Original Dutch Records, Vol. I

Records of New Amsterdam, Ordinances 1647-1661


In 1624 the Dutch government made the colony of New Netherland an extension of the Dutch Republic. Four ineffectual Director-Generals governed the colony and were free to create local ordinances before Peter Stuyvesant was appointed Director-General of New Netherland in 1647.

The General, fresh from battles in the West Indies, found himself in an undisciplined settlement where drunkenness and fighting prevailed. He immediately issued his first official edict, which banned the sale of alcohol on Sunday before 2 p.m. and every day after 8 p.m., and enforced strict penalties for drawing a knife or sword in anger. The decree seems to have had little effect, since on March 10, 1648 Stuyvesant complained that “our former orders issued against unreasonable and intemperate drinking at night and on the Sabbath of the Lord, to the shame and derision of ourselves and our nation, are not observed and obeyed….” Stuyvesant rebounded with an 8-point ordinance on drinking, which noted that “one full fourth of the City of New Amsterdam has been turned into taverns,” and required tavern owners to “engage in some other honest business” in addition.

More laws followed. They regulated the pricing and weight of bread, prohibited pigs and goats from climbing on Fort Amsterdam’s mud walls, banned the erection of May Poles or shooting guns on New Year’s Eve. Other laws, such as one that prohibited deceiving Native Americans, point towards growing tensions between colonists and natives. As government structure emerged, the ordinances established fire codes, sanitation and health codes, zoning laws, building codes, an office of weights and measures, and appointed fire inspectors and city surveyors.

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Translation of Dutch Records,

1647-1654


Scholarly translations and transcriptions of the Colonial Dutch records that mark the beginnings of settlements in the 17th century are still on-going. An initial translation of the first folio volume by Cornelius Depuy Westbrook (1782-1858), president of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church, in the early 19th century was followed by what some deemed a more credible translation in 1848 by Edmund Bailey OCallaghan, M.D. (1797-1880), New York State’s secretary-archivist.

In the 1990s, after the Municipal Archives accessioned the collection, Dr. Janny Venema of the New Netherland Research Center helped inventory and describe the collections. The origins of the volume at the right are unidentified but it is believed to be Westbrooks 1830s translation, heavily edited by Berthold Fernow in the late 1890s.

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Ordinances of New Amsterdam 1647-1661

Translated by E.B. OCallaghan


The Ordinances of New Amsterdam comprise the first 74 pages of Volume 1 of the “Original Dutch Documents.” At some point, either during the 19th century or possibly as a WPA project in the 1930s, this section was bound together with the “Court Records of New Amsterdam.” In 1868, O’Callaghan published the more complete Laws and Ordinances of New Netherland, 1638-1674: Compiled and translated from the Original Dutch Records in the Office of the Secretary of State, Albany, N.Y. This volume included the early New Amsterdam ordinances, as well as records of the New Netherland colony. It is not clear why the New Amsterdam ordinance records end in 1661, three years before the English invasion.

O’Callaghan was born in Ireland, studied medicine in Paris, and was a medical doctor and politician in Montreal. Embroiled in the 1837 rebellion against the British, he fled Canada for New York and became a writer and historian. His History of New Netherland; or, New York under the Dutch was published in 1846.

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Records of New Amsterdam

Edited by Berthold Fernow


Berthold Fernow (1837-1908)

Born and educated in Prussia, Fernow emigrated to the United States and became a topographical engineer and a lieutenant of the 3rd U.S. colored troops during the American Civil War. He later became a New York State librarian, and “keeper of the historical records.” He edited several volumes of Documents Relating to the Colonial History of New York and other historical works before editing Records of New Amsterdam, published in seven volumes in 1897-98.

In 1895 Mayor William L. Strong appointed a committee to address the conditions of the City Library. They hired Fernow to “make translations of, and print” the Dutch Records. Fernow relied on O’Callaghan’s earlier translations to compile this series, which includes the “Ordinances of New Amsterdam” (1647-1661), the “Court Minutes of New Amsterdam” (1653-1674), and “Administrative Minutes of New Amsterdam” (1657-1661).

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