The History of New York State
Book II, Chapter III
Part VI

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

First Skirmish of Revolution--Meanwhile clashes that grew continually more serious marked the intercourse between the British soldiers in New York and the civil population. The sacking of the house of Major James by the sons of Liberty, in 1765, was neither forgotten nor forgiven by the British, whose artillery guard has ignominiously fled before the presence of the mob, whose taunts never allowed the soldiers to slight the incident. In December, 1765, a demand had been presented to the New York Assembly which fanned the embers of discontent still more strongly. This was nothing less than a requisition that the population provide free quarters for as many British troops as the British ministry choose to send over and to supply them with firewood, bedding, drink, soap and candles. The New York Assembly refused absolutely to accede to this demand. At the most it declared its willingness to provide quarters for troops on the march and then only after an estimate of the cost. There was a clash between troops and citizens as early as July 21,m 1766. There were later collisions round the Liberty Pole, a tall mast raised by the Sons of Liberty after the repeal of the Stamp Act. Repeated attempts were made by the soldiers to chip down the pole, and battles royal often occurred. They succeeded in several encounters and the first and second Liberty Poles were cut down. But a third pole went speedily up, only to be cut down in March, 1767. A fourth pole was set up more strongly braced than the others, and a watch set to guard it. This pole was destroyed by British soldiers in January, 1770. The animosity between Soldiers and people led to an affair which has been claimed for New York as the first battle of the American Revolution. It took place on January 18, 1770, on Golden Hill, a situation now represented by that part of John Street which is between William and Cliff.

Here a party of between twenty and thirty British soldiers engaged with a crows of citizens. When these soldiers had been reinforced an order was given to charge the people down the slope of the hill. No bullets seemed to have been fired, but serious wound were inflicted, and a sailor fighting on the side of the citizens was killed.

In the critical years that led up to the continuous War of the Revolution the three newspapers of the city played an important part in the crystallization of public opinion. The "New York Gazette" and "Weekly Post boy," printed and edited by John Holt, staunchly took the part of the people. In 1774 Hold adopted as a device on the first page of his paper a snake broken into pieces, with the motto underneath: "Unite or Die," derived from the cut in Franklin's Philadelphia paper. In 1775 Holt printed the cut with the pieces untied. Somewhat on the other side was the "Mercury" of Hugh Gaines, for this sheet was often used by the Tories of the city as the organ of their opinions. Then there was the "Journal," or "General Advertiser." There were notable articles on the subject of Liberty signed by "Sentinel," and John Morin Scott, under the pseudonym of "Freeman," descanted on the affairs of the moment. Dr. Myles Cooper, head of the King's College, wrote gravely and ponderously on the duty of the subject towards the sovereign, but his arguments were brilliantly answered by an unknown antagonist, who later proved to be non other then the talented youth, who was later to distinguish himself as Alexander Hamilton. The mayors during this period were John Cruger and Whitehead Hicks, who assumed the chair after the repeal of the Stamp Act. The corner-stone of the New York Hospital was laid during his administration on September 2, 1773, by Governor Tryon.

Life in New York--It will be worth while to stop for a moment and contemplate the manner of life and amusements of the people of New York in these years that formed the eve of the Revolution. Their habits were regular, or rather, their hours were regular.

They rose early, if not with the sun, and had an hour or more at their office or stores, which, before the Revolution, were usually under the same roof as their dwellings, and after a visit tot he market, which no head of a New York house ever omitted breakfasted in a hearty manner. The dinner-house was from one to three, and the tea at nightfall, what today would be called "high tea." A supper invariably followed at the tavern, or coffee-house, where ale or punch were drunk, crabs were picked pout, or escalloped oysters (a favorite dish) eaten, and piles smoked in the winter; or in the summer lighter beverages, with fruits and ices, consumed at the tea and mead-houses, the Ranelagh or the Vauxhall, on the outskirts of the town. for the high gentry, the English officials, and those of the colony in particular, who had country estates in the neighborhood of New York, racing was the chief delight. New Yorkers of today will open their eyes they are told that in 1742 a race was run on the Church farm, not a stone's throw to the northwest from where the present Astor House stands; and here, in 1750--five horses running for the October subscription place--Mr. Lewis Morris, jr.., carried away the first prize. His horse is not named. It was not the custom to name horses which had not taken a purse, and this race was open only to horses which had never taken a purse in Manhattan Island. The great course was the Newmarket, on Hempstead Plains, an ideal piece of ground for a track, to which, in May of that year, twenty chairs and chaises crossed the ferry the day before the "event," and a far greater number of horses, "and it was thought that the number of horses on the plains at the race far exceeded a thousand." The chief racing stables in the New York province were those of Morris and De Lancey in Westchester. In 1753 the subscription plate was run for at Greenwich, on the estate of Admiral Sir Peter Warren, who died the year previous, and which was now in charge of his kinsmen and executor, Oliver De Lancey, a famous sportsman. General Monckton later occupied "Richmond" during his brief stay in this government. The governor had a fine horse named Smoaker, with which John Leary, the jockey of the day, won a bowl, which he would not surrender to Watts, the general's friend, not even under threat of the terrors of the law. Five years later Leary was still tenacious. Besides the Church Farm and Greenwich tracks, there was a third course at Harlem. There were other New Yorkers keen for the sport; Anthony Rutgers, of New York, and Michael Kearney, Irish-born--who married a daughter of Lewis Morris, and was ancestor of the dashing Phil Kearney, of military fame--were thorough sportsmen. The middle and southern colonies were not behind in their love of sports. Dr. Hamilton led the patrons of the turf in New jersey, and Mr. Daniel Dulaney, who was also of Irish birth, those in Maryland. #7

The Congress that met at New York to consider the ways and means that ought to be adopted in the face of the Stamp Act brought together a number of people who had known each other well by repute, but who had never before met in person. In the year that followed there grew up quite a spirit of rivalry in horse racing between the northern and southern colonies.

The years 1767, 1768, and 1769 are memorable in the history of the turf. Lewis Morris won reputation for his Westchester stables with his American Childers and Strumpet. In October, 1769, James De Lancey, with his imported hose, Lath, brought home from the Centre course at Philadelphia the £100 prize. The De Lancey stables were the most expensive of any in the north, and from this period to the Revolution their colors were on every course. A curious instance shows the difficulties sportsmen as well as tradesmen had to contend with because of the debased state of the coinage and the irregular values of the currency of the colonies. On the Maryland course, Dulaney made a match with De Lancey for a race for a "struck half-bushel" of Spanish dollars--that is, by weight. Later the Marylanders declined to take their money against Virginia currency at the Leestown course on the Potomac, the Virginia paper having been "counterfeited in a masterly manner." The most celebrated of the races of the stamp act period was that between True-Briton and Selim, in 1765, at the very height of the hostile feeling against Great Britain. True-Briton was English-born; Selim, a grandson of the Godolphin Arabian, was American-born, and had the fleetest foot in the colonies. The race was over the Philadelphia course and for £1,000 stakes. One Waters, who owned True-Briton, had challenged the continent, in true British boastfulness of language to a trail of speed. Samuel Galloway, of Maryland, answered his defiance with Selim. The race was hardly a trial of speed, but the matchless Selim bore off the honors and the purse. Another True-Briton belonging to James De Lancey won Revolutionary fame. It is said of this animal that Col. Oliver De Lancey would jump his back, and forth from a standstill over a five-barred gate. In 1768, the "terrific Selim" came to grief with

Dr. Hamilton's Figure, scion of the Duke of Devonshire's Arabian, on the course of Upper Marlborough, near Newburgh-on-the-Hudson. These are but instances of the trials for speed in which the New York stables were represented. They serve to show not only the spirit, but the wealth of the period.

Racing on the water was not much in fashion, though the gentry had their barges, and some their yachts or pleasure sailboats. The most elaborate barge (with awning and damask curtains) of which there is mention was that of governor Montgomerie, and the most noted yacht was the "Fancy," belonging to Col. Lewis Morris, whose Morrisania manor, on the peaceful waters of the Sound, gave fine harbor and safe opportunity for sailing. There is an interesting account of a boat race in 1756 by one of sixteen whaleboats (each manned by six men) which arrived in New York from Cape Cod on the way to Albany for bateau service in the Canada campaign, with a "pettianger" belonging to the city. the Cape Cod men won the wager with ease, much to the chagrin of the townsmen. There were other less humane sports; bull-baiting, bear-baiting; and cock-fighting. A bull was baited in 1763 by the keeper of the tavern under the sign of the De Lancey Arms, in the Bowery Lane. Bulls were baited at Bayard's Mount, an elevation near the corner of Mulberry and Grand streets. Bear-baiting became more rare as the animals disappeared from this neighborhood. Cock-fight was a more aristocratic pastime. The De Lanceys were patrons of this cruel sport, one to be traced to an English origin, but hardly less cruel then the old Dutch and New Netherland custom of "pulling the goose." Good fighting-cocks were advertised in the New York papers, a were cock-gaffs of silver and steel; and the sign of the Fighting-Cocks long hung in such an aristocratic neighborhood as next door to the Exchange Coffee House. In 1763, however, it had been removed to a tavern at the Whitehall Slip. Shrove Tuesday was the day for the pitches mains. This sport lasted well into this century as a public amusement. Again, fox-hunting was a favorite pastime, both in the Pennsylvania and the New York colony. There were foxes on this island, but the less broken grounds of Long Island afforded better running and by permission each year three days' short was had on Flatland Plains, the huntsmen meeting at daybreak during the autumn racing season. That the sport offended some gentle natures appeared by a letter from a female, published before the Revolution, which closes with the delightful satire:

A fox is killed twenty men,
That fox perhaps had killed a hen;
A gallant act no doubt is here!
All wicked foxes ought to feat
When twenty dogs and twenty men
Can kill a fox that kill'd a hen.

The side-shows afforded entertainment to a different class. There is notice of a panther, seven feet long, which leaped from a window into the street, in July, 1732, and was finally shot; but whence it came no man knew. In 1751 there was advertised to be seen at the house of Mr. Edward Willett, at Whitehall a creature called Japanese, of about two feet tall, his body resembling a human body in all parts except the feet and the tail; price, one shilling; children, nine pence. In 1765 there was to be seen at the house of Edward Barden, in the Fields, at the sign of the King's Arms, a white girl, aged thirteen years, born of black parents; she is styled a "white-Negro!" and at the same place there was advertised to be sold, "a likely Negro man who can play very well on the French Horn and Trumpet, fitting to wait on a gentleman." In 1751, the town was invited to see, at the house of John Bannin, next door to Mr. Peter Brower's; near the Ditch church, "a curious live porcupine of various colors; a creature armed with darts, which resemble writing pens of different colour, and which shoots at any adversary with ease when angry or attacked, though otherwise of great good humor and gentleness." In 1755 Captain Seymour arrived in New York in the ship "Fame" in eight weeks from Cadiz. He brought with him a young lioness, which he took on board at Gibralter. He also brought from the African coast two ostriches, "fowls of that country," but they died on the voyage. In 1754 a living alligator, full four feet long, was shown for sixpence. In December, 1759, at the sign of the Ship-a-Masting, at the upper end of Moravian Street, near the back of Spring garden, there was advertised to be seen, "a wild animal lately brought from the Mississippi, called a Buffalo." Occasionally young elks were on exhibition. Of shows of another variety there was, in 1755, at the house of Adam Vandenburg, in the Broadway, a musical machine which represented the tragedy of "Bateman." The showman was Richard Brickell, a famous posture-maker, who took the theatre in Nassau Street for a display of "his dancings and tumblings." Anthony Joseph Dugee, who in 1753 announced himself as "late an apprentice of the Grand Turk Mahomet Caratha," danced at Vandenburg's Garden, "on the slack rope barely perceptible, with and without a balance," a measure which had given the greatest satisfaction to the King of Great Britain. Wax figures were exhibited by Martha Gazley as early as 1731. They were of fruit and flowers; but the more ambitious effort was made in 1749, when "the effigies of the Royal family of England, and the Empress Queen of Hungaria and Bohemia," with the play of "Whittington and his Cat," were the feature of entertainment. In 1739 there was given in Holt's Long Room "a new pantomine in grotesque characters,' called "The Adventures of Harlequin and Scaramouch." Punch's opera, "Bateman," or the Unhappy Marriage," with a fine dialogue between Punch and his wife, Joan, acted by "a set of lively figures late from Philadelphia." Was given in 1747 at the sign of the Spread Eagle, neat Whitehall Slip. The circus, with Mr. Faulk's noted performance in horseman ship, appears in 1771. The solar or camera-obscura microscope and David Lockwood's unparalleled musical clock, which "had been shown twice to the King in his royal palace of St. James." delighted and instructed the town in 1743. A microcosm, or the world in miniature, was displayed at the New Exchange in 1756. A panorama of the Battle of Culloden was exhibited in 1750. A grotto with a "Statue of Mars within pointing to General Amherst a short distance away, as meaning, 'Behold a living hero!'" was the curiosity of the neighborhood of the Bowling Green, being shown in the house next door to Mr. Rutherford's, in 1762. In 1763 the city of Malaga in miniature was exhibited opposite the Old slip, and in 1764 a model of the city of Jerusalem, as Josephus describes it, was on view opposite "the Honourable John Watts', Esqr., neat the Exchange." Experiments in electricity were given at the assembly rooms of the City Arms, in the Broadway, by William Johnson, in 1763. The theater opened, as has been stated, in 1750. The performances continued, with occasional interruptions, till August, 1773, when the depression arising from the political situation brought all public and most private entertainments to a close. The public balls were given at the principal taverns. After the middle of the century the long room at the City Arms, on the Broadway, was the favorite dancing hall. The most minute account of the danced appears in the notice of the ball in honor of Prince of Wales' birthday, in 1735, at the Black Horse Tavern, near the old Dutch church. The ball opened with French dances--the gavotte, the minuet, the courante, and the chacone--all somewhat grave in their movements, and therefore suited to the stiff-starched fashion of both female and male attire. After this Mrs. Norris led down the country danced. She was the daughter of Col. Lewis Morris, and had married Captain Norris of H. M. S. "Tartar," second son of Admiral Sir John Norris, an officer on the Atlantic station. Dancing assemblies met also at the City Arms once a fortnight during the gay season. In 1763 Charles McEvers and C. Duane were the managers. Concerts, instrumental and vocal, were given here also. In 1765 Mr. Hulet announced a concert, and that "the first violin would be performed by a gentleman lately arrived," and also a solo by the same hand (evidently an amateur), the other instrumental parts by gentlemen of the town. the dancing assembly was an idea of Edward Willet, the host of the Province Arms, and the subscription to each meeting was eight shillings. A word as to costume. the day habits were plain enough, as the gentlemen were all busy and the housewife had no idle time on their hands in a population whose chief occupation seems to have been eating and drinking; but the evening dress was always of the very latest St. James cut. The men wore long-waisted coats of velvet, silk or satin-lined, silver or gold-embroidered, buttons of precious metals, cuffs and jabots of rich Flemish or Spanish lace, long-waisted coats of brilliant pattern, small clothes, silk stockings, and diamond or paste-buckled shoes; their gloves were white dressed leather, with lace trimmings; they had wigs or perukes; they carried cocked hats and wore silver-hilted swords, which hung from richly embroidered sashes. In a word, they could ruffle with the best of their English cousins. The ladies dressed their hair low or high according to the latest mode, wore stiff laced bodices, shirts with deep panniers, hooped petticoats of considerable width (though not as vast as those of the London dames, which blocked the passages), high-heeled colored shoes, and later slippers of dainty satin or white dressed kid. They carried fans of the latest pattern. The stuffs were rich, and heavily brocaded in bunches of gold an silver of the large English pattern. By day they were as simple as Cinderella at the chimney corner. Their gowns were of plain, sensible material, woolen or calico, made short, with aprons of linen; their hats small, their hoods quiet, and at home always a muslin cap. There was a vast variety of dress goods from which to select, shipped from the four corners of the globe. Of this w may judge from the first advertisement of Mr. Isaac Low, one of the leading dry goods importers. On November 6, 1766, he announced in Holt's "New York Journal" that he "had just imported an assortment of goods suitable to the season, consisting of coatings, broadcloths, flannels, embossed serges; Paris-fans, and half stick, spotted ermine shalloons, satinets, camlimancoes, oznabrigs, sheetings; Russia drilling donlass, garlix Callicoes, cottons, cambricks, lawns; both muslin taffetas, Persian cotton lungee and new silk romalls, bandanoes, and women's gloves; worsted and cotton hose, &c., which he will sell at most reasonable terms at his tore, between the Exchange and Coenties market. Imported since the above: a fresh assortment of beautiful check and calicoes from the fountain head: Scots handkerchiefs, bed bunts, bed ticks, gartering, binding, &c." In 1768 he advertised flowered petticoating, silk corsets and Damascus silk lorettos, silk burdets and dressed deerskins. Surely, as Judge Jones implies, these were times of Arcadian simplicity, days when, as our modern satirist would say, "Miss Flora McFlimsey had nothing to wear." Richard Norris, staymaker from London, in 1771, advertised "all sorts of stays, turned and plain, thick or thin, straw, cut French hips and German jackets after the newer and best manner." Any ladies uneasy in thier shape, he likewise fits without any incumbrance, all "by methods approved by the society of Stay-makers in London." Rivington, the printer, advertised "coque de pearl necklaces, hair pins, sprigs and ear rings set round with marquisates in a new taste; fine paste and stone shoe buckles from thirty-five shillings to ten pounds and lockets for the sweet remembrance from four shillings to three pounds." Nor were the men, like our German second cousin, willing that the fair sex should have all the glitter, as similar notices show. John Still, "an honest barber and perike maker from London," who lived in Rosemary, announced, in 1750, "Tyes, full bottoms, Majors, Spencers, Fox Tails, Tamalies, Tucks, Cuts and Bob Perukes"--quite a variety of headgear; also "Ladies' Talematongues and towers, after the manner that is now worn at court." The military costumes were brilliant. Scarlet, with blue facings, was the army color. Blue and white were given to the navy by George II--"George the Victoriuis," as the loyal colonists called their fortunate King. The working classes wore fustian or homespun stuffs, short coats or tunics with knee breeches of corduroy, woolen stockings, and felt hats, or caps of ordinary fut. The Negroes affected color and wire garbs of not different pattern, but of motley hue. #8

Progress of the City--Despite the political agitation that marked the decade before the breaking out in earnest of the Revolutionary War there were certain accomplishments that showed the consistent development of the city and the province. Thus it was round that period that the streets were illuminated by lands and lamp posts at the public expense, instead of merely by lanterns suspended from the windows. A lighthouse about this time was also erected at Sandy Hook. In 1768 the Chamber of Commerce, the first mercantile institution on the continent, was founded. On the very eve of the war the population of the city had mounted to about 25,00 people. A German visitor described the city with enthusiasm shortly after the beginning of the war: "The Island of New York is the most beautiful island I have ever seen. No superfluous trunk, no useless twig, no unnecessary stalk can here be found. Projecting fruitful hillocks surrounded by orchards, meadows, and gardens, full of fruit trees, and single ones scattered over the hills, with houses attached, line both sided of the river and present to the eye a beautiful scene. The houses, which are two stories high and painted white, are encircled by a piazza and have a weathervane on top. They are also surrounded by beautiful walks and are built and furnished in the best of taste." #9

By this time the timbered houses had given way to brick houses, or houses of wood with brick fronts, or occasionally made entirely of stone. The sort of architecture that prevailed in England had begun to prevail over the sort of architecture that prevailed in the Netherlands. The Broad Way was the central thoroughfare, the streets diverging from it being as a rule narrow and poorly paved. Broadway was well lined by poplar and elm trees, that preserved the country aspect on which the city had encroached. At the foot of Broadway, then as at the earliest period of Dutch occupation, was still established the seat of government though the city hall had ascended to Wall Street. The fort at the foot of the main thoroughfare had gone through successive developments and at that time bore the name of Fort George. With its outworks it covered the eat of Whitehall Street and the south of the present Battery Place. The principal; work as built of stone, rectangular in shape, bastioned and curtained after the type originated by the engineer Vauban, and the earliest to be found in America on the South Atlantic coast. Within the limits of the fort was still to be found the residence of the provincial Governor, quarters and barracks for 200 men, powder magazines, a hospital and a chapel. An earthwork extended along the beach lien from Whitehall Street to what is now pier number one on the North River. the armament of the fort and water battery comprised 120 guns, en barbette, but at the opening of the Revolution very few were mounted. All were of small caliber and of more or less antiquity. An officer of the corps of engineers, of the British Army, reported in 1776 that Fort George seemed "to have been intended for profit and form rather than for defense, it being entirely exposed to a fire in reverse and enfilade." The trade section of the city lay between Hanover Square and Broad Street. there were the warehouses of the shipping merchants and importers as well as of the general dealers. Although, as a rule, a man confined himself to some special line, such as the ale of teas, wines, dry goods, or hardware, nevertheless there were a number of merchants who dealt in a general assortment, we read in the advertisements of the day of one who sold "cables, hemp, and broadcloths, for cash or country produce," of another who was a "tallow chandler, soap-boiler, and dealer in watches, music and jewelry," while a third offered, without fear or favor, pig-iron, anchors, pot-ash, kettles, Negro-wenches and children, horses, etcetera," A Frenchman who visited New York just before the Revolution wrote: "I do not think there are any cities on the continent where the art of constructing wharves has been pushed to a further extent. I have seen them made in forty feet of water. This is done with the trunks of pines attached, which they gradually sink, fill in with stones and cover the surface with earth. Beaver Street, today so far from the seashore, was so-called because formerly it was a little bay where these animals made a dike. Nothing is more beautiful, nothing can give as well to the contemplative spectator a higher idea of the wealth of this city, as well as of the nature of a happy and free trade, than the multitude of vessels of all sizes which are constantly tacking in this bay to leave or reach the city."

Among the public improvements that were notable in the city at that time would be included the bridewell, as new two-stores jail just completed upon the common; the waterworks, comprising a new well at the intersection of Broadway and Chambers Street, with a system of wooden pipes through which the water was distributed to the houses. In summer pleasure was found in driving over the Monument Drive, along the line of park Row and the Bowery to Astor Place, thence westward by way of Greenwich Lane to the river road, on the present line of Greenwich Street, and back to the point of departure. Winter amusements included sleigh rides and turtle feats, or an evening at the solitary theatre in John Street, near Broadway. society at these diversions made an agreeable impression on the visitor. "The ladies in this vicinity are slender, of erect carriage, and, without being strong, are plump," writes one of the Hessian officers in America. "They have small and pretty feet, good hands and arms, a very white skin, and a healthy color in the face, which requires no further embellishment. They have also exceedingly white teeth, pretty lips, and sparkling, laughing eyes. In connection with these charms they have an natural bearing, essentially unrestrained, with open frank countenances, and such native assurance. They are great admirers of cleanliness, and they keep themselves well shod. They frizz their hair every day, and gather it up at the back of the head into a chignon, at the same time pulling it up in front. They generally walk about with their heads uncovered, and sometimes, but not often, wear some light fabric on their hair. Now and then some country nymph has her hair flowing down behind her, braiding it with a piece of ribbon. Should they g out (even though they be living in a hut) they throw a silk wrap about themselves and put on gloves. They have a charming way of wearing this wrap, by means of which they manage to show a portion of a small white elbow. They also put on some well-made and stylish sunbonnet, from beneath which their roguish eyes have a most fascinating way of meeting yours." #10

The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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