A Queens man began his odyssey on Monday from Flushing’s Bowne House to kick off a campaign to return the historical Flushing Remonstrance document from Albany to the place where it originated in 1657.
Greg Godfrey of Forest Hills, vice chairman of the Flushing Remonstrance Committee, will trace the journey of John Bowne, a Flushing farmer, who was deported in 1662 by Gov. Peter Stuyvesant for allowing Quakers to meet in his house.
Bowne, whose historic house still stands on Bowne Street, won his case. The Dutch West India Company notified Stuyvesant to end religious persecution.
Five years earlier, the Remonstrance was written by Flushing residents and is considered the first written document proclaiming religious freedom in the United States. The 29 signers, some of whom were illiterate and left an “X” for their signatures, were protesting Stuyvesant’s ban on meetings by the Quakers.
“I’m going to Holland on a personal journey to thank the country (for siding with Bowne),” Godfrey said. “Tolerance is perceived as inaccessible around the world, but we have achieved it in Flushing and it is more important that the document be here.”
The Remonstrance is kept in the New York state archives with other colonial papers that deal with such matters as trading cattle. It is not accessible to the public and, while in the care of the state, was partially burned during a fire in Albany in 1911.
David Oats, a former newspaper editor who lives in Forest Hills, has been actively involved in the campaign for years and says now is the time to return it. “This week we are delivering a packet to Albany for the governor, the state archives and the legislature,” he said. “This is non-negotiable. We want the Remonstrance on permanent loan to the Queens Museum of Art.”
Jim Folts, supervisor of reference services at the archive in Albany, said Tuesday that the state does loan documents, but for only a short period of time. “Reputable organizations (such as museums) can apply and there is a review process to ensure the proper environment,” Folts said. “Loans are usually for no more than three months because even a small amount of light can cause degradation to the document.”
Oats, who is chairman of the Flushing Remonstrance Committee, has received approval from the museum’s board and its director, Tom Finkelpearl, for the request.
“The state says it would require security, a temperature-controlled display and proper lighting. Well, the museum has promised all that,” Oats said. “What better place than in a museum near where the document was signed.”
His group will hold a news conference with religious leaders at the museum on April 17th to urge the governor to allow the document to be moved in time for its 350th anniversary in December 2007.
Meanwhile, Oats has created a Web site where residents can sign a petition asking the governor to give the document back to the Flushing community. To access it, go to www.flushingremonstrance.org.
The document has only been brought back to Flushing three times in its long history. Six years ago, Oats put pressure on the state and was able to have it displayed at the Flushing Library. Prior to that, the Remonstrance was brought back on its 300th anniversary, when a postage stamp was issued, and during the 1976 U.S. bicentennial.
“It is part of our history that has for far too long been forgotten,” Oats said. “Now the push is on to return it to Queens, one of the most ethnically diverse places on earth.”
He called the document “an inspiring example of the courage of the ordinary citizens of 1657, the determination of one man to stand up for freedom and the wisdom and tolerance of the people of the Netherlands to grant this basic right—and a concept that has more meaning in today’s world of religious intolerance.”
Godfrey will spend eight days on his trip and has promised to keep a diary similar to John Bowne’s journey in the 1600s.