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Letter From The President, December 2007

Dear Members and Friends of the Bowne House Historical Society:

I am happy to report that 2007 has been an eventful year at the museum. This letter will give you an update of our activities so far and outline some of our exciting plans for 2008.

Plans for the restoration of our 1661 house are taking shape. The firm of Jan, Hird, Pokorny, Architects (JHP)has been retained to manage this project. JHP began work this summer with a series of probes of the timber framing at the house. We expect to put the actual restoration work out for competitive bids early in 2008, with construction scheduled to begin by mid-year.

In the meantime, we have retained a second architect, James Dixon Associates to design a Visitors Center Construction will take place while restoration work is underway on the museum. The Visitors Center will provide much needed office and exhibit space as well as a venue for meetings and events. Funding for the Visitors Center is pledged by Borough President Helen Marshall and City Council Member John Liu pending the Society's meeting their challenge to raise $200,000 in endowment funding.

During the year, we expanded our educational programming and planned for the upcoming celebration of the 350th anniversary of the Flushing Remonstrance. Some of the highlights are as follows:

In September, we initiated the anniversary festivities by hosting, in collaboration with the Gotham Center in Manhattan and the Quaker Meeting House in Flushing, two panel discussions entitled "Word and Deed; John Bowne and the Flushing Remonstrance, moderated by Donald Friary, chairman of our Museum Advisory Committee. We had capacity crowds at each location, with an enthusiastic and engaged audience. A number of people spoke about how meaningful it was to hear about the remonstrance at the 1694 meeting house, which John Bowne helped to build, with the setting sun streaming in the windows. The panels were funded by grants from the New York Archives Partnership Trust and the New York Council for the Humanities.

Also in September, The History Channel filmed at Bowne House as part of its corporate service series. We expect that the film will air during 2008, as the remonstrance is celebrated around the state.

In October, we hosted a joint benefit with the India House Foundation. Our featured speakers at the luncheon discussed the fascinating story of the voyage of the clipper ship Flying Cloud, which was owned by Robert Bowne Minturn.

During 2008, we will host a series of interactive workshops for children, celebrating the remonstrance and John Bowne, in public schools in Queens. These programs are being funded by a grant from Borough President Helen Marshall.

Our programs for 2008 will focus on findings made during the restoration work at the house, and we are also planning a lecture by our Advisory Committee member Anthony C. Wood, who has just published his book "Preserving New York; Winning the Right to Protect a City's Landmarks".

Also in the works will be our application for National Historic Landmark (NHL) status. While Bowne House is already on the state and national registers and is considered a New York State site of National Significance, NHL status confers additional prestige and will allow us access to additional funding.

I would like at this time to acknowledge the contributions of the following - our elected officials, especially Borough President Helen Marshall and Councilman John Liu; our pro-bono attorneys at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Garrison and Wharton, who have been so generous with their time; grantors who have provided general operating support and contributed to our educational programming, including The New York Community Trust, The Cottonwood Foundation, the Octagon Foundation, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, the Clemente Foundation, the Acorn Foundation, the New York Archives Partnership Trust, New York Council for the Humanities, and many others. And of course, thanks to you, our membership.

We have a number of needs right now: importantly, we have to meet the challenge of our elected officials by raising $200,000 in endowment funding in order to secure public funding for the visitors center. When Bowne House was opened as a museum in 1947, it had no endowment and the decision was made not to charge admission. Bowne House operated for many years with volunteer staff, and depended financially on the generosity of local residents and Bowne descendants. We need a permanent endowment to defray our operating expenses and secure the future of the museum. Please consider a gift to Endowment. All gifts are fully tax deductible, and you may donate appreciated stock if you prefer.

In closing, I would like to quote from a recent article by Michael Peabody, an attorney and executive director of the North American Religious Liberty Association, in Liberty Magazine, from a link at the Avalon Project, Yale University School of Law -

"The steel and glass skyline of Manhattan still soars toward the heavens with the confidence of the people born free. But the cradle of this freedom is not found in the luxury of Wall Street or the neon sparkle of Times Square. Instead, it rests in a simple farmhouse located near the number 7 train." That farmhouse is, of course, our very own Bowne House!

Thank you again for your continued support of the museum, and all the best for 2008.


Rosemary Vietor

The Flushing Remonstrance Reception

Thursday December 6, 2007

Queens Library at Flushing

Remarks by Rosemary Vietor, President, Bowne House Historical Society

December 6th address at the celebration of the 350th anniversary of the Flushing Remonstrance.

As president of the Bowne House Historical Society, the oldest house in Queens, dating from 1661, I am delighted to be here as we celebrate the 350th anniversary of the Flushing Remonstrance. Coincidentally, today is also the feast of St. Nicholas, the Dutch saint known as our Santa Claus. How appropriate that we are gathered on this day to commemorate our Dutch-English heritage and the gift it gave us in America, the gift of freedom of conscience, which allows us to worship as we choose. This is a time to reflect as well as a time to rejoice in our traditions of religious freedom and cultural diversity that we as Americans enjoy today.

I would like to say a few words on behalf of the descendants of the signers of the Flushing Remonstrance who have joined us for this celebration, as well as descendants of John Bowne. Many of them have traveled great distances to be here, and I am pleased that they can be with us this evening.

We descendants come from all walks of life and, like many Americans, we represent different ethnic and cultural backgrounds and different religions. Over the course of three centuries, we have been blended and absorbed and we are now prime examples of our multicultural society. Most of us have left the area and now live in all 50 states. We are pleased to be gathered here tonight in our "motherland", Flushing, to celebrate our ancestors, the document they drafted, and their contribution to history.

The signers of the Flushing Remonstrance, thirty in number, are remarkable for being unremarkable. They were ordinary citizens of English descent living in Dutch-ruled New Amsterdam. Theirs was the first, formal concerted resistance, demanding that individual freedom of conscience which has become one of the cornerstones of our American heritage. The principles of freedom of conscience cited in the remonstrance, which were put into action by John Bowne in his challenge to Peter Stuyvesant in 1662, evolved and developed in the colonies and more than a century later were incorporated into the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.

What inspired these men, some literate officials of the town, others illiterate who signed with an x, with varying degrees of wealth and property to risk persecution and financial ruin by challenging the governor? Their motivations were probably very much like those of a much better known and celebrated group of men who signed the Declaration of Independence more than 100 years later. Both groups stood on principle and spoke against what they saw as unjust laws. Both took a gamble and challenged the authority of the government; in one case, the governor, in the other, the king. Both groups suffered great hardship, and in some cases, financial ruin, as a consequence of their actions. Unlike the signers of the Declaration, however, these brave Flushing men have been largely overlooked by history. We are familiar with the names of Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Hancock, etc, but not the names of Hart, Thorne, Stockton, Farrington and Feake. The remonstrance signers and John Bowne have been largely overlooked and uncelebrated.

We are here tonight to remember and honor those who changed the course of history and helped make America the great country it is today. I can't help but think how amazed that group of thirty simple men would have been had they known we would be gathering 350 years later just a few blocks from where they signed the remonstrance to honor their memory and to celebrate the freedoms we enjoy as Americans. They represent the spirit and promise of America, and I am humbled to speak on their behalf tonight.