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Irving, Washington. "Peter the Headstrong".


"In which the Troubles of New Amsterdam Appear to Thicken, Showing the Bravery, in Time of Peril, of a People who Defend themselves by Resolution"

New Amsterdam is in danger. People gather to seek comfort in community, but being all rather cowardly, they fail to support one another. Peter Stuyvesant, the lion-hearted ruler of the town, arrives together with his faithful Antony. Stuyvesant looks at the frigates with three hundred valiant red-coats and sends a letter asking in a polite tone why they anchored here without permission. He gets an equally polite letter from the commander of the invaders, Colonel Nicholas, who advises them to surrender to the King, offering tolerable conditions. Stuyvesant, confident in his own strong head and needing no man's advice, intends to refuse and to defend the town. There is an assembly of councillors and burgomasters, the latter are however discontent with Stuyvesant's decision. The burgomasters have their public meeting and comparing Peter to Nero and Caligula, they produce a memorial for him, urging him to surrender.

"Containing a Doleful Disaster of Antony the Trumpeter and How Peter Stuyvesant, Like a Second Cromwell, Suddenly Dissolved a Rump Parliament"

Stuyvesant sends Antony with his trumpet to call men to fight. On his way Antony however drowns in the Haerlem river, giving a final blow to his trumpet. Though never married, he leaves behind several dozens of children who resembled their father in becoming editors, people who are paid by other people for keeping up a constant alarm and making them miserable.

Stubborn Stuyvesant tears the letter from the burgomasters in pieces.

"How Peter Stuyvesant Defended the City of New Amsterdam for Several Days, by Dint of the Strength of his Head"

Stuyvesant writes a categorical reply to the invaders, saying they fear nothing but God. The invaders have agents secretly employed among people who find out general dislike of Stuyvesant and inclination to surrender among the folk who think the conditions given to them were satisfactory. Stuyvesant is determined to defend his ungrateful city to the last. The mob surrounds his house and tries to make Stuyvesant sign the papers of surrender. When Stuyvesant tries to sign the papers, he cannot do it at first because it is too much against his own persuasion. Finally wearied by the rabble Stuyvesant signs the documents.

The British troops pour into New Amsterdam. Its cowardly people nail up their doors and windows to protect themselves from the fierce barbarians. The place is renamed New York.

In a note, there is the claim of modern historians who think that a resolute band refused to bend the neck to the invader and crossed the bay to leave to Communipaw. They still look to their original home, prepared to come back to re-people it when it effectually recovers from its intruders.



- comic, satiric, at times grotesque

- though mostly a political satire, universal enough to amuse even a today's reader

- built up on hyperbole: exaggerates both the cowardice of the people and the bravado of Stuyvesant


  • Author

    Irving, Washington. (1783 - 1859).
  • Full Title

    "Peter the Headstrong".
  • First Published

    In: A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker. Philadelphia: Inskeep & Bradford, 1809.
  • Form

    Short story.

Works Cited

Irving, Washington. "Peter the Headstrong". (1809). In: The Chief American Prose Writers. Ed. Norman Forster. Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1916.


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