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The Dongan Charter

THE DONGAN CHARTER of the king. Despite this permission the seal of 1686 has never been broken and remade. It is still the seal of the city, and in its design it has been little changed. One of the Indian supporters and the cross that arched over him were replaced at a later colonial day by the figure of a sailor. After the Revolution the shape of the shield was changed, the legend was differently disposed, and the surmounting royal crown (not a `coronet' as is said in the technical description) was superseded by an eagle rising from a demi-globe, a device taken from the State arms adopted in 1777. The arms themselves have not been altered. They still show the beaver, chosen by the Dutch as the main emblem for the seal of New Netherland and as the crest for the seal of New Amsterdam, grouped with the windmill sails and flour barrels that typified the commercial development of the city under its English rulers. There was never any motto.

The seal in its later colonial form, with a sailor as one of the supporters, may be seen, printed in its proper colors, in the first volume of the published Minutes of the Common Council. But so generally has its history been forgotten that the accompanying text calls it the seal in its original form and says that it was bestowed by King James.

Albany, inspired by the success of New York, also asked for incorporation as a city and, largely through the efforts of Robert Livingston, obtained a charter similar to that of the capital. Signed by the governor on July 26, 1686, a few days after he signed the patent for the of Livingston, it remained the constitution of Albany until after the Revolu tion. From the Van Rensselaers Dongan had secured a re lease of their claim to Albany itself, which some years before the legal advisers of the Duke of York had pronounced valid, and to an adjacent strip of territory which he gave the city, making its area as defined by its charter thirteen miles in length along the river and one mile in width. The city was organized and was to be administered in the same way as New York except that it was divided into three wards instead of six. It was given the same right to make freemen of the city'; these freemen were entitled, of course, to the suffrage rights that had been secured by the assembly to freemen in all corporations'; and to them was strictly reserved that right to traffic with the Indians `living within and to the eastward, northward, and westward' of Albany County which Andros had thought a fair offset to the rights conferred upon Man hattan by the Bolting Acts and which, said the charter, the men of Albany had anciently possessed, even since the days of the Dutch governors.

As the first mayor of Albany Dongan appointed Peter Schuyler, a son of the immigrant Philip Pietersen, and as town clerk, which meant clerk of the mayor's court too, Schuyler's brother-in-law Robert Livingston. He also con tinued Livingston in office as deputy-collector and receiver of the king's revenues for the northern parts of the province. These posts, Dongan hoped, might afford Livingston a com petent maintenance.' The hope was more than fulfilled. Combined with the secretaryship of the board of Indian commissioners they gave their incumbent not only much power in public affairs but also many chances to profit per sonally by the Indian traffic and the purchase of Indian lands.

In 1691, it may be noted, Philadelphia obtained a municipal charter which seems to have been inoperative as it was re newed in 1701. More numerous in the colonies were incorpo rated boroughs, like Annapolis in Maryland which was gov erned by commissioners and trustees.' But, cities and boroughs together, only nineteen were created in the colonies, most of them during the eighteenth century and, excepting one or two which existed only on paper, all of them in the cen tral provinces — New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. Although New York's little satel lite Brooklyn grew rapidly after the Revolution, it was not incorporated as a city until 1834.

After the granting of the Dongan Charter the sources of the revenue of the city of New York appear more plainly than before, and the approximate amount they yielded can better be estimated. As the higher officials received no salaries, the main regular outlays were for the city watch (about £150 a year), for the pay of the clerk, sergeant-at-mace, and public whipper, and for repairs to municipal property. They were usually defrayed by the receipts from licenses, freedoms, and the dock and ferry, and from local taxes authorized by act of assembly. To meet special outlays not thus provided for, the city sold portions of its lands; and this practice it began at once. On May 11 the mayor reported to the common council that he had paid Governor Dongan £300 and Secretary Spragge £24 in return for the charter and had 'taken the same up at ten per cent interest to be paid in a year.' With out delay the common council discharged the debt by selling fourteen lots on the water-front between the docks and the City Hall for £470, a rate of more than £1 per front foot, and sixteen acres on the North River shore near the present Gansevoort Street for £15.

And these measures merely established for the province the current unquestioned customs of England where, in the time of Charles II, even the highest courts of justice were chiefly supported by fees.

Modern criticisms of Dongan's conduct are based partly upon ignorance of these clear facts, partly upon accusations made in the governor's own day by a subordinate who was soon afterwards dismissed from the king's service. In 1686 Dongan was accusing the collector of customs, Lucas Santen, of gross malfeasance in office and partially excusing him by the suppo sition that he was not in his right mind. In return Santen

was bringing various charges against the governor, among them the charge of extortion. But, answering him in a report written in 1687, Dongan said that it was not true that Albany had given him £700 for its charter; it had promised him £300; and this was not 'near ' what his perquisites would have amounted to, for, as fixed by a committee appointed by the assembly to establish all fees, they were `ten shillings for every house and the like for every hundred acres patented by me.' Santen himself had sat on the council when the renewal of all land patents was decided upon and, moreover, had been chairman of the committee on fees. Van Rensselaer, the governor also explained, had paid him £200 for his manorial patent, and this again did not nearly equal his lawful per quisites, the patroon having a ' vast tract of land.' In general, he pledged his word, he had not got from his people a fourth part of his perquisites, preferring `rather to want than take from the poor people who cannot spare it.' Undoubtecgan _had_ to profit and actually tried to •rofit by his administration ofewor .Except in the case o overnor was e • ever-a-proprietor of New York bestowed and one of his friends or dependetsd_the-goi. -Nor was a gov ernor forbidcIsaisLaccpair • • 'Is as he was orbidden to trade) It has been shown that the Duke's Laws • free e • a a gov ernor should be given two lots at the `seating' of every new town, and nothing prohibited him from getting more lots or lands except such general precepts as bound him to care for the interests of his master and his people.

The whole tenor of Dongan's official life supports his statement that he used his rights and privileges with modera tion; and his moderation was all the more laudable because the depleted state of the provincial treasury constantly obliged him to meet public needs from his private purse. He had come from England, he explained, in a `time of disorder' before a revenue was settled. He had been compelled 'to disburse all that little stock' which he had, to engage his credit to carry on the king's affairs, and even to pawn his plate; and the per quisites he had since obtained he had likewise been obliged to spend.

It is not known just when or how he acquired on Staten Island a large estate, named the Manor of Castleton after the Dongan estate in Ireland, which on March 31, 1687, he con veyed to Judge Palmer and which on April 16 Palmer con veyed to 'Thomas Dongan' for a `competent sum of money.' As these transactions have never been clearly explained it has sometimes been assumed that there was something illegal or underhand about them. But there is nothing to support this assumption, and it is possible that the conveyance was from the governor to Palmer, who acted as his land agent in his personal dealings and in his dealings on behalf of his royal master, and from Palmer not back to the governor but to a nephew of the same name. The limits of the Manor of Castleton cannot now be accurately traced, but it is known that they embraced the site of the present town of Castleton and much of the adjoining country where the names Dongan Hills and Dongan Street also exist. It is said that the manor house was built in 1688 and that the original oaken frame still survives within a modernized exterior.

Three months after the few liberties and the many privi leges of the city of New York were secured to it by charter those that the province had acquired were wholly swept away.

Although Joseph Dudley had received his commission as president of the provincial government framed for Massa chusetts and the districts annexed to it in September, 1685, he did not set up his government until May, 1686. As soon as the writs issued in the previous year were served, Rhode Island thought best to make its submission to the crown, surrendering its charter, while Connecticut continued to in struct its agents in England to defend its charter and implored the king to recall the writ. Governor Treat of Connecticut urged Dongan to second its prayers. Dongan advised sub mission and, sending Secretary Spragge in November as a spe cial messenger to the king, explained again that New York could hardly exist without the annexation of the adjacent colonies. It might indeed be as easy, Treat wrote him, to fall westward as eastward. Should such a thing happen, Dongan answered, the change would be made as easy as possible for Connecticut, adding: I shall say nothing of Boston or any other place. You know what this is; and I am sure we live as happily as any in America — if we did but know it. The condition of our neighbors will best commend us.

Dudley soon knew that his government was to be short lived, for in June the king had issued a commission as governor general of the ' Territory and Dominion of New England in America' to Sir Edmund Andros. This new dominion em braced Dudley's government and Plymouth Colony which had never had a royal charter; within a few months Connecti cut and Rhode Island were added to it; and it then included everything between the French frontier at the east and the boundary of New York proper at the west, even the Pemaquid dependency of New York. Thus the vision of a united New England that Sir Ferdinand() Gorges had cherished in the early days of colonization was realized at last ; and no one can have foreseen that the reality would prove scarcely more substantial than the dream.

All power, legislative and executive, was conferred upon the governor of the great province and a council appointed by 311

city, york, governor, albany and seal