The Stolen Statue

The Bergen Memorial

On Friday, Feb 5, 2010, while the city was distracted by a pending blizzard, a sneak attack vandalized the memorial statute that stood for 97 years (click to read NY Times for that date) in the courtyard at the intersection of Bergen and Academy. The statue, while it depicted Peter Stuyvesant, was it was actually a memorial to the founding of the Bergen Colony that became Jersey City. (click photo to enlarge).

Thus the profligate spender of public funds, Charles Epps, under color of his multi-million dollar position as head of the floundering Jersey City school system, has arbitrarily destroyed the only monument in the city that marks the place of our beginning.

The fourth and last Director-General of New Netherland was the somewhat notorious Peter Stuyvesant. A former soldier, he had served as governor of the Dutch Caribbean Island of Curacao, where he lost his right leg. The injury left him with the unfortunate nicknames of “Peg Leg Pete” and “Old Silver Nails” from the stick of wood studded with silver nails that was his artificial limb.

The ill-fitting prosthesis may have been the reason for his reputed ill-tempered manner and autocratic style. Stuyvesant was appointed by the Dutch West India Company in 1646 to replace William Kieft at a time of the most vulnerability of the colony. He was also a member of the Dutch Reformed Church and a strict enforcer of the rules of his employer.

As the new governor, Stuyvesant’s charge was to improve the economic status of the colony and to quell the Indian hostilities that interfered with the growth and economic development of Dutch settlements like Pavonia. In August 1655, he successfully took over the colony of New Sweden along the Delaware.

He returned from that victory to handle the problems at Fort Amsterdam and Pavonia caused by the “Peach Tree War.” He bargained with the Indians for the ransom of the captives and entered into negotiations that later culminated in a treaty. A peace agreement was signed on March 6, 1660.

From this last Indian crisis, Stuyvesant directed settlers at Pavonia to establish a town for defense rather than live on isolated farms and estates along the Hudson River.

On January 30,1658, at Fort Amsterdam, Stuyvesant met with Indians chiefs from across the Hudson River for the repurchase of the western shore, that is “all the lands between the Hackensack and North (Hudson) rivers from Weehawken and Secaucus to the Kill van Kull (Lovero, p. 12).

This paved the way for him to authorize the founding of Bergen in 1660, a major impetus for the future settlement of Jersey City. The town was built behind a square wooden palisade as a defensive measure to protect settlers against Indians.

The fortified site was near elevated terrain approximately two miles from the Hudson River that was a former Indian corn field. On September 5, 1661, Stuyvesant as Director-General issued a charter of incorporation to the Village of Bergen that included a court of justice. The eight hundred foot area is now Bergen Square.

During the remainder of his tenure, Dutch settlers, mostly from New Amsterdam, moved into Harsimus, Paulus Hook, Communipaw, Hoboken, Minkakwa (Greenville), Pamrapo and Bergen.

Four years later, Stuyvesant tried to defend New Netherland from takeover by England. Charles II and his brother James, the Duke of York, wanted to close the geographic gap in their control of the northeast coast of America. When the English naval fleet arrived at New York harbor on August 27, 1664, Stuyvesant could not rally support among the settlers to defend the colony. Discontent with Dutch rule, the colonists held back while the English claimed control. New Netherland was divided to become the English colonies of New York and New Jersey. (click here for: the surrender)

(UPDATE – the following is no longer true.) Today a statue of Peter Stuyvesant, marks the site of the village of Bergen. It stands in the courtyard of Martin Luther King, Jr. School, formerly School No. 11, at 866 Bergen Avenue. The statue was proposed in 1910 at the commemoration of the 250th Anniversary of the founding of the village of Bergen.

Sculpted by J. Massey Rhind, it is eight-foot high and originally stood on a base, twelve-feet long and eight-feet high. The unveiling of the statue took place on October 18, 1913. The inscription on the base reads: “In the year of our Lord 1660, by permission of PETRUS STUYVESANT, Director-General, and the Council of New Netherland, around this Square, was founded and built the Village of BERGEN, the first permanent settlement in NEW JERSEY.”

Reference:

Lovero, Joan D. Hudson County: The Left Bank. Sun Valley, CA: American Historical Press, 1999.

UPDATE #2

The stolen statue has been located in a disgraceful condition, hidden under a tarpaulin. According to an atricle in the Jersey Journal . . .

click to enlarge

The statue of Peter Stuyvesant is under a tarpaulin on a platform truck at the Burns Bros. memorials and markers firm on Tonnelle avenue in Jersey City.

Since being taken Feb. 5 from its base in front of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School in Jersey City, the century-old Peter Stuyvesant statue has been sitting on a platform truck at the Burns Bros. monuments firm’s snow-covered lot on Tonnelle Avenue. The base was jackhammered into powder.
The bronze statue has a big tarpaulin covering it.

Where the great director-general of the New Netherlands colonies of the Dutch West Indies Company finally calls home may be a subject of debate. For those behind the whisking away of peg-leg Pete, the destination has been several years in the making.

At a Jersey City Board of Education meeting on Dec. 20, 2007, a request was made by the Hudson County Community College and the county Open Space Committee to move the Stuyvesant statue. Old Pete would travel about 1,000 feet from School 11 to a new pocket park, Culinary Arts Plaza, at Sip Avenue and Newkirk Street, according to the school panel’s Facilities Committee minutes.

In the meeting minutes of the school board’s March 13, 2008 session, approval was given to “loan” Stuyvesant as the centerpiece of the new park.

The justification is that the relocation would give the leader of the first settlement in New Jersey better public exposure than at the school. In return, the Board of Education, on recommendation of Superintendent of Schools Charles Epps, would use $50,000 of county Open Space Trust funds to commission a statue of School 11′s namesake, Martin Luther King Jr.

John Burns Jr., of Burns Bros., feels he’s caught in the middle of a controversy. Burns says he questioned HCCC officials about who actually owns the statue. He was told everything was above board.

A spokesman for the administration of County Executive Tom DeGise said the HCCC or any county agency did not demand the statue but they were happy to do anything to “beautify the Journal Square area.”

As noted, local historians are unhappy that the statue will be relegated outside the original Bergen settlement. Perhaps the Christopher Columbus statue can point out peg-leg Pete’s new home.

Online references to the statue and Stuyvesant (click on each name):

Jersey City Landmark Conservancy

Jersey Journal

Who was Peter Stuyvesant?

OpEd Article

Drasties (Dutch News)

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