Cornelis Melyn was born in Antwerp, then a part of the Spanish Netherlands, in September 1600. Although a tailor by trade, he was a wealthy man. He was granted a patroonship on Staten Island on July 3, 1640 and sailed to New Netherland in 1641 aboard Den Eyckenboom (The Oak Tree) with about 40 settlers, including his wife and children.
During Director Kieft's administration, Cornelis Melyn was the chairman of the assembly of the Eight Men and was one of the signatories to the Remonstrance of the Eight Men of the Manhatas sent to the Company protesting Kieft's misrule.
When Director-General Stuyvesant arrived in New Netherland in 1647, Melyn and Jochem Kuyter demanded an investigation of Kieft's misconduct in office. Outraged by their insubordination, Stuyvesant charged Melyn and Kuyter with libeling Kieft in the remonstrance, and both Melyn and Kuyter were sentenced to banishment from the New Netherland colony. On the voyage home, Melyn and Kuyter survived the shipwreck of the Princess Amalia that claimed the life of their fellow passenger, Director Willem Kieft.
Upon their arrival in Amsterdam, Melyn and Kuyter appeared before the Dutch parliament which granted them the right to appeal the banishment and allowed them to return to New Netherland under a parliamentary letter of safe conduct. Melyn sailed for New Amsterdam and arrived in March 1649 with an order suspending all proceedings under the challenged judgments, and summoning Director-General Stuyvesant. before the Dutch parliament to justify his acts, a public rebuke to Stuyvesant that heartened the Nine Men.
Melyn returned to Holland to pursue his appeal and to support the delegates of the Nine Men, and Director-General Stuyvesant sent Cornelis van Tienhoven, the Secretary of New Netherland to represent the administration. The outcome of Melyn's appeal is not known but in 1650, Melyn sailed to New Netherland and to his patroonship on Staten Island, bringing with him a group of about 70 settlers. Off the coast of North America, the ship was caught in a storm and put into Rhode Island for repairs. When the ship arrived at New Amsterdam, Stuyvesant accused Melyn of violating the West India Company's laws regarding trading without a license (although there was no proof to show that any trading had taken place in Rhode Island), and confiscated both ship and cargo.
Melyn's feud with the Director-General continued, and Stuyvesant had him arrested and imprisoned without trial in 1655. During Melyn's imprisonment, a colonist killed a Native American woman who was picking peaches. This led to an Indian uprising known as the Peach Tree War during the course of which Melyn's Staten Island colony was destroyed. Shortly afterward, Cornelis Melyn and his family moved from New Netherland to the English Colony of New Haven where, on April 7, 1657, Melyn took an oath of allegiance to the English crown. In 1659, Melyn sold his patroonship on Staten Island back to the Dutch West India Company.
Cornelis Melyn died in the New Haven Colony around 1674.