The Pieter Stoutenburgh Story

ieter Stoutenburgh was a burgher in New Amsterdam at the time of the English takeover in 1664. He might be cast as typical of the solid Dutch colonial citizen. He worked hard for modest gains and contributed his efforts to the community as an arbitrator of disputes and trustee/guardian for orphan children. But, Pieter was hardly typical. In some ways, he was the most unfortunate of men. Dispossessed of title, fortune, and meaningful future in the Netherlands while still a child, he came to New Amsterdam to start a new life and, not to be too dramatic, for his own personal safety.

There he met and married Aefje, which at the time must have seemed to be very good fortune as her brother was a highly placed official, the Provincial Secretary for the WIC in New Amsterdam, Cornelis van Tienhoven. Unfortunately, he lost any advantage he might have married into when the WIC fired his brother-in-law, Cornelis, because they felt he had mishandled a confrontation with Native Americans whose retaliation escalated into colony-wide raids called the "Peach War".

Somehow Stoutenburgh managed to dodge the recriminations directed at his old family in the Netherlands and his new family in Manhattan. His lasting impact on Manhattan was substantial. Slowly but surely, he improved his financial, social, and political status over a half-century, contributing at every crucial phase of the colony's development. He helped fund the palisades that formed the "wall" of Wall Street, signed the petition for Stuyvesant to capitulate, and collected taxes for dock improvements as Treasurer of the town. Pieter also contributed to the town's security and prosperity through his progeny.

From Pieter issued a bewildering phalanx of Jacobus, Isaac, Tobias, and Peter Stoutenburghs in New York City and 'upstate' New York. If there was a Jacobus Stoutenburgh in New York in the 1700s, and there were at least a half dozen, he was likely related to 'Our Jacobus' - the chief engineer, through their common ancestor Pieter. And for every Jacobus Stoutenburgh there seemed to be two or three Isaac Stoutenburghs. Our Jacobus had a father, 2 brothers, 2 sons, at least 2 cousins of varying degrees of separation, and 2 nephews who lived in eighteenth century New York all named Isaac. These Stoutenburghs would include colonial fire wardens, the first firemen, directors of the night watch, and the first fire chief, Jacobus Stoutenburgh.

Pieter had immigrated to New Amsterdam during the Kieft directorship. It was a good time for Pieter to leave Holland. His father had just passed away and his mother remarried. His parents had bequeathed to Pieter a heritage so astounding that it boggles all notions of probability, let alone the mind. However, he was not completely safe in the Netherlands due to political forces beyond his comprehension and control.

His mother, Walburgh Marnix, was the granddaughter of Philip of Marnix, Lord of Saint-Aldegonde. Marnix was a close advisor to and representative of William, Prince of Orange. William might have been hailed as the "Washington of the Dutch revolution" had he not preceded the American founding father by two centuries. Marnix functioned as William's "secretary of state", during the time the Netherlands was evolving its national form while ridding itself of the Spain's pernicious governance.

Marnix was William's indispensable ambassador to the nascent States General (the Dutch legislature) and English, French, and German courts. He was also at crucial times the Dutch revolt's chief propagandist. If William of Orange was the George Washington of Dutch independence, Marnix was both its Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine merged into one extraordinary energetic, intelligent, persuasive, and literate human being. Marnix also served as William's cryptographer decoding Spanish messages between Philip II of Spain and his generals. He is credited with writing the Dutch national anthem and producing the first Dutch translation of the Bible.

Pieter's paternal grandfather, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, was the inspirational Dutch leader whose policies and programs from 1585 to 1615 ushered in the Dutch Golden Age. As advocate and pensionary in the state of Holland, he became what was in effect the chief executive of the Dutch government. He, along with Maurice, William's son and eventual Prince of Orange, provided the enlightened leadership for the Netherlands that made the Dutch miracle of the 17th century possible.

For example, Oldenbarnevelt negotiated a twelve-year truce with Spain in 1609. It ended, for a while at least, the chronic Spanish invasions of the new nation. The truce contributed to a broad commercial prosperity for the Dutch, increased the well-being of the populace, enabled a national cultural awakening, and expanded their international influence. Even though the truce from Spain's point of view was perhaps only a temporary expedient, it gained recognition for the new Dutch state from other nations. The Dutch also gained trading privileges in Spanish territories around the world without impeding their own aggressive expansion in the East Indies. And Johan also hoped he could extend the truce by 1621 to make it permanent.

Unfortunately, the Dutch confederacy had many religious fissures and political factions. When not united in fighting the Spanish, there was always the danger that religious or political quarrels would erupt into violence. When Johan van Oldenbarnevelt successfully negotiated the truce with Spain, it necessarily incorporated compromises that many powerful factions opposed. One such faction was the army led by Maurice, son of William, Stadtholder and Prince of Orange.

By 1618 the combination of religious controversy and political pressures from Oldenbarnevelt's enemies led Johan to believe it was necessary to raise a militia in Holland separate from the national army to ensure Holland's security. He justified the raising of a separate provincial militia by claiming Holland had the right to defend itself and, if necessary, secede from the Netherland confederation. Maurice, seeing this as a challenge to his authority and a threat to the integrity of the nation, led the national army of which he was the commander into Holland, disarmed the militias, and arrested Oldenbarnevelt who in 1619 was tried for treason, convicted, and beheaded.

Four years later Oldenbarnevelt's son, Willem, Lord of Stoutenburg, along with his brother and a few others, conspired to assassinate Maurice. The plot went awry. Willem's brother was caught and executed. Willem fled to Brussels, living in exile for the rest of his life, without title or noble portfolio. His wife, Walburgh Marnix, who had given birth to Pieter by 1617, did not join Willem in exile. She disavowed her husband's desperate plot and used the influence of the Marnix family and friends in Holland to protect her own small family.

However, even though his mother shielded him from retaliation, Pieter, only six years old at the time of the plot, was just as disenfranchised as his father. He would never be a 'Lord of Stoutenburg' and the "Oldenbarnevelt" name would constrain his future in the Netherlands to say the least. The death of his father, the remarriage of his mother, and his limited future as an Oldenbarnevelt prompted him to adopt the name of the family's former estate as his surname and seek his fortune in New Netherland.

When Pieter came to New Amsterdam, he met another early immigrant, Aefje van Tienhoven; they married in 1649. Aefje's brother, Cornelis, was the Provincial Secretary working directly for Directors such as Kieft and Stuyvesant. Her other brother, Adrian, was Receiver General in charge of the company (WIC) warehouse through which all trade goods were processed. It is difficult to judge whether Pieter's connection to Aefje's brothers was an advantage or disadvantage to his gradual and modest success in the colony over the next half century. Aefje and Pieter soon started a family. Unfortunately, their first daughter born in 1651 died before she was two. They would have eight more children in the next fifteen years but only five of them are known to have lived long enough to have families. Those five children would have forty-three grandchildren, but less than half, seventeen, reached adulthood. For the first two Stoutenburgh generations in America less than half their children survived infancy, early childhood, and adolescence. Their experience was not exceptional for the times. The loss of a child was so common in New Amsterdam that parents did not even think up new names but would reuse the name of a dead child for a newborn. Pieter and Aefje had nine children but only used six names. Still, they did have seventeen grandchildren who lived beyond childhood. And their six grandsons, including Fire Chief Jacobus and his brother Isaac, would continue to populate New York with more Stoutenburghs into the 18th century.

As Stuyvesant liberalized his governance in the 1650s, Pieter as a "burgher" would participate in firefighting and fire prevention in several ways. He would, of course, join the bucket brigades during fires. Also with the commercial and political benefits of being a burgher came the 'privilege' of paying taxes. In 1655 the government levied a tax primarily for improving the defensive wall along the northern border of town. The motivation for upgrading the wall came from the conflict with "barbarous Indians" during the Tienhoven-inspired Peach War. The Wall was a fire prevention strategy, the theory being that when the native tribesmen were on the warpath they were less likely to burn down the town if prevented by the palisade from getting into town in the first place. In some respects, it was a strategy akin to Stuyvesant's fire prevention decision nine years later, which was encouraged by Pieter and the other ninety-two signatories of the petition urging Stuyvesant to capitulate.

In 1655 to reinforce the wall on the northern border of the town, Pieter was assessed a modest tax of 12 florin, a "florin" or "guilder" being the basic unit of Dutch currency. In the barter economy of early colonial times a good beaver pelt would be equivalent to eight guilders. Some people paid their tax with a beaver pelt or two. Pieter's tax was in the lower third of the assessments. In the top ranks were Provincial Secretary Tienhoven at 100 florin and Director Stuyvesant at 150 florin. About 6,300 florin were assessed from 220 taxpayers.

Pieter's participation in the life of the town gradually increased over the years. He was a witness in one court case, a plaintiff in another, and an arbitrator in still another. The incident where he was a witness is worth retelling because it illustrates life in New Amsterdam as Pieter knew it. It also shows how the colonial courts kept society, even at the edge of civilization, civil.

In 1657 Pieter was one of three witnesses in an incident where the plaintiff (Pieter Kock) accused two defendants of allowing their dogs to run loose, which resulted in the dogs biting one of his sheep who subsequently died. One defendant, Couwenhoven, said he didn't know where his dog was and that he must have run off or been stolen. A witness (perhaps Pieter) said that Couwenhoven's dog chased the sheep but did not bite it but just licked him a little. The other defendant, Verbrugge, said his dog did run with the others but did not bite or lick the sheep. The court found in favor of the plaintiff who was to be paid three merchantable beaver pelts by the defendants.

By 1661, Pieter was evidently considered a solid enough citizen to be appointed by the "lower" Burgomaster-Schepen Court to arbitrate a land dispute. He had a member of the court, a Schepen or alderman, as his co-arbiter. Usually Schepen were from the class of more prosperous citizens. The dispute was not a simple case for it depended upon hearsay evidence from both the plaintiff and defendant. Pieter and his co-arbiter would have to decide who to believe and then come up with a resolution, which if not agreed to by both parties, would be returned to the court. The court in most cases would enforce the arbitrators' recommendation. His arbitration was apparently successful since he was asked to arbitrate other land disputes in the 1660s. He also sat on a jury for a larger dispute of the same kind.

The Court in 1663 would entrust another official responsibility to Pieter, one that would dominate his public life for the next decade. He became the curator of the estate of Rachel van Tienhoven, the widow of the prosperous Cornelis, the WIC's Provincial Secretary. Pieter Stoutenburgh was Cornelis van Tienhoven's brother-in-law, married as he was to Cornelis' sister, Aefje. Rachel was thus his brother-in-law's wife, sort of a sister-in-law once removed.

When Cornelis inexplicably disappeared in 1656, most likely into the Hudson River, Rachel became a rich widow. Cornelis had accumulated three houses, substantial investments, and had otherwise taken full advantage of the opportunities presented during his tenure as Provincial Secretary. Rachel had no money worries at least. As a widow of a 'great' burgher she herself became one of only twenty 'great' burghers listed in 1657, the only woman with its attendant privileges. Unfortunately, she lost her health and died in 1663 just seven years after her husband disappeared. The court appointed two people close to her to be the curator of the estate and guardian of the children: her brother, Jan Vinge, who was also a Schepen, and Pieter Stoutenburgh.

As curator/guardian for Rachel van Tienhoven's estate in 1663, Pieter would ensure that the value of the estate would be preserved, at least, and eventually conferred to her heirs. He himself did not take care of the children. The estate paid others for the care and "maintenance" of the children. As curator, Pieter could sell surplus assets, collect on debts owed the estate, defend against putative creditors, and otherwise manage the investments and assets of the van Tienhoven estate. Once again this was the kind of assignment often performed by a Schepen, an office his co-guardian and co-curator for the estate, Jan Vinge, did hold.

The two curator/guardians were first active in 1663 in their attempt to collect the proceeds from a sale of goods from the estate by Joannes Nevius, the city clerk who acted as "Vendu Master" or broker for goods being adjudicated in court cases. Even though the goods had been delivered, Nevius apparently had not received payment for the goods and was delaying his payments to the estate. The court ordered him, as the appointed "Vendu Master", to delay no more and pay up.

After the Capitulation agreement, Col. Nicolls wisely continued the Dutch burgomaster system for almost a year before transforming it to the English system of mayor and aldermen. Even so, with less than 10% of the city English, the Dutch still participated in virtually every phase of administration, providing most of the first aldermen and virtually monopolizing the fire-fighting system. The men of the rattle watch, for example, were mostly Dutch taking their orders from Dutchmen in Dutch. Even a generation later the fire wardens would have names like Peter Adolf, Derck van der Brinke, Derck ten Eyck and Tobeyas Stoutenburgh, Pieter's son.

From 1674 to 1700, with its population rising from 3,000 to 5,000, New York continuously improved the fire safety of its buildings, enhanced its firefighting capability, and intensified its fire inspection. In the 1670s, when the canal in the center of Broad Street was filled in, several wells were dug to replace the canal water for firefighting. By 1696 the city's sixteen wells were put under the supervision of the Alderman and Assistant Alderman in each ward "...that they be Kept Sweet Usefull and in Good Repair..."

A year later the Aldermen and Assistants were also tasked to appoint and manage the Chimney Inspectors, two for each ward, who were to make weekly inspections of every chimney and hearth in their area. Thus, in the last quarter of 17th century, New York firefighting was capable and organized …surviving and thriving in the political turmoil of three or four governments depending on how you count them, two world wars, a few tribal conflicts, a remote revolution, and a short rebellion that was most notable from a firefighting point of view in that no one burned anything down.

It seems that Pieter Stoutenburgh also prospered in the last quarter of the 17th century. In early 1676, appointed assessor, he joined others to determine the value of city land so the city could convey lots to those who wanted to build houses. In June of the same year Governor Dongan's council chose Pieter to be Receiver and Treasurer for the city, which meant he was responsible for collecting taxes, never an easy task, and paying the expenses of the city as directed by the Common Council.

In 1677 his biggest job was to collect a tax imposed on owners of real estate in the town. There were about four hundred taxpayers out of a population of about 3,000. That was about double the number of taxpayers listed in 1755. Pieter himself was still in the bottom third of the assessments although he had a better address 'inside the wall' rather than 'outside the gate'. Maybe one of the perks for being treasurer was a lower assessment rate. In any case, he was no longer just a 'burgher' but the townsman who was collecting the town's taxes.

Pieter Stoutenburgh, Treasurer for four years, was later appointed manager of various projects in the town such as the building of a 'wharfe'. He contributed to the common weal until his death in 1698. But, one could argue that his most notable contribution to New York was not from his service in public offices but from his offspring. He had seventeen grandchildren who lived beyond childhood. His six grandsons would continue to populate New York with more Stoutenburghs in the 18th century. For over a century his sons, grandsons, and great grandsons would play key roles in firefighting, like his son Tobias as fire warden and constable in 1694, his grandson, Isaac, who was a fireman, city councilman, and managed the night watch for thirty years, and another grandson, Jacobus, New York's and America's first Chief Fire Engineer.