Rights and Responsibilities

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The Burgher Right

A system of municipal citizenship in New Amsterdam


Citizens of New Amsterdam, known as burghers, paid taxes and performed military duty. In exchange, they enjoyed rights, such as the right to practice certain trades or crafts. This coupling of rights and responsibilities distinguished burghers, who were invested in the success of the colony, from transient traders.

In 1657, the Court of New Amsterdam instituted the two classes of the burgher right:

  • The small burgher right afforded a citizen the right to practice a trade or carry on business. Residents were eligible if they had either lived in New Amsterdam for at least a year and six weeks, or could pay the twenty guilder fee.
  • The great burgher right granted all of the rights of the small burgher right, plus the right to hold office. Only residents, clergy, and military officers were eligible, and they had to pay a fee of fifty guilders.

The burgher right grew out of the beaver fur trade -- the raison d'être for the Dutch colony in New Netherland.