Early Schools and Schoolmasters of New Amsterdam Part III

by Emma Van Wechten

The Directors in Holland looked with favor upon the petition of the Burgomasters and Schepens ; but they did not allow their enthusiasm for education to run away with the thrift which throughout the history of Dutch rule marked their dealings with the colonists. They wrote to Stuyvesant:

" The Rev. Domine Drisius has intimated to us more than once that in his opinion it might be serviceable to establish a Latin School for the instruction of the youth, and as we do not disapprove of the plan we have thought it proper to communicate it to you that if you consider it proper to make the experiment you may advise us in what manner it can be effected to the greatest advantage of the Community, and with the least expense to the Company."

As a result of these consultations, the Company, in 1659, dispatched a pedagogue, bearing the portentous name of Alexander Carolus Curtius, to be the classical instructor of the new academy at New Amsterdam, which was to bring such "laud and praise" to all concerned. He started out prosperously. The Burgomasters voted him out of the city-chest a very comfortable salary of two hundred guilders, according to one authority, five hundred according to another, with f1fty in advance.

Besides this, Valentine fits him out with another advance of one hundred florins wherewith to purchase merchandise to set him up in business on his arrival in the colony, and, as if this were not enough, he was granted the use of a house and garden and given permission to practice medicine. The ingrate still complained that the compensation was insuff1cient, and after another anxious consultation between the Director and the city rulers it was agreed that he should be allowed to charge six guilders per quarter for each scholar. His grasping greed overreached itself in the next year, when he charged several of his pupils a whole beaver-skin, worth at least eight guilders. This was too much even for the long-suffering Burgomasters, and Master Curtius found his salary docked for the year.

Other causes of discontent had also arisen. Curtius had brought over with him a fine reputation. He had been a professor in Lithuania, and no doubt was possessed of a vast stock of learning, and had the dead languages at his finger ends ; but unfortunately he had little knowledge of live human nature, and especially boy nature, which apparently was not so unlike in New Amsterdam and New York. The little Dutch pupils laughed to scorn the authority of the new master, and diverted themselves, amid the severe application demanded for a classical education by beating each other and playfully tearing the clothes from each other's backs. Naturally the parents disapproved, and as naturally they visited their displeasure upon the unfortunate instructor, and we can imagine the contumely they heaped upon "this fine professor who charges a whole beaver-skin and cannot even keep order." Yet we can but feel a thrill of sympathetic commiseration for poor Alexander Carolus Curtius when we read his counter-complaint that he was powerless to preserve discipline, because "his hands were tied, as some of the parents forbade him punishing their children."

Wherever the fault lay, it soon became evident that the children were not being trained up in the way they should go, and it resulted in the return of Curtius to Holland and the substitution as head master in the school, of .Aegidius Luyck. This new incumbent, who was established as principal of the Latin School in 1662, proved entirely satisfactory. He was only twenty-two years old, but so staid in character, so firm in discipline, and of such high repute in scholarship that he made the academy well known far and wide. New Amsterdam began to find itself advancing to the front rank in educational advantages among the American settlements, and not only ceased to send youth to New England,

but drew to itself pupils from far-away colonies—two at least being recorded from Virginia, others from the settlements on the Delaware, and two, with the promise of more, from Fort Orange."

On the capture of New Amsterdam by the English, Luyck returned to his native land to study theology; but later he came back to this city, then New York, married a relative of Director Stuyvesant, to whose sons he had been private tutor before taking charge of the Latin School, and continued his useful career of teacher in the colony under English rule."

The regular schoolmaster, Evert Pietersen, who taught at the lower school while Hoboocken instructed at Stuyvesant's bouwery and Luyck succeeded Curtius at the Latin School, also continued in office after the English occupation. He made his home on the south side of the Tlrouwer Sfraat, a section of what is now Stone Street, extending from Whitehall to Broad Street, and gaining its name from the brewery owned by Oloff Stevenson Van Courtlandt." Pietersen was married when he came to this country, but later lost his wife and, following the precedent of his profession, married a widow. His salary when he first came over on the Gilded 'Beaver was fixed at thirty-six guilders ($15) monthly and one hundred and twenty-five guilders annually for his board. The small amount was grudgingly and irregularly paid and yet such was his thrift that by 1674, he was one of the most substantial citizens of New York, with a property valued at two thousand florins.

The church still held its controlling hand on the official school in Pietersen's time, as for long afterwards, not having withdrawn its sheltering care from the descendant of that old Dutch school even now. This fact its historian proudly points out and indeed we may all take pride in one of the longest-lived educational institutions of our country :

The church influence showed itself in a civil ordinance of New Amsterdam, bearing date March 17, 1664 :

" Whereas it is highly necessary and of great consequence that the youth from their childhood is well instructed in reading, writing and arithmetic and principally in the principles and fundaments of the Christian religion, in conformity to the lesson of that wise King Solomon, ' Learn the youth the first principles and as he grows old, he shall not then deviate from it' ; so that in time such men may arise from it who may be able to serve their country in Church or in State ; which being seriously considered by the Director General and Council in New Netherland, as the number of children by God's merciful blessing has considerably increased, they have deemed it necessary so that such an useful, and to our God, agreeable concern may be more effectually promoted, to recommend the present school master and to command him, so as it is done by this, that they (Pietersen and Van Hoboocken) on Wednesday before the beginning of the sermon with the children entrusted to their care, shall appear in the Church to examine after the close of the sermon each of them his own scholars in the presence of the reverend ministers and elders who may then be present, what they, in the course of the week, do remember of the Christian commands and Catechism, and what progress they have made ; after which the children shall be allowed a decent recreation."

Under early English rule the schooling of the Dutch children was little interfered with. They were to be instructed in the "Nether- landisch tongue " as of old, and the schoolmaster was still to be under the supervision of the Consistory. The school hours were fixed from nine to eleven A.M. in summer, from half-past nine to half-past twelve in winter, while the afternoon session the year round lasted from one to five o'clock." The schools were opened and closed with prayer, twice a week the pupils were examined in the catechism, and express stipulation was made that teachers should use " none but edifying and orthodox text-books and such as should meet the approbation of the Consistory."

The control of the schools so wisely conceded by the English continued in the hands of the Dutch long enough to stamp the character which endures to this day in the representative School of the Collegiate Reformed Dutch Church of New York, which with all its fine buildings and elaborate equipments is the direct successor of the little school gathered together by Adam Roelantsen under the shadow of the old Fort.

Those of us of Dutch blood have a special right to look with pride upon this steady growth of the educational institution planted and fostered by our forefathers and bearing perpetual testimony to their energy and perseverance, their just valuation of "the things of the spirit," their respect for learning, and their determination to "learn the youth the first principles " and to make them men " who may be able to serve their country in Church and State." We are compelled to respect their earnestness and their persistence under what might well have seemed insurmountable difficulties, and however we may smile at the limitations of those early days, we must recognize that New Amsterdam has as good a claim as New England to the pra1se of the poet:

" And still maintains with milder laws
And clearer light the good old cause—
Nor heeds the sceptic's puny hands
While near her school the church-spire stands,
Nor fears the blinded bigot's rule
While near her church-spire stands the school."

The following is a list of the early schoolmasters in their order:


Adam Roelantsen,

Jan Stevensen,

Jan Cornelissen,

William Verstius,

Johannes Morice de la Montagne,

Harmanus Van Hoboocken,

Evert Pietersen.

Among the unofficial and semi-official teachers, fore-singers, and krank-besoeckers were :

Adriaen Jansen Van llpendam,

David Provoost,

Joost Carelse,

Hans Steyn,

Andries Hudde,

Jacobus van Corlaer,

Jan Lubbertsen,

Jan Juriaense Beeker,

Frans Claessen,

Johannes Van Gelder.

Latin School.

Alexander Carolus Curtius,
Aegidius Luyck.

End of the Dutch Rule, 1674.


Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Early Schools and Schoolmasters of New Amsterdam Part III
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Historic New York by Maud Wilder Goodwin Published by G.P. Putnam's sons, 1899
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