Peter Stuyvesant

Peter Stuyvesant

(c. 1610-1672)

(The man who became known as “Old Silver-Leg” was born around 1610 at Peperga, in Friesland, in the United Provinces of the Netherlands. He was the son of a pastor of the Dutch Reformed church.

Peter Stuyvesant entered the service of the Dutch West India Company at an early age. As a military employee of the company, he was sent to the island of Curacao, 60 miles north of Venezuela. Stuyvesant passed several pleasant and rather routine years there before he was made governor of the island in 1643.

During the Thirty Years’ War between the Netherlands and Spain, Stuyvesant planned and then led an assault on the Spanish island of St. Martin in 1644. The attack was repelled and Stuyvesant returned to Curacao with a wound in his right leg. The leg was amputated and replaced by a silver-ornamented wooden leg.

In 1646, Stuyvesant was named governor of New Netherland. Arriving at New Amsterdam in May 1647, he soon showed himself to be a leader of great energy and vision. He had the streets straightened and a wooden palisade erected to defend the town. A wooden wharf was constructed as well.

However, Stuyvesant could find no solution to the colony’s two most pressing problems: its small population, and encroachment by settlers from New England. The Netherlands were extremely prosperous in the mid-seventeenth century and few Dutchmen could be persuaded to emigrate to the New World. At the same time, New England was expanding onto Long Island and threatening the safety of New Netherland.

Stuyvesant also faced internal troubles. The citizens of New Amsterdam forced him to grant independent municipal control to a board of select men. Therefore, the governor could not even give orders within the major town of the colony.

In 1655, Stuyvesant undertook a short campaign that conquered the colony of New Sweden in modern-day Delaware. His triumph was unmistakable, but it was also short-lived. In 1664, a fleet of English ships led by Colonel Richard Nicolls anchored in the harbor of New Amsterdam. Speaking for his patron, the Duke of York, Nicolls demanded the surrender of the town.

The town council refused to fight. When Stuyvesant ripped a letter from Nicolls to shreds, the councilmen gathered the pieces of paper, and joined them together. To his dismay, Stuyvesant had to surrender the colony without a fight.

Stuyvesant returned to the Netherlands in 1665. He successfully defended his actions before the Dutch West India Company, and was allowed to retire from public service. He returned to his former home in what had then become New York, and lived the rest of his life as a Dutch subject in an English colony.