On October 7, 1945, New York City's Mayor La Guardia solemnly celebrated the 300th anniversary of the Charter of the Town of Flushing from the historic home of John Bowne, who played a major role in abolishing New Amsterdam Director-General Peter Stuyvesant's limitations on religious freedom in the Dutch colony of New Netherland.
Flushing became one of the first Dutch settlements on Long Island on October 10, 1645, upon the signing of a charter by the Dutch West India Company. In 1657, the Flushing Remonstrance, a petition written to Stuyvesant on behalf of the Quakers of New Netherland, challenged a ban on the practice of all religions outside of the Dutch Reformed Church, specifically through disallowing the harboring of Quakers in the colony. Four who signed the petition were immediately arrested by Stuyvesant and Dutch officials were brought in to replace the local government.
In 1662, John Bowne was arrested for openly allowing Quaker meetings in his home and later sent to Holland to stand trial. There, Bowne argued his case to the Dutch West India Company, citing the guarantees of religious liberty contained in the Flushing patent of 1645 granted by then Governor William Kieft. As a result, Governor Stuyvesant was ordered to permit all faiths in the colony, and Bowne returned to Flushing victorious.
The importance of John Bowne's act to the establishment of religious freedoms in Flushing - and perhaps in the entire country - is not lost on Mayor La Guardia, who used his weekly Talk to the People broadcast on October 7, 1945, to celebrate every aspect of the story with gusto - including the home itself:
It is a beautiful little home, the kind you think about. It is the kind of a home we visualize as we read the early history of our country. We are in the living room. It is not a very large room and the ceiling is not very high. There are pictures of the members of the family on the walls. Some of the old furniture is the same as when John Bowne lived here. And right in front of me, off the living room, is a very small bedroom — it would be called the master bedroom today. The surroundings are pretty. The furniture is Early Colonial. Yet there is something about this house that is different. We have been in other old homes. I live in one. There is old furniture there. But it is different here. You get the feeling of peace and contentment and love and kindliness. That is why we are here today.
Mayor La Guardia continues to tell the story of the Flushing Remonstrance and its impact on religious freedom throughout the history of the state of New York, from followers of the Catholic Church to those of the Society of Jesus.
John Bowne died on October 20, 1695, but to Mayor La Guardia, "I don't think that John Bowne died. His example lived. After he returned from banishment and exile, he took up his work right here in this house and meetings were held, and held repeatedly. Kindliness was extended and friendship held out. Others followed. They prayed in this house. They sang in this house."
He sums up the program by urging the audience to learn from this story of the Quakers: "The world struggles still. Sometimes in our own city one feels as if there were a throw-back, but it isn't. It is only the isolated instances of a few individuals - for really New York City is a great community, a community where men and women of all faiths live as good neighbors."
Audio courtesy NYC Municipal Archives collection.