Beautiful New York

A Celebration of the City

The Top 100 Greatest New Yorkers — #5

Peter Stuyvesant (1592 – 1672)


Back when New York was still New Amsterdam, it was a failure of a colony. The trading post did not turn a profit, the population was down, and drunkenness was on the rise. The Dutch West India Trading Company hired a branch manager, the highly controversial and irascible Peter Stuyvesant (or “Peg Leg Pete” from his soldiering days) and said “Whip this colony into shape and make it pay!” He accomplished this with flying colors. But in the process, he revealed his bigotry against the 18 languages spoken in the streets, the many national origins of the colony, and the myriad of religions practiced. When the first Jews came to the city, Stuyvesant tried to keep them out and was overruled by the company’s board of directors who insisted “We are a business colony, not a religious institution.” In this way, Stuyvesant was as important to the future of New York for his failures as he was for his successes due to the precedent they set. When he woke up to find English warships in the harbor, ready to take away his colony, Stuyvesant said “I would rather be taken to my grave than surrender New Netherland!” but found he had no allies in the colony that he had built. But, when the English governor who replaced him graciously offered free passage back to Holland for any Dutch citizen who did not want to submit to English rule, no one – not even Stuyvesant – took him up on it. In what is now the East Village, Stuyvesant lived out his days in the relative comfort of the newly named New York until his death at age 80.


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