Friday, January 08, 2010

That Stuy Guy

Peg Leg Pete #1
Stuyvesant Square, taken last fall

If you live in the greater New York area, you are no doubt familiar with the name Stuyvesant.

Perhaps you have a friend with a sweet apartment in Stuy Town. (Oh, the closet space!) Maybe you've been warned to stay away from Bed-Stuy (a Brooklyn neighborhood that can be...a little rough around the edges).

Or maybe you once supervised an intern who went to Stuyvesant High School, and who engaged in the following conversation with another of your employees, regarding a busted printer:

Employee: The printer is getting reamed!
Intern: A pun is the lowest form of humor.
Employee: Well, whoever said that is an idiot.
Intern: I think it was Shakespeare.1 That guy is an idiot. I wrote a
play last year that was better than any of his.
Employee: What was it about?
Intern: Racist circus people.
(Lest you begin to think badly about the caliber of Stuy High students, let me clarify that the school specializes in math & science, not play-writing. And this particular intern was very skilled in other areas, such as writing development code and talking smack.)

But back to my point: the name Stuyvesant shows up all around town, attached to parks and housing developments, neighborhoods and schools.

But where did the name Stuyvesant come from? Until recently, the extent of my knowledge was that Peter Stuyvesant was "some old Dutch guy" and I was content to leave it at that.

Then I heard someone refer to him as "Peg Leg Pete" and I said, "Hold the phone!" If this guy had a peg leg, then I wanted to know more. So I did a little research, and here's what I learned...
Peter Stuyvesant served as the governor of the New Netherland colony, until the Dutch ceded control to the English in 1664.

Peter was born in the Netherlands, in the northern area called Friesland. (As a point of reference, today fellas from Friesland are often considered to be backwoods farmboys by their more cosmopolitan cousins in Amsterdam.) He grew up in Scherpenzeel, which is really fun to say. Scherpenzeel.

Peter joined the Dutch West India Company (how do you like that farmboy now?!) and was stationed in Curacao. (As a point of reference, I have never tried Curacao liqueur, because I do not care for drinks that are blue.)

During a battle for the island of St. Martin, Peter was wounded by a cannonball. His leg was later amputated and replaced with a wooden peg. Henceforth: Peg Leg Pete.

Unfortunately, the one-legged man had a thing for persecuting Lutherans and Quakers, and he was no friend to the Jews, either. Interesting, as there is a well-known Quaker meeting house and Quaker school adjacent to the park where his statue stands (pictured above). Oh, the irony.

Stuyvesant seems to have been somewhat contentious and ill-tempered, and a bit despotic in his rule of the colony. He was not well-loved, but he got a lot done. The population of New Amsterdam increased dramatically under his govern, as living conditions correspondingly improved. Streets were paved, safety measures instituted, fortresses strengthened, and commerce championed.

After the British took control (New Amsterdam --> New York), Stuyvesant lived out the rest of his days on his farm on the isle of Manhattan. In 1836, one of Peg Leg Pete’s descendents (Peter Gerard Stuyvesant) sold a few acres of the family farm to the city of New York, and this land is now Stuyvesant Square. The statue there bears witness to Peter the elder’s legacy.

Now, let’s have a closer look at that peg leg:
Peg Leg Pete, Up Close #1

1 Nope.

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