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For Find Out Friday - Who Was John Jay’s Famous Great Uncle?

Last Saturday I spent a really lovely day in Katonah, New York. The highlight of that day was visiting a historic landmark that has long been on my annual to do list (https://bit.ly/2WatoF2); John Jay’s Homestead. 

While that blog will post soon, I learned something fascinating about his family ancestry during that tour. John Jay had famous ancestors on both sides of his family. His mother Mary was a member of the Van Cortlandt family; a very powerful political dynasty in New York during the 1700s. But his famous ancestor on his father’s maternal line exceeds even that fame. The relative we are talking about is Peter Stuyvesant.

Considering that Peter died over seventy years before John Jay was born, these men clearly never knew each other. In fact, the family tree is a bit confusing but essentially Peter was John’s grandmother’s great uncle. If you don’t follow, no worries. Truth be told, it took me more than a moment to comprehend it as well. 

What I found most ironic about this piece of family connection is that I have been wanting to do a deep dive into the legacy of Peter Stuyvesant. I took finding out about this relationship as a sign that the time to share this information was now. 

Peter (Pieter or Petrus) Stuyvesant was born in 1592 in Peperga, Friesland, in the Netherlands. His father Balthasar Stuyvesant was a Calvinist minister. In the years before moving to what we know call New York City; he went to Amsterdam for schooling, worked for the Dutch West India Company, and was the Governor of two Dutch colonies in the West Indies. During that last position he led an invasion of St. Martin and lost his right leg below the knee from a cannon ball. After his injury he returned home to recuperate. A year later it was decided he would come to New Amsterdam (NYC) as Director General (Governor) and finally arrived in 1647. 

Once here, Director General Stuyvesant held the position until the land was given to the English in 1664. He had a great deal with the name change - from New Amsterdam to New York City - and created many projects beneficial to the city. 

He built a protective wall downtown; although no longer there Wall Street still stands. He also created the canal that became Broad Street and Broadway.  

Stuyvesant believed that God spared his life during the war in order to bring morality and civility to this colony. He is thought to have said: “I shall govern you as a father his children”. 

Though Stuyvesant was a promotor of education: there was a grammar school, two free elementary schools (including twenty-eight teachers), he had his faults. He was not a believer in the right to religious freedom and has even been said to have tortured some for practicing outside of his faith. 

Peter married Judith Bayard in 1645 and together they had two sons.

Peter Stuyvesant retired in 1665 and lived on his land with his wife until his death in 1672. He and his family are buried at the Stuyvesant tomb at St. Mark’s Church in NYC. 

Besides this blog, there are many places that pay tribute to the last Dutch Governor of New Amsterdam. In Manhattan there are parks, a housing complex, as well as an apartment building, and high school. 

If that were not enough the land where his farm once stood was renamed as “The Bowery” paying homage to its former name, “Bouwerij” which was simply Dutch for “farm”. Both the neighborhood as well as the farm land are approximately sixty-two acres that now lead from the East Village all the way to Stuyvesant Town. 

In Brooklyn the neighborhood named “Bedford-Stuyvesant” was also designated to reflect Peter Stuyvesant’s influence on the city. 

Not bad for a guy with a peg leg.

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