To publicly proclaim the new Quaker religion on western Long Island was to risk arrest and banishment. To let a Quaker spend the night in your home could lead to a heavy fine.

The early years of Quakerism on Long Island were a struggle against religious intolerance. It would take a generation of civil disobedience for Quakers to worship without fear of reprisal.

One of the first, faltering steps toward religious freedom in America was taken in Queens when 29 residents of Flushing and two from Jamaica signed a protest to the Dutch governor that anticipated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution 137 years later. These were not Quakers; they included the town clerk, the sheriff and two local magistrates.

There was only one official religion in New Amsterdam, and that was the strict Calvinism of the mother country’s Dutch Reformed Church. One of its chief practitioners was the director-general, Peter Stuyvesant, who despised Quakers, once calling them an “abominable and heretical sect.’’

Out of this oppressive setting came the remarkable 1657 document known as the Flushing Remonstrance. In it, the residents courageously and bluntly challenged Stuyvesant and his anti-Quaker laws.

“You have been pleased to send up unto us a certain prohibition or command that we should not receive or entertain any of these people called Quakers because they are supposed to be by some, seducers of the people,’’ began the remonstrance, a form of grievance, signed Dec. 27, 1657, in the kitchen of the home of one of the signers, Michael Milner. ``For our part, we cannot condemn them in this case, neither can we stretch out our hands against them, to punish, banish or persecute them ...’’

This attitude was consistent with the terms of the charter given to the town in 1645 by Stuyvesant’s predecessor, Willem Kieft. The remonstrance ended with this memorable sentence:

Therefore, if any of these said persons come in love unto us, we cannot in conscience lay violent hands upon them, but give them free ingresse and regresse unto our town, and houses, as God shall persuade our consciences.

The Flushing charter was the most liberal given to any settlement in the colonies up to that point. It guaranteed the residents the right `”`to have and enjoy the liberty of conscience, according to the manner and custom of Holland, without molestation or disturbance . . .’’ Holland was noted at that time for its tolerance of religions of all kinds, although the Calvinism of the Dutch Reformed Church was the official religion at home and in New Netherlands.

Stuyvesant was furious. The grievance had been written by the Flushing town clerk, Edward Hart, and delivered by the sheriff, Tobias Feake, both of whom were immediately arrested and jailed, along with two town magistrates who had signed, William Noble and Edward Farrington. They were all later released, but Stuyvesant, laying most of the blame on the sheriff, had him fired.

A handful of Quakers were causing problems for Stuyvesant out of proportion to their numbers. Begun as the Religious Society of Friends in England by George Fox about 1648, the Quakers -- the origin of the name is not certain, but it apparently was first used in derision to refer to women who trembled and quaked in religious ecstasy -- believe that God can be apprehended individually, without ministers, creeds or churches. This, of course, was heresy to both the Calvinists in New Netherlands and the Puritans in New England.

The first Quakers came to New England in 1656, where they were to be treated even more severely than Stuyvesant was to deal with them in New Netherlands. The first Quaker on Long Island was Richard Smith -- the same “Bull’’ Smith who later founded Smithtown -- who was banished from Southampton in October, 1656, for his “unreverend carriage’’ toward the magistrates.

In early August, 1657, a small vessel called the Woodhouse sailed into the harbor at New Amsterdam with 11 Quakers aboard. The two Dutch Reformed ministers, Johannes Megapolensis and Samuel Drissius, immediately reported to their superiors in Amsterdam.

“When the master of the ship came on shore and appeared before the Director-General, he rendered him no respect, but stood still with his hat firm on his head, as if a goat,’’ the churchmen wrote on Aug. 14. They noted that the ship sailed the next morning with most, but not all, the Quakers aboard:

We suppose they went to Rhode Island; for that is the receptacle of all sorts of riff-raff people, and is nothing else than the sewer of New England . . . they left behind two strong young women. As soon as the ship had fairly departed, these began to quake and go into a frenzy, and cry out loudly in the middle of the street, that men should repent, for the day of judgement was at hand.

The women, Mary Weatherhead and Dorothy Waugh, were put in a filthy jail for eight days, then deported to Rhode Island.

Another of the Quaker ministers, Robert Hodgson, took off for Gravesend on Long Island, where he conducted the first Quaker meeting in the colonies, at the home of Dame Deborah Moody. Hodgson went on to Hempstead, where he was quickly arrested and charged with holding Quaker meetings. He was tied to the back of a cart and made to walk to New Amsterdam, where he was convicted as a heretic, fined 600 guilders, given two years at hard labor and whipped. He refused to pay the fine or work, and, through the intervention of Stuyvesant’s sister, was soon released and banished.

“Director-General Stuyvesant was determined to repulse Quaker missionary efforts in New Netherland because he believed that the Friends posed a threat to the social order,’’ wrote Mildred Murphy DeRiggi, a historian for Nassau County Museum Services, in her unpublished 1994 doctoral dissertation, “Quakerism on Long Island: The First Fifty Years, 1657-1797.’’

For a while, Stuyvesant was successful in repressing what he saw as the new Quaker menace to society. But not for long. Five years later, another Flushing resident, John Bowne, would confront the director-general in an incident that resonated all the way to Amsterdam.

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