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The Dongan Charter

THE DONGAN CHARTER. Know ye therefore, That I, the said Thomas Dongan, by virtue of the commission and authority unto me given, and power in me resid ing, at the humble petition of the now Mayor, Aldermen, and Common alty of the said city of New York, and for divers other good causes and considerations . . . for and on behalf of his most sacred majesty aforesaid, his heirs, successors, and assigns, do give, grant, ratify, and confirm unto the said Mayor, Aldermen, and Commonalty of the said city, all and every such and the same liberties, privileges, franchises, rights, royalties, free customs, jurisdictions, and immunities, which they by the name of The Mayor and Commonalty, or otherwise, have anciently had, held, used, or enjoyed. . . . — The Charter of the City of New York. 1686.

Governor Dongan had been instructed to give especial attention to the matter of quit-rents and to call to account any owners of large tracts who had not begun to improve them. When he took office, he reported, scarcely any quit rents were coming in, the existing grants being almost all renewals of older ones stipulating at the most for nominal rents. Therefore he ordered that all titles, including town patents and those for city lots, should be brought in again for renewal. This the people did, he said, without the least murmuring. They were convinced that for the sake of them selves and their posterity it was wise to get clear titles lest they fall 'under the lash of succeeding governors.' Moreover, in townships where Dongan discovered that certain tracts of land, never having been bought of the Indians, lay at the royal proprietor's disposal the people preferred to pay larger quit-rents rather than have the tracts pass into other hands than their own. Nevertheless, there seems to have been some murmuring when towns and individuals found how hard it was to settle boundaries to every one's satisfaction. Espe cially in eastern Long Island the episode was remembered as a great grievance against Governor Dongan. The work went slowly but was almost finished by the end of the year 1686. In this year New Harlem got a confirmation of its town patent upon which its rights rested until they melted away in the processes of modern municipal reorganization. As late as 1823 Harlem was recognized as a town in acts of legislature, for some years longer in real estate conveyances. A conten tion that its water-front was never legally acquired by the city of New York but still belongs to the multitudinous heirs of the original patentees was ineffectually opened a few years ago.

Although the quit-rents imposed by Dongan would have been considerable in the aggregate had they all been regularly paid, none was individually burdensome. Breuckelen, for ex ample, promised annually twenty bushels of 'good merchant able wheat,' New Harlem the same, Newtown £3, 4s. in money 'at colonial rates.' The rents were paid to the king's collector until after the Revolutionary War when the State of New York, taking the place of the crown, provided by act of legislature for the extinguishing of past and future obliga tions. Accordingly Brookland, as Brooklyn was then called, paid in 1786 £105, 10s., says the treasurer's receipt, 'in full for the arrears of quit-rent and commutation for the future quit-rent' ; and, to give another example, in 1815 Newtown paid upon the same terms $347.18.

In 1686 Dongan found it needful to establish a `court of judicature' (exchequer), with himself and his councillors as judges, to try questions arising between the king and his subjects concerning his lands, rights, and revenues. The `country jurors' to whom they must otherwise be submitted, he explained, were 'ignorant enough,' swayed by their own `humors and interests,' and 'linked together by affinity.' Very closely linked by affinity were the owners of most of those landed estates which were now beginning to assume importance in the way of size although in other ways few of them had appreciable value before the second quarter of the eighteenth century.

Frederick Philipse was so enlarging by successive purchases the estate he had acquired from the heirs of Adriaen Van der Donck that before the end of the seventeenth century it cov ered a great triangular tract with the base line running along the Harlem River from the Hudson to the Bronx and the apex at the point where the Croton River enters the Hudson. North of his lands lay those of Stephanus Van Cortlandt, including almost all the northern part of Westchester County and stretching for ten miles along the Hudson and eastward for twenty miles to the Connecticut border with an additional tract west of the Hudson. Neither Philipse nor Van Cort landt secured a manorial patent until after Dongan's day, but the house then known as the Van Cortlandt Manor House, which still stands at the mouth of the Croton River and is still owned by the family, was built most probably in 1683, a fort like structure with thick stone walls pierced by loopholes. Philipse's two manor houses, one of which as altered and en larged in 1745 now serves as the City Hall of Yonkers while the other, as solid as Van Cortlandt's and called Castle Phil ipse, stands at Sleepy Hollow, are said to date from 1682. Probably they are not quite so old ; but the Dutch church which Philipse built at Sleepy Hollow was begun, it is be lieved, in 1684. This also is still standing.

Dongazi_renewed the manorial patents given by his prede cessors ancLig1685 erected one patroonshi nsselaerswyck, which then embraced a good deal more than 700,00 acres or 1150 square miles, stretching back from the Hudson twenty-four miles toward the east and the west and covering virtually the whole of what are now Albany, Rensselaer, and Schenectady Counties, almost all of Columbia County, and part of Greene, an extent that it pre served throughout the colonial period. By. Dongan's time the last of the heirs of the co-partners of the first patroon had sold out their rights. After the death of Domine Van Rens selaer there was question again as to who should have control of the property. Dongan bestowed it in common and in trust for the `right heirs' of the first patroon upon two cousins who were both named Kiliaen, one the son of Jan Baptist Van Rensselaer, the other the son of Jeremias. The first-named, as son of the elder brother, ranked as the third patroon of Rensselaerswyck and the first lord of the manor until his death in 1687; then his cousin became the fourth patroon, the second lord of the manor. Kiliaen the third patroon was the first who came to America. Through Kiliaen the fourth patroon and his brother Hendrick all the American Van Rensselaers trace back to Jeremias and the daughter of Olaf Stevensen Van Cortlandt.

In Dutchess County, below the present site of Hudson, Robert Livingston had acquired from the Inians more than 16,000 acres which stretched twelve miles along the river and, widening out toward the east, some twenty miles along the Massachusetts border. In July, 1686, Dongan erected this great tract of untouched wilderness into the Manor of Livingston upon the promise of an annual quit-rent of twenty-eight shillings. Like his other manorial patents this one conferred one the 'lord' the power to erect courts but ordered that his tenantsshould elect assessors and pay taxes to the general.

Robert Livingston was the son of a prominent Scotch min ister who after the Restoration was banished for non-conform ity and retired to Rotterdam where he had charge of a Pres byterian church. Born at Ancram in Scotland in 1654 but brought up and educated in Holland, Robert spoke Dutch and French as fluently as English. He came to New York in 1674 and settled at Albany. Marrying Alida Schuyler, the widow of Domine Van Rensselaer, he allied himself to two families which, with the one he himself founded, so grew in wealth and influence that they dominated for a long period of time the northern parts of the province. After vainly urg governoraLt as did the free ravine e • • 1 • • ' • et ing Governor Andros to order a division of the patroonship so that he might obtain the share which, he said, was his wife's by virtue of her first marriage, Robert agreed to take instead an allowance in money from the Van Rensselaers. It was many years before his own estate, so magnificent in size and dignified in name, had any inhabitants. But Andros had made Livingston secretary to the board of Indian commis sioners which he established at Albany as well as clerk of the local court, and these offices opened a profitable career to a man who was able, industrious, thrifty, unscrupulous within the limits of the law, and eager above all things to amass money and lands. All through his life he was prominent in public events and undertakings, never holding high office but always exerting great influence as a patient, time-serving politician who made his wealth useful to the government in ways which eventually increased it for himself.

Most important of all the patents defining new grants or confirming old ones that Governor Dongan bestowed was the charter which, in April, 1686, he gave to the city of New York — the first true charter it secured although it had been a city for thirty-three years.

On the copy of the city magistrates' petition for a charter which Dongan had forwarded to the Duke of York in 1683 are certain indorsements indicating that the duke's advisers were considering whether a new charter should be given with the desired additions' to one which, they believed, the city already possessed and which, they said, it must surrender lest in getting new privileges it should claim old ones that might prevent the governor from exercising proper control over 'the regulating, confirming, or discharging of officers.' But there are no other proofs that the matter was then con sidered; and there are none to show that, as king, James authorized the governor to bestow the charter, always called the Dongan Charter, which New York still regards as its most precious documentary possession. In 1684, however, the duke had again instructed Dongan to be strict in keeping the benefits of trade for the inhabitants of the city; and presum ably the governor thought that the capital was well entitled to a charter at a time when he was renewing those that many lesser towns had possessed for many years.

Drafted by the mayor and recorder, Bayard and Graham, the charter was carefully considered by the higher authorities. The minutes of the governor's council show that it was under examination in the latter part of February but was not 'read and allowed' until April 26. On the 27th it was completed by the addition of Dongan's bold signature. A copy of it was sent of course to the king. Another was incorporated in the minutes of the common council in the year 1693. The original, long confided from year to year to the keeping of the mayor in office, the Public Library now guards for the city. Beautifully engrossed on five very large and thick sheets of parchment, it is so massive, so imposing to the eye, that it seems to have been prepared as a guaranty of the liberties not of a little colonial capital of some four thousand inhabit ants but of a city like the New York of to-day. Once pen dant from it but long ago detached by the hand of time is an impression of the large provincial seal bestowed when Love lace was governor in 1669, protected by a silver box bearing on its cover the inscription : 'N. Bayard Esqr Mayor, 1686.' Three indorsements may be read on the charter itself. One notes that it was duly recorded in the Book of Patents in the office of the secretary of the province; another, signed by Queen Anne's collector in 1713, says that he had received from the city treasurer 'twenty-seven beaver skins in full for twenty-seven years' quit-rent of the within charter to the 27th of April last' ; and the third, dated in 1729, bears similar witness to the payment of sixteen skins.

The charter explains that as New York was an 'ancient city' having many privileges, emoluments, and immunities secured to it 'as well by prescription as by charter, letters patent, grants, and confirmations' from the governors of the province of New York and from those of 'the Nether Dutch nation' while the province was ' under their power and sub jection,' and as it owned much property in lands and buildings including a ' City Hall or Stathouse,' for these and other reasons and upon petition of the magistrates Governor Don gan was pleased to confirm, in the name of the king and his heirs, all the existing rights of the city and all prior grants of property to individuals. In addition the charter gave the city all existing and future ferries, docks, and wharves, all streets with the power to lay out new ones provided it would not take any man's property except with his consent or by `some known law' of the province, and — what Dongan had previously denied to it — all the ' waste, vacant, unpatented, and unappropriated' lands on the island of Manhattan `ex tending and reaching to the low-water mark,' with all coves, ponds, rivers, and lesser water-courses. For these rights and privileges old and new the city was to pay to the king and his heirs and successors a ' quit-rent or acknowl edgment' of one beaver skin or the value thereof in current money of the province on the twenty-fifth day of March `yearly forever.' As the property of the crown the charter reserved Fort James and a house adjoining it; a house next to the City Hall, undoubtedly the one that Governor Lovelace had built for an inn; the `governor's garden' by the gate in the wall, once Governor Stuyvesant's; and 'the land without the gate called the King's Farm' with the swamp between it and the Fresh Water or Kalck Hoek Pond. The King's Farm was of course the tract, previously called the Duke's Farm, which included the West India Company's Farm and the Domine's Bowerie sold to Lovelace by the heirs of Annetje Jans.

Adopting with some alterations the arrangements made in 1683, the charter established a municipal corporation consisting of a mayor, recorder, and town clerk, six alder men, and six assistants. The other city officials it named were a treasurer or chamberlain, a sheriff, a coroner, a clerk of the market, a marshal or sergeant-at-mace, a high con stable, and seven petty or sub-constables — seven because one of the six wards, the Out Ward, was now divided into two parts, the Bowery Division and the Harlem Division.

Continuing the actual incumbents in their offices, the charter shows that the mayor, three of the aldermen, and five of the assistants chanced just then to be Dutch while the recorder, the clerk, three aldermen, and one assistant were English or Scotch. For the future, it prescribed, annually on Michaelmas Day (September 29) the governor in council should appoint the mayor and sheriff, and the freemen of each ward should elect an alderman, an assistant, and a petty constable. October 14, the birthday of the Duke of York, had usually been chosen for the installation of the city officials. Now the birthday of the king, it was named in the charter as the day when, annually, mayor and sheriff were to take their oaths before the governor in council.

The corporation was to appoint its own treasurer, the mayor to appoint the high constable. The governor, representing the king, was to appoint the recorder, town clerk, and clerk of the market who were all to serve during his pleasure but to take their oaths before the mayor and aldermen.

The term 'common council,' as the charter shows, meant the municipal corporation as a whole in its legislative capacity. But in ordinary parlance the assistant aldermen were called specifically `common councilmen,' or sometimes even `the common council,' because they shared in the legislative duties of their associates but not in their judicial duties; they had no place on the bench of the mayor's court. The charter also calls the common councilmen `the commonalty ' ; in fact, it decrees that the style and title of the corporation shall be ' The Mayor, Aldermen, and Commonalty of the City of New York.' To the mayor's court it gives its modern name, a `court of common pleas.' Both these names were currently used, sometimes in the same document. The mayor, the recorder, and not less than three nor more than five aldermen were to be sworn as justices of the peace to form the court of sessions of the county. The town clerk was also the clerk of the courts.

The provisions of the Bolting Acts were not incorporated in the charter although the magistrates had asked that they should be. The mayor was given the power, which Dongan had recently said belonged to the governor, to grant licenses to liquor sellers. They were not to cost more than thirty shillings each. And the mayor, recorder, and aldermen were empowered to make `free citizens' or 'freemen of the city,' as holders of burgher-right were called in English, at a price not to exceed £5. Only those persons could become freemen of the city who were natural-born subjects of his Majesty, who had been naturalized by act of assembly, or who held letters of denization from a governor — denization being a kind of semi-naturalization well known in England and also in New York from its earliest English days. It conferred the right to trade and to hold real property but might at any time be revoked. In having no trade guilds, it may be remarked, New York escaped an influence which for generations restricted the admission of freemen in London and in many other Eng lish cities and boroughs.

Thus the Dongan Charter assimilated the government of New York to that of an English city with some appointed and some elected officials. It did not grant the request, preferred three years before, that the mayor should be chosen from among the elected aldermen. It tacitly abolished the office of deputy-mayor, and, as it failed to provide for the filling of any office that might fall vacant during the year, this was soon felt as a serious defect. A technical defect was the fact that the charter was sealed with the ducal seal of the province, rendered obsolete by the duke's accession to the throne.

At the time, the charter was especially prized as confirming property rights. The liberties it granted were not as great as those that New Amsterdam had enjoyed during its latter years. No longer, as in these years and during many of the years since the English had come in, did the magistrates nominate candidates from whom the governor chose the mayor. They were permitted to lay no taxes except by special authority of the assembly. And their independence was limited furthermore by the provision that a municipal law or ordinance should remain in force for only three months unless confirmed by the governor in council. Yet the elected municipal officers had more power in certain directions, especially over the number and functions of subordinate officials, than they have to-day.

Taken as a whole, wrote the great New York jurist Chan cellor Kent in 1836, the Dongan Charter `may be said to have laid the basis of a plan of government for a great city,' a plan the `broad foundations' of which were in after years ' built upon, enlarged, and improved'; and, he added: When we consider the time when, and the power from whom, this charter emanated, we cannot but admire the enlightened sense which it displays of the sanctity of corporate and private rights, the cautious manner with which they are treated, and the provident guards enacted for their security.

Until modern times this city charter of 1686 remained al most unchanged. Two others were given in colonial days but each of them reiterated the whole of the Dongan Charter and then proceeded to enlarge rather than to modify it. The second of them, bestowed in 1730, withstood, says Kent, `the shock of the American Revolution, which suspended its func tions '; it was confirmed by the State constitution of 1777 and again by that of 1821; in Kent's own time it preserved `much of its original form' as well as substance and spirit; and it has been the foundation upon which more recent and elaborate municipal charters have been constructed.

Until the Revolution all the mayors of New York except one who was elected during the Leisler period were appointed by the governor of the province, thereafter and until 1821 by the governor of the State and the council of appointment, and then by the common council until 1834, when the power passed into the hands of the people. Executive power was not transferred from the common council to an independent department until 1849. Assistant aldermen existed until 1870. Throughout colonial times the mayor and sheriff took their oaths on October 14, the birthday of the first English proprietor of New York, and until 1800 September 29 remained the date for municipal elections.

The corporation of the city, said the Dongan Charter, should have a `common seal.' It is sometimes said that the city seal thereupon put in service was bestowed by James II, but very certainly the city bestowed it upon itself. There is no mention of it in the documents of the period preserved in England and none in the minutes of Dongan's council. On the other hand, the minutes of the common council say that at the session of July 24, 1686, `the mayor presented the new seal of the city' which was `agreed upon and ordered to be the common seal of this city' and to remain, like the charter, `in the custody of the mayor for the time being.' The sup position that it was ordered, designed, and made in New York is borne out by the fact that a few months later the governor in council directed that seals should be made for the courts of exchequer and oyer and terminer, and that the courts of sessions in the several counties should likewise provide them selves with seals. Moreover, the rude drawing and cutting revealed by early impressions of the city seal help to prove that it must have been of local origin. It has been thus described: Sable, mill-sails in saltire, a beaver in chief and base, and a flour barrel, proper, on each side, surmounted by a coronet ; supporters, two Indian chiefs proper; the one on the dexter side holds a war club in his right hand; the one on the sinister holds in his left hand a bow. In the dexter corner over the Indian's head is a cross patriarchal, as emblematic of the gospel to which he is subject. On the scroll, SIGILL. CIVITAT : NOV. EBORAC. The whole is surrounded by a wreath of laurel.

The charter gave the corporation power to `break, change, alter, and remake' its seal when and as often as might seem convenient — a further proof that the seal was not the gift 305

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