The Other New York

Crimes and Punishments,
page 5 of 17

When the tailor of New Amsterdam said disrespectful words of the Governor, his sentence was that he “stand before the Governor’s door with uncovered head, after the ringing of the bell, and to declare that he falsely and scandalously issued such words and then to ask God’s pardon.”

The magistrates were very touchy of their dignity. Poor Widow Piertje Jans had her house sold on an execution; and, exasperated by the proceeding, and apparently also at the price obtained, she said bitterly to the officers, “Ye despoilers, ye bloodsuckers, ye have not sold but given away my house.” Instead of treating these as the heated words of a disappointed and unhappy woman, the officers promptly ran tattling to the Stadt Huys and whiningly complained to the Court that her words were “a sting which could not be endured.” Piertje was in turn called shameful; her words were termed “foul, villanous, injurious, nay, infamous words,” and also called a blasphemy, insult, affront, and reproach. She was accused of insulting, defaming, affronting, and reproaching the Court, and that she was in the highest degree reprimanded, particularly corrected, and severely punished; and after being forbidden to indulge in any more such blasphemies, she was released,— “bethumped with words,” as Shakespeare said, — doubtless well scared at the enormity of her offence, as well as at the enormity of the magistrate’s phraseology.

The notary Walewyn van der Veen was frequently in trouble, usually for contempt of court. And I doubt not “the little bench of justices” was sometimes rather trying in its ways to a notary who knew anything about law. On one occasion, when a case relating to a bill of exchange had been decided against him, Van der Veen spoke of their High Mightinesses the magistrates as “simpletons and blockheads.” This was the scathing sentence of his punishment:—

“That Walewyn Van der Veen, for his committed insult, shall here beg forgiveness, with uncovered head, of God, Justice, and the Worshipful Court, and moreover pay as a fine 190 guilders.”

This fine must have consumed all his fees for many a weary month thereafter, if we can judge by the meagre lawyers’ bills which have come down to us.


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