The British are coming, the British are coming!! Well, the English to be more precise.
In late August 1664 the Burgomasters & Schepens (mayors and aldermen) of New Amsterdam were faced with “four King’s frigates from England, sent hither by his Majesty and his brother, the Duke of York, with commission to reduce not only this place, but also the whole N. Netherland under his Majesty’s authority…”
The event was not unexpected. The Dutch had long been wary of their neighbors to the North (the English had settlements in Massachusetts and Connecticut and outposts in eastern Long Island). In 1653 the Dutch had built a stockade fence along Wall Street to protect against English aggression (see previous posts), and that wall had been rebuilt and expanded in the intervening years. In early 1664, the most pressing concern was not from London, but from Hartford. Connecticut governor John Winthrop, Jr. had been given a charter from England giving him claim to Long Island, Manhattan, and Staten Island. Englishmen also were leading Dutch towns on Long Island in revolt. On February 11th, 1664 the Burgomasters & Schepens discussed the issue, aware that the English might be provoking a fight, so "that bloodshed may follow." This might be a pretext to conscript the English settlers to "put the Dutch villages up to fire and sword" and "to plunder this place" (New Amsterdam). Once more, the city council looked to the wall, but "the openness of this place along the water side, both along the East and North Rivers being notorious," they suggested setting it off "with sufficient palisades to protect against an unexpected attack." They requested that General Stuyvesant should "lend the Company's Negroes to cut and haul palisades with the City's Negroes for two wings, one to be brought to the North, the other to the East River." Elaborate plans were discussed in the executive council on February 20th (see last post), which included "on the land [present-day Wall Street] a stone wall with two bastions." On February 22, Stuyvesant approved the request for an alcohol tax to pay for the proposed wings and a "stone wall on the land side."
In March 1664, just weeks after these new plans were drawn up, something happened on the other side of the ocean that would forever change the direction of the colony. The King of England, Charles II, signed a document deeding all the land from Maine to Delaware to his brother James, the Duke of York. Rumors of this charter soon reached the small colony of New Amsterdam, which was doing what they could to prepare for foreign invasion. On July 8, 1664: “Persons worthy of belief” (probably including Thomas Willet, who Stuyvesant trusted but who would soon become the first English Mayor of New York) reported to the council that “two frigates and a fly-boat, each mounted with between 40 & 50 guns, lay at Portsmouth ready to go to sea, having on board three hundred soldiers and each ship with one hundred and fifty seamen.” The council resolved the following points: Dutch ships should be warned to be on alert; the town should be put into a posture of defense; and if the ships arrived the council should wait to hear what demands were made.
Business continued as usual in the town until August 23, 1664, when rumor reached the magistrates that the “frigates, which have arrived at Boston, will come here…” It was resolved to demand from General Stuyvesant and his Council “twenty five negroes… for the space of eight days to labor at the City’s works [defenses].” Two days later, they decreed that a third of the inhabitants of the City should appear with a “shovel, spade or wheel-barrow” to build up the fortifications. Guards were to be mounted and most importantly, “the brewers shall not malt any hard grain during eight days nor brew beer higher than twelve guilders the ton.”
On August 25, 1664 the threat was confirmed: “Whereas we are of a certainty informed, that four frigates have arrived from Old England at Boston… provided with a considerable number of soldiers with intention, as reports run, to attack and invade this place and the adjoining districts especially on Long Island…” Preparations were underway, a 24-hour watch was established, and plans were made to gather the residents within the city walls and fall back to the fort if necessary.
By August 27th, the ships were anchored off Nyack, and Admiral Richard Nicolls had presented Stuyvesant with conditions for the surrender of the colony, giving three days to mull over options. To make the point more clear, the Admiral moved two of the ships off Nut Island (Governor’s Island) and brought the other two within firing distance of Fort Amsterdam. In addition, Englishmen from Connecticut and Long Island gathered on the outskirts of town expecting “pillage, plunder and bloodshed.” A count was made of the inhabitants, a “full fifteen hundred souls strong…, but of whom not two hundred and fifty men are capable of bearing arms exclusive of the soldiers, who were about one hundred and fifty strong, wholly unprovided with powder both in the City and in the Fort.”
There were preparations for war, the wall was reinforced, watches were mounted, but many of the leading citizens who paid for the defense now actively petitioned for surrender. Merchants in the successful trading port of New Amsterdam were long unhappy with the low investment and scant management from the West India Company. They had made clear for several months that they had little care as to whether this was the "King of England’s soil or their High Mightinesses." Recognizing that the English were the new force in the Americas, they determined that the best possible future for the city was one that preserved all their rights. So, they negotiated a leveraged buyout of sorts.
Faced with overwhelming force, and petitions for peace from the Dutch inhabitants, Stuyvesant capitulated. And then…, nothing happened. Fort Amsterdam became Fort James. Business went on as usual. The English had not even brought clerks (or settlers for that matter) so the council continued to conduct all business in Dutch, eventually switching to a mix of Dutch and English depending on who was in court. It would be another two weeks before the Dutch sent a rather petulant letter to their lords in Amsterdam complaining of the lack of protection and the lack of options. What kind of invasion was this? It seems more like a corporate takeover than a war. And that may have been exactly what it was.
The articles of surrender negotiated between the Dutch and the English are typically referred to as the Articles of Capitulation. But, when a printed copy was released in Amsterdam, they were called Artykelen Van't Overgaen van Nieuw-Nederlandt "Articles about the Transfer of New Netherlands," and that word transfer suggests a very different meaning. The Articles include a remarkable list, including the right of inhabitants to keep their property, to come and go as they please, to worship as to the "liberty of their consciences," to follow their own customs as regarding inheritances (meaning women could inherit property), and all current magistrates could continue in office until the next elections. Most remarkable of all, if the King of England and the States of Netherland decided to switch ownership back to the Dutch "it shall immediately be done." This cordial state of affairs basically left everything in place, but under new management. Faced with war and destruction on the one hand, or extremely generous terms (that also allowed him to keep his own extensive lands) on the other, Stuyvesant signed the articles on September 8th. It wasn't until the 16th of September that the court resolved to write to the Lords Directors of the West India Company in Amsterdam, "We your honorable loyal, sorrowful and desolate subjects, cannot neglect nor keep from relating the event..." Sort of, "oh by the way, been meaning to tell you," but they quickly lay the defeat at the Directors, "in consequence of your Honors' neglect and forgetfulness of your promise..." and signed it "your sorrowful and neglected subjects."
The City government would not become truly English until the following summer. In March of 1665, James, Duke of York, issued a patent to form a new municipal government in the colony. Under the powers of this patent, on the 12th of June, Admiral Richard Nicolls dissolved the Dutch government and established a new English government with Thomas Willet as the first Mayor of the City.
On June 28, 1665, one of the first orders of business the new English court heard was about the wall. Mayor Thomas Willet, "seeinge this Towne Lyinge Verry Open and in Noe Capacity to Resist the Violence of an Enemie" found "it necessary that the Ould works made for the fortifyinge off this Towne should be Repaired, and that the West syde alonge Hudsons River should be fortifyed with good and sufficient pallisades for the use off which the honourable Governor Richard Nicols hath proffered to Contribute twoe thousand Pallisades & thousand Gilders in wampum." It was made clear, that "this proposition is not to Constraine any Inhabitant to fight against his owne Nation but to make the Towne defencive against the Violence off an enemy wich might seekd to spoile or destroye the same." In other words, if you are Dutch we are not compelling you to fight against the Dutch we just think we should have strong fortifications. The proposal was met with general indifference and "many other excuses."
This was not quite the end of story though.
Next time, the Return of the Dutch, and the Fate of the Wall
As always, big thanks to Dennis Maika of the New Netherland Institute for his insights and suggestions, and for sharing his research with me for this article in particular. Also a thanks to the British Library for use of the original Duke’s Plan, and the New York Public Library for use of the Articles of Transfer.
Visit newamsterdamstories.archives.nyc to learn more.