In 1657 a group of English Quakers arrived in New Amsterdam (the Dutch colonial town that became modern New York City). They were persecuted by the colonial government there for their religion. Then in 1663 the colony's bosses - the directors of the Dutch West India Company - ordered the governor to allow Quakerism in the colony.

The Company considered the Quaker religion "abominable", yet reversed the governor's policy of persecution, a policy that was entirely in line with the practices of most other European colonies of the day. Why did they order the change?

1 Answer 1


It was basically a business decision. The Dutch West India Company had a large financial stake in the success of the colony, and ensuring that new settlers were treated with "moderation" was seen as necessary. The official response of The Dutch West India Company was the following letter signed by Abraham Wilmandone and David Von Baerle on April 16th, 1663:

We, finally, did see from your last letter, that you had exiled and transported hither a certain Quaker named John Bowne, and although it is our cordial desire that similar and other sectarians might not be found there, yet as the contrary seems to be the case, we doubt very much if rigorous proceedings against them out not to be discontinued except you intend to check and destroy your population, which, however, in the youth of your existence, ought rather to be encouraged by all possible means. Wherefore it is our opinion that some connivance would be useful that the consciences of men, at least, ought ever to remain free and unshackled. Let everyone be unmolested as long as he is modest, as long as his conduct in a political sense is unimpeachable, as long as he does not disturb others or oppose the government. This maxim of moderation has always been the guide of the magistrates of this city, and the consequence has been that from every land people have flocked to this asylum. Tread thus in their steps, and we doubt not you will be blessed.1

1 Shotwell,Ambrose Milton. Annals of Our Colonial Ancestors and Their Descendants, Or, Our Quaker Forefathers and Their Posterity, p 207

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