What Privileges and Responsibilities came with being a Citizen

of the City of New Amsterdam? 

Several essential privileges and responsibilities were shared by Great and Small Burghers. All city citizens who “kept fire and light” were permitted to freely buy and sell all manner of goods and, as the municipal court adjudicated business disputes, a burghers’ property could not be “arrested” (formally detained) without a decision from the court. This later privilege was especially important in a commercial society in which property or goods could be used as collateral for a debt. Furthermore, all burghers agreed to pay city taxes and participate in the civilian militia. A burgher’s legal status did not prevent travelling or leaving the city temporarily, as long as “fire and light” was maintained. Finally, burgher status could be inherited by native-born children of both sexes or acquired by marrying a native-born daughter of a burgher.

There were some differences between Great and Small Burgher rights and responsibilities. Only Great Burghers could hold high office in the city magistracy (Burgomaster, Schepens, Orphanmaster) but Small Burghers could be appointed to lesser positions (collectors, inspectors, and farmers of various excises, positions that could be financially profitable). Great Burghers could not have their “persons” arrested and were initially exempt for a year and six weeks from watches and military expeditions. Although Small Burghers were granted the same ability to trade as Great Burghers, they were also guaranteed the right to practice their art or craft within the city. This is why so many original Small Burghers identified themselves as butchers, shoemakers, carpenters, glaziers, cartmen, surgeons, bakers, coopers, hatters, chairmakers, wood sawyers, smiths, masons, and painters. Finally, it appears as if the original burgher right in 1657 cost Manhattan residents nothing; only newly admitted citizens were required to pay a fee as they took up residence in Manhattan: 50 guilders for the Great Burgher Right, 20 guilders for the Small Burgher Right.

The Burgher Oath, April 11, 1657

New York City Municipal Archives, New Amsterdam Records, Administrative Minutes, Volume 1, page 16

Original burgher lists showing Great and Small Burgher, April 9 to May 3, 1657

New York City Municipal Archives, Records of New Amsterdam, Administrative Minutes, Volume 1