Little Bits of History

Religious Freedom

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 27, 2014
Peter Stuyvesant

Peter Stuyvesant

December 27, 1657: The Flushing Remonstrance is signed. New Netherland was established in 1614 as a Dutch colony in the New World. Peter Stuyvesant served as the last Dutch Director-General of the colony from 1647 to 1664 when the area came under British rule. On this date, Stuyvesant was presented with a petition requesting an exemption to his ban on Quaker worship. He had instituted a ban abolishing the practice of all religions except for the Dutch Reformed Church. In 1656 William Wickenden, a Baptist minister from Rhode Island, was arrested, jailed, fined, and exiled for baptizing Christians in Flushing.

A group of thirty English citizens were not happy with the ban and presented the petition on behalf of Quakers, although none of the signatories were Quakers. Four of the signers were arrested by Stuyvesant’s orders. Two of them immediately recanted. Edward Hart and Tobias Feake, the sheriff of Flushing, both held fast to their beliefs. They were taken to prison and forced to live on bread and water for over a month. Friends and family petitioned Stuyvesant for their release and Hart, an elderly man, was released but banished. Feake held out for a while longer and then recanted. He was pardoned and fined, but was no longer eligible for public office.

John Bowne permitted Quakers to meet at his house. He was arrested in 1662 and brought before Stuyvesant. Bowne was deported to Holland even though he was of English descent and spoke no Dutch. He spent several months on the continent before he was granted a hearing with the directors of the Dutch West India Company. After months more of deliberation, the Company agreed to support Bowne and sent Stuyvesant a letter in 1663 telling him to end religious persecution in the colony.

The Flushing Remonstrance was an important document and some consider it a precursor to the US Constitution’s freedom of religion amendment included in the Bill of Rights. In the 17th century document, it was stated that religious freedom was a fundamental right, as basic as any other of the freedoms afforded to the colonies in North America. Not only were the signers willing to make this statement, but they sent it off to Stuyvesant, a known intolerant individual. The signers stood up for others with little benefit to themselves. The language of the text is nearly as beautiful as the message contained within it.

The law of love, peace and liberty in the states extending to Jews, Turks and Egyptians, as they are considered sonnes of Adam, which is the glory of the outward state of Holland, soe love, peace and liberty, extending to all in Christ Jesus, condemns hatred, war and bondage.

And because our Saviour sayeth it is impossible but that offences will come, but woe unto him by whom they cometh, our desire is not to offend one of his little ones, in whatsoever form, name or title hee appears in, whether Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist or Quaker, but shall be glad to see anything of God in any of them, desiring to doe unto all men as we desire all men should doe unto us, which is the true law both of Church and State; for our Saviour sayeth this is the law and the prophets.

Therefore if any of these said persons come in love unto us, we cannot in conscience lay violent hands upon them, but give them free egresse and regresse unto our Town, and houses, as God shall persuade our consciences, for we are bounde by the law of God and man to doe good unto all men and evil to noe man.

And this is according to the patent and charter of our Towne, given unto us in the name of the States General, which we are not willing to infringe, and violate, but shall houlde to our patent and shall remaine, your humble subjects, the inhabitants of Vlishing. – the final paragraphs of the Flushing Remonstrance

Also on this day: Hagia Sophia – In 537, the Hagia Sophia was officially dedicated.
Coming into Port – In 1703, the Methuen Treaty was signed by Portugal and England.
Play Nice – In 1512, the Laws of Burgos were issued.
Man Cave – In 1966, the Cave of Swallows was discovered.

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