Peter Stuyvesant, also known as Petrus Stuyvesant, is an important figure in the history of New York City [earlier New Amsterdam], New York State and New Netherland. His name is still commonly used, especially in New York State, for street names, school names, building names, etc. A British-German-Danish cigarette brand is also named after him. Surprisingly, his ancestors no longer bear his name. His last direct descendant, Augustus Van Horne Stuyvesant Jr. died in 1953 at age 83 in New York City. A nineteenth century Stuyvesant descendant, Rutherford Stuyvesant, changed his name to Stuyvesant Rutherford in 1863 to satisfy the terms of a will. The paucity of descendants bearing his name may have something to do with the fact that Peter Stuyvesant has been blamed for turning over New Amsterdam to the British in 1664. The blame is not quite fair, because the citizens of New Amsterdam refused to help defend the city against a fleet of British warships. As a result Stuyvesant was forced to hand the city of New Amsterdam over to the British who promptly renamed it New York.
Peter, or Petrus, Stuyvesant was, according to some sources, born in Scherpenzeel, a town near the provincial border of Gelderland and Utrecht, and not far from the bustling city of Amsterdam in 1610. Other sources claim his birthplace is identified as Peperga in Friesland, and that claim may be correct because he apparently had attended the University of Franeker, located in Northern Friesland.
Prior to becoming Director-General, essentially Governor, of New Amsterdam, Stuyvesant had served as a Director of the ABC Islands in the West Indies. The ABC Islands consisted of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. In both capacities he was in the employ of the Dutch West India [DWI] Company, a large and influential Dutch trading company. There was little Dutch government activity in the management of DWI because the Dutch, during the period 1568-1648, were actively fighting for their independence from the Spanish colonialists, and the government was not in a position to also manage its own colonies. It had in essence outsourced this activity to the DWI.
During his directorship of the ABC islands, Stuyvesant had lost his right leg in a skirmish with either the Portuguese or the Spanish. As a result he spent the rest of his life on a peg leg. His disability did not generate much mercy among his citizens who called him peg leg Stuyvesant.
Stuyvesant was rather authoritarian with his subjects and he is frequently depicted as despotic. He refused to share power with the citizens of the new colony of New Amsterdam. He also tried to control the Dutch Reformed Church and even banned some of its ministers from the colony. When alcohol consumption became a problem in the colony he tried to control it and regulate the sale of it. When other religious groups such as Jews, Lutherans and Quakers tried to establish houses of worship he banned them. In other words he made no attempts to endear himself to the citizenry and to gain their support. The stand off between Stuyvesant and the citizens became so severe that the directors of DWI in Amsterdam even became involved in it. They forced Stuyvesant to modify his strict rules and regulations.
So when the British Navy reached New Amsterdam in 1664, Stuyvesant's call to man the ramparts fell on deaf ears. The city surrendered to the British, who then proceeded to not only take over New Amsterdam but all of New Netherland which included all of New York State and parts of New England and New Jersey.
It would be unfair not to look at the positive aspects of Stuyvesant's eighteen year rule over the colony of New Amsterdam. During his rule the population expanded from 2,000 to 8,000, trade flourished and he was able to establish a sense of law and order in the community populated by people from many countries and many backgrounds. He also followed the directives of his bosses at DWI closely.
Following the surrender of New Amsterdam to the British, Stuyvesant, as a dutiful servant of the DWI, sailed back to the headquarters of DWI in Amsterdam. He did not receive a hearty welcome, but a dressing down for causing the loss of New Amsterdam to the British.
Stuyvesant returned to what was then called New York, formerly New Amsterdam, and settled down on his farm on the bowery. The area where his farm stood is still called the Bowery today. Stuyvesant passed away in 1672. His remains were buried in a vault at St. Mark's Church in New York City. The slab covering the tomb states: "In this vault lies buried Petrus Stuyvesant late Captain General and Governor in Chief of Amsterdam in New Netherland now called New York and the Dutch West India Islands. Died 1671-1672. Aged 80 Years."
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