New York In Bygone Days – Its Story, Streets And Landmarks

New York In Bygone Days – Its Story, Streets And Landmarks – Rufus Rockwell Wilson

Verily this Island of Manhattan is exposed to the danger of being snowed under by the showers of works scattered broadcast by her chroniclers, her eulogists, and her critics. Plentiful has been the crop of local commentaries. “New York in bygone days” is a fair type of one species of these city histories. In the main it is composed of gleanings from more ponderous and elaborate works. Mr. Wilson devotes the first volume to the civic development of the city from the first settlements around the fort to the end of the Civil War. The story is fairly well told, without a single touch of originality. Nor is there evidence that the values of the secondary sources were weighed. Extracts are given from Mrs. Lamb, who certainly permitted her pen to wander into pleasant details where verification is impossible. The excuse for being of this “New York” is that the whole story is thrown together and the reader can follow the growth of modern Gotham from its Dutch origins. In the second volume the localities are described. Still some of the personal touches tacked on to places are fresh, a, for instance, a letter from Margaret Fuller when she was the guest of Horace Greeley. Of her host she says, “His abilities in his own way are great. He believes in mine to a surprising extent. We are true friends,” – a sequence delightfully suggestive of a select mutual – admiration society. This edition contains both original volumes.

New York In Bygone Days - Its Story, Streets And Landmarks

New York In Bygone Days – Its Story, Streets And Landmarks.

Format: eBook.

New York In Bygone Days – Its Story, Streets And Landmarks

ISBN: 9783849663049.


Excerpt from the text:




I. The West India Company


THE master mariner holds first place among seventeenth-century worthies. It was an age of heroic water-fights, of daring voyages into remote seas, and of the winning of unknown lands. The Spanish king still claimed lordship over the New World, but his claims were already disputed by England and Holland, and in a hundred battles the sea-rovers of those countries finally won from him the mastery of the ocean. These sea-rovers served first one power and then another, shifting their allegiance, with the promise of greater glory and profit, as readily as they did their raiment; but they scorned hardship and danger, gave themselves gladly to lives of stormy peril, and looked forward with fine indifference to inevitable death in some one of their contests with man or with the elements.

Typical of his time and class was Henry Hudson, an English adventurer in the service of the Dutch East India Company, who, in April 1609, sailed out of the harbor of Amsterdam as captain of the little ship ” Half-Moon,” with a charge from his employers to seek a water-route to the Indies by the north side of Nova Zemlya. Ice early blocked his advance into the Arctic, and so, heading westward, a month’s cruise brought him, in July, to the coast of Newfoundland. Thence he sailed southward to the James River, Virginia, and, again altering his course, still in pursuit of a new channel to India, came early in September upon the lordly river which bears his name. He anchored for a time at its mouth, and then sailed up the stream until warned by the shoaling water that he was at the head of navigation, near the present site of Albany; whereupon he turned the bluff bows of his vessel southward, and in the opening days of October set out on his homeward voyage.

The captain of the ” Half-Moon” had failed to find the Northwest passage, in further quest of which he was to perish grimly among the frozen waters of Hudson’s Bay; but his voyage had noble issue in the planting of a trading hamlet, which the years have transformed into an imperial city. The merchants of Holland at that period annually dispatched a hundred vessels to Archangel for furs; and Hudson’s glowing accounts of the great stores of fine peltries he had seen in the possession of the Indians with whom he had bartered in his voyaging up and down the river fixed the attention of his employers upon a country where these articles could be had without the taxes of custom-houses and other duties. Early in the following year a vessel commanded by the former mate of the ” Half Moon” was sent across to trade with the savages and report further upon the country. Handsome profits attended this venture, and in 1613 the ” Fortune” and the ” Tiger,” commanded respectively by Hendrick Christaensen and Adrian Block, sailed for the newly found bay and river, being followed within a twelvemonth by three other vessels from Amsterdam and Hoven. Block lost his ship by fire while at anchor off Manhattan Island, and, being a man of grit and resource, he devoted a laborious winter to building another, with such tools and materials as he could command. She was aptly christened the ” Restless,” when finished in the spring of 1614, and was the second vessel launched by white men in New World waters.

Block and his fellow-captains carried back to Holland such generous cargoes of furs that their masters were prompted to open regular communication with the Hudson River country and to establish trading-posts at its head and at its mouth for the purchase and collection of skins while the vessels were on their voyages to and from Holland. The main post, called Fort Nassau, was located just below the site of Albany; but four small huts were also built on Manhattan Island, their location being that now covered by Aldrich Court, at No. 41 Broadway. Captain Christaensen was appointed headman over both posts. This doughty sailor turned trader, and his half-dozen comrades were, therefore, the first white settlers on Manhattan Island. They found its lower end, when they explored their new home, made up of wooded hills and grassy valleys, rich in wild fruits and flowers, and its middle portion covered in part by a chain of swamps and marshes and a deep pond, with a tiny island in its middle, while to the northward it rose into high rocky ground, covered by a dense forest, which was filled with abundance of game. Smaller ponds dotted the island in various places, and these, with a score of brooks and rivulets, swarmed with fish. It was an ideal nesting-place for men who loved the wilderness, and here the new-comers hunted, fished, and idled, or bartered the while with the Indians for the bales of valuable furs which, at intervals of many months, went to make up the cargoes of the three or four small vessels regularly sent out from Holland.

Now and then they quarreled with their dusky neighbors, the Manhattans, an offshoot of the great nation of the Lenni Lenape, and in one of these quarrels Christaensen lost his life. The trade he had helped to establish, however, grew and prospered, for before the founding of Fort Nassau the merchants who first engaged in it had joined with others in the formation of the United New Netherland Company, to which the government of the Netherlands granted the monopoly of the fur trade with the newly discovered country for three years from 1615. All other persons were forbidden to trade in the regions covered by the grant, the penalty being the confiscation of vessels and cargoes, with an added fine of fifty thousand Dutch ducats for the benefit of the grantees. This monopoly seems in these later times to speak a narrow and grasping spirit, but it was the natural product of an age when every nation’s hand was turned against its neighbor and the settlement and conquest of new lands were left in the main to great trading companies. It was renewed for a year at a time until 1621, when the famous West India Company was chartered by the States General and given for twenty years the exclusive right of trade and commerce in what had now come to be known as the Province of New Netherland. The new company was granted a like monopoly in all other regions in the Americas over which the Dutch claimed jurisdiction, and for many years played a militant and heroic part in the history of the Netherlands. It waged war or made peace at its will, and founded colonies and cities which knew no authority but its own, while its ships and captains fought the king of Spain in all of the Seven Seas and sent to Amsterdam and her sisters such stores of loot from Spanish treasure-ships and the sacked cities of Brazil as made them for a time the richest of Old World towns.

Before the founding of the West India Company a formal treaty of peace had been concluded, in 1618, with the powerful Indian league of the Iroquois, which enabled the Dutch traders to push still farther into the wilderness in their hunt for furs, this with increased profit to their employers; and five years later Fort Orange was built within the limits of the present city of Albany. The West India Company, moreover, had been formed for colonization as well as for trade, and addressed itself without delay to its double task. The ship ” New Netherland” was sent out from Amsterdam early in 1623, with some thirty families of Walloons, or French Protestants, who sought beyond the sea a refuge from religious persecution in their own land. A majority of the new-comers settled about Fort Orange, and others on the shore of Long Island, where is now the Brooklyn navy-yard. Yet another party was put ashore on Manhattan. More families came in 1625, bringing with them tools for farming and a hundred head of cattle, and soon the Manhattan settlement numbered upward of five score persons, men who with their wives and little ones had come as homemakers, and not as transient traders. To confirm this promise of permanency a shrewd and energetic native of the duchy of Cleves, Peter Minuit by name, was appointed director-general of the colony, with power to organize a provisional government. He arrived at his post in May, 1626, at the head of another band of colonists, and having, with commendable promptness and honesty, bought Manhattan Island from its Indian owners for the sum of sixty guilders, twenty-four dollars, in beads and ribbons, he proceeded to christen the infant town New Amsterdam. The name thus given it recalls an important feature of the management of the Dutch West India Company. That corporation was, speaking in a broad way, a commercial federation with branches established in the several cities of Holland. Each branch, though subject to the collective authority of its fellows, was clothed with distinct rights and privileges of its own, and was assigned a specific territory, over which it exercised the right of government and of trade. Thus, the post on Manhattan Island, with its dependent territory, claimed as extending from the Connecticut River to Chesapeake Bay and inland indefinitely, became the portion of the Amsterdam branch, and the name of New Amsterdam was given to the post.

Minuit had pith and quality, and he was, all things considered, the ablest and best of the sundry directors who in turn ruled town and colony during their domination by the Dutch. He established and maintained friendly relations with the Indians, who in steadily growing numbers came to the little hamlet to barter and sell their furs. He built a horse-mill, whose upper story was devoted to sacred uses, a brewery, a bakery, warehouses for the company, a blockhouse, later enlarged into a fort, and, along with the fullest religious toleration, gave to each newcomer a cordial welcome and the use of as much land as he could cultivate. Not only Walloons and Huguenots, but Lutherans, Baptists, and Catholics, upon taking the oath of allegiance, were placed upon an equal footing in all things, and, flocking to the new city of refuge, helped to shape and emphasize the tolerant and cosmopolitan spirit which has continued down to the present time to be the distinguishing feature of its life. Thus, under Minuit’s liberal and tactful rule, the population of New Amsterdam rapidly increased in numbers and in wealth; its trade grew and flourished, and the director was enabled to load the homeward-bound ships with larger and still larger cargoes of furs, which helped to make the stock of the West India Company yield handsome dividends and to rise to a high premium on the exchanges of Holland.

Minuit was handicapped, however, by a false and vicious, and, as the sequel proved, wholly defective scheme of colonization. The West India Company allowed the settlers no part in the management of their affairs. The schout, who acted as sheriff and collector of customs, and the council of five members which assisted Minuit in the discharge of his duties, were appointed by the Amsterdam chamber of the company, and all of its acts were subject to approval or reversal by that body, which also framed most of the laws for the settlers. The director, moreover, was expected to manage his trust not for the good of the colonists, but for the profit of the home company, which regarded its wards as vassals rather than as free men, as a source of possible dividends rather than as the founders, amid countless hardships, of a new state in a new land. This mistaken policy, even when executed by a sensible and well-meaning man, made the settlers indifferently loyal to the government under which they lived, and was to prove, when pushed to its logical conclusion by men who lacked Minuit’s tact and shrewdness, a fatal source of weakness in its hour of utmost peril. One of its earlier issues was Minuit’s own undoing. Accused of favoring the colonists in ways which encroached upon the company’s profits, and



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