuyvesant IV, donated the chapel property to the Episcopal Church with the stipulation that a new church be erected.  Originally intended to be a chapel of Trinity Parish, St. Mark’s in-the-Bowery was completed in 1799 as the first New York City Episcopal parish separate from Trinity.  The Stuyvesant vault is still present under the east wall of the church; it was closed permanently when the last family member was interred there in 1953.

This 1853 illustration, from Valentine’s City of New York Guide Book.

Ironically, Peter Stuyvesant called the practice of allowing Lutherans to build their own churches an invitation to “heretics and fanatics.” He also attempted to block Jews from settling in New Amsterdam by refusing entry to Jewish refugees from Dutch Brazil (recently taken over by the Portuguese, who continued their expulsion of Jews they had practised in their homeland) to settle in New Amsterdam.  Later upon the orders of the Dutch West Indies company he had to change his policy.

Although New York bears the name of the English, and itself harkens back to the founding of York by Romans, the colors of the Dutch flag at sea from the late 1500’s fly on New York City flagpoles 392 years later: blue, white and orange. The year at the bottom of the city seal is the date, 1625, when Fort Amsterdam was designated the capital of the province of New Amsterdam. Wonder what the Lenape think of all that?

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Harry Bubbins