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City of GodsReligious Freedom, Immigration, and Pluralism in Flushing, Queens$

R. Scott Hanson

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780823271597

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823271597.001.0001

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Religion in Vlissingen (Flushing) from 1645 to 1945

Religion in Vlissingen (Flushing) from 1645 to 1945

(p.31) 1 Religion in Vlissingen (Flushing) from 1645 to 1945
City of Gods

R. Scott Hanson

Fordham University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter One begins after World War II in October 1945 at Bowne House, built in 1661 and the oldest house in Queens, for the 300th anniversary, or tercentenary, of Flushing. This moment is then used to flash back to 1645 and connect the tercentenary to the colonial context and founding of Flushing (or Vlissingen in Dutch New Netherland), its town charter that granted religious freedom (or liberty of conscience as it was then known), the Flushing Remonstrance of 1657, John Bowne’s arrest and exile by Peter Stuyvesant, and Bowne’s successful appeal to the Dutch West India Company in 1662. The chapter also traces the history of religious, racial, and ethnic pluralism in Flushing from the late seventeenth century to the end of the nineteenth century and the consolidation of Queens with New York City in 1898.

Keywords:   Bowne, John, Bowne House, Flushing, Flushing Remonstrance, liberty of conscience, New Netherland, Quakers, religious freedom, Stuyvesant, Peter, Vlissingen

Consecrating a “National Shrine to Religious Freedom”: Bowne House and the Tercentenary of Flushing in 1945

It had been five months since Hitler committed suicide, Germany surrendered, and the horror of the Holocaust ended, and it had been only two months since “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” obliterated the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan and introduced the world to the devastating power of nuclear energy in the atomic bomb. As peace washed over a bloodstained earth and America and the other Allied Powers celebrated the end of World War II, it finally was time to go home and return to more local affairs and ordinary life.

In a small town in New York City, residents of Flushing, Queens, were already immersed in preparations for another occasion to celebrate. October 10, 1945, marked the tercentenary of the founding of Flushing in 1645 and, with that, the “birthplace of religious freedom in America,” as many residents still like to claim. Months before the end of the war, members of the Tercentenary Planning Committee knew they might be able to tap into lingering patriotic sentiment and attract interest at many levels by highlighting religious freedom as a timely and important theme. Hon. Charles S. Colden, the chairman and former New York State Supreme Court justice, was a lifelong area resident with a famous last name and powerful connections in the city, and he made a strong case for the event: “The committee feels that Flushing has contributed something of particular significance to the national life, especially at this time when religious (p.32) freedom is one of the main points of the Atlantic Charter.”1 Colden took it even further by stressing another celebrated theme in the town’s history, that of tolerance: “Flushing, by official records, is the first spot in the world where men risked imprisonment and loss of official positions in an attempt to gain the right of religious freedom, not for themselves, but for others. In planning this celebration, we are following that idea of tolerance and seeking to have persons of all races, creeds, colors, social and economic backgrounds to take a part.”2 The committee also was able to tap into the popularity, recent euphoria, and optimism of the 1939–1940 World’s Fair in nearby Flushing Meadows–Corona Park right before the war. Scholars of American and European religious history would quibble with Colden’s claims and argue that Flushing was one of the first spots in colonial America where men took on this risk and that others did so earlier in sixteenth-century Europe, but the attempt to look for fundamental American principles in local and community history during and immediately after the Allies’ struggle against Nazi Germany in World War II is not surprising—indeed, the celebration of this history would develop into a kind of community ideology by the 1950s (see Chapter 2) that is still invoked today.

The program of events for the Tercentenary Celebration spanned an entire week: October 7–14, 1945, at various locations throughout greater Flushing. The spotlight was on Bowne House, a Dutch-English salt-box house built by John Bowne in 1661, the oldest house in Queens. The festivities began on October 7, with a live radio broadcast on WNYC from the living room of the house by Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia, who chose the occasion for his regular Sunday broadcast. Part history lesson, part ceremony, La Guardia’s speech traced the colonial history of Flushing and set the tone for the festivities: “This is to be a shrine. It belongs to our city because it made so much history here of endurance and fortitude. It belongs to our country because it is typical of America and it belongs to the world because it is a symbol of what the world is looking for today.”3 Addressing religious persecution and the history of legislation involving religious freedom in the colony, he added: “We went through some bad times, and sometimes there have been recurrences of intolerance, but they are isolated.”4 And, lending the moment real significance, La Guardia announced that he had been conferring with Park Commissioner Robert Moses and Queens Borough President James A. Burke about a city plan to buy the house and adjoining property to be developed as a shrine and park. With live chamber music in the background, he recited an old Dutch hymn, “The Prayer of Thanksgiving,” and later read passages from (p.33)

Religion in Vlissingen (Flushing) from 1645 to 1945

Judge Charles S. Colden, Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia, and Queens Borough President James A. Burke inside Bowne House for the mayor’s regular Sunday broadcast on WNYC to open Tercentenary Week in Flushing, October 7, 1945.

Collection of the Queens Historical Society.

“The United Nations Fight for the Four Freedoms” (published in 1942 by the Office of War Information), concluding his broadcast with two quotations from the Bible: “In my Father’s house are many mansions” and “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” More radio attention would follow, as two national radio networks, WOR and WJZ, carried the ceremonies across the airwaves of the country, and the Army News Service also incorporated events into its broadcast to servicemen and women overseas.5

While Protestant and Catholic churches and Jewish synagogues in greater Flushing all held special services throughout the week, and other highlights included a tour of historic spots, lectures, a “historical pageant” (a play), antique shows, and even a window display at Abramson’s department store, the focal event took place on October 10, again at Bowne House. The New York Times reported that “under towering oaks and elms shading tranquil Bowne Street, a thousand residents of Flushing, Queens,” gathered outside the festooned house “with leaders of every faith” for a (p.34) two-hour ceremony. In New York circa 1945, “every faith” meant Christianity and Judaism, but a historic tree on Bowne Street was dedicated to each member of the United Nations for the occasion, and Bowne Street was temporarily called “Avenue of the Allies.” Bowne House was then dedicated as a “national shrine to religious freedom” by Senator James M. Mead, who addressed the crowd and emphasized that “Charters of liberty alone cannot insure the freedoms so essential to man’s well-being and happiness. There must be a militant John Bowne in each generation to be ever watchful that the written words of the charters be held sacred.” Mead went on to state that “as the strongest nation on earth, we must use our strength to banish war and thus make possible international liberty of conscience.”6 And, in a fitting gesture, a scroll was presented to Dr. Jacobus G. deBeus, consul of the Netherlands’ embassy, from the citizens of “Flushing, U.S.A.,” to those of “Flushing in Zeeland.” After nine generations of Bowne descendants had lived there, Colden (as president of Bowne House Historical Society) announced plans to open the house as a public museum.

Building on the progressive momentum of optimism, many attended a town meeting the next day on “Going Forward Against Race Prejudice Today” that grew out of discussions about the United Nations and a lasting peace and called for community and government participation in combating intolerance.7 And on October 12, twenty-five thousand lined the streets of downtown Flushing to watch a parade of three thousand marchers, with a colorful array of every conceivable representative group from Flushing—the first postwar parade in the community.8 Finally, the hot ticket in town at the end of the week was for the costume ball at the Flushing Armory. The pervasive communal sense of history and place at the time was obvious to all outside visitors, as the New York Times observed that “Flushing, which though legally assimilated as part of the Borough of Queens, City of New York, in 1898, has steadfastly maintained its identity.”9 In another story, the Times placed the tercentenary in historical context: “The John Bowne House in Flushing, built in 1661, dedicated this week as a historical museum, recalls a time when religious liberty was not taken for granted in the New World.”10

At the end of World War II, the United States celebrated victory by touting American ideals of democracy, religious freedom, and tolerance that recalled the nation’s founding principles and commitment to a pluralistic society. In Flushing, such soul searching prompted some to look back even further, since the end of the war happened to coincide with the founding of Flushing in 1645. Residents of Flushing had reason to (p.35) remember and highlight their town’s history, which started with the earliest defense of religious freedom and tolerance in colonial America. In the years following World War II, a variety of local civic, religious, and political leaders in New York City revived this story as a timely message to the world in the wake of Nazi anti-Semitism, but Flushing and its legacy of tolerance itself was tested in the centuries following its founding in 1645 as the small town grew increasingly more pluralistic with many new religious groups by the end of the nineteenth century.

“Liberty of Conscience”

Over 300 years before Flushing’s tercentenary celebration, the words “New Amsterdam” were first enunciated in a charter drawn up by Dutch traders with Algonquin tribes on October 11, 1614. Shortly thereafter, Sewanhacky, or the “Land of Shells,” became more widely known as Lange Eylandt (Long Island) on Adrian Block’s map of 1616. And, on January 15, 1639, Director-General (Governor) of New Amsterdam Willem Kieft secured a title from the local native Americans to what is now Queens County. The land was sold “for, and in consideration of, a party of merchandise, which they acknowledge to have received into their hands and power, to their full satisfaction and content.” The chief sachem reserved the right, “with his people and friends, to remain upon the aforesaid land, plant corn, fish, hunt, and make a living there as well as they can, while he himself and his people place themselves under the protection of the said Lords.”11 Ethnic relations deteriorated quickly, however, when war with the Indians on Manahatta (Manhattan) erupted in the early 1640s and soon spread to Long Island. Peace was restored in the spring of 1645, and a Day of Thanksgiving was proclaimed on September 6, again encouraging new settlements in the colony: Matinecoc Indians sold land to the Dutch West India Company (DWIC) at the rate of fifty acres an axe to create an attractive parcel of land for sale to prospective settlers. Early land surveyors noted the area’s good location on the terminal moraine ridge that runs the length of Long Island, and they no doubt had visions of its development: it would later be the key node for roads, railroads, highways, and the county seat—making it a transportation and governmental nexus of Queens.12

When fifteen Englishmen applied to Governor Kieft for the privilege of settling in the Matinecoc’s former land in 1645, the charter they were granted on October 10 to establish a town was one of the most liberal arrangements for any settlement in colonial America by or on behalf of (p.36)

Religion in Vlissingen (Flushing) from 1645 to 1945

Map of Algonquin tribes on Sewan-hacky (Land of Shells), early seventeenth century, in Eugene L. Armbruster, Long Island: Its Early Days and Development with Illustrations and Maps (Brooklyn, 1914).

Queens Borough Public Library, Flushing Branch.

any government. The patent granted seemed to offer almost complete religious freedom: “We do give and grant, unto the said Patentees … to have and Enjoy the Liberty of Conscience, according to the Custome and manner of Holland, without molestacon or disturbance, from any Magistrate or Magistrates, or any other Ecclesiasticall Minister, that may extend Jurisdicon over them.”13 The patentees were English planters who had migrated to Massachusetts and then back to Holland to escape persecution, and they named their new town Vlissingen after the Dutch town where they had found shelter.14 One nineteenth-century chronicler described the first settlers as “freethinkers, who, being impatient of religious restraint in Massachusetts, sought a larger liberty under the Dutch.”15 The Dutch concept of “liberty of conscience” was familiar in the colonial world around this time and was used to entice prospective settlers seeking refuge from religious persecution at home, but its exact meaning was more ambiguous than is commonly supposed. The Oxford English Dictionary definitions for the mid–seventeenth century were “inward knowledge or consciousness; internal conviction,” but these were obsolete by the end of the nineteenth century. As Evan Haefeli states in his book New Netherland and the Dutch Origins of American Religious Liberty, the Dutch words gewetensvrijheid or geloofsvrijheid meant liberty of conscience or freedom of belief, but what kind of tolerance this allowed and did not allow is complicated because of “Dutch unwillingness or inability to go into much detail about what liberty of conscience was and why they permitted it.”16 Holland’s “Custome and manner” regarding religion was the most lenient attitude of all European nations then, but Flushing’s charter did not extend to the rest of the colony, and residents of Flushing would learn that the liberty of conscience promised in their charter was a loosely defined concept and, according to the Dutch historian Maarten (p.37) Prak, “varied from place to place.”17 Haefeli adds: “In the eyes of Dutch authorities and Dutch law, there was a crucial and self-evident difference between an individual’s liberty to believe and a group’s freedom to worship.”18 The Dutch Reformed church was the official state religion, and the government had the power to forbid “assemblies or conventicles” of other faiths, which included, as the historian Jeremy Bangs explains,

a series of restrictions on vital aspects of religious life: “no preaching, no prayer meetings, no group discussions of theology, no public marriage ceremonies (except civil marriages before magistrates in remote regions where no Reformed clergy could be found), no non-Reformed baptisms or burial ceremonies, no communion outside the Reformed Church.” Inhabitants could “disagree with the Dutch Reformed, but only if they kept silence about it outside their own homes, and only if their beliefs led to no visible actions in society.” Though non-Dutch Reformed people could live there, “the reality in New Netherland was scarcely freedom of religion.”19

Governor Kieft, however, did little to enforce these limitations during his incumbency, and the presence of a diverse population speaking eighteen languages gave rise to a variety of religious groups. The laxity of the law illustrates what Haefeli refers to as

the potent plasticity of Dutch tolerance, which lay precisely in the disagreement over what it was. The willingness of individuals to push at its borders … was as much a part of Dutch tolerance as any official interpretation of liberty of conscience. The enforcement of liberty of conscience varied across the Dutch world, both raising and crushing hopes of tolerance depending on the local circumstances.20

In 1647, when Petrus (Peter) Stuyvesant became director general, the liberty that had been enjoyed by many was jeopardized. Stuyvesant was a strict Calvinist and, in 1652, under pressure from churchmen in Holland and in the colony, he began persecuting certain groups who arrived in the colony, including Jews and Lutherans. The Dutch West India Company rebuked Stuyvesant for his treatment of the Lutherans and also wrote to him: “Jews and Portuguese people may exercise in all quietness their religion within their houses.”21 When several boisterous “Quakers” arrived by ship in August 1657, he thus quickly jailed them and issued a proclamation on placards throughout the colony banning all public worship except that of the Dutch Reformed.

(p.38) The freethinking founding fathers of Flushing (and their families) were visited by several different denominational representatives before being won over by the “Friends of Truth” (later the Religious Society of Friends, and “Quakers” only in scorn). There was no settled pastor to the people of Flushing for two years, but in 1647 Stuyvesant sent Rev. Francis Doughty, a Presbyterian who had conformed to the Dutch Reformed Church, who had himself been expelled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1642 for heretical doctrine (he later moved to Rhode Island and then Long Island).22 Doughty lasted about a year before Capt. John Underhill, the town schout (sheriff), made him leave without pay, “on the ground that the governor had inveigled the town into calling a minister by taking the towns-people into a private room one after another, and threatening them with his resentment if they did not sign the articles for the maintenance of the minister.”23 Incidentally, Underhill had migrated to Massachusetts with John Winthrop in 1630 and became the captain and instructor of the military force of the colony. He was later banished for associating with the heretical Anne Hutchinson, was governor of Dover in New Hampshire, later moving to Stamford, Connecticut, and settling in Flushing by 1648.24

On their own again for the next ten years, their next visitor was a Baptist preacher from Providence, Rhode Island, named William Wickenden (alt. Wickendam), after whom a street is named in Providence, near Brown University, where he had a farm. A close friend of Roger Williams (the two had both fled from Massachusetts to found Providence), Wickenden was a signer of the Providence civil compact of 1637 and the Providence agreement for a government in 1640, and he was very active in the religious and political life of the city. Upon his visit to Flushing in 1656, Wickenden apparently made a better impression than Doughty had, and he drew a large crowd to Flushing Creek for baptism. His days were numbered also, however, as the Dutch ministers Rev. John Megapolensis and Rev. Samuel Drisius disapproved of him and filed this report:

At Flushing, they have heretofore had a Presbyterian preacher who conformed to our church; but many people became endowed with divrs opinions, and it was with them quot homines, tot sententioe [every man had a creed of his own]. They absented themselves from preaching, nor would they pay the preacher his promised stipend. So he was obliged to leave and repair to the English Virginias. Now (Aug 5th 1657) they have been some years without a minister. Last year a fomenter of error came there. He was a cobbler from Rhode (p.39) Island, and stated that he was commissioned by Christ. He began to preach at Flushing, and then went with the people into the river and dipped them. This becoming known in New Amsterdam, the public prosecutor proceded thither and brought him along. He was banished from the Province.

Wickenden hereby was charged “for officiating as a gospel minister at Flushing, w/o authority … fined 100 pounds, Flemish, and banished from the Province, meanwhile to be imprisoned.” Returning to Providence, Wickenden later served as a minister at First Baptist Church. Flushing’s second town sheriff, William Hallett, was also removed from office and fined fifty pounds “for daring to collect conventicles at his house and permitting Wickenden to explain and comment on God’s Holy Word, and to administer sacraments.”25

These were mild punishments compared to what the Quakers would face after their arrival in 1657, when several first visited and held meetings on Long Island in Gravesend, Jamaica, and Hempstead. Disparagingly called “Quakers” because the preachers were seen as boisterous and bold, making their listeners “quake with the fear of God,” the Friends had few friends among the Dutch establishment. Stuyvesant issued an ordinance forbidding the harboring of Quakers and arrested Robert Hodgson, who was dragged to jail behind a cart and brutally tortured in a dungeon until Stuyvesant’s sister intervened.

Some in Flushing had attended the nearby Quaker meetings and had already become converts by 1657, but they were now forced to meet “secretly in the woods on the bounds of Jamaica, Newtown, and Flushing.”26 Their plight became a town cause. Two days after Christmas in 1657, thirty freeholders of different faiths who were gathered “from the general votes of the inhabitants” banded together (including the town clerk and sheriff) to sign what came to be known as the Flushing Remonstrance and to remind Stuyvesant of the conditions in their patent and town charter.27


Of the Inhabitants of the Towne of Flushing to Governor Peter Stuyvesant

Right Honorable,

You have been pleased to send up unto us a certain Prohibition or Command, that wee shoulde not receive or entertaine any of (p.40) those people called Quakers, because they are supposed to bee by some seducers of the people; for our parte wee cannot condem them in this case, neither can wee stretch out our hands against them, to punish, bannish or persecute them, for out of Christ, God is a consuming fire, and it is a fearful thing to fall into the handes of the liveing God; we desire therefore in this case not to judge least wee be judged, neither to Condem least wee be Condemned, but rather let every man stand and fall to his own. Maister wee are bounde by the Law to doe good unto all men, especially to those of the Household of faith; and though for the present wee seeme to bee unsensible of the law and the Lawgiver; yet when death and the Law assault us: if we have not our advocate to seeke, who shall plead for us in this case of Conscience betwixt God and our own soules; the powers of this world can neither attack us neither excuse us, for if God justify who can Condemn, and if God Condem there is none can justifye; and for those Jealowsies and suspitions which some have of them that they are destructive unto Magistracy and Ministry that cannot bee; for the Magistrate hath the Sword in his hand and the Minster hath the sword in his hand as witnesse those two great examples which all Magistrates and Ministers are to follow Moses and Christ; whom God raised up Maintained and defended against all the Enemies both of flesh and spirit, and therefore that wich is of God will stand, and that which is of man will come to noething: and as the Lord hath taught Moses, or the Civill power, to give an outward libertie in the States by the law written in his heart designed for the good of all and can truly judge who is good and who is evill, who is true and who is false, and can pass definitive sentence of life or death against that man which rises up against the fundamental law of the States Generall, soe he hath made his Ministers a savor of life unto life, and a savor of death unto death.

The law of love, peace and libertie in the states [of Holland] extending to Jews, Turks, and Egyptians, as they are considered the sonnes of Adam, which is the glory of the outward state of Holland; soe love, peace and libertie, extending to all in Christ Jesus, Condems hatred, warre and bondage; and because our Savior saith it is impossible but that offence will come, but woe be unto him by whom they Commeth, our desire is not to offend one of his little ones, in whatsoever forme, name or title hee appears in, whether Presbyterian, Independent, Baptist or Quaker; but shall be glad to see anything of God in any of them; desireing to doe unto all men (p.41) as wee desire all men should doe unto us, which is the true law both of Church and State; for our Saviour saith this is the Law and the Prophets; Therefore if any of these said persons come in love unto us, wee cannot in Conscience lay violent hands upon them, but give them free Egresse and Regresse into our Towne and howses as God shall perswade our Consciences; and in this we are true subjects both of Church and State; for wee are bounde by the law of God and man to doe good unto all men, and evill to noe man; and this is according to the Pattent and Charter of our Towne given unto us in the name of the States Generall which we are not willing to infringe and violate, but shall hold to our pattent and shall remaine your Humble Subjects the inhabitants of Vlishing; written the 27th of December in the Yeare 1657 by mee

Edward Hart, Clericus.

[signed by thirty freeholders]

What is most remarkable is that none of the signers were Quakers themselves, yet they clearly believed in the fundamental goodness of other religious people and in extending “the law of love, peace and libertie in the states [of Holland]” to the Quakers seeking refuge in Flushing—in addition to anyone else, including Presbyterians, Independents, and Baptists, as well as “Jews, Turks, and Egyptians.” By appealing to the laws of Holland in the Remonstrance and in their town charter, the signers were referring to the Dutch policy of liberty of conscience in Article 13 of the 1579 Union of Utrecht, which specifically states, “each person shall remain free, especially in his religion, and that no one shall be persecuted or investigated because of their religion.” The Dutch West India Company had been set up in 1621 with orders that the Reformed Church would be the only public church in the company’s colonies, in the belief that religious conformity would help create cohesive communities, but in 1625 they were instructed to follow the laws of Holland and thus permit liberty of conscience (allowing people to practice their religion at home).28 Stuyvesant chose, however, to follow and enforce a stricter interpretation of the law. The Flushing Remonstrance did not move him in the least, and he jailed, fined, and removed from office those signers whom he suspected as leaders.29

A few years later, in 1661, John Bowne began to welcome Friends to meet in his newly built house every Sunday, or “first day.” Bowne was a merchant and farmer from Matlock, in Derbyshire, England, who had (p.42)

Religion in Vlissingen (Flushing) from 1645 to 1945

View of Bowne House, 1825.

Lithograph from the I. N. Phelps Stokes Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, The New York Public Library.

migrated first to Boston in 1651 with his father. Dissatisfied with the Puritans and the Massachusetts Bay Colony, he became a Friend in 1657 after moving to Flushing and marrying Hannah Feake, who had herself been converted during the Friends’ recent wave of evangelism in New Amsterdam.30

Magistrates in Jamaica soon learned of the meetings, and a schout came on July 1 to arrest Bowne and take him to jail. When Stuyvesant was unable to get Bowne to pay a fine and agree to refrain from holding meetings, he banished him from the colony, sending the following letter to his superiors in Amsterdam:

Honorable, right respectable Gentlemen,

We omitted in our general letter the troubles and difficulties which we and many of our good inhabitants have since sometimes met with and which daily are renewed by the sect called Quakers chiefly in the country and principally in the English villages, establishing forbidden conventicles and frequenting those against our published placards and disturbing in this manner the public peace, (p.43) in so far that several of our magistrates of our affectionate subjects remonstrated and complained to us from time to time of their insufferable obstinacy, unwilling to obey our orders on judgments—

Among others has one of their principal leaders, named John Bowne, who for his transgrefsions was in conformity to the placards condemned in an amount of 150 [guilders]—in who has now been under arrest for more than three months for his unwillingnefs to pay, obstinately persisting in his refusal, in which he still continues, so that we at last resolved, or were rather compelled, to transport him in this ship from this Province in the hope that others might by it be discouraged.

If henceforth by these means, no more salutary imprefsion is made upon others, we shall though against our inclinations be compelled to prosecute such persons in a more severe manner, on which we previously solicit to be favored with your Honor’s wise Overseeing Judgment.

With which after our cordial salutations, we remain and your Honour’s to God’s protection and remain Honourable and right respectable Gentlemen.

Your Honour’s faithful Servants

Fort Amsterdam in New Netherlands

9th January 166331

This was not Stuyvesant’s first complaint to the Dutch West India Company. Because New Amsterdam was surrounded by other colonies that had fought to maintain homogeneity (except Rhode Island, which he regarded with particular disgust), Stuyvesant did not grasp that the different direction his colony was headed would actually prove better. He wrote in 1661 that

the English and French colonies are continued and populated by their own nation and countrymen and consequently bound together more firmly and united, while your Honor’s colonies in New-Netherland are only gradually and slowly peopled by the scrapings of all sorts of nationalities (few excepted), who consequently have the least interest in the welfare and maintenance of the commonwealth.

As the historian Michael Kammen has observed, “Stuyvesant did not simply fear pluralism per se; he feared the attendant instabilities and lack of cohesion that seemed socially impolitic as well as uncongenial to the creation of political society.”32 His plans, of course, backfired. Bowne made his way to (p.44) Amsterdam and eventually pleaded his own case to the Dutch West India Company:

I sead libertie was promised to us in a Patent given by virtew of a commission from the prince, the stats generall and the west indea companie: he sead who gave that patent? Governer Kieft—oh, sead he, that was before any or but few of your Judgment was harde of. I said we are known to be a peseable people. And will not be subject to the Laws and plakados [placards] which are published? we cannot sufer you in oure jurediction. I sead it is good first to consider whether that Law or plackerd, that was published, bee according to Justis and righteousnesse, or whether it bee not quite contrarie to it, and also to that libertie promised to us in oure Patent and I desier ye Company would red or heve it red. I have a copie of it by mee.33

Before he even arrived there, the Dutch West India Company had already received Stuyvesant’s letter and had grown concerned about his harsh measures. As David Voorhees has noted, “in 1654 the States of Holland, the supreme authority, also had rejected the appeals of the Dutch Reformed Synod to impose doctrinal conformity as having ‘very dangerous consequences.’ ”34 They were persuaded by Bowne’s appeal, let him return, and also sent a letter to rebuke Stuyvesant for his intolerance of religious dissent, effectively (albeit reluctantly) restoring liberty of conscience in Flushing, if not the entire colony:

Your last letter informed us that you had banished from the Province and sent hither a certain Quaker, John Bowne by name: although we heartily desire, that these and other sectarians remained away from there, yet as they do not, we doubt very much, whether we can proceed against them rigorously without diminishing the population and stopping immigration, which must be favored at a so tender stage of the country’s existence. You may therefore shut your eyes, at least not force people’s consciences, but allow every one to have his own belief, as long as he behaves quietly and legally, gives no offence to his neighbors and does not oppose the government. As the government of this city has always practised this maxim of moderation and consequently has often had a considerable influx of people, we do not doubt, that your Province too would be benefitted by it.35

Bowne left Holland on March 30, 1663—eventually making his way back to his family on January 30, 1664. (p.45)

Religion in Vlissingen (Flushing) from 1645 to 1945

John Bowne’s journal and related papers, 1649–76, from Manuscript Coll.; neg #73123, New-York Historical Society.

Years before the religious controversies in Flushing, the Dutch West India Company had already learned that the town was an attractive, prosperous settlement worthy of support: one report to Amsterdam spoke of “Flushing, which is an handsome village, and tolerably stocked with cattle,” and it was well known that the only tavern on Long Island was in Flushing (which was easily accessible through Flushing Bay and Flushing Creek).36 The Dutch motto “difference makes for tolerance” derived from their understanding that growth and prosperity in a diverse area were best fostered by religious freedom, so they encouraged officials to employ oogluiking or conniventie (blinking and conniving) instead of imposing an established church order and crushing dissent.37 As a result, “No other colony learned as rapidly as did New Amsterdam the lessons that circumstances imposed on their age.”38

On August 27, 1664, the English wrested control of New Amsterdam from the Dutch and, as the colony’s name changed to New York, Vlissingen Anglicized into Flushing.39 In a letter to the new Governor Nichols, (p.46) the Dutch strongly advised him not “to make any alteration in their Church Government or to introduce any other form of worshipp among them than what they have chosen.”40 As Evan Haefeli has stated:

The result was a remarkable degree of continuity into a new colonial life no longer dominated by the Dutch, but still very influenced by what they had created. However, the English conquerors made one major change: they actively fostered the pluralism the Dutch regime had done all with its constitutional power to restrain by replacing the public church with an Erastian system in which the English governor mediated between all religious groups in the colony equally. No single group had privileged support as the Reformed had had under the West India Company rule.41

There were limits, however, for in 1665 Nichols called an assembly that created a new set of laws called the Duke’s Laws, which “divided the English towns into parishes and allowed each to choose the sort of church it wanted by a majority vote of the householders” (as long as they were not Quakers, Baptists, or Catholics—the laws clearly favored Presbyterians, Lutherans, Dutch Reformed, Congregationalists, and Anglicans, and they also “discouraged proselytizing in the colony, a blow to the Quakers who were still spreading their faith”).42 Despite this, in 1666, Nichols confirmed the Flushing town patent, yet he grew frustrated when a number of men refused to serve in Flushing’s militia because of the new Quaker “Peace Testimony” of pacifism, which was introduced in 1660 and had reached New York Quakers by 1667.43

In August 1672, George Fox (founder of the Friends in the 1640s and 1650s) rested at Bowne House after preaching outside under two oak trees to a crowd of several hundred.44 Bowne and his wife joined Fox and William Penn on a preaching tour of Holland and Germany in 1676, and Bowne continued to welcome Friends to worship in his house for forty years. Elected as county treasurer in 1683 and in 1691 to the General Assembly, Bowne lived until he was sixty-eight. He died on October 20, 1695 (fifty years after the founding of Flushing), leaving a long line of descendants who would continue to be influential in Flushing and New York.

In October 1683, a representative assembly (with members from Flushing and other towns of the newly established Queens County) was established under the new governor Thomas Dongan, and the Charter of Liberties was drafted. One of its provisions stated that “no person or persons, which profess faith in God by Jesus Christ, shall at any time, be any ways molested … who do not actually disturb the civil peace of the province.” (p.47) 45 The Charter of Liberties effectively lasted until 1685, when King Charles II died and James II ascended the throne, revoking all charters of New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. Influenced by the philosopher John Locke and his “Letter Concerning Toleration,” the pendulum swung back again when Parliament, under William III and Mary II, restored relative religious freedom with the Toleration Act of May 24, 1689—“An Act for Exempting their Majesties Protestant Subjects, Dissenting from the Church of England, from the Penalties of certain laws.” The act permitted freedom of worship to Dissenters but excluded Roman Catholics (a policy that lasted until 1829 in England).

Nearly fifty years after Bowne’s death, the implications of his defense of the town charter still seemed to reverberate in the colony: ministers of Anglican and Dutch churches in 1741 lamented the “spirit of confusion” resulting from New York’s “perfect freedom of conscience.”46 The language of Flushing’s town charter would also carry over into the state constitution. In postrevolutionary New York, representatives from the State of New York met on April 20, 1777, to ratify the new constitution, with Amendment XXXVIII reading:

And whereas we are required, by the benevolent principles of rational liberty, not only to expel civil tyranny, but also to guard against that spiritual oppression and intolerance wherewith the bigotry and ambition of weak and wicked priests and princes have scourged mankind, this convention doth further, in the name and by the authority of the good people of this State, ordain, determine, and declare, that the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever hereafter be allowed, within this State, to all mankind: Provided, That the liberty of conscience, hereby granted, shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness, or justify practices inconsistent with the peace or safety of this State.47

In 1791, the Congress of a new nation passed the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.

Residents of Flushing later would proudly claim it to be “the birthplace of religious freedom in America,” and, to some extent, they would be right. In a very limited, local colonial context, Flushing does appear to be the first colonial town to have and defend liberty of conscience so explicitly and consistently—especially when the charter is taken together with the Flushing Remonstrance and Bowne’s defense of both. There was, of course, no nation yet in Bowne’s time, and the liberty of conscience in Flushing’s charter did not extend to the rest of the colony, nor was it (p.48) reinstated in Flushing until 1663, when Bowne was permitted to return. Despite this constellation of significance, Flushing is often clouded over in historical tugs of war over who was first and is thus largely overlooked in the history of religious freedom in America. In Rhode Island, for instance, similar claims are made on behalf of the Portsmouth Compact of March 7, 1638.48 The town of Providence was founded by Roger Williams in the summer of 1636, and though a royal charter was obtained in 1644, “the lively experiment” and “full liberty in religious concernments” for which Rhode Island became so well known was not officially granted until a second revised Charter of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations was granted on July 15, 1663 (several months after Bowne’s successful case to the Dutch West India Company that same year).49 Maryland’s charter of 1632, as well as “An Act Concerning Religion” in 1649 (better known as Maryland’s Act of Toleration), favored Catholics. The Charter for the Province of Pennsylvania and William Penn’s “holy experiment” also came later, in 1681. The Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony (and Connecticut) lagged further behind: many “heretics” had already escaped to found or join other colonies (if they did not first suffer a fate similar to those in the Salem witch trials of the 1690s), and the colony did not grant full religious freedom until the state constitution of 1780. Thomas Jefferson, who apparently was moved by the persecution of the “poor Quakers” and had seen how the “sister states of Pennsylvania and New York … have long subsisted without any establishment at all,” did not write his Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom until 1777.50 Although there is no evidence (to date) that the Flushing Remonstrance itself was later read by Jefferson or by James Madison (who is largely recognized as the principal author of the Constitution, First Amendment, and other amendments in the Bill of Rights), the evolution of liberty of conscience and sequence of events in New Amsterdam and New York does appear to have made an impression on the minds of the Founding Fathers.

Despite its significance, the Flushing Remonstrance, Bowne, and Flushing’s history in general largely faded from memory (at least, outside of Flushing) until the nineteenth century, when some of the first comprehensive histories of New York were published (including some local histories of Flushing). Consequently, some church historians took note and began to include references to the Flushing Remonstrance and Bowne in their surveys of religion in America as early as 1898. Despite these occasional references, the dominant narratives of American history and religion at least until the late twentieth century stressed the primary importance and legacy of New England Puritanism and British colonial settlements along (p.49) the North Atlantic coast in general. The history of Flushing shifts attention to the Middle Atlantic colony of Dutch New Netherland (New York after the British takeover in 1664) and its long experiment with pluralism that is still, perhaps more, relevant today—but this focus on the region’s significance is recent.51 The histories of New York and even the broader histories of religion in America did not reach a wide enough audience to make Flushing’s history very well known. This would begin to change somewhat by the mid–twentieth century, however, when Flushing’s sense of local history and civic pride would be at an all-time high.

The SPG Comes to Town: Quakers and Anglicans in Eighteenth-Century Flushing

A census compiled in 1698 by the town constable and clerk revealed that there were eighty families in Flushing (some households reported as many as twenty-one persons, including slaves): sixty-three English, twelve Dutch, five French (Huguenots), seventeen single freemen or white bachelors; there were in all 530 whites and 117 blacks. There were three hamlets of the town of Flushing then: Flushing (the hamlet and area that became the village of Flushing in 1837), Whitestone, and Bayside. Flushing was the largest settlement. Main Street was then known as Jamaica Road and was the chief land route to New York for persons unwilling to sail or row by boat through Hell Gate (taking the road was a day’s journey of seventeen miles).52

At the end of his life, in 1694, Bowne and other Friends bought land to build a Meeting House on present-day Northern Boulevard. The first place of worship in Flushing, it is also the oldest place of worship in New York City in continual use. At the General Yearly meeting of Friends in Rhode Island in 1695, it was agreed that the new meeting house in Flushing would host the New York Yearly meeting—which it did until 1778, when the building was used as a hospital by British troops during the Revolutionary War.

Various records show that a guard house was used by numerous religious groups in Flushing well into the eighteenth century, but most residents in Flushing (excluding blacks, about whom little is known until later) were Quakers and came to the Meeting House. Church records and letters indicate its popularity (William Penn visited Flushing in 1700 and was the guest of John Bowne’s son Samuel), and the congregation grew: in September 1703, an estimated two thousand attended the last day of Monthly Meeting (some also traveled to it from outside for Half-Yearly (p.50)

Religion in Vlissingen (Flushing) from 1645 to 1945

Friends Meeting House (est. 1694), April 19, 1927.

Queens Borough President print and photograph collection, Print Neg. No. 267-A, Courtesy New York City Municipal Archives.

Meeting, as Flushing’s meeting house was for several years the only place of worship in Queens for miles). By 1719, the Meeting House had to build an addition.53

Although the colony enjoyed a greater liberty of conscience by the end of the seventeenth century, that did not mean there would not still be dissensus or conflict. Records document the “sufferings” of Friends under the Dutch but also, by 1700, under the Church of England’s zealous missionary arm, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. St. George’s Church of Royal Anglican Order was founded by the SPG as a mission of the Church of England in 1702, holding its first meetings in the guard house until a church was completed in 1746. The parish consisted of the three towns of Jamaica, Newtown, and Flushing and was one of the first missions of the Society. Perhaps the most divisive moment came in 1702, when Rev. George Keith returned to Flushing. Keith, a former Flushing resident and Scotch Presbyterian who had become (p.51) a Friend around 1663, befriended William Penn and achieved great influence in the 1690s before growing disenchanted and critical (prompting the Keithian schism among the Quakers) and turning to the Church of England. He later became the first traveling missionary of the SPG in America—in Flushing.54 Having just received orders in the Church of England, Rev. Keith returned to Flushing fired up with missionary zeal, but he ran into some trouble when he sought to gain converts in the middle of silent worship at the Meeting House (which he used to attend), igniting a small theological war:

I went, Sept. 24th, to the Quaker’s meeting, at Flushing, accompanied by Rev. Messrs. Talbot and Vesey, and divers other persons from Jamaica, well affected to the Church of England. After some time of silence I began to speak, standing up in the gallery where their speakers use to stand when they speak, but I was so much interrupted by the clamor and noise that several of the Quakers made, forbidding me to speak, that I could not proceed. After this one of their speakers began to speak and continued about an hour. The whole was a ramble of nonsense and perversion of Scripture with gross reflections on the Church and Government there. He said vice was set up (which was a reflection of on the Government there) because some were lately made justices of the peace on L.I. who were not greatly affected to Quakerism, &c, &c. After he had done, he went out of the meeting in all haste, fearing he should be questioned about what he had said. I stood up again to speak, but they made a new interruption and threatened me with being guilty of a breach of the Act of Toleration, and thereby put myself 20 pounds in the Queen’s debt. I replied I was silent while their preacher was speaking but that they broke the Act by interrupting me. They said I had no right to speak in their meeting house, which they had paid for, and I had contributed nothing. One was so hot that he commanded me to go out of the house. I said that it was not his, and that all who have a mind to come in at meeting time may come, and ye are bound to keep your doors open, &c, &c. I again visited the Quaker meeting at Flushing (Dec. 3) having obtained a letter from my Lord Cornbury to two Justices of the peace to go along with me to see that the Quakers should not interrupt me; but they did, and took no notice of Lord Cornbury’s letter, which was read to them by Mr. Talbot in their meeting house. I brought the printed Act of Toleration with me, and Talbot read some passages to show that (p.52)

Religion in Vlissingen (Flushing) from 1645 to 1945

St. George’s Episcopal Church (est. 1702).

Queens Borough President print and photograph collection, Print Neg. No. 1731, Courtesy New York City Municipal Archives.

they had not qualified their meeting houses or their preachers as the Act requires. We staid and heard three speakers utter nonsense and perversions of Scriptures. The chief speaker, a most ignorant person, said “Balak (meaning Cornbury) had sent Balaam (Keith) to curse the people of God.” After they had done and generally gone away (speakers and others) many who were not Quakers staid and heard me detect the perversions they made of the Scriptures, &c.55

It was tough love, as Rev. Keith no doubt merely sought to show his former Friends the errors of their ways, but his self-righteous airs were no match for the historic heart of the Society of Friends in New York. Many would convert in time as St. George’s established itself, but the Meeting House remained Flushing’s biggest draw through most of the eighteenth century.

Like numerous localities throughout the colonies, Flushing was also host to numerous itinerant revivalists. Jon Butler has noted that “between (p.53) 1695 and 1740, Christian pluralism exploded in the middle colonies”—a period marked by such widespread religious renewal and revival that many historians referred to it as “the Great Awakening.”56 George Whitefield, “arguably the best-known Englishman of the mid–eighteenth century,” was perhaps the most famous visitor to the area.57 Besides drawing a number of Friends away from the Meeting House, he also annoyed and incurred the jealous wrath of the Anglican ministers who were trying to do the same thing: “Some itinerant enthusiastical teachers, have of late been preaching upon this Island the notorious Mr. Whitfield [sic] being at the head of them & among other pernicious tenets, have broached such false & erroneous opinions … as tend to the destruction of true religion & of a holy and virtuous life.”58 The spiritual battle for souls in Flushing would be joined by other voices in the next two centuries, but Quaker-Anglican tensions dominated the 1700s. A successor of Rev. Keith encountered similar difficulties even as St. George’s first building was being completed in 1746:

In my letter of the 26 March last I gave information to the Society of our being in a very likely way of having a Church erected in the town of Flushing a place generally inhabited by Quakers & by some who are of no religion at all which indeed has all along from the first settlement of the town been a great obstruction and discouragement to an undertaking of this kind but now by the kind providence of God … the work is actually begun so that I have hopes of performing divine Service in this new Church in about 3 months time and also that the Society will bestow upon it a Bible & Common Prayer Book according to their usual bounty for certainly there can be no set of People within this Province who are greater objects of the Society’s pity & charity than those belonging to the town of Flushing.59

By 1759, Rev. Samuel Seabury was having an even harder time. Despite some success (he mentions baptizing “One White & One Negro Adult, fifteen White & three Negro infants”), he was exasperated and contemptuous:

Flushing, in the last generation the ground seat of Quakerism, is in this the seat of Infidelity; a transition how natural. Bred up in an entire neglect of all religious principles, hatred to the Clergy & in contempt of the sacraments how hard is their conversion, especially as they disavow even the necessity of any redemption.60

I heartily wish my success in this Mission was such as would justify my giving the honored Society an account thereof in some measure (p.54) equal to their expence and care of it. But such is the effect of the Deism & infidelity (for the spreading of which Quakerism has paved the way) which have here been propagated with the greatest zeal & the most astonishing success that a general indifference towards all religion has taken place & the too common opinion seems to be that they shall be saved without the mediation of Christ as well as with; and even among those who profess themselves as members of the Church of England a very great backwardness in attending her service prevails; and particularly with regard to the holy Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper so great is their aversion to it or neglect of it that I fear the number of Communicants at present scarce exceeds twenty.61

Later that year, however, Seabury reported an apparent increase in conversions and attendance as well as the near completion of the church. He served as rector from 1757 to 1765 and later became the first bishop of the Episcopal Church in America. The new church attracted many, including Francis Lewis, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and warden at St. George’s from 1765 to 1790. Meanwhile, the Meeting House was becoming less popular. In 1786, a certain Elisha Kirk wrote: “We rode to John Bowne’s and attended meeting; but it is much decreased in numbers from what it formerly was.”62 Despite lower attendance (probably causing the Yearly Meeting to move to nearby Westbury in 1778), there were still notable moments: one Friend wrote in 1797 of a monthly meeting that lasted six hours, calling it “a glorious meeting. I thought I had never been a witness to such a solemnity at any meeting for so long a time together.”63

By the end of the eighteenth century, Flushing had risen as one of the most desirable locales in New York, with many prominent families either visiting or moving there. Whitehead Hicks was serving his tenth year as mayor of New York when the American Revolution broke out. On Valentine’s Day, 1776, he resigned from the mayoralty, saying he was tired and “desirous to retire from the Town.” His place of retirement was Flushing, where he died in 1780. In 1775, Robert Bowne (great-grandson of John) established a stationer and printing press at South Street Seaport named Bowne & Co. Until 2010 (when it was acquired by RR Donnelly), it was the oldest business in New York operating under the same name since its incorporation.64 The seeds of Flushing’s international fame as a horticultural mecca were planted in 1725, when the first commercial nursery in America was established by William Prince, and in 1793, when his grandson, William Prince II, established the Linnaean Botanical Gardens. (The Bloodgood nursery would (p.55) come later in 1798, and Samuel Parsons’ nursery in 1837.) The widespread acclaim drew a number of high-profile visitors. On August 7, 1782, Prince William, later King William IV, came to Flushing to visit the Prince nurseries, and on October 10, 1789, President George Washington and Vice President John Adams also sailed into town for the same reason (they arrived again in 1790 on an inspection tour of Long Island while looking for possible sites for the new nation’s capital). The horticultural heritage of Flushing would be highlighted again in the twentieth century when the 1939–1940 World’s Fair featured Flushing in its “Gardens on Parade” pavilion, which later became the Queens Botanical Garden of today.

“Good Morning, Macedonia!”

In 1790, the new government of the United States instituted the first federal census. It had been nearly one hundred years since Flushing’s first census in 1698, and the town had grown by one thousand, from 647 to 1,607. A constant one-sixth of the population was of African descent (117 slaves in 1698, three hundred slaves and free blacks by 1800). Available historical sources for blacks in colonial Flushing include slaveowners’ account books and wills, runaway slave advertisements, manumission records, revivalist preaching, Quaker testimonies, and the few records of baptisms at St. George’s by SPG missionaries. In 1789, however, a female slave named Nelly set fire to the office of her owner, the town clerk, destroying many town records.

The lack of historical sources for blacks began to change dramatically by 1811, when the African Methodist Society in Flushing bought land to build a church that would become the third place of worship in town.65 An offshoot of Richard Allen and Absalom Jones’ Free African Society in Philadelphia, the Flushing Society followed a similar path. Born into slavery in Philadelphia, Allen had been reborn when a Methodist circuit rider (an itinerant evangelist on horseback) visited the Delaware plantation to which he had been sold. Purchasing his freedom in 1782 for two thousand dollars, Allen became a lay preacher and attended St. George’s Methodist Church in Philadelphia. When he and other black members of the congregation were evicted one Sunday for mistakenly sitting in seats reserved for whites, Allen left in 1793 to found Bethel African Church the following year. Ordained as the first black deacon in the Methodist Church by Bishop Asbury in 1795, Allen and others changed the name of his society to the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1816 after several struggles with white clergy, with (Mother) Bethel AME in Philadelphia (p.56)

Religion in Vlissingen (Flushing) from 1645 to 1945

Macedonia African Methodist Episcopal Church, est. 1811.

being the first.66 The Flushing church name had a slightly different origin. Church records and oral history relate the story of an eighteen-year-old white circuit rider named Benjamin Griffin, who rode into Quaker-Anglican Flushing in the early 1800s, when no one was interested in Methodism except those in the new African Methodist Society, which offered him food and shelter.67 Griffin, it is said, likened his good hosts to the poor but generous people the apostle Paul encountered on his journey to Macedonia; thus the society changed its name to Macedonia AME church.68 It would not be the only time Macedonia would help others in need. Throughout the nineteenth century, Macedonia was one stop among several in Flushing and throughout New York on the Underground Railroad.69 Beneath the chapel, in the basement area (now the boiler room), fugitive slaves were offered shelter until they were ready to head off again through a side door to their next stop.

The Society of Friends became another ally in the struggle for abolition as early as the 1688 Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery, but slavery was still acceptable among most Quakers until an influential journal by the Quaker minister John Woolman began to circulate in 1749 entitled “Considerations of the Keeping of Negroes.” The following year, the New York Friends Meeting voted that henceforth no Quaker could import slaves—a position that gained greater emphasis in the 1770s (p.57) with the urging of another influential itinerant minister from Long Island named Elias Hicks. Publishing and disseminating “freedom narratives” based on oral stories of escaped slaves, Hicks’s outspoken conviction awakened many to the cause. His views on salvation estranged some, however, and in 1827 the Flushing Society split into Hicksite and orthodox factions. The Meeting House in Flushing reflected this shift and became Hicksite; the orthodox built a new meeting house just east of the old one by 1854.70 Many Quaker families on Long Island assisted blacks on the Underground Railroad, with perhaps the most notable being Samuel Bowne Parsons. The son of the nursery owner and abolitionist Quaker preacher (and a Bowne descendant through his mother), “It was his boast that he assisted more slaves to freedom than any other man in Queens County.”71 Quakers had taken the unpopular stance of abolition even as they lost outside respect for their pacifist exemption from fighting in the Revolutionary War, so it is no coincidence that the number of Friends at the Meeting House dwindled significantly by the mid–nineteenth century: by the end of the war, many had moved to Canada and the West Indies.72 Others were perhaps also drawn to new denominations sprouting up everywhere around town.

“Our Village Is Becoming a Community of Churches”

During the colonial period, the town and hamlet of Flushing was under the jurisdiction of nearby Jamaica, Queens, and residents of Flushing had to travel there to petition for benefits and transact business; Flushing became an incorporated village on April 15, 1837, presumably to gain self-rule (that is, a board of trustees and municipal officers).73 The boundaries of the new charter carved out a small area of modern Flushing and part of Whitestone: Twenty-First Avenue to the north, Sanford Avenue to the south, Bowne Avenue to the east, and Flushing Creek to the west. “Downtown” was located near the lower end of Northern Boulevard at the creek. Flushing then was primarily residential, with a population of about four thousand.74 The Gazeteer of the State of New York, published in 1836, describes Flushing as a village of about 140 dwellings, “some of which are neat and several magnificent. The facility of conveyance, the attractiveness of the Linnaean Garden, the delightful voyage, whether by land or water, make this a favorite place of resort to citizens of New York.”75 The stature of Flushing also increased when Walter Bowne (another Bowne descendant) was mayor of the City of New York from 1829 to 1833 and hosted such visitors as Alexis de Tocqueville.76 Two steamboats brought new (p.58)

Religion in Vlissingen (Flushing) from 1645 to 1945

Map of Flushing, 1841, by Elijah A. Smith.

Collection of Vincent Seyfried.

multitudes of passengers to and from the landing dock at Flushing Creek until 1854, when the new Flushing railroad station was completed on Main Street—moving the center of downtown to its present location and setting in motion an even larger number of commuters. Board of Trustee town records from the 1850s and 1860s also document a number of public works projects, including the paving of streets and sidewalks and a new ordinance that prohibited owners of livestock from letting their cows and goats graze freely around downtown.77 Word was getting around, too, as the new local newspaper reported: “Flushing is looking its loveliest in this June and July and is attracting the tastes of a great many who are in search of rural quarters for the summer months. An infusion of more wealth and taste is an inevitable sequence of our fittings-up and surroundings.”78 Into this context came new migrants and new churches.

Unlike other parts of the country, Flushing did not seem as affected by the revolutionary and postrevolutionary revivals that led up to another period from 1805 to 1820 quickly labeled by some historians as the (p.59) Second Great Awakening, but it did reflect the overall national explosion of denominational growth between 1790 and 1860 resulting from the separation of church and state.79 One reporter for the Flushing Journal observed in 1854, “Our village is becoming a community of churches.”80 A rapid-fire list gives a sense of the variety and reflects similar patterns across the country at this time. By 1822, Methodism had expanded into the white community, which built a new church just off of Main Street; in 1842, whites also followed Macedonia in establishing a First Methodist Episcopal church. In 1841, centuries after struggles with Quakers, a Dutch Reformed church finally was built on Bowne Street. And, from starting out in a schoolhouse, a First Congregational church went up across the street in 1851. On January 17, 1857, a Baptist church was organized in Flushing, and a small church was dedicated later in October.81 St. John’s Church, of the German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, followed as the number of German immigrants rose. In all, the tally by 1857 included thirteen Protestant churches and one Catholic church in a town of approximately nine thousand people—a number of whom identified themselves as Deists and atheists.82

The denominational growth was also accompanied by the massive waves of Irish and German Catholic immigration of the mid–nineteenth century. In 1826, St. Michael’s Roman Catholic parish was formed by the only twelve Catholics in Flushing. They first met for worship in a small house on Main Street, later purchased a larger house, expanded it twice, and then purchased four lots in 1841 to build a new church by 1854. The arrival of the Catholic Church and, in particular, the many Irish immigrants who attended it, set off the first major religious tension since the Dutch-Quaker and Quaker-Anglican skirmishes of previous centuries. The racial, ethnic, and religious composition of Flushing’s population had virtually remained the same until the 1830s, when it hovered in the two thousand range, but the village had grown to over four thousand by 1840 and over ten thousand by 1860. Anti-Catholic nativism was rampant in much of the country at this time, and the rash of irrational fear reached Flushing too. It did not help that crime had also risen significantly. Some blamed bandits from the city, no doubt lured by news of well-stocked stores and well-heeled residents. Some blamed blacks, but most blamed the Irish, who were generally very poor workers living in a shantytown by the creek. Recognizing this in 1843, the village attempted to help and voted to establish “a poor house for 25 paupers”; its membership had swelled to 125 by 1857. But the problem was also religious. In 1854, the Flushing Journal ran an approving review of the “‘Great Red Dragon,’ or, (p.60) ‘The Mystery Key to Popery,’” whose Spanish author was reported to be an ex-priest bent on revealing “the Papal plot” against the school system and freedom of thought in America.83 On March 31, 1855, the paper defended the infamous Order of the Star-Spangled Banner (also known as the Know-Nothing Party and, later, the American Party, a fraternal order of Protestant politicians bent on reducing the influence of immigrants and Catholics), and, in April 1855, the following headline read: “High Tide of No-Nothingism: supervisors of Flushing, Hempstead and North Hempstead all elected from the American or Know-Nothing ticket.”84

The proliferation of new churches coincided with the growth and expansion of older churches as well. The Friends Meeting House had already split into Hicksite and orthodox factions. St. George’s Episcopal Church built a second church in 1821 and a third (the present one) in 1854. Continuing its history of luminaries, the church thrived under a new rector named Rev. Dr. William August Mühlenberg (a great-grandson of the German American Lutheran patriarch Henry M. Mühlenberg), who was himself raised as an Anglican and came to exemplify “the most productive forces in his church during the pre–Civil War years, especially those factors and appeals which account for the remarkable expansion of Episcopalianism in America’s urban centers.” Mühlenberg was rector of St. George’s from 1826 to 1829, when he founded the Flushing Institute, one of the earliest and most elite models of private preparatory schools in America.85

“The Great Question Which Now Agitates the Republic”

Despite a brief brush with division brought about by the nativism of the 1850s, the Civil War displayed a different side of Flushing—one that showed new unity and the village’s clear alignment with the Union.86 On March 20, 1862, the Flushing Journal ran a story on Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, the influential liberal preacher from Plymouth Congregational Church in nearby Brooklyn, who visited Flushing and delivered a lecture at the Congregational Church on Bowne Avenue:

Our village was honored on Thurs. night by the presence of this distinguished individual who in the Congregational Church and before quite a large audience, delivered a most brilliant lecture which was very well received and by frequent bursts of applause. The subject was “The Results of the Past and our Policy for the Future.” We have not the room to give even an abstract of the topics discussed. (p.61) The effect on the major part of the audience was definitely good. Many of those who supposed the lecturer to be a rank Abolitionist and were prepared, if not to confute, to deride his positions, came away impressed with the idea that Henry Ward Beecher is sound in regard to the great question which now agitates the Republic. The rebellion is to be crushed out once and forever. Upon that point all are agreed. But when it is put down, then comes the question what are to be the relations of the Govt. to slavery. It is not probable that the people of this country, after expending two thousands of millions of dollars and overwhelming themselves and their posterity with unprecedented taxation, will acquiesce in a settlement that will leave matters as the war found them. The system of slavery is bound to go to the wall in some shape before the majestic uprising of the people. Now is the time to canvass the matter and to enlighten the public mind respecting the most equitable and righteous method of adjustment and it is with satisfaction that we heard Mr. Beecher and witnessed the profound attention which our citizens of all shades of opinions gave to his eloquent denunciation of a system that in its consequences has involved our country in blood and carnage.87

Newspaper stories are, of course, not always accurate barometers for the population they represent on all issues, but they may be more representative in smaller towns—as Flushing still was at the time. The opposition to slavery and support of the Union seemed quite solid all the way through to the end of the war:

Not only is it a matter of economy but of national importance that volunteers should be hurried to the front as quickly as possible that the last finishing stroke may be put to the rebellion before the opening of spring. Never has the cause of the Union appeared more cheering and prosperous than at this moment. The rebellion is reeling under the well-directed blows of Grant, Sherman & Thomas and every man, now put in the field, is of more consequence than if put there a day or two hence. Let Flushing then fill up her quota at once.88

The Queens historian Vincent F. Seyfried notes that the onset of the war may have shaken up the social and economic life of Flushing, “but the local churches pursued the even tenor of their ways unaffected by the national crisis.”89 Growing sympathy with abolition had also led to a new interest in Flushing’s historic black church. A report in the Flushing Journal on the dedication of a new church for Macedonia AME in January 1862 read:

(p.62) The room was crowded with parents, children and members of the congregation who listened respectfully and attentively to addresses from the Revs. Mr. Myers and P. M. Bartlett. It was gratifying to observe the good order and quiet behavior of the children and the interest manifested in the remarks made to them. The Rev. John Washington, the preacher in charge, has succeeded in creating considerable interest among the adults in the study of the Holy Scriptures, quite a number meeting regularly with the children for religious instruction. The Sabbath school numbers about 50 and it is hoped the interest will increase until all the parents with their children will convene every Sabbath and diligently improve the opportunity afforded them.90

Segregation was still the norm, however, and after a division occurred among members of the First Baptist Church in 1861, Flushing’s black Baptist population established its own Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in 1873.91 Flushing also drew a number of successful free blacks who settled there during the nineteenth century to join the older black population—among them Lewis H. Latimer, who had supervised the installation of electric street lights in New York City, Philadelphia, Montreal, and London, and, as the only African American member of Thomas Edison’s team of inventors, had improved on the light bulb by developing a carbon filament.

From Small Town to “Part of a Hurly-Burly City”

Flushing grew and became more ethnically diverse in the years before consolidation with the city, leading several historians to chronicle seemingly less complex early years when Flushing was still a discernible small town of white and black Protestants. Real estate activity was strong even during the Civil War, with development reaching further away from downtown. The Bowne and Parsons families also began to divide and sell parcels of land from their estates. In 1862, construction of Flushing Town Hall began with a ceremony and time capsule deposited in a cornerstone determined by local masons. And, in 1864, another major transportation development occurred: Queens Road (later Boulevard) opened, connecting Flushing directly with points east.

In a remarkable turnaround, Irish Americans essentially had taken over local politics, just as they had begun to do in the city by the mid–nineteenth century with the Democratic Party political machine of Tammany Hall. Membership on the village Board of Trustees was now a roster of Irish (p.63) names.92 A small Italian and Jewish population also grew, reflecting the second massive wave of new immigration from southern and eastern Europe that began in the 1880s. Where old-stock Protestants once had reigned for centuries, Catholics now had become a major force along with the aristocratic Anglicans around town—so much so that residents could state about the time that “St. Michael’s and St. George’s ran Flushing.”93

It was churchmen who composed the most ambitious histories of Flushing through the nineteenth century, following the lead of Rev. G. Henry Mandeville of the Dutch Reformed Church in 1860.94 Two other histories came from rectors at St. George’s: a history of the parish by Rev. Dr. John Carpenter Smith (pastor from 1847 all the way to 1897) and a substantial history of Flushing by Rev. Henry D. Waller in 1899.95 Waller notes the strong opposition Flushing had to the proposal for consolidation in 1896 and how the members of the Village Board, supported by their fellow townsmen, appeared before the Senate Committee to oppose the consolidation. Despite the protests of the people, Flushing was annexed by the city in 1896, and the act was signed by the governor, taking effect on January 1, 1898, as Flushing became a part of the City of New York and “one of the most beautiful towns in the United States … became a part of a hurly-burly city.”96


(1.) “Tercentenary Keynote to Be Free Worship: Plans for Flushing Fete to Be Drafted on National Scope,” Long Island Star Journal (April 9, 1945). Colden was a descendant of Lieut. Gov. Cadwallader Colden (1688–1776) who retired in Flushing.

(2.) “Oaks of Flushing to Form Symbols: 300th Anniversary Celebration of Charter to Name Trees for United Nations,” New York Times (May 27, 1945).

(3.) “Flushing Gets New Park and Mayor’s Salute: On 300th Anniversary, He Broadcasts from Bowne House, Tolerance Shrine,” New York Herald Tribune (October 8, 1945).

(4.) “Mayor Opens Flushing Tercentenary Celebration,” Press (October 8, 1945).

(p.243) (5.) “Flushing Tercentenary to Be Carried to Nation,” Long Island Star-Journal (September 11, 1945); Army to Send Out News of Tercentenary,” Long Island Star-Journal (July 30, 1945).

(6.) “Old Flushing Home Becomes a Shrine: Bowne House Is Dedicated to Religious Freedom on 300th Anniversary of Community,” New York Times (October 11, 1945).

(7.) “Race Prejudice Will Be Theme at Town Rally: Educators Give Talks at Flushing High School,” Long Island Star-Journal (October 11, 1945).

(8.) “3,000 Parade for Flushing Tercentenary,” Long Island Star-Journal (October 13, 1945).

(9.) “Tercentenary to Be Celebrated by Flushing in Week of Oct. 7: Ceremonies Marking Signing of Charter in 1645 Will Include Concerts, Costume Ball, and Parade,” New York Times (July 22, 1945). Local history and fiction also flourished around this time in Flushing. See Haynes Trebor, Colonial Flushing (Flushing, N.Y., 1945); Cornelia Mitchell Parsons, The Quaker Cross: A Tale of Old Bowne House (Flushing, N.Y., 1911); and Stella E. Asling-Riis, Star Over Flushing (Flushing, N.Y., 1939).

(10.) “Tolerance in Flushing,” New York Times (October 12, 1945).

(11.) Historical Documents XIV, 15. Cited in Henry D. Waller, History of the Town of Flushing Long Island, New York (Flushing, N.Y., 1899), 11–14.

(12.) I am indebted to the urban geographer and my former neighbor Jack Eichenbaum for impressing upon me the topographical significance of Flushing in a lecture entitled “The Ups and Downs of Queens” at the Queens Historical Society, March 1, 2000. Also see Jack Eichenbaum, “The Evolution of Lawn Guyland,” New York Times (March 29, 1998). In the 1930s–1960s, Parks Commissioner Robert Moses also recognized that Flushing Meadows–Corona Park was the geographical center of New York City, and he chose the area for two World’s Fairs and park space.

(13.) Frederick Van Wyck, Select Patents of New York Towns (New York, 1938), 5–6. Also see Jerrold Seymann, Colonial Charters, Patents, and Grants to the Communities Comprising the City of New York (New York, 1939).

(14.) Haynes Trebor, The Flushing Remonstrance (The Origin of Religious Freedom in America) (Flushing, N.Y., 1957), 6–8.

(15.) Henry Onderdonk Jr., “The Rise of the Society of Friends in Flushing,” in Original Journal of John Bowne of Flushing, L.I. (1627–1695), containing entries of Births, Marriages and Deaths in the family from 1649–1676 with Vol. Of Extracts from Journal and Newspaper cuttings of contributions to Flushing’s Centennial, by Henry Onderdonk Jr., 2 vols., 12 mo., manuscripts collection, the Library of the New-York Historical Society. Library note: “Vol. of newspaper cuttings being extracts from Journal of JB edited by Onderdonk, a chronicler who lived in the nineteenth century and worked as headmaster at Union Hall academy in nearby Jamaica, Queens. Journal entries span 1656–1702 (JB and Samuel Bowne, son); articles span 1700–1801 and may be a combination of Bowne (p.244) material, Onderdonk articles for the original Flushing Times (a Civil War era paper that preceded the current eponymous one), and church records from the Friends Meeting House. The ‘Centennial’ referred to is most likely Flushing’s Bi-Centennial in 1845, as Onderdonk lived 1804–1886. Onderdonk notes that ‘in 1789 the records of Flushing were burnt. This loss … is mitigated by the preservation of an old account book of John Bowne and his son Samuel, extending from 1656–1702.’ ”

(16.) Evan Haefeli, New Netherland and the Dutch Origins of American Religious Liberty (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), 21, 10. Also see Carla Gardina Pestana, Liberty of Conscience and the Growth of Religious Diversity in Early America, 1636–1786 (Providence, R.I., 1986). Pestana’s book was a catalogue derived from an exhibition of the same name at the John Carter Brown Library, Brown University, May 1–September 30, 1986, in honor of the 350th anniversary of the founding of the state of Rhode Island.

(17.) Maarten Prak, The Dutch Republic in the Seventeenth Century, trans. Diane Webb (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 219–220; cited in Haefeli, New Netherland and the Dutch Origins of American Religious Liberty, 13.

(19.) Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs, “Dutch Contributions to Religious Toleration,” Church History 79, no. 3 (2010): 585–613; cited in Haefeli, New Netherland and the Dutch Origins of American Religious Liberty, 12–13.

(21.) Hugh Hastings, Ecclesiastical Records of the State of New York (New York, 1901), 1:352.

(25.) Ibid. There seems to have been a kind of pipeline between Flushing and Rhode Island in the mid–seventeenth century (indeed, tracing the history of each reveals a religious freedom trail), as John Bowne also later recorded in his journal on June 11, 1661: “we went from our house at Flushing towards Rhode Island, to the General Meeting, where we stayed 9 days time.”

(27.) Please refer to the reproduction of The Flushing Remonstrance.

(28.) David William Voorhees, “The 1657 Flushing Remonstrance in Historical Perspective,” paper given at the New York State History Conference, June 2007.

(29.) See Evan Haefeli, “The Text of the Flushing Remonstrance,” paper presented to the Center for Ethical Culture, November 15, 2007. Haefeli argues that Stuyvesant was simply following orders by cracking down on anyone practicing any religion but Dutch Reformed in public until he was rebuked by the Dutch West India Company after Bowne’s appeal.

(p.245) (30.) Edith King Wilson, Bowne Family of Flushing, Long Island (New York, 1987). Hannah was the cousin of the third town sheriff of Flushing, Tobias Feake (who delivered the Flushing Remonstrance to Stuyvesant), a daughter of Elizabeth Fones Winthrop Feake (cofounder of Greenwich, Connecticut), and daughter-in-law through her first marriage of John Winthrop (first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony).

(31.) Onderdonk, Extracts from the State’s Office, Albany, in “The Rise of the Society of Friends in Flushing.”

(32.) Michael Kammen, Colonial New York: A History (New York: Scribners, 1975), 63.

(33.) John Bowne of Flushing, L.I. (1627–1695), from the Original Journal of 1649–1676, manuscripts collection, the Library of the New-York Historical Society. See note 15.

(35.) Hastings, Ecclesiastical Records, 1:530. Dispatch from The Directors of the W I Company—Amsterdam addressed to the Governor and Council of New Netherland dated 16 of April 1663.

(36.) Historical Documents I, 425, cited by Waller, History of the Town of Flushing Long Island, 28.

(37.) George L. Smith has addressed the conflicting interests of the Dutch West India Company by focusing on the Dutch understanding of “connivance” in Religion and Trade in New Netherland: Dutch Origins and American Development (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1973).

(38.) Martin E. Marty, Pilgrims in Their Own Land: Five Hundred Years of Religion in America (New York: Little, Brown, 1984), 71–72.

(39.) Bowne already had begun to anglicize Vlissingen by writing “Vlishing” in his journal. “Flushing” is used in later records at least as early as 1664.

(42.) Ibid., 256–257, 260.

(43.) Ibid., 261.

(44.) The spot is now marked by a large slab of inscribed rock on Bowne Street where the “Fox Oaks” used to stand. Fox later recalled: “We had a very large meeting, many hundreds of people being there, some of whom came 30 miles to it. A glorious and heavenly meeting it was and the people were much satisfied.” Onderdonk, “The Rise of the Religious Society of Friends in Flushing.”

(45.) Hastings, Ecclesiastical Records of the State of New York, 2:864. Queens County itself was made one of the counties of the Province of New York on November 1, 1683, and named after Queen Catherine of Braganza (Queen of Charles II of England, r. 1660–1685). Governor Dongan also approved a new treaty in 1684 with the local native Americans that was drawn up by Bowne and eight others and signed by Takapousha, sachem of the Matinecoc tribe.

(p.246) (46.) Rev. G. Du Bois to the Classis of Amsterdam, May 14, 1741, in Ecclesiastical Records, 4:2756; cited by Milton M. Klein, “New York in the American Colonies: A New Look,” New York History 53, no. 2 (April 1972): 146.

(47.) Constitution of the State of New York, 1777. Italics added.

(48.) There is no doubt that the social contexts surrounding the Portsmouth Compact make it an important document of early colonial America, but it is brief, and any religious freedom is vague: “We whose names are underwritten do hereby solemnly in the presence of Jehovah incorporate ourselves into a Bodie Politick and as He shall help, will submit our persons, lives and estates unto our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, and to all those perfect and most absolute laws of His given in His Holy Word of truth, to be guided and judged thereby.”

(50.) Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, ed. William Peden (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1954), 157–161. Also see Charles B. Sanford, The Religious Life of Thomas Jefferson (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1984).

(51.) See Russell Shorto, The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America (New York: Vintage, 2004); Randall Balmer and Mark Silk, eds., Religion and Public Life in the Middle Atlantic Region: The Fount of Diversity (Lanham, Md.: AltaMira, 2006).

(52.) “The Exact List of All Ye Inhabitants’ Names Within Ye Town of Flushing and Precincts, of Old and Young Freemen and Servants, White and Black, etc., 1698,” Long Island Division, Queens Borough Public Library, Jamaica Branch.

(53.) Onderdonk, “The Rise of the Society of Friends in Flushing.” The Meeting House kept records of sufferings of Friends throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which these clippings reflect.

(54.) Sydney E. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1972), 210.

(55.) Onderdonk, “The Rise of the Society of Friends in Flushing.” The footnote from the Meeting House record adds: “The Act of Parliament allowed Friends the privilege of worshiping God without molestation provided the place of worship be certified to the justices of the peace at the Sessions, and recorded, and that the meeting be held without the doors locked, barred, or bolted. In 1704 3d mo. John Rodman, Samuel Haight and Thos. Stevenson were desired to present our meeting houses and places to Court to be recorded.”

(56.) Jon Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990), 175, 164–165.

(57.) Ibid., 182.

(58.) Letter from Rev. Thomas Colgan to the Secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, November 22, 1740, in Documentary History of the State of New-York, ed. E. B. Callaghan (Albany, N.Y., 1850), 3: 316–317.

(p.247) (59.) Ibid., September 29, 1746.

(60.) Letter from Rev. Samuel Seabury to the Secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, October 10, 1759, in Documentary History of the State of New-York, ed. E. B. Callaghan (Albany, N.Y., 1850), 3:321.

(61.) Ibid., March 28, 1760.

(64.) See Edmund A. Stanley Jr., Of Men and Dreams: The Story of the People of Bowne & Co. and the Fulfillment of Their Dreams in the Company’s Two Hundred Years from 1775 to 1975 (New York, 1975).

(65.) Historical Commission of Macedonia African Methodist Episcopal Church, Journal on “The History of Macedonia” commemorating History Day at the church on January 16, 1977. Also see Richard Newman, Freedom’s Prophet: Bishop Richard Allen, the AME Church, and the Black Founding Fathers (New York: NYU Press, 2009).

(66.) Ibid. Also see Marty, Pilgrims in Their Own Land, 238–239. Ahlstrom offers this explanation on the Methodist Episcopal connection: “The Methodist predicament was entwined with the Anglican because it originated as a revival movement within the Church of England.” A Religious History of the American People, 370.

(67.) Historical Commission of Macedonia African Methodist Episcopal Church, Journal on “The History of Macedonia.”

(68.) Ibid.

(69.) The Queens Historical Society, Angels of Deliverance: The Underground Railroad in Queens, Long Island, and Beyond (Flushing, N.Y., 1999).

(70.) See Kathleen G. Velsor, “Quaker Families and Their Connections: The Long Island Origins of the Anti-Slavery Movement” and “The Queens Freedom Trail,” in Queens Historical Society, Angels of Deliverance.

(71.) Samuel Bowne Parsons obituary, Brooklyn Eagle (January 5, 1906). Cited in James Driscoll, “Flushing in the Early Nineteenth Century,” in Queens Historical Society, Angels of Deliverance, 81.

(72.) For more on Quaker pacifism, see Meredith Baldwin Weddle, Walking in the Way of Peace: Quaker Pacifism in the Seventeenth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).

(73.) Ibid. The charter was later revised and village boundaries expanded in 1839 and 1873, changing to current limits with consolidation into the city in 1898.

(75.) Vincent F. Seyfried, The Civil War Era in Flushing (Garden City, N.Y., 2002), 1.

(76.) For more on Bowne’s mayoralty, see City of New York, Minutes of the Common Council of the City of New York, 1784–1831, vol. XVII–XVIII (New York, 1917).

(p.248) (77.) Flushing, Old Town Records, 1833–1863, in the New York City Municipal Archives.

(78.) Flushing Journal (July 12, 1862); cited by Seyfried, The Civil War Era in Flushing, 117. The Flushing Journal began in 1842 and was the major local paper throughout the nineteenth century. The Queens historian Vincent F. Seyfried has laboriously indexed the entire span of the paper and made it available to the Long Island Division at the Queens Borough Public Library, Jamaica Branch.

(79.) See Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith, 221, 257–258, 268–270; and Sidney E. Mead, “Denominationalism: The Shape of Protestantism in America,” in The Lively Experiment: The Shaping of Christianity in America (New York: Harper and Row, 1963).

(80.) Flushing Journal (August 4, 1854): 2. Cited in James Driscoll, “Flushing in the Early Nineteenth Century,” in Queens Historical Society, Angels of Deliverance, 83.

(81.) G. Henry Mandeville, Flushing, Past and Present: A Historical Sketch (Flushing, N.Y., 1860), 169. Mandeville notes: “It is a singular circumstance that a church of this denomination should not have existed here at an earlier date; particularly when we remember that the first religious teacher in Flushing [William Wickenden] entertained their views in relation to the ordinance of Baptism.”

(82.) Flushing Bible Society, Third Annual Report (Flushing, N.Y., 1857), 8–12. For the report, the society enlisted the services of a Mr. Alfred Cauldwell, who visited 1,764 families in Flushing and conducted an informal religious census as he distributed Bibles and religious tracts in English and German (for the large number of German immigrants).

(83.) Flushing Journal (September 16, 1854).

(84.) Flushing Journal (April 7, 1855). For more on the Know-Nothings, see Tyler Anbinder, Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).

(86.) This was quite a different stance than a century earlier, when much of Queens County was loyalist during the American Revolution, except Newtown. On August 7, 1776, in the Battle of Long Island, British forces defeated Washington, who retreated to Manhattan. The British then occupied Queens for seven years until they were completely evacuated in November 1783, leaving a ravaged countryside. In Flushing, the Friends Meeting House was taken over briefly by British troops and used as a hospital.

(87.) Flushing Journal (March 22, 1862).

(88.) Flushing Journal (December 24, 1864).

(89.) Seyfried, The Civil War Era in Flushing, 153. Mainly, Seyfried says, this meant renovation, change of ministers, etc.; also adding that “these events are sparingly chronicled.”

(90.) Flushing Journal (January 4, 1862); cited by Seyfried.

(p.249) (91.) Flushing Journal (October 19, 1861); cited by Seyfried. For more on First Baptist, see Rev. MacKenzie Pier, “First Baptist Church of Flushing: A Portrait of Heaven,” Community Transformation Papers for Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary (October 1998).

(92.) Flushing, Old Town Records, in the New York City Municipal Archives. For an excellent study of a similarly diverse city’s struggle with pluralism in the nineteenth century in which Irish and German Catholic immigrants also staged a major political turnaround, see David A. Gerber, The Making of an American Pluralism: Buffalo, New York, 1825–60 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989).

(93.) Jim Driscoll, Research Director of Queens Historical Society, interview with author, March 20, 2001.

(95.) J. Carpenter Smith, History of Saint George’s Parish, Flushing Long Island (Flushing, N.Y., 1897); Henry D. Waller, History of the Town of Flushing Long Island, New York (Flushing, N.Y., 1899).

(96.) Rev. Hubert S. Wood, sermon at St. George’s Episcopal Church on the occasion of Flushing’s Centennial celebration as an incorporated village in 1837; cited in the Long Island Daily Star (November 8, 1937).