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Address on the Dedication of Bowne House



Address on the Dedication of Bowne House


Transcript of a speech delivered by Dutch diplomat J. G. de Beus upon the dedication of the Bowne House Historical Society in Flushing, Dr. de Beus discusses the military and religious history of Flushing and the New Amsterdam colony and the role that John Bowne played in the American tradition of religious freedom. Judge Charles Colden, known for his role in founding Queens College, also helped to institute the Bowne House Historical Society and establish the house itself as a national landmark.


Bowne House (New York, N.Y.)
Flushing (New York, N.Y.)
Freedom of religion--United States--History


Beus, Jacobus Gijsbertus de, 1909-1991




Queens College Department of Special Collections and Archives (New York, N.Y.)




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Flushing (New York, N.Y.)



Judge Colden, Dr. Campbell, distinguished guests, citizens of Flushing, In the absence of the Netherlands Ambassador, who unfortunately is just now returning from a visit to the Netherlands, too late to be present here, it is my privilege to accept on behalf of the population of Flushing in the Netherlands this beautiful scroll which you, Dr. Campbell, have just handed to me. I am sure that this proof of the interest and sympathy of the citizens of Flushing Long Island will be a tremendous help and stimulation to the citizens of Flushing, Zeeland, in their present plight, of which I hope to tell you something more.
It is certainly a long time ago since van Rensselaer, one of the first Dutch settlers in North America, after having been kindly invited by an Indian chief to drink some delicious broth, was afterwards affably informed, that they had cooked a Frenchman for his dinner. I can assure you, however, that it was not in the hope of a similar treat that I accepted the kind invitation to take part today in the commemoration of the foundation of this originally Dutch town.
That foundation would certainly not be worth commemorating if it were only for van Rensselaer and his Frenchman's broth. What makes it important are the principles for which those early Dutch settlers stood and fought in their times, principles which they brought over to this side of the Atlantic and which have prospered to unknown greatness in what is now the strongest nation in the world.
Holland in that time was involved in a life an death struggle with the then mightiest nation of the world-- Spain. That war was waged against the religious oppression, the cruelty and the tyranny which resulted from Spanish rule in the Netherlands; against these the Netherlands revolted in order to


obtain national, religious and individual freedom--the aims of the Netherlands throughout the ages. The foe may be Spain or Germany or Japan, Philip the Second or Hitler. They all wanted world domination--they all wanted to impose their philosophies, they all found the Dutch among their enemies.
The reason for founding the colony New Netherland was not primarily economic. Of course there was some trade, but the real importance of New Netherland and the reason why the Netherlanders came to the Hudson, was that this settlement was built as a military outpost in the great war for liberty against Spain.
The fleets which fought the Spaniards on the Atlantic, in the Caribbean, and on the coasts of Brazil needed a safe harbor for repairs and victuals--not too far from the theatre of war--to be able to harass the enemy more often and with more violence.
Thus Flushing--the very place where we are standing-- was founded in this ancient war as part of the stronghold of liberty and freedom.
The colonies in those days were extensions of the civil and religious government of the mother country.
Thus it is not strange that the Dutch Governor of the Province Keift, as representative of the country of Erasmus, of Coornhert, the convinced champion of a non-confessional Christianity and of religious freedom and of Hugo Grotius, famous as jurist, historian, philologist, theologian, independent philosopher and diplomat--could make the following promise to this town in the Charter dated October 10, 1645:
"By virtue of these presents we do give and graunt the right to have and enjoy liberty of conscience, according to the custom and manner of Holland without molestation or disturbance."
This charter was the first milestone on the road which led via William Penn's charter in Pennsylvania and Delaware, Roger William's effort in Rhode Island and Calvert's Maryland Patent, to Jefferson's "Act for


Establishing Religious Freedom", which finally became Law on January 6th, 1786, establishing tolerance and religious freedom all over this continent.
How exceptional this charter of Flushing was and how truly an extension of Dutch tolerance, may become evident when we compare the Dutch charter with the English charters of 1609 and 1612 given by James I to Sir Thomas Gates, which recited the hope "that so noble a Work....may....tend to the Glory of His Divine Majesty, in propagation of the Christian Faith to such people as yet live in Darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true Knowledge and Worship of God".... and prescribed..... "that the true Word and Service of God be preached, planted and used according to the Rites and Doctrine of the Church of England."
It would not be difficult to cite more proofs of how exceptionally liberal the Dutch charter of Flushing was. For instance, the New Hampshire Constitution of 1792 provided, "that no person can be a representative, senator, governor or councillor unless he is of Protestant religion".
The South Carolina Constitution of 1778 contained a similar provision, as did the Georgia Constitution of 1777.
That the liberty of conscience, primised in the Charter was not an empty phrase was shown when John Bowne, the builder of this house, was expelled from the province by Governor Stuyvesant for allowing Methodists to worship in his house. He was brought to court before the Amsterdam Church of the Dutch West Indies Company, but acquitted him holding that "the consciences of men ought to remain free and unshackled".
Thus today, looking back over three hundred years of history, we can proudly testify, that this very house-- humble home of a freedom loving emigrant of the 16th century, saw the first official recognition in this hemisphere of that so human and so holy right--freedom of religion.


Three centuries have drifted by since. Much has changed. The roles of the Netherlands and of what once started as New Netherland have been interchanged. In 1945 the United States has become what the Dutch Republic was in 1645: the victorious and principal champion of freedom against the states which tried by torture and their military force to enslave other nations. In 1945 in the great conflict between freedom and oppression, the Netherlands became what Flushing, Long Island was in 1645: an outpost, an outlying bastion near the most vulnerable spot in the enemy's armor. It has suffered the inevitable fate of such a fortress: an exceptionally high degree of death and destruction. The United States on the battlefields and on the seas lost 250,000 dead; the Netherlands, with a population about one fifteenth that of the United States, lost some 150,000 dead in the underground war and in concentration camps. The standard of living in the Netherlands, before the war one of the highest in the world, is now one of the lowest. The town of Flushing, Zeeland, suffered particularly; soon after the Allied invasion and the bombardment which had to precede it, only 5,000 of its 25,000 inhabitants were left. The island of Walcheren, comprising 51,000 acres of Holland's most fertile soil, has today been submerged by the sea for just over a year.
But hardships have in history only destroyed or weakened a nation if it had not sufficient faith to stand up against them. And although the roles of the Netherlands and New Netherland have been interchanged by history, the cause for which they both stand is unaltered: freedom of speech, freedom of religion. And this cause has in the years now floating away from us proved still to be sufficient inspiration to make men wilfully undertake the same suffering as three centuries ago, and if need be again bring the highest sacrifice.

Original Format

8.5 x 11 inches (216 x 279 mm)


Beus, Jacobus Gijsbertus de, 1909-1991, “Address on the Dedication of Bowne House,” Queens College Archives and Special Collections, accessed June 18, 2019,