A Tale of Two Flags

The two flags of New York City: one showing the 1664 date honoring when the British took the city, which Paul O’Dwyer fought to change to 1625, reglected in the second and current flag.

By Irish America Staff
March / April 2020

Back in 1974, City Council President Paul O’Dwyer introduced a bill that would change the date on the New York’s flag and seal from 1664 to 1625. The move was an effort to set history straight and to recognize the city’s Dutch heritage on the 700th anniversary of the founding of the city of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

The seal of the city of New York, the date on which was also changed back to 1625.

The Irish-born O’Dwyer noted that the only significance of the year 1664 was that the city fathers took an oath of allegiance to Charles II of England, following Peter Stuyvesant’s capitulation to the Duke of York’s forces, and cited a number of historical documents showing that the Dutch presence in New York, which began with Henry Hudson’s 1609 Dutch East India Company-funded voyage up the river that now bears his name, had coalesced into what amounted to a city by 1625.

FROM LEFT: Former New York City council president Paul O’Dwyer, Irish America publisher Niall O’Dowd, Charles McCabe of Manufacturers Hanover Bank, and former mayor of Boston Ray Flynn at the launch of Irish America magazine in October 1985.

“In truth,” O’Dwyer said at the time, “the city had then been in existence with a democratic form of government for 39 years.”

While some, including Philip Klingle of the New York Historical Society, disputed O’Dwyer’s claim, and others stated that O’Dwyer’s Irish heritage was the source of his wish to downplay the British legacy of the city, the change was made on December 30, 1977, when the seal was subtly modified. The date was changed from 1664 (when the kingdom of England took possession) to 1625, when it was founded by the Dutch. 

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