John Bowne (1627-1695) was an English immigrant who came to New York when it was Dutch control and called “New Netherlands.” He became a pioneer in the fights for religious liberty and abolitionism. In 1661, he moved to a small, English-speaking community in Flushing. His house was a meeting spot for Quakers, who practiced their faith despite threats from the government. His residence was allegedly a stop on the Underground Railroad as well. Nine generations of Bownes lived in the wooden-frame English Colonial saltbox until 1945, when they donated the property to the Bowne Historical Society. It is the oldest domicile in Queens. With as pitched roof and three dormers, the museum combines common architectural features from English and Dutch styles. It displays roughly 5,000 objects (furniture, clothes, textiles) that the family acquired over more than three centuries. There is also a collection of rare books and correspondence that offers insight into the civil and political activities that surrounded the family.
Inside scoop: Though he didn’t sign it, John Bowne was a leading force behind the Flushing Remonstrance, a 1657 petition to the New Nethereland’s government requesting freedom to practive Quaker workship. The document is considered the precursor of the freedom of religion prevision in the Bill of Rights.
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