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  The New York Sun article Flushing, the New Face of the City.  
  The Knight News article Exploring Flushing's John Bowne House.  
  Queens Chronicle article Bowne House gets $125K more for repairs.  
  350th Anniversary of the Flushing Remonstrance Celebratory Events  

Flushing House Gave Rise to Religious Freedom
by Sewell Chan December 5, 2007 © The New York Times, Inc.

Flushing House Gave Rise to Religious Freedom By Sewell Chan

The Bowne House in Flushing, Queens, 1927.
(Photo: Eugene L. Armbruster)

Growing up in Queens, I remember visiting the Bowne House as a child. Along with institutions like the Queens County Farm Museum and the Louis Armstrong House & Archives, Bowne House is a reminder of Queens’s rich — and often underappreciated — contributions to American history.

The last time I passed the Bowne House, at 37-01 Bowne Street, in the heart of Flushing, I was disappointed to learn that the house had been closed to the public for some time because of the urgent need to rehabilitate the 17th-century structure, which has been modified over the centuries and was inhabited by nine generations of the Bowne family, until 1945.

In an article in The Metro Section today, my colleague Glenn Collins reported that the Flushing Remonstrance — a 350-year-old defense of the freedom of worship and a precursor to the Constitution’s guarantees of religious liberty — is on view in a special exhibition at the Flushing branch of the Queens Public Library until Jan. 7.

The remonstrance — normally held by the New York State Archives in Albany — is a key document in the development of religious freedom. The remonstrance, an appeal by 30 Flushing farmers for the freedom of Quakers to practice their religion, was signed on Dec. 27, 1657. The farmers, or freeholders, opposed the policy of Peter Stuyvesant, the director general of New Amsterdam, under which the Dutch Reformed Church was the only approved religion.

Several of the signers of the document were jailed. John Bowne, a Flushing farmer, subsequently invited Quakers to worship in his home — and, for that act, was arrested, jailed and banished. Bowne, who was born in England, traveled to the Netherlands and brought his arguments to the Dutch West India Company, which overruled Stuyvesant — though largely for economic rather than idealistic reasons.

I spoke today with Donna Cartelli, executive director of the Bowne House Historical Society, who told me about the future of the house.

Over the next few months, she said, legal title to the house and the land under it will be transferred to the City of New York, which will maintain the property through the Historic House Trust, a nonprofit group that works with the Department of Parks and Recreation.

The society, which was established in 1947, will continue to be responsible for the collections, interpretation and visitor programs. The society has already raised $700,000 toward a restoration that is expected to cost $2.1 million. Ms. Cartelli said the society has already received commitments from city officials to allocate money for the rest of the project, once the transfer takes place.

As part of the project, a garage, built around 1925 behind the house, will be converted to a visitor center. Ms. Cartelli said the society hoped to have the visitor center opened by 2009 and the house in 2010.

She said she hoped the display of the Flushing Remonstrance would stimulate interest in Bowne House.

“What the celebration brings to light to most people is the existence of Bowne House,” she said. “John Bowne stood for the rights of others to have their own religious freedom. John Bowne was not involved in the Flushing Remonstrance; he came five years after. But he allowed Quakers to worship in his house and stood up against Stuyvesant, and as a result he was banished from the colony and went to the Netherlands.”

Bowne left for the Netherlands in 1662 and returned in 1664, the year the English seized control of New Amsterdam and renamed it New York.

Bowne House has been designated a city and state landmark, and Ms. Cartelli said the society plans to seek designation of the structure as a National Historic Landmark. Historians believe that the dining room — the oldest room in the house, dating to the mid-17th century — was the place used for the Quakers to worship.

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