Old New York
The following is a transcription of an article by C.H. Jones titled "Old New York," which appeared in Appleton's Journal in December, 1878 (Pages 514-523). It is a review of the first of a four volume work by Martha J. Lamb titled History of the City of New York: Its Origin, Rise, and Progress.
The rise of a great metropolis is one is the most interesting of historical phenomena, and the interest is materially enhanced when, as in the case of New York, its progress can be clearly traced from the moment of its birth to the very meridian of its splendor and prosperity. Most of the great capitals of the world have risen, flourished, and decayed, amid the dim twilight of tradition, leaving to history little more than a name and a legend of past magnificence; while of the most populous of these that now exist, Peking emerges with the people that founded it from the impalpable mist of the earliest records, London antedates the Roman occupation and the dawn of authentic history, and Paris was already the stronghold of a Gallic tribe in the days when Caesar was performing the deeds which he subsequently recorded in his famous Commentaries. New York alone stands revealed to us as well in its origin as in its later and more conspicuous career, and its history is the only one in which we can follow from their source the causes and influences that create and give character to a great commercial metropolis.
How opulent in the latter case is the material for such a study is revealed in Mrs. Martha J. Lamb's History of the City of New York, of which the first volume has recently appeared. A dozen years of assiduous study, as we are told in the preface, have been devoted to the preparation of the work, and the multiplied fruits of it are lavishly scattered through the pages of which it is difficult to give an adequate conception as a whole. It is much more than a history; it is a teeming omnium gatherum into which have been collected, along with the customary historical data, a whole library of biographical sketches, all the legends and traditions that have clustered around the achievements of the pioneers, family histories, personal and social anecdotes, the characteristic gossip of the several periods, picturesque delineations of manners and customs, and a kaleidoscopic succession of tableaux vivants in which we catch as in a mirror "the very age and body of the time." The wonder is that, amid such a variety and profusion of material, the author had not entangled herself in an inextricable labyrinth of words; but the thread is never wholly lost, the narrative moves continuously if not steadily forward, and the reader speedily discovers that the mass of apparently irrelevant matter which seems to impede the story really illuminates and vivifies it as nothing else could. The work may be compared, not ineptly, to one of those products of the Oriental loom in which an infinite number of varicolored threads are combined into a magic whole, in which if it is difficult to trace any particular pattern it is easy to see that the general effect is harmonious and pleasing.
Of a work so varied in theme and so copious in detail it would be impossible, of course, to give an adequate conception in a few brief pages aiming to portray the characteristic features of old (or ante-Revolutionary) New York; but there should be no misunderstanding if we disclaim the pretension beforehand, and it is to be hoped that any reader who becomes conscious of the deficiencies of the following article will be led to a perusal of the work itself. Such a reader, even if he feels no special interest in the history of New York, will find himself abundantly entertained; and he will also discover that, in tracing the devious steps by which the city has reached its present preeminence, he has followed a broad highway through the most important of the country's annals - New York being, as the author says, "the central point in all American history."
2. New Netherland before 1615
With the idea, probably, of basing her work from the outset on the firm continent of authentic history, Mrs. Lamb begins with a survey of the state of Western Europe at the time of Henry Hudson's great discovery, and especially of the character and achievements of the Dutch East India Company, under whose auspices his expedition was fitted out, and for whose benefit he was searching at the time, not for the site of a future metropolis of a continent, but for a short route to India. Mr. Motley's vivid pen has rendered John of Barneveld almost a figure in contemporary history for readers of the present generation, and yet it was ten years before his tragic death, almost at the moment of the signing of the twelve years' truce with Spain which is so important an event in the history of the United Netherlands, and only two hundred and sixty-eight years ago, that Hudson first set foot on Manhattan Island, and found a half-dozen wigwam villages peopled by dusky, skin-clad savages, some patches of tobacco and corn, and a few bark canoes drawn up on shore. So little prevision was there of the importance of the discovery that Hudson's employers were bitterly disappointed at the failure of the expedition to accomplish its avowed object; and but for the popular interest aroused by his enthusiastic descriptions of the beauty and richness of the country he had chanced upon, and above all by the furs with which he had laden his vessel, his achievement would have borne as little fruit as countless other discoveries of the bold navigators of that adventurous period. "But there were traders in the Netherlands," says Mr. Lamb, "whose eyes were opened to a hidden mine of wealth through the skins with which the returned Half Moon had been laden. Furs were much worn in the cold countries of Europe, and the Dutch reveled in the costly extravagance These furs were obtained mostly through the Russian trade. From sixty to eighty Holland vessels visited Archangel every year, agents were stationed at Novogrod and other inland towns, and a brisk traffic was kept up with ancient Muscovy. The wise Russian emperor had courted this prosperous commerce, but had laid a duty of five per cent on all imported goods...If the same and similar goods could be obtained in the New World in exchange for the veriest baubles, and command a remunerative market at home, it was a golden opportunity. At all events it was worth of investigation. A partnership was organized, and a vessel fitted out and laden with small wares. A portion of the crew of the Half Mood were secured, and the ship was placed under the command of an experienced officer of the East India Company. Hudson River was again visited, and a cargo of skins brought back to Holland. The account of the voyage was published, and the friendly disposition of the Indians much descanted upon." A number of other small expeditions were sent out by private enterprise within the next few years, and met with flattering success; and at length the advantages of exchanging worthless trinkets and gewgaws for valuable peltries became so evident that a company, composed of some of the leading merchants of Amsterdam, secured a charter from the States-General and sent out a party of traders to take formal possession of "New Netherland," a name designed to cover all the territory between New France and Virginia.
3. Dutch Governor Peter Minuet 1615-1626
The first regular trading-post was established in 1615, on an island a little below the present site of Albany, but during the same year a building was erected on the lower point of Manhattan Island, to answer the double purpose of storehouse and fort. A cluster of wretched huts to accommodate the guard of the warehouse gradually grew up around the fort; but the settlement (if settlement it could be called) made little progress till 1621, when New Netherland passed into the hands of the powerful Dutch West India Company, under the stipulation that it should be colonized and protected. In the mean time, in 1620, the English Government had formally notified the States-General of the English claim to all the territory included in New Netherland; but the Dutch statesmen then, as always, repudiated the claim, and in 1624 a large colony was sent out to the Hudson River, part of which stopped at Manhattan, while the rest founded Fort Orange (Albany). In 1625 another colony came over, and the profits of the fur-trade had become so great that a regular governor was appointed in the following year, with a view to insure permanence to the settlement. The name of this governor was Peter Minuet, and among his first acts was the purchase from the Indians of the site of New York, "one of the most interesting business transactions which has ever occurred in the world's history." The price paid for the whole of Manhattan Island - a district containing wealth valued in 1875 at $1,154,029,176 - consisted of beads, buttons, and other trinkets, worth about sixty guilders, equal in our currency to just twenty-four dollars!
4. Dutch Governor Wouter Van Twiller 1633-1637
The energy of Governor Minuet and the productiveness of the fur-trade attracted other immigrants, s that before the end of 1626 the population of the island amounted to nearly two hundred souls; yet the growth of the colony was, on the whole, much slower than might have been expected, and during the next six or eight years its numbers diminished rather than increased. In 1632 Minuet was recalled, and in the year following Wouter Van Twiller, whose memory is embalmed for us in the veracious chronicle of Diedrich Knickerbocker, was sent out as governor, bringing with him the first soldiers and the first clergyman that landed on the shores of New Netherland. The clergyman was the learned and pious Dominie Bogardus, and for him was built the first place of public worship on the island, the loft of a horse-mill having previously been used for that purpose. It was a plain wooden edifice, resembling a New England barn of the present day, and was located on a high point of land fronting the East River, near what is now Pear Street, between Whitehall and Broad. Van Twiller, like certain more modern despots, had a passion for public improvements, and he could fairly boast of having found "New Amsterdam" (as the settlement was now called) bark and mud, and left it brick, stone, and wood. Besides repairing the fort and adding a guard-house and barracks, he erected three large windmills; built a brick house, which was by far the most elaborate dwelling that had as yet been attempted in this country, and which served as the gubernatorial residence during the remainder of the Dutch dynasty; erected a house, barn, brewery, boar-house, etc., on the "Company's Farm," extending north from Wall to Hudson Street; established a tobacco-plantation; built a number of shops for the trades people, and laid out a graveyard on the west of Broadway, above Morris Street; and, as a sign that regular government was established, set up a gibbet and a whipping-post. Nor, while thus lavish with his employers' money in behalf of the public, did he overlook his own private interests. Though originally a poor man, and though his salary as governor was insignificant, he managed to purchase for himself Governor's Island, Great Barn, and Blackwell's Island, stocked his farms with valuable cattle, ad speedily became one of the richest land-owners in the province. Finally, his extravagant expenditures exasperated the company, while his dishonest practices disgusted the colonists, and in 1637 he was recalled.
It is Van Twiller's time that we get the first glimpse of the manners and modes of life in New Amsterdam. "Nearly every one drank wine and stronger liquors to excess when they could be obtained. For instance, a new agent arrived for Panw's colony at Pavonia, one Cornelis Van Vorst, and brought with him some good claret. De Vries (a sea-captain) called there one day, and found the governor and minister making merry; and, finally, they quarreled with Van Vorst about a manslaughter which had been committed in his colony a few days before, but made it up in the end, and started for home. Van Vorst ran to give the governor a salute from a stone gun which stood on a pillar near his house, and a spark fell upon the thatched roof, setting it on fire. There being no means of putting it out, in less than an hour the whole building was consumed. On another occasion the gunner gave a frolic, and all the dignitaries were present. The tent was erected in one of the angles of the fort, and tables and benches were placed for the guests. When the glee was at its height, the trumpet began to blow, which occasioned a quarrel, and the koopman of the stores and the koopman of the cargasons found fault, and called the trumpeter hard names. He turned round and gave them each a thrashing, and they ran for their swords, uttering terrible threats. The trumpeter hid from them that night, but the next morning, when the wine had evaporated, 'they feared him more than they sought him.'"
During the later years of Van Twiller's administration the fur-trade had increased, and the Dutch had opened a profitable commerce with New England, which speedily assumed such dimensions as seriously to affect the prices of commodities in New Netherland. A schepel (three packs) of rye sold readily for eighty cents. A laboring-man commanded eighty cents a day during harvest. Corn rose to the extraordinarily high price of twelve shillings a bushel. A good cow brought thirty pounds, a pair of oxen forty pounds, and a horse forty pounds, while the price of negroes, who performed all the domestic service of the colony, was, on an average, sixteen dollars each.
The Seal of The City of New Amsterdam
5. Dutch Governor Wilhelm Kieft 1637-1646
The successor of Van Twiller was Wilhelm Kieft, who alienated the colonists by his arrogance, and irritated them by his petty and arbitrary regulations. Commerce flourished during the first five years of his rule; the town grew both in numbers and wealth, and he really did excellent service in reforming the abuses which existed in every department of the public service; but he did infinite harm to the province by his truculent conduct toward the Indians, which first cooled the friendship which these original lords of the soil had till now exhibited toward the Dutch settlers, and then provoked the deadliest hostilities. The most creditable result of his rule was the improvement which he effected in the appearance of the town. Most of the houses were in clusters, without regard to streets, and grouped near the walls of the fort. Pearl Street was then a simple road on the bank of the river; Water, Front, and South Streets were still under water. Pearl was the first street occupied for building purposes, and Kieft selected it for the best class of dwellings, on account of its fine river-prospect. The lone windmill stood on State Street, and was, as seen from the bay, the most prominent object on the island. Not far from it were the bakery, brewery, and warehouse, of the company. A ferry to Long Island had been established before Civet's arrival, from the vicinity of Peck's Slip to a point a little below the present Fulton Ferry. Cornelis Dircksen, who had a farm in that vicinity, came at the sound of a horn, which hung against a tree, and ferried the waiting passengers across the river in a skiff for the moderate charge of three stivers in wampum. A party of English from Virginia had settled in the upper part of Manhattan Island, bringing with them cherry and peach trees, and Kieft was especially zealous in encouraging agriculture, which till now had been neglected in favor of the Indian traffic.
Besides his aggressive behavior toward the Indians who were brought into personal contact with him, Kieft exasperated them still further by large purchases of land at nominal prices from separate chiefs, instead of from the tribal council, and often when the chiefs had been purposely brought under the influence of "fire-water." With a strained feeling on both sides, provocation was soon forthcoming; and in 1641 a series of bloody outrages began, which continued through the following year, and gave 1643 a dismal prominence in the colonial annals as "the year of blood." Up to the beginning of the latter year the balance of provocation had been about equally adjusted on either side; but on the night of February 24, 1643, a party of New-Amsterdammers, acting under the governor's sanction, crossed over to Pavonia, and butchered one hundred and twenty inoffending Indians, sparing not even a woman or child. This atrocious deed -one of the blackest in our pioneer records - bore its legitimate fruits in a general war with all the neighboring tribes, in which the Dutch had the worst of it, and lost nearly all they had gained in New Netherland during the previous twenty years of laborious effort. New Jersey was entirely surrendered to its aboriginal lords, the planters along the Hudson were slaughtered or driven off, and by the end of September almost the whole population of New Netherland was cowering within the stockades of Fort Amsterdam, where the total fighting force, nevertheless, amounted to only two hundred and sixty men. A few useless victories were gained by the Dutch, but it was not until the autumn of 1644, when a peace had been successfully negotiated, that the settlers ventured once more to scatter over the country and resume the cultivation of their lands.
To aggravate the general confusion, Kieft found himself at loggerheads with nearly every prominent citizen in the province, and, when at length formal complaints were entered against him before the council at Amsterdam, the company was found ready to dispense with a governor whose administration had not only interrupted the lucrative fur-trade with the Indians, but had drawn heavily upon the corporation treasury at home. A reckoning was made, and it was found that New Netherland, instead of being a source of large profit, as had been confidently expected, had actually cost since 1626 over five hundred and fifty thousand guilders above the returns. Kieft was recalled in 1646, and there came out in his place the most conspicuous and noteworthy figure that ever represented the Dutch sovereignty in America -the celebrated Peter Stuyvesant; but, before entering upon his career, it will be worth while to mention one other incident of Kieft's "reign," as the discontented colonists termed it. From 1641 to 1645 the very existence of New Netherland seemed to be staked upon the issue of the bloody wars with the Indians which marked that period; yet even then the superior richness of the country and the liberal and sagacious policy pursued by the governor toward all settlers drew large numbers of English colonists from the settlements both north and south. From New England, in particular, where the Puritans had set up a theocracy more intolerant that that from which they had originally fled, religious persecution drew forth whole families and colonies, and these came to New Amsterdam in such numbers that in the general military levy for the defense of the fort, which occurred in 1643, nearly one-fourth of the entire garrison was English; and in Kieft's time the place assumed the character which distinguished it down to the Revolutionary period - that of a Dutch-English town, with the Dutch element predominant.
6. Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant 1646-1664
"Peter Stuyvesant" (to quote Mrs. Lamb's lively portrait) "was the son of a clergyman in Friesland. He had early evinced a taste for military life, and had now been for some years in the employ of the West India Company. He was a proud, scholarly-looking man, a little above the medium height, with a remarkably fine physique; and he bore himself with the air of a prince. The highly-intellectual features of his face gave evidence of great decision and force of character. His complexion was dark, and a close black cap which he often wore imparted to it a still deeper shade. His chin was bare, and his mouth, indicative of sternness and grave authority, was fringed with a very slight mustache. The inflections of his voice, and his whole appearance when speaking, were rather unattractive; but, in spite of a certain apparent coldness, no one could escape the influence of his magnetic presence. He was a man of strong prejudices and passions, of severe morality, and at times unapproachable aspect; but his heart was large, his sympathies tender, and his affections warm, though his creed was rigid. He was never otherwise then faultlessly dressed, and always after the most approved European standard. A wide, drooping shirt-collar fell over a velvet jacket with slashed sleeves, displaying a full, white puffed shirt-sleeve. His hose were also slashed, very full, and fastened at the knee by a handsome scarf tied in a knot, and his shoes were ornamented with a large rosette. His lost leg had been replaced by a wooden one with silver bands, which accounts for the tradition that he wore a silver leg. He was often abrupt in manner, and made no pretensions to conventional smoothness at any time. He had sterling excellences of character, but more knowledge than culture."
If it were our purpose to tell the story of Old New York with any degree of fullness it would be necessary, as well as entertaining, to bestow considerable attention upon the career of Governor Stuyvesant, but we must pass over the remaining period even more cursorily than over the one already traversed, and we can attempt no more at this point than to give a hurried glimpse of New Amsterdam as it was toward the close of the Dutch dynasty, just before it was transformed into New York. The reception of the new governor was very flattering, any change, it was thought, being an improvement upon Kieft; but the people soon discovered that in repudiating King Log they had brought themselves under the dominion of King Stork. A more arbitrary despot than Stuyvesant probably never lived - certainly never ruled over an essentially democratic community. He would brook no advise or questioning, much less criticism; the faintest symptom of insubordination was visited with imprisonment at discretion; the whole powers of administration were centered in his person; and no law, or custom, or usage, was respected for a moment if it conflicted with his sovereign will and pleasure. On the other hand, his rule was just, if stern and arbitrary; it was evil-doers chiefly who had cause to fear his power; his integrity, both of purpose and conduct, was above suspicion; and his whole heart and soul soon became enlisted in the welfare of the country of his adoption. The anarchy that had marked the last years of Kieft's incumbency vanished as soon as he surrendered the reins of government, and the affairs of the entire province speedily showed that a vigorous and competent hand had taken the helm. His first attention was bestowed upon the affairs of New Amsterdam. Workmen were employed to put the fort in repair, and others to complete the new stone church; the little village, with its crooked roads winding around hillocks and ledges, its untidy houses with hog-pens and chicken-coops in front and tumble-down-chimneys in the rear, had surveyors appointed over it; the streets were straightened, even to the removing of some huge obstacles; great piles of accumulated rubbish were dumped into the river; a better class of houses was erected under the surveyors' supervision; and all owners of vacant lots were compelled to improve them within nine months after purchase. In 1648 the first "fire-wardens" were appointed, whose duty it was to inspect the chimneys between the fort and the Fresh-Water Pond. For a foul chimney the owner was fined three guilders; if a house was burned through carelessness in this respect, the occupant was fined twenty-five guilders, which went toward the purchase of hooks, ladders, and buckets. There were many little taverns springing up all over the lower part of the island, which were the resort of Indians and negroes. Stuyvesant inspected them in person, made it an indictable offense to keep one without a license, and required all who received licenses to erect better buildings "for the adornment of the town." He also issued a proclamation that no hogs and goats should for the future be pastured between the fort and Fresh-Water Pond, except within suitable inclosures. In September, 1648, he established a weekly market, which was held on Mondays; and soon after, in imitation of one of the customs of Holland, instituted an annual cattle-fair, to commence every first Monday after the feast of St. Bartholomew, and continue ten days. In 1650 he issued a proclamation forbidding the running at large of cows, hogs, and goats, without a herdsman, between the fort and the company's farm, and the pasture-ground occupied by Thomas Hall and the house of Isaac Allerton (the latter of whom lived in a stone mansion on the hill near Beekman Street); and a general law was passed that year to the effect that, "inasmuch as the hogs spoil the roads, and make them difficult of passage for wagons and carts, every man must stick rings through the noses of such animals as belong to him."
But the most important incident of this period was the erection of New Amsterdam into an incorporated city. The proprietary company granted it a burgher government similar to that of the cities of the Fatherland; and its birth was celebrated on the evening of February 2, 1653, at the feast of Candlemas. A proclamation of the governor defined it exceedingly limited privileges, and named its first officers. Stuyvesant made a speech on the occasion, in which he took care to reveal his intention of making all future municipal appointments, instead of allowing the citizens to choose their own magistrates, as was the custom in the Fatherland; and he gave the officers distinctly to understand from the first that their existence did not in any way diminish his authority, but that he should often preside at their meetings, and at all times counsel them in matters of importance. They were not allowed a sheriff of their own, but Van Tienhoven, the provincial sheriff, might officiate for the corporation. Neither was it deemed requisite for them to have a scribe, but Jacob Kip, the secretary of the province, was notified to attend their meetings and do such work as seemed necessary. The old stone tavern was cleaned up and called Stadthuys, or City Hall; and there the city magistrates held their meetings on Mondays from nine o'clock in the morning till noon, and, if business was urgent, they sometimes held an afternoon session. Absent members were fined six stivers for the first half-hour, twelve for the second, and forty of absent during the meeting. No emoluments were attached to their position, but on all occasions of ceremony, secular or religious, they were treated with distinguished attention. A pew was set apart for them in the church; and on Sunday mornings they left their homes and families early to meet in the City Hall, whence, preceded by the bell-ringer carrying their cushions of state, they marched in solemn procession to the sanctuary in the fort. For the rest, Stuyvesant bullied them unmercifully, and it was only by degrees, as his difficulties thickened, that they wrung from him such concessions as materially to ameliorate the condition of the citizens. They heard and settled disputes; tried cases for the recovery of debt, for defamation of character, for breaches of marriage-promise, for assault and theft; an even summoned parents and guardians into their presence for withholding their consent to the marriage of their children or wards without sufficient cause. They sentenced and committed to prison, like any other court of sessions.
Three years after its incorporation (in 1656) the census of the city was taken, and the inhabitants were found to number one thousand, of which a large proportion were negro slaves. The city fathers proved unceasingly industrious, and, as was proper, devoted most of their energies to the improvement and adornment of the city. They surveyed and established the streets, seventeen in number, and in 1657 began to pave. The first street honored with paving-stones was De Hoogh - what is now Stone Street, between Broad and Whitehall. In 1658 De Brugh or Bridge Street, so called from a bridge that had been built across the ditch at Broad Street, was improved in lake manner; and within the next two years all the streets most used were paved. These pavements were of cobble-stones, with the gutters in the middle of the street; sidewalks were not yet contemplated. They enacted ordinances condemning all "flag-roofs, wooden chimneys, hay-stacks, hen-houses, and hog-pens," which were located on the principal streets. They ordered owners of gardens either to sell or improve them, and compelled buyers of city-lots by the terms of purchase to build on them without delay. The average price of the best city-lots had reached fifty dollars. Houses rented at from fourteen to one hundred dollars per annum
Although both of these paintings were of street scenes in Delft in the Netherlands, they most certainly represent the style of architecture in New Amsterdam during the period described in "Old New York." Bricks were sometimes imported by ship from the Netherlands for building.
The Little Street
Courtyard of a House in Delft
The residences of the wealthier burghers were generally of stone, solid and commodious, and sometimes richly furnished. The cheaper and more common dwellings were built of wood, with checker-work fronts, or rather gable-ends of small black and yellow Dutch bricks, with the date of their erection inserted in iron figures facing the street. The roofs were tiled or shingled, and surmounted with a weathercock. The front-door was usually ornamented with a huge brass knocker, with the device of a dog's or lion's head, which was required to be burnished daily. Stuyvesant himself set the example for architectural improvement. He built for himself a gubernatorial mansion of hewed stone, and called it "Whitehall." It was located upon the street which was subsequently named for it. Gardens surrounded it on three sides, and a rich velvet lawn in front extended to the water's edge, where lay the governor's barge at the foot of fine cut-stone steps. Upon the north side of the grounds was an imposing gateway. The governor's country-seat (or Bouwerij), where he and his family spent the summer months, embraced the greater portion of the present Eleventh, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Wards. It cost him originally six thousand four hundred guilders. The house was a great, commodious, comfortable, and home-like specimen of Holland architecture; the gardens were remarkably fine, and the land in a high state of cultivation. From thirty to fifty negro slaves, besides a number of white servants, were constantly employed in the improvement of the grounds. The road to the city had been put in good condition, and shade-trees were planted on each side where it crossed the governor's property. Some of the rich merchants owned houses even finer than those of the governor. Pearl Street was the favorite locality for building, and was well lined with dwellings; a fine garden belonging to the company occupied the present site of Trinity Church and Churchyard. In 1656 a market-stand for country-wagons was established on an uninclosed space near the Bowling Green. Three years later a yearly fair for the sale of cattle was located beside this market-stand. It commenced October 20th, and closed late in November; it brought strangers from all parts of the country, including New England, and threw business constantly in the way of the merchants. This fair continued yearly for more than sixty years.
The good people of New Amsterdam possessed the homely domestic virtues which have always and everywhere characterized the Dutch. They were sociable among themselves, but averse to public display, though holding the national festivals in high esteem. Christmas, as in England, was observed as a religious, domestic, and merrymaking holiday, the Dutch often calling it the "children's festival." The evening was devoted to the giving of presents, and "Christmas-trees" were everywhere in vogue. "New-Year's-day" was celebrated as now by the interchange of visits. Cake, wine, and punch, were offered to the guests. It was one of the most important social observances of the year, and was conducted with much ceremony. Gifts, on that day, particularly in families and among intimate friends, were by no means unusual; and, in fact, this joyous festival is one of the few "institutions" which modern New-Yorkers have inherited intact from their Dutch predecessors. Dinner-giving was much practised, and the richer citizens vied with each other in the frequency and liberality of their entertainments, costly wines flowing like water on such occasions. Weddings, christenings, and the like were observed with much ceremony and display, and the wedding-gifts when members of the old families were united in marriage would compare in profusion and costliness with similar extravagances (so called) of the present day.
Some of the laws of that period are unique, not to say amusing. It was expressly enjoined upon women that they should not scold; the penalty being arrest, imprisonment, and fine, or, for aggravated cases, a public whipping. Slander was esteemed a rank offense. A certain Jan Adamsen, for slandering some respectable persons, was in 1657 condemned to be "struck through the tongue with a red-hot iron, and banished from the province." The severity of the sentences and the peculiar modes of punishment were rather a feature of the times than peculiar to New-Amsterdammers, who, in fact, leaned toward lenity in some things. For instance, a law was enacted in 1658 forbidding the whipping of negro slaves without first obtaining the permission of the city magistrates. The same year (1658)the first fire-company was organized. It was called the "Rattle-Watch;" and consisted of eight men, who were to do duty from nine o'clock in the evening until morning drum-beat. Two hundred and fifty-five buckets, with hooks, and ladders, were imported from Holland, reaching New Amsterdam on the 12th of August.
Stuyvesant, like his predecessor, had much trouble with the Indians whom the Dutch had dispossessed, and several bloody wars and an almost continual succession of desultory outrages marked the last ten years of his incumbency. But his most serious difficulties came from his English neighbors. It will be recollected that from the very beginning the British Government had denied the right of the Dutch to occupy New Netherland; and the New England colonists, though usually on terms of commercial intercourse with their thrifty neighbors, persisted in regarding them as interlopers and enemies. Disputes as to boundaries and the like were incessantly arising, and Stuyvesant exhibited more patience than he ever revealed elsewhere in trying to adjust them; but, in spite of all his efforts, the English perpetually encroached upon his territory, until at length, in 1654, and expedition was organized in Boston which would certainly have settled the question by taking possession of New Amsterdam, had not peace been opportunely proclaimed between England and Holland. Stuyvesant set apart a day of general thanksgiving for this timely deliverance, but he speedily found that the catastrophe had been postponed, not averted, and that the pressure from his restless neighbors increased rather than diminished. After 1656 there was scarcely a month in which he was free from difficulty in this respect; in 1663 Long Island had substantially freed itself from Dutch rule; and, at length, in order to anticipate and profit by the inevitable end, a clique at the British court, headed by the Duke of York, obtained a patent from Charles II., and secretly fitted out an expedition against New Amsterdam. England and Holland were then at peace with each other, but the Duke of York, who had been appointed Lord High Admiral of the British Navy, borrowed of the king four war-vessels, on which he embarked four hundred and fifty veteran soldiers, under the command of Colonel Richard Nicholls, the groom of his bed-chamber, who was also commissioned as governor of the yet unpossessed territory. The fleet sailed from Portsmouth about the middle of May, 1664, and before the end of August was anchored in New York Bay, just below the Narrows. Stuyvesant had received some hints of the expedition, and had endeavored to place the city in a state of siege; yet when Nicholls arrived before the place it was ill prepared to resist such a force as he could bring against it. The fort and the wall at Wall Street, however effective against Indians, would avail nothing against a civilized foe, and there was exposure on two rivers. Four hundred men were all that could be mustered for defense, and the powder in the fort amounted to only six hundred pounds. Then the English inhabitants were numerous, and would aid the king's forces; and the latter, before casting anchor, had cut off all communication between the city and Long Island, and had scattered proclamation through the country, promising security of life and property to all who would quietly submit to the government of England. In this emergency Stuyvesant bore himself in a manner worthy of a brave soldier. He would not listen to Nicholls's extremely favorable terms of surrender, further that to gain time by negotiation; he tried to shake the English commander's purpose by a long argument, proving the validity of the Dutch claim, and picturing the disastrous consequences that would ensue from such an infraction of the peace between the two countries; and, failing in this, determined to defend the city to the last. Only the evident purpose of the dismayed citizens to deliver up the place whether he consented or not deterred him from his resolution; and when at length he yielded, he obtained terms as advantageous, perhaps, as ever were granted by a conqueror. On Monday, September 7, 1664, the Dutch garrison marched out of the fort, carrying their arms, with drums beating and colors flying, and embarked on a vessel for Holland; and as they departed the English columns entered the town. The city magistrates were assembled in the council-chamber, and with much ceremony proclaimed Nicolls governor of the province. The English flag was raised over the fort, which was now named Fort James, and New Amsterdam was henceforth to be known as New York.
7. British Governor Richard Nicholls 1664-
This conquest of New Netherland has been justly stigmatized as an act of peculiar baseness, and it is almost a pleasure to know that in the war which it provoked the Dutch fleets not only swept the Channel, but entered the Thames, burned the warehouses and dock-yards at Chatham, and terrified the citizens of London with the roar of their cannon; yet if ever an enterprise invited its fate that enterprise was the Dutch occupancy of New Netherland. Part of the blame in the matter must be assigned to Stuyvesant, who knew at once the weakness of the province and the danger to which it was exposed, and yet failed to make even such provision for its defense as was in his power; but the chief fault lies with the West India Company and the States-General, the former of whom always treated the colony as a mere commercial venture, while the latter neglected until it was too late even to give the enterprise the legal status to which it was entitled and which would have removed half its difficulties.
Whatever may be thought, however, of the moral quality of the transaction, it cannot be denied that its passing into English control was one of the most important of the steps by which New York has become the metropolis of a continent, and that it was fortunate for the city that it occurred as early as it did. Henceforth England was to maintain an almost undisputed naval and commercial preeminence among the nations, and, sheltered beneath that, New York, instead of growing very gradually into a thriving Dutch provincial town - which was the utmost it could have attained under its original masters - entered at once upon the career of prosperity which its natural advantages had marked out for it. All the circumstances of its change of sovereignty were fortunate for the infant city. The Duke of York was a practical business man, and had been told that his new territory, if well managed, would yield him thirty thousand pounds per annum. It was his policy to conciliate his new subjects rather than inflict upon them the usual pains and penalties, and so far as he knew how he stimulated and encouraged their enterprises. No one was molested in his property or pursuits, and the transfer of allegiance involved less disturbance than a change of governors had often done under the old regime, for Nicholls proved himself a worthy successor of Stuyvesant. The incoming English cordially coalesced with the sturdy Dutch burghers whom they found in possession; and the latter, on their part, were content to reap the benefits of the ever-increasing prosperity of the city, and to enjoy that social and political dominance which they maintained down to the Revolutionary period. Even the forms of government and the methods of administration were altered as little as possible, and the conquered citizens had the satisfaction of seeing the old faces at the council-board, and in nearly all the public offices. Some degree of national feeling persisted, of course, though the ties which bound the colony to the mother-country had never been as strong as they would have been had the settlement been a popular or national instead of a commercial enterprise; but complete social harmony prevailed almost from the start, and soon Dutch and English names could be found side by side in every list of municipal or provincial officials. When the city was recaptured by a Dutch fleet in 1673, the Dutch local militia assisted the invaders by spiking the guns of a battery, and the event was hailed with loyal enthusiasm by most of the old citizens; yet when less than a year later the province was restored to England by treaty, all parties quietly acquiesced, and ere many years the British kind had no better or more contented subjects than where to be found in his city of New York.
It would be neither useful not interesting for us to give even a summary of the events that occurred between the English conquest and the outbreak of the Revolution. Mrs. Lamb had rendered her record of them readable by heaping every species of illustrative detail around what would otherwise be a very dull chronicle; but lack of space would prevent our doing anything of the kind, even if the success with which she has performed the task had not rendered it superfluous for any one else to attempt it. The remaining purposes of our hasty sketch will be accomplished if we merely mention the more significant data that indicate the growth of the city and its character at different periods.
8. The Userpation by Jacob Leisler
Perhaps the most striking incident of the period which we have now reached is the usurpation, tyranny, revolution, or whatever else will most appropriately describe it, of Jacob Leisler - an incident so grotesque as to cause a smile as we read of it, and yet a fit antetype of that rule of demagogues of which New York has so often in recent years been the theatre. Leisler was a German merchant of some means and respectable social standing, but of little education and brutal manners, who, prior to the episode of which we are about to speak, made no pretention to ascendancy among his fellows. When, in 1689, the news reached New York of the revolution in England, which had seated William and Mary on the throne, the colonists, as elsewhere in America, repudiated the authority of the then royal governor, and in the absence of any generally recognized head speedily fell into anarchy. A sort of panic regarding the French and Indians prevailed, and six companies of militia, called trainbands, were organized for the protection of the city. Of one of these companies Leisler was appointed captain, and, aided by the influence which this position gave him, and a certain rude force of character, he soon gained the leadership of the mob into whose hands the city was rapidly falling, and to which the militia furnished its most turbulent members. Driven on by the clamors of the mob to repudiate Nicholson, the lieutenant-governor, who was accused of being a papist and a traitor, the militia-captains took possession of the fort, and agreed to govern alternately until orders came from England; but Leisler professed to distrust the loyalty of the other captains, and, supported by the mob, seized the reigns of government, and speedily developed the qualities of a genuine autocrat. He penned an address to William and Mary in behalf of the "militia and inhabitants of New York," representing himself as acting in their interest against disloyal aristocrats, who favored the dethroned James II; he drove the Common Council from their chamber with a squad of soldiers, appointed his own collector of customs, and packed the "Committee of Safety" so as to secure his appointment as commander-in-chief of the province; he suspended the local courts, and substituted arbitrary arrest and punishment at will for the normal operations of the law; he denounced as "Jacobites" and "papists" all who refused to recognize his authority, and then assumed the right to imprison all who were suspected of popery or of sympathy with the exiled monarch; he banished some of the leading citizens, increased the taxes, and enforced his commands with the reckless soldiery; and actually sent an expedition against Albany to enforce his authority there over the entire province. He issued new commissions, making justices, sheriffs, and military officers, in the carious counties; his minions prowled about the country arresting those who rebelled, and the jails had to be enlarged in order to hold the army of captives; he commissioned courts of oyer and terminer, and to compel the payment of customs and excise duties erected a court of exchequer; and he compelled the Assembly to pass a law inflicting a fine of seventy-five pounds on any one refusing to accept a commission from himself, and another decreeing that any one leaving his home without his permission should be fined one hundred pounds. For nearly two years New York was under a military despotism of the most abject sort -the sovereignty of a demagogue based on the supremacy of a mob; yet, strange to say, there was in all that time no organized effort of overthrow it, and Leisler might easily have maintained his position had he not had the temerity to place himself in open opposition to the royal authority. The eyes of King William were at length opened to the state of affairs in New York, and he sent out a new governor with full powers. Leisler refused to recognize his authority, and actually fired on the king's troops; and for this last offense he was indicted, condemned, and though not without great opposition and hesitation, executed as a traitor, along with his principal companion and abettor. Commenting upon the entire episode, Mrs. Lamb says, "Concerning no public actor in colonial history has opinion more widely differed than in regard to Jacob Leisler. He had been held up as a champion of Dutch democracy against English aristocracy, of Protestantism against Romanism, of republicanism against monarchism. It is evident, however, from a careful analysis of his official career, that there was no struggle in New York to call for championship in any of these directions. And his acts clearly negative all claim to democratic theories. He seized authority with honest intentions, and with unquestionable belief in the plots his fancy created. He afterward became infatuated with the novelty of his position, and his strong passions and feeble judgment led him into more impardonable excesses than were ever committed by any of the governors placed over the colony by the crown of England. And yet he was not a bad man, and his execution was a shocking blunder. He became a martyr in memory, not a convict, and his death was the stock of a party which for years, but its triumphs and defeats, retarded seriously the prosperity of New York."
9. The Growth of New York After the British Conquest
Meantime, in spite of political turmoils, the city grew in population, wealth, and size. The population, which was fifteen hundred at the English conquest, had doubled when the Dutch recaptured the city nine years later, and by the year 1700 had reached five thousand. In 1670 was established the first Exchange; the merchants met every Friday morning, between eleven and twelve o'clock, at the bridge which crossed the ditch at Broad Street - the site of what is now Exchange Place. In 1673 the first mail to Boston was established; it was carried once a month by a salaried messenger, who included Hartford and other towns on the way, and was instructed to form a post-road by marking trees, "that shall guide other travelers as well." The year 1683 was made memorable by the meeting of the first Provincial Assembly, which secured for New York the most substantial benefits of self-government. In the same year the city secured from the Duke of York the right to elect aldermen and treasurer, and all other privileged accorded to similar corporations in England; and in 1686 a regular charter was granted to it, which was one of the most liberal ever conferred upon a colonial city. It confirmed all former "rights and privileges," and conveyed to the corporation nearly all the property it has since held. In 1692 Water Street was created by filling in the shore along East River, and Pine, Cedar, and the neighboring streets were laid out through the old "Damen Farm," which was bounded north by Maiden Lane. This latter street was so called from the fact that it was a resort for washer-women, because of a little stream of spring-water which ran through the valley at that point. Street-cleaning was also one of the subjects of city legislation this year; a law was passed requiring every householder to keep the street clean in front of his own door, and another directing the street-surveyor to have all "stramonium and other poisonous weeds rooted up within the city." In 1694 the first printed book was published by a young printer named William Bradford; and in 1697 the streets were first lighted, in accordance with the following ordinance: "The board taking into consideration the great inconvenience that attends this city, for want of lights in the dark time of the moon, in the winter-season, it is therefore ordered that the housekeepers of the city shall put out lights in the following manner, viz., every seventh house shall cause a lantern with a candle in it to be hung on a pole, the charges to be defrayed equally by the inhabitants of the said seven houses." The same year a night-watch was instituted "to go round the city each hour of the night with a bell, to proclaim the season of the weather and the hour of the night." The first Trinity Church was built in 1696, and in 1700 a new City Hall was erected on the site of the present Custom-House in Wall Street, at a cost of three thousand pounds, the old hall, which was in an advanced state of decay, being sold for nine hundred and twenty pounds.
10. Observations of New York by Sarah Knight of Boston in 1701
During the autumn of 1701 Madam Sarah Knight journeyed from Boston to New York on horseback, and wrote some entertaining noted about her trip. She was obliged to ford some rivers, and cross others in a frail scow, and, as for taverns, there were no such conveniences as yet along the route. The city of New York was so very unlike Boston that she regarded it with special interest. The half blending of Dutch and English customs, the confusion of tongues, the variety of fashions, and the different styles of equipage, attracted and amused her. She describes the prevailing style of architecture as plain, the brick buildings being "in divers colors laid in checks and glazed." The inside was more elaborate than the outside, and neat to a fault. The hearthstones usually extended far into the room, and were laid with tiles; the staircases were highly ornamented. The streets of the city were generally paved to the width of ten feet from the fronts of the houses on each side of the way, while the centre served the double purpose of gutter and sewer. A few "brick pathways" were the only sidewalks. Broadway was shaded with beautiful trees on either side.
11. Observations of New York by Professor Kalm of Sweden in 1751
With this it will be interesting to compare the following description by Professor Kalm, a Swedish traveler who visited the city in 1751:
"In size New York comes nearest to Baltimore and Philadelphia; but with regard to its fine buildings, its opulence, and extensive commerce, it disputes the preference with them. The streets do not run so straight as those of Philadelphia, and have sometimes considerable bendings; however, they are very spacious and well built, and most of them paved, excepting in high places where it has been found useless. In the chief streets there are trees planted, which in summer give them a fine appearance, and during excessive heat afford a cooling shade. I found it extremely pleasant to walk in the town, for it seemed like a garden. Most of the houses are built of bricks, and are generally strong and neat, and several stories high; some have, according to the old architecture, turned the gable-end toward the street, but the new houses are altered in this respect. Many of the houses have a balcony on the roof, upon which the people sit at evening in the summer-time; and from thence they have a pleasant view of a great part of the town, and likewise of part of the adjacent water and the opposite shore. There is no good water to be met with in the town itself; but at a little distance there is a large spring of good water, which the inhabitants take for their tea and for the uses of the kitchen....New York probably carries on a more extensive commerce than any town in the English North American provinces. They export to London all the various sorts of skins which they buy of the Indians, sugar, logwood, and other dyeing woods; rum, mahogany, and many other goods, which are the produce of the West Indies. Every year they build several ships here which are sent to London and there sold; and of late years they have shipped a great quantity of iron to England. In return for these they import from London stuffs, and every other article of English growth and manufacture, together with all sorts of foreign goods. England, and especially London, profits immensely by this trade. There are two printers in the town, and every week some gazettes, in English, are published, which contain news from all parts of the world."
12. A Display of Profuse Magnificence
The style of dress throughout this period was very showy and conspicuous. Gay pendants were worn in the ears, costly crosses were suspended about the neck, and diamonds and bright brocades were esteemed essential to respectability among the wealthier families. Tight-lacing and wide skirts prevailed. The hair was frizzled and curled, and arranged in a great variety of fantastic ways, and in this respect the gentlemen outdid the ladies. They concealed their hair altogether by enormous wigs, which were supposed to greatly beautify the countenance. Bright colors were universally worn. The most gorgeous combinations appeared in the fabrics of a lady's wardrobe, and gentlemen wore coats and other garments presenting all the hues of the rainbow. Large silver buttons adorned coats and vests, often with the initial of the wearer's name engraved on each button. Occasionally an entire suit would be decorated with conch-shell buttons silver-mounted. Even coaches were painted and gilded in the most showy manner. A writer of the day, seeing the equipage of Lewis Morris rolling down "the Broad Way" toward the fort, speaks of its silver mountings glittering in the sun, and of the family arms emblazoned upon it in many places. Though containing less than twenty thousand inhabitants in 1760, New York was the richest city in proportion to its population in the king's dominions. It contained "no beggars and no poverty." as Lord Bellamont said of an earlier period; and the wealthier merchants displayed a profuse magnificence in their social entertainments which surpassed anything practised at the time by the richest aristocracy of the Old World. The following descriptions of William Walton's private residence (built in 1752, and still standing, in Franklin Square) will serve as a specimen: "It was English in design; and it was as far as practicable an improvement upon all previous architecture. Its walls were substantial as many modern churches. Its bricks, brown water-tables, lintels, jambs, and decorations were all imported, as also its expensive furniture, which was in keeping with the style of the structure. The superb staircase in its ample hall, with mahogany had-rail and banisters, by age as dark as ebony, was fit for any nobleman's palace. It had a broad portico upheld by fluted columns, and surmounted by armorial bearings; and quaint heads cut from the freestone looked down upon the street from between the windows. The grounds extended to the water, and were laid out and cultivated with fastidious care." Walton was a very hospitable man, and his expensive banquets were prolific subjects for criticism in England when the controversies arose shortly afterward regarding taxation. His table was always spread with the choosiest viands, and "groaned under its weight of brilliant, massive silver," while a forest of decanters graced the sideboards, and costly wines flowed free and fast.
The Seal of the State of New York
13. New York's Part Leading to the Revolution
Of the part which New York played in the initial steps that led to the great Revolution, we could glean many novel and interesting facts from Mrs. Lamb's pages had we not already reached the limits of our space. Mrs. Lamb claims, and apparently proves, that New-Yorkers exhibited more of that sturdy sentiment of independence, and that high sense of political justice, which characterized the Revolutionary generation, that any other colonists; and that they took the lead in most of the measures of resistance to the encroachments of the crown. In 1765 a congress of delegates from nine colonies met in the city, and adopted a Bill of Rights in which they asserted that the sole power of taxation resided in the colonies. In the same year the "Sons of Liberty" were organized to oppose the Stamp Act; and in 1770 a mass-meeting of the citizens was held, who resolved not to submit to oppression, and a slight collision with the troops occurred. In 1773 the Vigilance Committee agreed to resist the landing of tea, and the following year a ship thus laden was sent back to England, while eighteen chests found on another vessel were thrown overboard. Mrs. Lamb brings her volume to a close with the formation of the famous Revolutionary committees, and here we may appropriately close our sketch of Old New York. During the greater portion of the war which followed, New York remained practically an English town, and when the war ended and the city had become temporarily the seat of the Federal Government, a new period in its history had begun, marked off quite definitely in many respects from the pre-Revolutionary epoch. The peculiar social characteristics of Old New York rapidly disappeared, though its commercial prosperity developed with greater rapidity than ever, and even the external appearance of the city was completely changes by two destructive conflagrations which occurred during the British occupation, one in 1776 and the other in 1778.
Source: Jones, C. H., "Old New York," Appletons' Journal. Volume 5, Issue 6; New York: D. Appleton and Company. December 1878. Pages 514-523.