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Who is Peter Stuyvesant?

by Colleen Slentz

Peter Stuyvesant is one of those towering figures in New York City history. Any New Yorker can instantly recognize a non-native when they try, and fail, to pronounce his last name correctly. Stuyvesant is remembered largely as an ineffective and easily incensed governor with a caricature-esque peg leg.

Although Stuyvesant's image is probably distorted, it's true that he did not have as much of an effect on the New Amsterdam population as he'd hoped. Stuyvesant, an orthodox Calvinist with a strong military background, had hoped to bring the chaotic and boisterous population into line. He succeeded in this to a certain extent, building the wall at Wall Street and the Canal along present-day Canal Street; yet, he often does not receive credit for his achievement in the last two decades of New Amsterdam's existence. His effectiveness is certainly significant when compared to his predecessors, including Peter Minuit and Wouter Van Twiller, who were ineffective and left the colony worse off than it had been before.

However, despite this headway, Stuyvesant was nowhere near as effective as he had hoped. Not only did the unruly population continue in their morally questionable ways, they also defied his authority. Several of the colonists, including Adriaen Van der Donck, Jochem Kuyter and Cornelis Melyn, insisted that the colonists be allowed to play a role in their own governance. Stuyvesant was incensed by their insolence, but before the dissenters gained any ground the English took over New Amsterdam. Initially, Stuyvesant had refused to surrender, but when presented with a petition from town leaders requesting he accept certain terms of surrender, Stuyvesant at long last caved in. Ironically, the colony's most effective leader was unable to protect it from British takeover. New Amsterdam became New York, and the rest is history.

Bibliography

Shorto, Russell. The Island at the Center of the World. New York: Vintage Books, 2004.

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