The Flushing Remonstrance: A Vital Document in American History

Sunday, 27 December 2015 marks the 358th anniversary of the Flushing Remonstrance, a relatively obscure document that has profoundly impacted America's values of freedom.

In 1657, Peter Stuyvesant, the Director General of the then-Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, issued an edict banning Quakers from the colony. On 27 December 1657, Edward Hart (Heart), the Town Clerk of Vlissingen (now known by its Anglicized name, Flushing), wrote a letter to Stuyvesant declaring that he would respectfully disregard Stuyvesant's order, and allow free movement and settlement in Vlissingen of Quakers and such members of other faiths who might come to his town "in love." On 1 January 1658, thirty other English residents of Vlissingen affixed their signatures beneath Hart's, and the missive was dispatched to Stuyvesant.

Stuyvesant, notorious for his intolerance of any religion other than his own Dutch Reformed Church, did not take the news well at all. Some of the signers were arrested and imprisoned, including Hart. Stuyvesant replaced the local English officials of Vlissingen with his own Dutch cronies.

Subsequently, Vlissingen resident John Bowne allowed Quakers to use his house as a place in which to conduct worship, and, in 1662, was arrested by Stuyvesant and banished to Holland. In Holland, Bowne convinced the Directors of the Dutch West India Company that free worship should be allowed in the New Netherlands. Bowne returned in 1664, with a letter ordering Stuyvesant to exercise religious tolerance for Quakers and other faiths.

The document now known as the Flushing Remonstrance proved to be more than a paper precedent. Later that year, some British ships entered the harbor and intimidated the Dutch to surrender the colony. Not wanting to fire the ships' guns (for the Colony would be of no economic value to England if it was ravaged by war), the British allowed the Dutch some very generous surrender terms in the Articles of Capitulation. Article 8 specifically provided that "[t]he Dutch here shall enjoy the liberty of their consciences in Divine Worship and church discipline." There can be little doubt that the memory of the Flushing Remonstrance seven years earlier was part of the impetus for the negotiation discussions leading to Article 8.

The terms of surrender were grudgingly accepted by Stuyvesant, and what had been the colony of the New Netherlands became colony of New York on 27 August 1664.

In 1673, when the Dutch recaptured the colony, they accorded the British residents the same rights that had been part of the 1664 Articles of Capitulation. Those rights were reasserted after the Treaty of Westminster returned the colony to the British in 1674.

More than a century later, when the newly-independent American Colonies drew up a Constitution, delegations from various former Colonies, including New York, realized that they had enjoyed broader personal liberties as British colonial subjects than were guaranteed under the new Constitution document. To the new Constitution were soon added the first ten Amendments, the well-known (and, of late, often disregarded) Bill of Rights.

Today, within a mile of the John Bowne House are to be found many houses of worship which Stuyvesant would not have tolerated in his day. Every day, thousands of people, representing diverse faiths, walk or ride the streets of Flushing, New York, many unaware of the Flushing Remonstrance story.

And religious freedom in America is once again threatened by intolerance, this time of a potentially greater magnitude than that exercised by Stuyvesant.


Kenneth H. Ryesky is a lawyer who is currently on hiatus from teaching at Queens College CUNY in Flushing NY.