Historic Document Comes Home To Queens

This week armed state troopers accompanied three fragile pieces of three-century-old parchment from the state capital in upstate Albany to the heart of downtown Flushing. The three pages are priceless pieces of our nation’s history and brought religious freedom and tolerance to the New World.
The Flushing Remonstrance has came home for the first time in 23 years and on Friday morning civic, religious and governmental officials will gather in the new Flushing Library at Main Street and Kissena Blvd. to witness the unveiling of the Remonstrance which will be on public view at the library from November 19 through December 23, 1999. The Remonstrance, the oldest document in America demanding religious tolerance was originally drafted and signed on Dec. 27, 1657. It will be on view on the building’s third floor International Resource Center. It is accompanied by an exhibit on the history and significance of the document.
The exhibition of the Remonstrance will be accompanied by a series of events that will celebrate diversity, including a day long 17th century fair on Sat., Nov. 20, which will feature a reenactment of the signing of the Remonstrance, complete with actors in period costumes as well as 17th century music, farm animals and craft demonstrations. Admission is free to all events. (For a complete schedule of events and the history of the Remonstrance see special pullout section in the centerfold of this paper.)
The Remonstrance was moved to the State Archives in Albany in the 1800s and basically has remained out of public view in a vault. In the early part of this century a fire destroyed parts of the state capital building. An archivist managed to rescue the Remonstrance from destruction but the 17th century document was badly singed on all sides and these scars are still visible.
The Remonstrance has only returned to its roots in Queens twice before. In 1957 the document was exhibited at the Bowne House and Queens College in Flushing for the 300th anniversary of its adoption. At that time the U.S. Postal Service issued a postage stamp commemorating the Flushing Remonstrance. It returned in 1976 for the U.S. Bicentennial in a special exhibition at the Queens Museum in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
Last year, Queens Courier editor David Oats proposed that the Remonstrance should return to Queens before the end of the century. With the help of Flushing Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin, the State Education Dept. agreed to lend the Remonstrance for a temporary exhibition in Queens if the site contained adequate security, lighting and temperature controls and be accessible for public viewing. Oats proposed the newly opened Flushing Library as an ideal location that met these criteria.
Queens Borough Public Library director Gary Strong jumped at the idea and agreed to host the Remonstrance and exhibit. "We are excited to be the host for this extraordinary document and the library is committed to presenting its timely message on the eve of the new millennium," Strong said. Library staffers have spent a year preparing for the Remonstrance showing and its complementary educational and cultural programming.
Among the events this weekend will be a talk by filmmaker Ric Burne, the director of the acclaimed PBS series "New York: A Documentary Film," currently airing nationwide. Burns will speak at 3 p.m. this Saturday, Nov. 20, at the Flushing Library about 17th Century Dutch Colonial New York. His documentary, which traces New York’s remarkable history, from the arrival of the Dutch in the 17th Century to the present day, airs through Nov. 18 at 9 p.m. on WNET/Channel 13. A Queens Courier discussion on the Remonstrance and the library will air at 8 p.m., Friday, Nov. 17, with library director Strong as the guest. It is on The Queens Courier’s TV program "Queens On The Air" on Queens Public Television (QPTV), Channel 34.
The Remonstrance was a written protest, signed in 1657 by the people of Flushing, who were living under the rule of the Dutch. The settlers were warned by their Dutch governor, Peter Stuyvesant, not to allow Quakers into their homes or towns. The Remonstrance demanded tolerance for all religions and declared that the town was open for all faiths to fully worship. Handed to Governor Stuyvesant more than 340 years ago, this document is largely credited with paving the way toward religious freedom in America and was a precursor of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights which were adopted over 100 years after the signing of the Remonstrance.