It was in August, 1657, over two centuries ago, that an English ship, with eleven Quaker preachers, first reached the New Netherlands, then under the governorship of Peter Stuyvesant.
They came with the avowed purpose of disseminating their principles in the city of New Amsterdam and on Long Island. ... Robert Hodgson ... went ... to Hempstead ... on the "First Day," or Sunday, after his arrival, for want of a suitable building, he appointed a meeting to be held in an orchard, to which he invited the inhabitants.
Now Hempstead had been settled about 16 years before by a New England colony. The town had an organized magistracy, and a regularly-establish church and minister. The authorities had no notion of having their Sabbath worship interfered with in this way. There lived in the village Richard Gildersleeve, a justice of the peace, with Stuyvesant's commission in his pocket. He had, perhaps, been notified to be on the alert and put a stop to such irregularities. Be that as it may, as soon as he was aware of the intended meeting, he issued a warrant to a constable to arrest the preacher. The officer arrived on the ground a little before the hour for meeting, and finding Hodgson "pacing the orchard alone, in quiet meditation," he laid hold of him at once, and haled him to the magistrate, who left him a prisoner in his own private house, while he (the justice) went to the Presbyterian church (Mr. Denton's) for morning worship. But the wily Quaker outwitted the magistrate; for during his absence the prisoner, by his loud voice and energetic action, (probably in preaching from a window), had collected a large crowd of listeners, "who staid and heard the truth declared." Mr. Gildersleeve was so annoyed, on his return home from worship, to find that his dwelling had answered all the purposes of a chapel, that his prisoner had had so favorable an opportunity for spreading his doctrines, and that he could not stop his mouth, that he instantly wrote a mittimus for his removal to another house; for Hempstead did not then boast of a lockup or house of detention. The change of place did not, however, prevent the people from visiting Hodgson, during the latter part of the day; so fond were they of novelty and excitement. "In the afternoon," says Hodgson, "many came to me, and even those that had been mine enemies, after they had heard truth, confessed to it."
The probable cause of Hodgson's favorable reception at Hempstead was that the church and its support was part and parcel of the town expenses. The church-goers were divided in sentiment: some were Independents or Brownists, and some Presbyterians. The tax was burdensome to the free-thinkers and the lukewarm Christians; hence, any attack on the established Church was welcome. Beside these there were always those who are fond of any "new doctrine." Hodgson says there was another magistrate in Hempstead, (Capt. John Seaman), who disapproved of Gildersleeve's course of action, and he insists that the most respectable inhabitants of the town concurred that opinion, but that the persecuting justice, taking counsel of the ruder sort, as soon as he had committed the stranger to prison, set off on horseback to New Amsterdam, to bear the good news in person to Stryvesant, who congratulated him on his efforts to suppress the "Quaker heresy," and forthwith dispatched to Hempstead the sheriff and gaoler with a guard of twelve musketeers, to bring Hodgson and those who had entertained him in their houses to the Fort in the city.
It should be remembered that our knowledge of this affair is ex parte and derived from Quaker writers solely. It is much to be regretted that the Governor has left no account of his proceedings in the premises; but that the authorities at Hempstead were in substantial accord with him in this matter appears from their action the next year, (April 18, 1658) , whereby they fined the wives of Joseph Schott and Francis Weeks (one or both were inn-keepers in Hempstead) twenty guilders each for absenting themselves from public worship and going to a Quaker meeting in the woods, contrary to the laws established.
... Mr. Denton was the minister of Hempstead when Hodgson, the first Quaker preacher, arrived there. He either died or removed about 1659, and his successor was the Rev. Jonah Fordham. In 1674 there was no minister; and Thomas Champion, William Jecocks, James Pine, Simon Searing, Jeremy Wood, Richard Gildersleeve, Sr. and Jr., in behalf of some others petition Gov. Andros to instal such authority in the town as to uphold and maintain the ministry among them, that God's honor may be promoted and his Sabbaths observed. From this it would seem that a constant stream of Quaker preachers had followed in the wake of Hodgson, and that their denunciation of 'hireling priests' had had its effect on the people. In 1679 Justice Gildersleeve, in obedience to an order from Gov. Andros, informed him that Capt. John Seaman, although forewarned, had entertained a very great Quaker meeting at his house, the last Lord's Day.