The Oldest House in Queens

The oldest house in Queens and one of the oldest in all of New York belonged to my eight-times-great grandfather, John Bowne.

John Bowne was born in 1627 in England.  He moved to Boston with his father and sister in 1648. Eight years later, he married Hannah Feake, a granddaughter of John Winthrop’s sister.  John and Hannah became followers of the Quaker religion, which was not accepted in New England at the time, so they relocated to Flushing, Long Island where other Quakers had gathered.

John Bowne house

He built the house in Flushing in 1661 (it was expanded in 1669 and 1681 to meet the needs of his ever-growing family).  In 1662, Bowne was arrested by the governor of New Netherland–this was before New York came under British rule–for hosting a Quaker meeting in his home.  He refused to pay the fine, so the governor had him shipped off to Holland to stand trial before the Dutch West Indies Company.

By appealing to the Flushing patent of 1645 that guaranteed religious liberty, Bowne was able to win freedom for himself and the other Quakers of the area.  He returned to Flushing in 1663.  The governor, Peter Stuyvesant, was ordered to extend religious freedom not only to Quakers, but to all residents of Flushing.

John Bowne before Governor Stuyvesant

New Netherland would soon become New York; the Dutch would be replaced by the British.  But the religious freedom that John Bowne stood up for would remain in place.  When the Dutch ceded New Netherland to England in 1664, Article VIII of the provisional Articles of Transfer stated that the residents of New Netherland “shall keep and enjoy the liberty of their consciences in religion” under British rule.  New York’s policy of religious liberty became a model for other colonies and ultimately for the framers of the American Constitution.

A few years later, in 1672, John Bowne and other Quakers from Flushing sent a letter to the governor of New York to explain their conscientious refusal to contribute toward the repair of the fort of New York.  This was one of the earliest examples of war tax resistance by American Quakers.

John’s wife Hannah had first become acquainted with Quakerism in the year they were married.  At that time, the Quakers were meeting in the woods nearby.  Both she and John were impressed by the beauty and simplicity of their worship.  Hannah later became a minister among the Quakers and traveled in England, Ireland and Holland teaching and speaking about the faith. John joined Hannah on one of her journeys in 1676 and was with her when she died in London in 1677.

After burying Hannah in London, John returned to Flushing.  He married two more times and had a total of sixteen children.

When John Bowne died, the minutes of the Quaker meeting recorded his death:  “John Bowne dyed 20 day of the 10 month, in the year 1695 and was buried ye 23 day of same being about sixty-eight yeares of age.  he did Frely expose himself his house and his estate to ye service of truth And had a constant meeting in his house near About forty yeares…Hee allso suffered very much for ye truth’s sake.”

For more on the Bowne house or John Bowne, see The Bowne House Historical Society
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6 Responses to The Oldest House in Queens

  1. bronxboy55 says:

    As with so many other aspects of the American history we thought we knew, this idea of religious persecution in the New World is somewhat surprising. I also wonder if you have any statistics on life expectancy in the 17th and 18th centuries. We are often led to believe people lived only into their forties and fifties, but it seems that many people lived well beyond their sixties. I think high rates of infant mortality brought the average lifespan down statistically. What do you think?

    I find all of your posts fascinating, but this one especially so, maybe because I grew up in New York. (They had stopped calling it New Netherland by then.)

    • It is startling to think about the religious persecution that happened in New England and throughout the early colonies. I left out the part about John Bowne’s trial before Stuyvesant. He was fined and warned that the next offense would mean double the fine and further offenses would bring banishment. Then when he didn’t pay his fine, he was “confined in a dungeon on bread and water” until eventually being sent to Holland. All for having a religious gathering in his own home.

      On life expectancies, I don’t know any “official” statistics, but it seems that men often lived into their 60s and beyond. Women typically died younger, undoubtedly due to all the childbearing (and child-rearing for that matter!) Statistics only tell so much of the story. Maybe some quiet afternoon when I have nothing else to do, I’ll go through my family and write down how long they lived. It’s one of those things that includes so many variables (health, ease of life, war, random events, etc.) that it becomes challenging to ascribe real meaning to the numbers. Probably could be a blogpost.

  2. pokedpotato says:

    That is a LOT of kids. Nice post!

  3. Julia says:

    I’m with Rebecca on this one. You’ve got a lot of randy ancestors, boy. And ballsy, too. Hey, I don’t want to pay taxes to support the American military. What say we conscientiously object and move to Holland?

    • Seems like Holland promotes a pretty open lifestyle–isn’t marijuana legal there? With me having so many ancestors who have so many kids, it might be dangerous to take me to a place like that. We wouldn’t want to end up with sixteen kids, no matter how many taxes we conscientiously avoided.

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