The Flushing Remonstrance


This is the 350 anniversary of the Flushing Remonstrance, a document written by the residents of Flushing 1654, in protest of the policies of Peter Stuyvesant, the Governor of New Amsterdam, in response to his harassment and oppression of Quakers in this Dutch colony.

Last night we took part in a fascinating study workshop about the history and meaning of this document lead by Rivka Widerman, who is a retired attorney, law professor and scholar.  Historians feel this is the first document for separation of church and state and freedom of religion from that time period and may have influenced the writers of the US Constitution. Members of a local church took part in the workshop which was held at Congregation Ansche Chesed.

From the beginning, New Amsterdam/New York had a variety of people, religions, and more bars than churches…read Russell Shorto’s book “The Island in the Center of the World “ for an in depth, very readable history of this time period.

The same year as the Remonstrance, 22 Jewish people arrived in New Amsterdam from South America,  and were denied entry to the colony by Stuyvesant, but appealed to his employer, the Dutch West India Company, and won the right to live and pray here. The congregation they formed still exists, and is now called Congregation Shearith Israel also known as The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. They have a small museum in the synagogue and an historical society as well.

There still is a Dutch Reformed Church in Flushing and the local High School is named for John Bowne, the Quaker leader of that time period.

This is all worth noting because New York City is constantly rebuilding and reinventing itself, or as we say, “it’s a great city- if they ever finish it”. Unlike Boston  and Philadelphia, New York doesn’t focus very much on it’s own history even though there is so much history here.

Rivka said that she has presented this workshop in several locations around the city and always asks which issue would you choose to write a remonstrance about today. This is a short list of some the responses she has gotten:

environmental issues, freedom from prejudice about religion,  the immoral status of “illegal aliens”, the use of benign laws (such as zoning regulations) for purposes other than they were intended, reconsideration of the drug laws…an interesting list…

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