Observing Stuyvesant’s reluctance to surrender, Nicolls directed Captain Hyde, who commanded the squadron, to reduce the fort.
Continuing British Capture New York,
our selection from History of the State of New York by John R. Brodhead published in 1871. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in three easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in British Capture New York.
Place: New York City
Stuyvesant immediately called together the council and the burgomasters, but would not allow the terms offered by Nicolls to be communicated to the people, lest they might insist on capitulating. In a short time several of the burghers and city officers assembled at the Stadt-Huys. It was determined to prevent the enemy from surprising the town; but, as opinion was generally against protracted resistance, a copy of the English communication was asked from the director. On the following Monday the burgomasters explained to a meeting of the citizens the terms offered by Nicolls. But this would not suffice; a copy of the paper itself must be exhibited. Stuyvesant then went in person to the meeting. “Such a course,” said he, “would be disapproved of in the Fatherland — it would discourage the people.” All his efforts, however, were in vain; and the director, protesting that he should not be held answerable for the “calamitous consequences,” was obliged to yield to the popular will.
Nicolls now addressed a letter to Winthrop, who with other commissioners from New England had joined the squadron, authorizing him to assure Stuyvesant that, if Manhattan should be delivered up to the King, “any people from the Netherlands may freely come and plant there or thereabouts; and such vessels of their own country may freely come thither, and any of them may as freely return home in vessels of their own country.” Visiting the city under a flag of truce Winthrop delivered this to Stuyvesant outside the fort and urged him to surrender. The director declined; and, returning to the fort, he opened Nicolls’ letter before the council and the burgomasters, who desired that it should be communicated, as “all which regarded the public welfare ought to be made public.” Against this Stuyvesant earnestly remonstrated, and, finding that the burgomasters continued firm, in a fit of passion he “tore the letter in pieces.” The citizens, suddenly ceasing their work at the palisades, hurried to the Stadt-Huys, and sent three of their numbers to the fort to demand the letter.
In vain the director hastened to pacify the burghers and urge them to go on with the fortifications. “Complaints and curses” were uttered on all sides against the company’s misgovernment; resistance was declared to be idle; “The letter! the letter!” was the general cry. To avoid a mutiny Stuyvesant yielded, and a copy, made out from the collected fragments, was handed to the burgomasters. In answer, however, to Nicolls’ summons he submitted a long justification of the Dutch title; yet while protesting against any breach of the peace between the King and the States-General, “for the hinderance and prevention of all differences and the spilling of innocent blood, not only in these parts, but also in Europe,” he offered to treat. “Long Island is gone and lost;” the capital “cannot hold out long,” was the last despatch to the “Lord Majors” of New Netherlands, which its director sent off that night “in silence through Hell Gate.”
Observing Stuyvesant’s reluctance to surrender, Nicolls directed Captain Hyde, who commanded the squadron, to reduce the fort. Two of the ships accordingly landed their troops just below Breuckelen (Brooklyn), where volunteers from New England and the Long Island villages had already encamped. The other two, coming up with full sail, passed in front of Fort Amsterdam and anchored between it and Nutten Island. Standing on one of the angles of the fortress — an artilleryman with a lighted match at his side — the director watched their approach. At this moment the two domines Megapolensis, imploring him not to begin hostilities, led Stuyvesant from the rampart, who then, with a hundred of the garrison, went into the city to resist the landing of the English. Hoping on against hope, the director now sent Counsellor de Decker, Secretary Van Ruyven, Burgomaster Steenwyck, and “Schepen” Cousseau with a letter to Nicolls stating that, as he felt bound “to stand the storm,” he desired if possible to arrange on accommodation. But the English commander merely declared, “To-morrow I will speak with you at Manhattan.”
“Friends,” was the answer, “will be welcome if they come in a friendly manner.”
“I shall come with ships and soldiers,” replied Nicolls; “raise the white flag of peace at the fort, and then something may be considered.”
When this imperious message became known, men, women, and children flocked to the director, beseeching him to submit. His only answer was, “I would rather be carried out dead.” The next day the city authorities, the clergymen, and the officers of the burgher guard, assembling at the Stadt-Huys, at the suggestion of Domine Megapolensis adopted a remonstrance to the director, exhibiting the hopeless situation of New Amsterdam, on all sides “encompassed and hemmed in by enemies,” and protesting against any further opposition to the will of God. Besides the schout, burgomasters, and schepens, the remonstrance was signed by Wilmerdonck and eighty-five of the principal inhabitants, among whom was Stuyvesant’s own son, Balthazar.
At last the director was obliged to yield. Although there were now fifteen hundred souls in New Amsterdam, there were not more than two hundred fifty men able to bear arms, besides the one hundred fifty regular soldiers. The people had at length refused to be called out, and the regular troops were already heard talking of “where booty is to be found, and where the young women live who wear gold chains.” The city, entirely open along both rivers, was shut on the northern side by a breastwork and palisades, which, though sufficient to keep out the savages, afforded no defense against a military siege. There were scarcely six hundred pounds of serviceable powder in store.
A council of war had reported Fort Amsterdam untenable for though it mounted twenty-four guns, its single wall of earth not more than ten feet high and four thick, was almost touches by the private dwellings clustered around, and was commanded, within a pistol-shot, by hills on the north, over which ran the “Heereweg” or Broadway.
Upon the faith of Nicolls’ promise to deliver back the city and fort “in case the difference of the limits of this province be agreed upon betwixt his majesty of England and the high and mighty States-General,” Stuyvesant now commissioned Counsellor John de Decker, Captain Nicholas Varlett, Dr. Samuel Megapolensis, Burgomaster Cornelius Steenwyck, old Burgomaster Oloff Stevenson van Cortlandt, and old Schepen Jacques Cousseau to agree upon articles with the English commander or his representatives. Nicolls, on his part, appointed Sir Robert Carr and Colonel George Cartwright, John Winthrop, and Samuel Willys, of Connecticut, and Thomas Clarke and John Pynchon, of Massachusetts. “The reason why those of Boston and Connecticut were joined,” afterward explained the royal commander, “was because those two colonies should hold themselves the more engaged with us if the Dutch had been overconfident of their strength.”
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