The Flushing Remonstrance to be Exhibited at the New York State Museum

. December 25, 2009 . 0 Comments

The Flushing Remonstrance, the earliest known document in America arguing for religious freedom, will be on exhibit at the New York State Museum on Sunday, December 27 to commemorate the anniversary of its signing more than 350 years ago.

Dated December 27, 1657, the Remonstrance is considered by historians to be the precursor of the first amendment of the Bill of Rights, guaranteeing Americans religious freedom. Scorched by the New York State Capitol fire of 1911, the fragile document is part of the collection of the New York State Archives and has only been exhibited 13 times since 1945. It will be on display inside the Museum’s 1609 exhibition in the “Learning to Live Together” section.

The Remonstrance was written and signed by 30 English settlers in Flushing, Queens to protest a decree prohibiting Quakers from worshiping in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. The grievance was addressed to Peter Stuyvesant, director general of the colony, who had banned members of “that abominable sect” of Quakers from practicing their faith. The Remonstrance asserted that the order was contrary to the “liberty of conscience,” under the customs of Holland and the Dutch patent, or charter, to the town of Flushing (1645).

The historic record is a 1657 duplicate, copied by the provincial secretary into the minutes of the Dutch Colonial Council. It includes text and signatures that were on the original document. The whereabouts of the original petition is not known but it may have been returned to the individual who presented it to Stuyvesant. The Dutch Colonial Council minutes and other records of the New Netherland government were transferred to the new British government in 1664. The records were maintained by the secretary of the province of New York until 1783, when they became the custody of the secretary of state of New York, who transferred the Remonstrance and other Dutch records to the State Library in 1881. The Library was formerly housed at the State Capitol and the Remonstrance was seared when a devastating fire swept through the Capitol on March 29, 1911. The Remonstrance was transferred from the Library to the newly established New York State Archives in 1978.

An iconic record of early Dutch colonial government, the Remonstrance proclaimed the necessity of religious freedom of conscience and toleration. In Biblical language, it cited divine authority as superseding human authority. Although they were not Quakers themselves, the signers risked life, liberty and property to protest the harsh treatment of the newly-arrived Quakers. Some of the signatures were crossed out, perhaps because the signers got “cold feet.” Of those who did sign, some were arrested and imprisoned.

The Remonstrance was last exhibited in 2007 in Albany during its 350th anniversary year. That year it also attracted national media attention when it went on display at the Queens Public Library branch in Flushing. The Library also hosted a traveling exhibition in November featuring panel displays, written by a descendant of two of the original signers of the Remonstrance.

In 2006, the Remonstrance was one of several iconic artifacts from the collections of the State Archives, Museum and Library that were displayed in connection with a program featuring a lecture by nationally-known historian Kenneth Jackson. Jackson’s topic, “But It Was in New York: America Begins in the Empire State” addressed New York State’s powerful and unique, but largely unheralded role in American History. Additional information on the Flushing Remonstrance is available at

http://www.archives.nysed.gov/apt/magazine/documents/archivesmag_winter08_000.pdf.

Category: Museum News

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