The Cornelis van Tienhoven Story

ew Amsterdam's progress in firefighting and fire prevention during this colonial period (1640-1665) was similar to other colonial periods in that it happened in the midst of a rebellion, raids, and a world war. In the middle of several indigenous native raids was the irrepressible Provincial Secretary, Cornelis van Tienhoven. Tienhoven had been the commander of the one hundred Dutch soldiers sent by Director Kieft in an unwarranted punitive expedition against the Raritan tribe. How the Dutch produced so many presumably mild-mannered administrators, Tienhoven was a bookkeeper, who without missing a beat transformed themselves into intrepid warriors to lead military expeditions, was the wonder of the West India Company. Witness Stuyvesant himself who without any formal military training led three hundred soldiers against the Spanish fort on St. Martin. Where did they find these people?

Tienhoven was so patently capable that when Stuyvesant sent Kieft back to Holland he kept Tienhoven on as Provincial Secretary and expanded his role in the management of the colony. In his ongoing disputes with the anti-WIC faction, Stuyvesant also relied on Tienhoven to defuse the faction's machinations in Manhattan against his regime. Stuyvesant even sent him to Holland to defend his policies and governance from the faction and their Dutch anti-WIC partisans, who had taken their small civil rebellion back to the fatherland.

The Manhattan faction had written letters to their anti-WIC comrades in the Netherlands and then in 1650 sent a three-man delegation directly to the country's highest governing body, the States General. The delegation presented a sixty page "Representation", the last eighteen pages of which were highly critical of Stuyvesant and his management of the colony. At first their goal was to force the WIC to reform what they believed to be Stuyvesant's autocratic governance. By the end of their remonstrance, they would suggest the Estates have the WIC sell their holdings in New Amsterdam and get out of the business of governing the colonists there altogether.

Representing Stuyvesant, Tienhoven at first skillfully rebutted the allegations. He emphasized the progress during Stuyvesant's tenure and the continuation of profitable and free trade to all. There was no doubt he had improved relations with the Native Americans and begun many civic improvements, which included fire prevention. Tienhoven criticized the fact that the delegation had used "...such harsh and general terms...these people say much and prove nothing..." And then he ended with unflattering assessments of the signatories of the Representation, many of whom he claimed were ungrateful beneficiaries of Stuyvesant's policies.

The leader of the colonists' delegation opposing Tienhoven was the persuasive and energetic Adrian Van der Donck, a Leiden-educated lawyer. Van der Donck had been in New Netherlands for almost a decade, first at Van Rensselaer's vast estates and then in New Amsterdam itself. When he came to town, he began to work with Stuyvesant and soon became his valuable aide, not surprisingly since he was a trained lawyer and had learned several native tongues. As Stuyvesant liberalized his regime, Van der Donck became the leader of a provincial advisory board. Soon, however, he changed his allegiance in the ongoing intramural conflict and converted to being a passionate advocate for the anti-WIC faction.

In Holland, Van der Donck initially prevailed and convinced the States General to order Stuyvesant back to the Netherlands. But the WIC managed to have the order countermanded before it was executed. Then the First Anglo-Dutch War intervened and the campaign for recall evaporated. Having avoided official censure, Stuyvesant, following WIC directives, initiated reforms for broader political and judicial participation of the colonists as Burghers.

There was no doubt that Tienhoven's disappearance at a critical juncture in the proceedings contributed to Van der Donck's early success. Why he withdrew remains a mystery. Perhaps Van der Donck's harangue on his role in the Kieft massacres unnerved Tienhoven making him reluctant to continue his appearance before the legislature. Perhaps he went crazy. That would also explain his dalliance with a young Lysbet Croon of Hoogvelt whom he wooed and bedded and promised to marry when they returned to New Amsterdam.

Promises are one thing - everyone makes promises. But to dally and promise and then to load his paramour unto a boat for New Amsterdam to "marry" was the mark of a man gone insane. Tienhoven already had a wife in New Amsterdam, Rachel, not to mention three children. He did not need another wife, especially in New Amsterdam. Apparently, soon after Cornelis landed, Rachel convinced him that it was in his best interest to discontinue the unfortunate affair with his now redundant mistress. The abandoned Lysbet Croon was left to fend for herself. Tienhoven, then at the peak of his influence and power in the province, easily squelched her requests for recompense in court as well as her informal pleas for decent treatment from the community.

The faction of colonists who sent the delegation to the Netherlands, although not successful in ousting Stuyvesant, did have some effect. As mentioned above, Stuyvesant began to model his governance after that of Amsterdam, which included Burghers to administer fire safety reforms and manage the Night Watch. The town needed all the firefighting capability it could muster in 1655 when Tienhoven mismanaged a conflict with a war-party of Native Americans.

Stuyvesant had taken most of the WIC militia on an expedition against intrusive Swedish settlements on the Delaware River. Cornelis van Tienhoven, as the highest-ranking WIC official left in town, was responsible for its defense. Unfortunately, while Stuyvesant was gone, over one thousand natives including Hackensacks and Mahicans came down the Hudson to raid other tribes on Long Island. While they paused at Manhattan for food, a Dutchman shot and killed a native woman as she plucked peaches from his tree.

The Indians raged into town to look for the offending Dutchman, plundering and burning homes as they came. Tienhoven quickly organized the townsmen and militia still there. At the time there was property damage and terrified colonists but there had been little killing. But, when Cornelis ordered the militia to fire on the tribesmen, the natives responded in kind and the killing and the devastation of the "Peach War" exploded.

Tienhoven's enemies, and he had quite a few by then, accused him of turning a manageable encounter with the natives into a bloodbath. Even more, after some mutual killing, the tribes left Manhattan and spread into the adjacent countryside, Staten Island and northern Manhattan, where they destroyed settlements, burned farmsteads, killed some settlers, and made others hostage. It took Stuyvesant months to restore a tense peace. It took him even longer to get most of the hostages returned. On the positive side, Tienhoven had controlled the fires in the town itself and limited the property damage.

One way Cornelis made enemies was to randomly enforce the laws, ordinances and court orders as the schout-fiscal. The schout-fiscal was the sheriff, making arrests and enforcing the decision of the courts. He was also the 'district attorney' who prosecuted those accused of crimes. If you filmed the series "Law and Order" in the 1650s, you would only need one actor to represent the state. A shout-fiscal like Cornelis could also from time to time interpret town ordinances in a way that to some might seem arbitrary.

The lower Schepen court was only as effective as the schout-fiscal and how well he enforced its orders. Stuyvesant appointed Cornelis van Tienhoven to be the schout-fiscal from 1653-1656. How well did Cornelis do this job? Let members of the Schepen court themselves tell you:

"...we request that we may be allowed... to fill the office of Schout in this City….Fiscal Tienhoven is still filling that place, but with so little satisfaction...and with indifferent respect for us...for in his capacity as Fiscal he acts without our knowledge against the Burghers, puts them into prison and again discharges them. And as regards the judgments rendered by us, they are executed by him to the serious disparagement of our authority..."

So Tienhoven had enemies and not only the lower Burghers he sometimes mistreated or otherwise intimidated but also the elite of the town, the burgomasters and schepen, whose court Cornelis had "...indifferent respect for..." About the only one who seemed to like Tienhoven was Peter Stuyvesant.

In 1656 the WIC discharged Tienhoven ostensibly for his part in the Peach War... also perhaps some of his indiscrete letters back to Holland criticizing the WIC had found their way into the wrong hands. He went missing later in 1656. His hat and cane were found floating in the Hudson River and his body was never found. He was presumed dead. Stuyvesant by that time probably hoped he was. One could not blame his wife Rachel for feeling relieved. But uncertainty always beclouded his disappearance because his brother had absconded earlier in the year and later showed up in Barbados. At least Cornelis had the decency to stay gone and never be heard from again. With his list of enemies, it was quite possible that he was a victim of foul play. It could be Lysbet Croon pushed Tienhoven into the Hudson, but it is more likely she was only one member of the delegation.