The colony of Rhode Island was not the only place in 17th-century America to embrace the concept of freedom of religion. In 1657, Flushing, New York, a Dutch settlement located on Long Island (in the borough of Queens and the future site of the 1960 World’s Fair), refused to follow the orders of the Calvinist director-general of New Netherlands, Peter Stuyvesant, forbidding Quakers from entering the area. Founded in England by George Fox around 1648 and originally known as the Religious Society of Friends, the Quakers — the name was probably was first used derisively to refer to members who quaked in ecstatic transport — believe that God can be understood by individuals without clergy or formal churches. This was heretical and no doubt threatening to both the Calvinists in New Netherlands and the Puritans throughout New England.
The document, known as the Flushing Remonstrance, was signed by the town clerk, sheriff, and several town magistrates, none of whom was a Quaker but who nonetheless supported the right of Quakers and others to worship as they chose. Although four of the signers were quickly arrested by Stuyvesant, they were soon released (the sheriff was later fired). The signers drew on their Dutch heritage, Holland having one of the most tolerant attitudes toward religions other than its own Dutch Reformed Church. The principles articulated in the Remonstrance foreshadowed the Bill of Rights, especially what became the First amendment to the Constitution. “For our part,” the signers wrote of Stuvesant’s order banning Quakers, “we cannot condemn them in this case, neither can we stretch out our hands against them, to punish, banish or persecute them for out of Christ God is a consuming fire, and it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
Quakers arriving elsewhere in the area were not so welcome. George DeWan writes of 11 Quakers who arrived at the port of New Amsterdam in August 1657. Two local Dutch Reformed ministers reported to their superiors in Amsterdam that the ship sailed the following morning with most, but not all, the Quakers aboard: “We suppose they went to Rhode Island; for that is the receptacle of all sorts of riff-raff people, and is nothing else than the sewer of New England. . . They left behind two strong young women. As soon as the ship had fairly departed, these began to quake and go into a frenzy, and cry out loudly in the middle of the street, that men should repent, for the day of judgement was at hand.” The women were put in jail for eight days and subsequently deported to Rhode Island.
Text of the Flushing Remonstrance 1657
From the New York Historical Records
Remonstrance of the Inhabitants of the Town of Flushing
To Governor Stuyvesant December 27, 1657
You have been pleased to send up unto us a certain prohibition or command that we should not receive or entertain any of those people called Quakers because they are supposed to be by some, seducers of the people. For our part we cannot condemn them in this case, neither can we stretch out our hands against them, to punish, banish or persecute them for out of Christ God is a consuming fire, and it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
We desire therefore in this case not to judge least we be judged, neither to condemn least we be condemned, but rather let every man stand and fall to his own Master. Wee are bounde by the Law to Doe good unto all men, especially to those of the household of faith. And though for the present we seem to be unsensible of the law and the Law giver, yet when death and the Law assault us, if we have our advocate to seeke, who shall plead for us in this case of conscience betwixt God and our own souls; the powers of this world can neither attack us, neither excuse us, for if God justifye who can condemn and if God condemn there is none can justify.
And for those jealousies and suspicions which some have of them, that they are destructive unto Magistracy and Minssereye, that can not bee, for the magistrate hath the sword in his hand and the minister hath the sword in his hand, as witnesse those two great examples which all magistrates and ministers are to follow, Moses and Christ, whom God raised up maintained and defended against all the enemies both of flesh and spirit; and therefore that which is of God will stand, and that which is of man will come to nothing. And as the Lord hath taught Moses or the civil power to give an outward liberty in the state by the law written in his heart designed for the good of all, and can truly judge who is good, who is civil, who is true and who is false, and can pass definite sentence of life or death against that man which rises up against the fundamental law of the States General; soe he hath made his ministers a savor of life unto life, and a savor of death unto death.
The law of love, peace and liberty in the states extending to Jews, Turks, and Egyptians, as they are considered the sonnes of Adam, which is the glory of the outward state of Holland, soe love, peace and liberty, extending to all in Christ Jesus, condemns hatred, war and bondage. And because our Saviour saith it is impossible but that offenses will come, but woe unto him by whom they cometh, our desire is not to offend one of his little ones, in whatsoever form, name or title he appears in, whether Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist or Quaker, but shall be glad to see anything of God in any of them, desiring to doe unto all men as we desire all men should doe unto us, which is the true law both of Church and State; for our Savior saith this is the law and the prophets.
Therefore, if any of these said persons come in love unto us, wee cannot in conscience lay violent hands upon them, but give them free egresse and regresse unto our Town, and houses, as God shall persuade our consciences. And in this we are true subjects both of Church and State, for we are bounde by the law of God and man to doe good unto all men and evil to noe man. And this is according to the patent and charter of our Towne, given unto us in the name of the States General, which we are not willing to infringe, and violate, but shall houlde to our patent and shall remaine, your humble subjects, the inhabitants of Vlishing [Flushing].
Written this 27th day of December, in the year 1657, by mee
Edward Hart, Clericus