Richard Mather Bayles.

History of Richmond County (Staten Island), New York from its discovery to the present time online

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and required to return home and answer for his arbitrary con-
duct. Melyn, armed with the necessary documents, returned
triumphantly to New Amsterdam, and had the satisfaction of
serving them upon the director in person. These proceedings
on the part of the patroon were far from mollifying the direc-
tor; and, as he had proved to be a dangerous man to meddle with
arbitrarily, he gratified his animosity by acts of hostility to
Melyn' s family. Jacob Loper, the son-in-law of the patroon,
who had served under Stuyvesant in the West Indies, applied
for permission to make a trading voyage to South River, Dela-
ware, but it was peremptorily refused.

Stuyvesant 1 s representatives appeared before the tribunal
which had cited him, to answer for and defend the acts of their
principal. The opinion of the court was that Melyn had been
seriously injured in his property and person for no other crime
or cause than presuming to differ in opinion with the director.
In the meantime the trade of the colony had become less re-
munerative, and the government, both at home and in the col-
ony, had become involved in complications with other powers
to such an extent as to divert attention from Melyn' s cause,
and it was left for the time in abeyance.

*The ex-director, Kieft, was also a passenger ou the same vessel. In regard to
their treatment and the events of the voyage we may quote another chronicle:
" They were brought on board like criminals, and torn away from their goods,
their wives, and their children. The Princess (the name of the ship) was to carry
the director and these two faithful patriots away from New Netherland; but,
coming into the wrong channel, it struck upon a rock and was wrecked. And
now, this wicked Kieft, seeing death before his eyes, sighed deeply, and, turning
to these two (Melyn and Kuyter), said: ' Friends, I have been unjust towards you;
can you forgive me?' Towards morning the ship was broken to pieces. Among
those drowned were Melyn's son. the minister, Bogardus, Kieft, Captain John De
Vries, and a great number of other persons. Much treasure was lost, as Kieft
was on his return with a fortune of four hundred thousand guilders 160,000
dollars."



68 HISTORY OF RICHMOND COUNTY.

Melyn's appeal seems to have at last gained the reversal of
the sentence which had been imposed upon him by Stuyvesant.
But notwithstanding this, the persecutions of the governor seem
to have continued with unabated zeal. In the spring of 1650
Melyn associated with himself Baron Van Cappelan, a man of
wealth, who immediately fitted out a ship called the Ci New
Netherland's Fortune," with a cargo and some twenty colonists
for Staten Island. The ship was commanded by Capt. Adrian
Post,

The passage was one of extraordinary length and the sea was
unusually boisterous, and they were obliged to put into Rhode
Island for supplies. They did not reach New Amsterdam until
the following winter. Making this stop at Rhode Island the
occasion for another persecution, Stuyvesant seized the ship
under the pretext that it belonged to Melyn, and caused it and
the cargo to be sold. It was purchased by Thomas Willet, who
sent it on a voyage to Virginia, and thence to Holland, where
Van Cappelan replevined it, and after a protracted law suit, the
West India company was obliged to pay a large sum in conse-
quence of the illegal act of its representative and servant in
New Netherland.

The harassed patroon immediately withdrew to his " colonie"
on Staten Island, from whence he was summoned by Stuyvesant
to appear, and answer to new charges which had been preferred
against him. This summons he positively refused to obey, and
:i lot of land, with a house on it, in New Amsterdam, belong-
ing to him, was declared confiscated, and accordingly was sold.
Melyn now fortified himself on the island and established a
manorial court.

Among the charges preferred against Melyn were the follow-
ing : that he had distributed arms amongst the Indians, and had
endeavored to excite hostile feelings toward the director among
some of the river tribes. When he left Holland the patroon
had taken the precaution of furnishing himself with a "safe
conduct," as it was called, which was a sort of protection
against further aggressions on the part of Stuyvesant ; to this,
however, he paid little regard when he had the patroon in his
power ; but now that he had proved contumacious by refusing
to appear, and putting himself into his enemy's power, the di-
rector scarcely dared venture to arrest by force one who was



HISTORY OF RICHMOND COUNTY. 69

protected by a document of such authority ; he therefore
affected to be alarmed for his own personal safety, and applied
to the council for protection, who granted him a body guard of
four halbidiers, to attend him whenever he went abroad. Van
Dincklagen, the vice-director, had been instrumental in assist-
ing both Van Cappelan and Melyn in promoting the successful
settlement of Staten Island ; he therefore fell under the dis-
pleasure of the director, who ordered him to resign, or the
council to expel him from their body, but he refused to resign,
and defied the council to expel him, as they had no more power
to deprive him of his office than the director himself, as both
held their commissions from the same authority at home.
Nevertheless, he was arrested and imprisoned in the guard-
house, and the counsel who had defended him was forbidden to
practice his profession in the colony. After the lapse of several
days the vice-director was liberated, and immediately took up
his residence with Melyn on Staten Island.

These settlements were probably located on the east side of
the island, between the Narrows and the locality known as Old
Town, or "Oude Dorp," as it was called. But all traces of
these settlements have long since vanished, and no records are
left to tell us of their locality. Though the site was well se-
lected in some respects sheltered by hills on the north, acces-
sible by water, convenient for fishing, and comprising both up-
land and meadow it was early abandoned for other situations.
An atmosphere of misfortune, too, seemed to hover over it.
The first plantation, by de Vries, had been destroyed ; Melyn,
the patroon, and all connected with him seemed to be the
especial objects of the governor's animosity, and we now come
to the period when the settlement is again wiped out by the
bloody Indian raid of 1655, an account of which has already
been given. At that time Baron Van Cappelan' s colonists
numbered "ninety souls in eleven bouweries," all of whom
were killed or dispersed. The island was now depopulated, and
the settlement had to be re-commenced. Van Cappelan did
what he could to induce the affrighted people to return to their
desolated homes, and sent out new colonists. These efforts were
made by Van Dincklagen, his agent. To avert the probability
of another attack, he negotiated another purchase of the island
from the Indians, and made a treaty with them. This was done



70 HISTORY OF RICHMOND COUNTY.

on the 10th of July, 1657.* These proceedings on his part were
disapproved by the directors of the company at home, who
insisted that all settlers' titles should come through them.
Stuyvesant was, therefore, directed to declare the late purchase
void, to secure the Indian title for the company, and then to
convey to Van Cappelan what land he might require.

In 1661 Melyn returned to Holland, having, in consideration
of fifteen hundred guilders (six hundred dollars), conveyed all
his interest in Staten Island to the West India Company. The
deed was dated June 14, 1659. He was also granted an amnesty
for all offenses which had been charged upon him by either
Stuyvesant or his predecessor. Van Cappelan being dead, the
company also purchased all the title he had to any part of the
island during his life time, and thus became the possessors of
the whole of it.

About this time Johannes de Decker, who first came to New
Amsterdam in 1655, acquired title to one hundred and twenty
acres of land on Staten Island. He was a young man of good
reputation, and for a time occupied important official trusts.
By what steps he obtained possession of the land mentioned, or
where it was located, we have not learned. By some disagree-
ment with Stuyvesant he fell into discord with that turbulent
official and was dispossessed and banished. The sentence was,
however, in all probability reversed, since he was back in the
colony again at the time of the conquest of 1664. Among the
last of the Dutch patents was one granted to him for this land,
dated January 15, 1664. During the administration of JSTicolls,
however, his Dutch patriotism made him offensive to the
English government, and he was again banished from the
province.

Some time after the peace of Breda, he applied to the Duke
of York for a redress of his grievances and a restitution of his
property. This application the duke referred to Lovelace, with

*Dunlap has set forth that the island was purchased of the Indians in 1651, by
Augustine Herman, but we fail to find authority sufficient to sustain the as-
sertion. A purchase was made of the Indians December 6th of that year, by "Au-
gustine Heermans," acting for Cornells van Werckhoven, a Schepen of Utrecht,
which covered a large tract lying between the Arthur kill and the Raritan river ;
and from the incidental mention of Staten Island in giving the boundaries the
idea may have been gained that the conveyance included this island. But as
Melyn was in undisputed possession here at the time, had been for several years
previous, and continued to be for several years after, it is fair to presume that no
such purchase of the Indians was made or intended to be made.



HISTORY OF RICHMOND COUNTY. 71

instructions to do in the premises what might be just and
proper ; the result was that de Becker was restored to all his
rights and privileges, and he retired to private life on his farm
on Staten Island.

He was the progenitor of a numerous family now residing
on the island, by the name of Decker, and further notice of
him will be found in connection with the history of that family.

Soon after the sale of the island by Melyn and Van Cappel-
an's heirs to the West India company, the latter made grants
of land to several French Waldenses, and a still greater number
of Huguenots from Rochelle, the descendants of whom are still
residents here, and in a few instances still occupying the iden-
tical grants made to their ancestors. About a dozen families
commenced a settlement south of the Narrows. In 1663 they
built a block-house as a defense against the Indians, and placed
within it a garrison of ten men, and armed it with two small
cannons. At the request of these settlers, Dominie Drisius, of
New Amsterdam, visited them every two months and preached
to them in French, performing also the other functions of his
calling. Rev. Samuel Drisius was sent to America by the
Classis of Amsterdam, in 1654, at the request of the people,
who desired a minister who could preach to them either in
Dutch or French, which he was able to do. On his arrival at
New Amsterdam he was at once installed as the colleague of
the Rev. Johannes Megapolensis, who had resided in the coun-
try since 1642. Drisius continued to officiate at New Amster-
dam and on Staten Island until 1671. From about 1660 his
visits to the island were more frequent, being made once each
month.

It would be pleasant could we bring out a fuller picture of
the times in which these interesting people made their homes
here, but the data is very meagre. Their memory is by many
fondly cherished, and by others, some of whom live nearest
the scenes of their conflicts with the wilderness, sadly neglected.
In the shadow of the court house at Richmond, within a neg-
lected enclosure stands a tombstone bearing the following in-
scription :

SUSANNAH VAN PELT

was

The Grand Daughter of
Jacob Rezean, Sen'r



72 HISTORY OF RICHMOND COUNTY.

and the last of five generations

interred in this burying ground.

They were Huguenots

who left France when

persecuted for their religion ;

settled in this neighborhood ;

they selected this spot
for their last resting place

on earth.

Sacred be their dust.

Susannah van Pelt

reached the advanced age

of 99 years, 5 months, 25 days.

This monument is erected by her only surviving relative.
We come now to one of the important landmarks in the his-
tory of New York and as a consequence in the history of Staten
Island. The year 1664 was the commencement of a new era,
and one which was to give to the settlement here a better chance
for life and a more favorable atmosphere for growth.

The English claimed to have discovered, through their repre-
sentative, Sebastian Cabot, as early as 1497, the coast of North
America. Their claim extended from thirty to fifty-eight de-
grees north latitude. Voyages were made to different parts of
the coast by English navigators before the year 1606. On the
12th of March. 1664, Charles II. of England, by virtue of the
claim just stated, made a grant of land to his brother James,
Duke of York, which included within its liberal boundaries the
territory then occupied by the Dutch at New Amsterdam and
vicinity, of which Staten Island formed a part.

The duke immediately fitted out an expedition to take pos-
session of the field covered by this patent. Richard Nicolls
was commissioned deputy governor of this colony, and his
associates in the government were Robert Carr, George Cart-
wright and Samuel Maverick. Four ships composed the fleet.
and they together carried nearly one hundred guns and some
six hundred men. The fleet arrived in New York bay in August
of the same year, and Colonel Nicolls sent a demand to Governor
Stuyvesant for the surrender of the fort and the government.
The latter at first stoutly refused to comply with the demand,
but after a few days spent in consultation with the burgo-
masters and people of the city, and finding the latter strongly



HISTORY OF RICHMOND COUNTY. 73

in favor of such a course, he was forced to yield to the popular
sentiment, and with much reluctance agreed to a surrender.
This was accomplished on the 26th of August, and the sceptre
of New Netherlands passed from the wooden-legged warrior to
the representatives of the Duke of York.

It is worthy of remark that when the English fleet arrived in
the bay the first Dutch property seized by them was on Staten
Island, where the block house was taken and occupied.

Stuyvesant appointed six commissioners, among whom was
Dom. Megapolensis and Johannes de Decker, to meet a like
number on the part of the English, to arrange the terms of the
capitulation. These were just and reasonable, under the circum-
stances; no change was to be made in the condition of the people
but all were to be permitted to enjoy their property and their
religion to the fullest extent. As the individual rights and
privileges of no one were to be molested, the people submitted
to a change of rulers, not only with a good grace, but many
with satisfaction, as it released them from the overbearing and
arbitrary tyranny of the director.

Though de Decker had been one of the commissioners who
agreed to and signed the articles of surrender, yet, when the
English began to change the names of places, and appoint new
officers in place of those who had become obnoxious to them;
in short, when everything began to assume an English aspect,
his patriotism began to revolt, and he endeavored in some in-
stances to oppose the work of reform which the conquerors had
initiated. This brought him to the notice of Nicolls, who, to
rid himself of a troublesome subject, ordered him to leave the
colony within ten days. In the course of a few months every-
thing became quiet, and the people seemed to be content with
the new order of things. Unappropriated lands now began to
be parcelled out to English proprietors, by English authority.
Staten island, already settled by the Dutch and French, was
now to receive acquisition of another nationality. Capt. James
Bollen received a grant of land on the island; the country be-
tween the Raritan river and Newark bay was bought anew from
the savages, and settled by people from Long Island, chiefly
along Achter Cull, and four families from Jamaica began the
settlement of Elizabethtown. Besides Captain Bollen, Captain
William Hill, Lieutenant Humphrey Fox and one Coleman, all
officers of the fleet, received grants of land on Staten Island,



74 HISTORY OF RICHMOND COUNTY.

but as the vessels to which they were attached were no longer
needed, and were sent back to England, they had little or no
opportunity of enjoying their acquisitions.

The government of New Netherland, under the original
Dutch settlers, was committed to the director and his council,
which at first consisted of five members. This council had su-
preme executive and legislative authority in the whole colony.
It had also the power to try all civil and criminal cases, and all
prosecutions before it were conducted by a "Schout Fiscaal,"
whose duties were similar to those of a sheriff and district at-
torney of the present day. He had the power to arrest all per-
sons, but not without a complaint previously made to him, un-
less he caught an offender in flagrante delictu. It was his
duty to examine into the merits of every case, and lay them be-
fore the court, without favor to either party; he was also to re-
port to the directors in Holland the nature of every case prose-
cuted by him, and the judgment therein. In addition to the
duties above enumerated, it devolved upon him to examine the
papers of all vessels arriving or departing; to superintend the
lading and discharging of cargoes, and to prevent smuggling.
He had a right to attend the meetings of the council, and give
his opinion when asked, but not to vote on any question.

Several of the patroons claimed in a great measure to be in-
dependent of the director and his council, and organized
courts and appointed magistrates for their own territories, as
did the patroons of Rensselaerwyck and Staten Island, but
they were at constant variance with the authorities at New Am-
sterdam.

It is true that all who felt themselves aggrieved by the judg-
ment of the director and his council, had a chartered right to
appeal to the XIX at home that is, the West India Company
but the directors of New Netherland generally played the
despot during the brief terms of their authority, and if any
suitor manifested an intention to appeal, he was at once charged
with a contempt of the supreme power in the colony and most
severely punished, unless he contrived to keep out of the direc-
tor's reach until his case had been heard and decided in Hol-
land, as in the instance of Melyn, the patroon of Staten Island,
who appears to have been a thorn in the sides of both Kieft and
Stuyvesant.

The religion recognized by the government of the province



HISTORY OF RICHMOND COUNTY. 75

was that of the Reformed Dutch church, or the Church of Hol-
land, and though other sects were regarded with a certain degree
of suspicion, they were tolerated so long as they did not inter-
fere with the privileges of others.

When Stuyvesant \vas compelled by the popular clamor to
surrender the country to the English, he stipulated for the
preservation and continuance of all the political and religious
rights and privileges of the people as then enjoyed, allegiance
alone excepted, which was conceded by Nicolls.

After the conquest, (his stipulation was generally held invio-
late, but the civil institutions of the country were modified to
make them accord with English ideas of government.

There are instances on record of persecution for opinion's
sake on religious subjects under the Dutch, but all such matters
were at once rectified when brought to the notice of the home
government. This continued to be the practice of the English
government also.

Staten Island, Long Island and Westchester were now united
in a political division, called Yorkshire, and this was sub-divided
into three parts called "Ridings." These were respectively
known as the East, West, and Nort-h ridings. The West riding
was composed of Staten Island, together with the towns now of
Kings county and Newtown, on Long Island. The term " Rid-
ing" is a corruption of the word "Trithing," the name of a
division of Yorkshire in England, after which this American
"Yorkshire" seems to have been fashioned. The ridings were
established principally for the accommodation of courts and
convenience in apportioning taxes.

Under the duke's government each town had a justice of the
peace, who was appointed by the governor ; and at first eight,
but afterward four overseers and a constable, who were elected
by the people. Three officers were charged with the duty of
assessing taxes, holding town courts, and regulating such mat-
ters of minor importance as should not otherwise be provided
for by the laws or orders of the governor. The jurisdiction of
the town court was limited to cases not exceeding five pounds
in value.

A court of sessions, composed of the justices of the peace,
was established in each riding. This court was held twice each
year, and was competent to decide all criminal cases, and all
civil ones where the amount of difference exceeded five pounds.



76 HISTORY OF RICHMOND COUNTY.

Judgments rendered in this court for sums under twenty
pounds were final, but in cases exceeding that amount an appeal
to the court of assize was allowed. Criminal cases involving
capital punishment required the unanimous concurrence of
twelve jurors, but all other cases were decided by the majority
of seven jurors. The high sheriff, members of the council, and
the secretary of the colony were authorized to sit with the
justices in this court.

The court of assize was held once a year, in the city of New
York. It was composed of the governor, his council, and an
indefinite number of the justices. It entertained appeals from
the inferior courts, and had original jurisdiction in cases where
the demand exceeded twenty pounds. The governor appointed
a high sheriff for the "shire," and a deputy sheriff for each
riding. This court was the nominal head of the government-
legislative as well as judicial. It was, however, in reality the
governor's cloak, under cover of which he issued whatever reg-
ulations his judgment or fancy dictated. All its members held
their positions during his pleasure, and were virtually obliged
to sanction his views and second his opinions. Many of the
laws, amendments and orders enacted through the name of this
court were arbitrary, obnoxious and oppressive to the people.
Petitions from the people for redress of their grievances had
but little if any effect in the desired direction.

The early governors imposed duties on imported and ex-
ported goods, disposed of the public lands, and levied taxes
on the people, for the support of the government. The fi-
nances of the colony were under their control, in common with
every other department, and this power over the treasury was
doubtless often used for their own individual benefit.

In the orders made at the general court of assize, from the
6th to the 13th of October, 1675, the following appears :

"That by reason of the Separacon by water, Staten Island
shall have Jurisdiction of it Self and to have noe further de-
pendance on the Courts of Long Island nor on their Militia."
From this time forward the island has been an independent
judicial district, and the first record, which soon after began to
be kept, is still in existence in the office of the county clerk ;
it is a small square volume, bound in vellum, and besides many
quaint records of "sewts," contains the descriptions of the
ear-marks on domestic animals, to distinguish the ownership,



HISTORY OF RICHMOND COUNTY. 77

as the animals were allowed to run at large through the woods
and unappropriated lands.

Among some of these early court records we find the follow-
ing:

Jacob Jeyoung (Guyon) Ptf ) In A Action of the Caus
Isaac See (?) Deft \ At A Court held on Staten Island

By the Constable and oversears of the seam on this present
Munday Being the 7 day of febraery 1680 wharas the cans de-
pending Between the Ptf and deft hath Bin heard the Court
ordereth deft to Cleer his flax forthwith and his Corn out of
the Barn within ten days from the deat hearof and to clear up
his other A Counts at the next Court.

A A Court held on Staton Island By the Constabl and over-
sears of the Seam on this present Munday Being the 5 day of



Online LibraryRichard Mather BaylesHistory of Richmond County (Staten Island), New York from its discovery to the present time → online text (page 8 of 72)