1673 Three Hundred And Twenty-five Years Ago

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On July 28 Thomas Lovelace, brother of the royal governor of New York, rowed to Manhattan from his Staten Island farm with an urgent message: Dutch warships had been spotted approaching the city. Nine years earlier, with a similar naval invasion, England had taken over the Dutch colony of New Netherland, with Manhattan at its heart. Now the two countries were at war again, and as the town’s English residents had feared (and its more numerous Dutch residents had hoped), ships from Holland were back to reclaim their old territory. Since Manhattan was defended by a single creaky fort, its prospects against a naval bombardment were hopeless.

Nonetheless, Lovelace and the military commanders did what they could to mount a defense. They summoned the governor back from Connecticut and sent a messenger to Brooklyn to rouse the local militia (who, like many latter-day New Yorkers, prudently decided not to get involved). A dozen or so English citizens joined perhaps seventy soldiers in the fort and waited for the Dutch armada to arrive.

When morning came, eight warships could be seen in the harbor. Hundreds of Dutch citizens thronged the waterfront to cheer their countrymen. Some of them had rowed out to the ships the evening before and revealed how weak the city’s defenses were. Others had spiked the guns in front of city hall. A Dutch captain landed for a parley, and when Lovelace asked to see his commission, he replied, “It’s stuck in the mouth of my guns.”

Following an hour or two’s exchange of fire, a landing party demanded and got the fort’s surrender. After nine years of English rule, New York was New Netherland again. Most of the English residents were kicked out, and the Dutch established a new government and laws for the colony, which included Manhattan, Staten Island, much of Lone Island, and the Hudson and Delaware Valleys. The revised code banned gambling, prostitution, and the playing of sports on Sundays. Sunday liquor sales were also restricted, “not that a stranger or citizen shall not buy a drink of wine or beer for the assuagement of his thirst, but only to prevent the sitting of clubs on the Sabbath whereby many are hindered from resorting to divine worship.”

Although the war’s main theater was in Europe, England made halfhearted efforts to recover its lost American colony. One Bostonian urged the king to send troops, calling New York the “navel of his Majesty’s American territories.” (While he may not have considered what that would make New Jersey, the phrase was curiously appropriate, since the Dutch had renamed New York City as New Orange.) Solidarity among the English colonies was weak, however, and while neighboring Connecticut tried to stir up opposition, most New Englanders saw no reason to risk men and resources for the benefit of King Charles when they had no real quarrel with the Dutch. When the captain of an English frigate tried to raise an invasion force in Boston late in 1673, he was attacked and wounded in the street and had to be rescued by his men.

In the end the English regained New York at a table in Westminster. As Europe’s states and statelets reshuffled their alliances in the turbulent 1670s, it became expedient for England and Holland to make peace. Like a utility infielder, New Netherland became a throw-in in a deal between major powers. On October 31, 1674, on orders from home (and to the disgust of most of its inhabitants), the government of New Netherland turned over the colony to England. From that day forward the Dutch were forever gone from North America.