Earlier this week, the de Blasio administration said it would give “immediate attention” to a proposal from City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to remove Central Park’s Christopher Columbus statue based on accounts that the explorer enslaved and killed many indigenous people. And it looks like Peter Stuyvesant might be next on the chopping block. The Post reports that Jewish rights group Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center is “demanding Mayor de Blasio scrub all traces of the anti-Semitic Dutch governor from city property” as part of the city’s 90-day review of symbols of hate. Not only do they want monuments of him removed, but his name erased on everything from the public Stuyvesant High School to Stuyvesant Square Park to the entire neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Map of New Amsterdam in 1664, via NYPL
“Peter Stuyvesant was an extreme racist who targeted Jews and other minorities including Catholics and energetically tried to prohibit them from settling in then New Amsterdam,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the head of the Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center.
Indeed, Stuyvesant was not in support of full religious freedom, instead pushing for the Dutch Reformed Church and taking away the rights to worship of Lutherans, Quakers, and Catholics. In 1654, when Jewish refugees from the former Dutch colony of Recife, Brazil arrived to New Amsterdam, Stuyvesant tried to stop them from entering. Since some of the colony’s established property owners were Jewish, this didn’t quite go according to plan, but Stuyvesant persisted, seizing and selling the refugees’ property, banning them from building a synagogue, and prohibiting them from serving in the militia, which then incurred a special tax that said they had to pay for someone to serve in their place. In a letter to the Dutch West India Company at the time, he referred to the Jews as “the deceitful race, — such hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ,” as well as the “repugnant race” and “usurers.”
Asser Levy Public Baths, via Wiki Commons
The following year, two men, Joseph Barsimon and Asser Levy filed a petition with the colonial court asking that the refugees either be allowed to serve or the tax dropped. Levy was one of the refugees himself and he eventually convinced Holland to let him serve. He was also the first Jew to own a house in North America (he bought property in Fort Orange, NJ in 1661) and the first Jew to own real estate in New York (he purchased land on South William Street in 1662).
And it’s Levy who he Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center wants to honor, suggesting that all traces of Peter Stuyvesant be replaced with his namesake. “New York, of all American cities, which boasts such important Jewish history and claims such a present day vibrant Jewish community, should take the lead in denouncing Stuyvesant’s bigotry,” said Leitner. Currently, his name appears on Coney Island’s Asser Levy Park, the Asser Levy School (PS 19 in the East Village), Asser Levy Place (a park between 23rd and 25th Streets in Manhattan), and the nearby Asser Levy Recreation Center and Asser Levy Public Baths.
A bust of Peter Stuyvesant at St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery, where he is also buried. Via Wiki Commons.
But the New Netherlands Institute, which researches America’s Dutch history, says the idea is “ridiculous” and that Stuyvesant was not “treasonous” like the Confederate leaders whose statues are being removed across the nation. “This is an entirely different case. This was about customs in the 17th century. They should talk about the history, but not start removing statues,” said a spokesman, adding that Stuyvesant was against any religion outside his own and that his motives were fueled by an ignorance about disease and a desire to establish “social cohesion.”
Neither Mayor de Blasio nor the city has yet to comment on the Stuyvesant proposal, but the debate over removing Christopher Columbus’ monument is heating up, with many elected officials referring to the proposal as “revisionist history” and holding a large press conference in support of the statue.
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