NOTE: Helen W(eston) Henderson (1874-1956) was educated in the public schools of Philadelphia, and subsequently at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1892-1897) and at the Académie Colorossi in Paris (1905-1906). From 1900 to 1904 she served as art and music editor of the Philadelphia North American, moving from there to the Philadelphia Inquirer, where she held the position of art editor from 1904 to 1909 and again from 1911 to 1919. Henderson spent most of her career living abroad; she was foreign correspondent for the Inquirer from 1919 to 1937, and regularly contributed articles on art to variety of other periodicals. In addition to A Loiterer in New York (1917), from which the pages below have been taken, she was the author of several other "Loiterer" volumes, devoted to New England (1919), Paris (1921), and London (1924). Her writings also include a biography of Dianne De Poytiers (1928), and comprehensive assessments of art collections in Philadelphia (1911) and Washington, D.C. (1912).


Helen W. Henderson


New York Before the Revolution



A perspective map of New York, preserved in the du Simitière Collection of the Philadelphia Library, gives the outstanding features of the city as it appeared when, by the peace of 1674, it became an English province for the second time, and was thenceforward gradually to lose its exclusive Knickerbocker character.

At this time we may picture an essentially Dutch town, built upon the water front, and upon canals; its houses presenting their serrated gable ends to the street, in true Hollandish fashion. The first houses had been of wood, practically one-story log cabins; but as the colony prospered, social distinctions arose, and the well-to-do settlers began to build their homes of brick and stone. Bricks at first were imported from Holland, but, under the last of the Dutch governors, yards were opened in the outskirts of the town, while the natural resources of the island yielded an abundance of stone. The gable ends were often of black and yellow bricks, bearing the date of their erection, noted in iron figures. The type was distinctly Dutch, with small diamond-paned windows and large doors, in two sections, so practical for keeping the children within and at the same time, by leaving the upper half open, furnishing all the advantages of neighbourliness to the passer-by.

The fires which ravaged the city during the Revolution and subsequent improvements have robbed us of every vestige of the old Dutch, town; but one important heritage persists in the high "stoop" (stoep) which the colonials built from force of habit, to protect the best rooms from the dangers of inundation, a necessary precaution in the old country; and thus fastened upon the city one of its most characteristic architectural features, and upon the vernacular an amusing Dutch-derived word, purely local in its usage.

With thrift and industry the Dutch settlers combined the love of pleasure and good cheer. They observed the national feast days--Christmas, New Year's Day, Easter, Whitsuntide, and St. Nicholas Day--and made merry on their individual family anniversaries with feasting, games, and dance. The custom of New Year's calls, long observed religiously in New York, was established at this time, when no gentleman of social pretensions failed to pay his respects to every lady of his acquaintance on the first day of the year. The ladies, on the other hand, were expected to keep open house, and to offer "a piece of cake and a glass of wine" to their callers, a courtesy so much appreciated in later times, when the rivalry between the ladies, in the quality and quantity of hospitality offered, became so brisk, that the gentlemen were victimized by their own gallantry, and fairly incapacitated for making their rounds. Thus the custom, by an excess of zeal in the observance, defeated its own ends, and died a natural, if opprobrious death.

The chief development of the city, during the first hundred years of its founding, was along the East River, known as the Salt River in those days, its impressive feature to the community being its most practical one, its saltness, which meant immunity from freezing and thus interfering with ships and cargoes. The Hudson, though washed by salt tides, is inherently fresh, and has been known to freeze in bitter weather, and to be frequently blocked by ice, washed down in the current from the north; whereas the East River, literally an arm of the sea, connecting the Upper Bay with Long Island Sound, was never subject to these inconveniences.

A ferry to Brooklyn was started as early as 1651, from Peck Slip; and the shipping interests extended along the East River, bringing warehouses in their train, as well as the establishment of business interests of various kinds near to the ferry, in order to catch the Long Island trade.

The city sloped away from the high ridge of ground along the line of Broadway, which was really a distant and unfrequented part of the town, while west of this thoroughfare were but open fields. This is readily explained by a glance at the old maps.

In the original apportionment of the farms on the lower end of the island, provision had been made for the benefit of the civil and military servants of the West India Company. The Company Farm, as it was called, extended west of Broadway to the river, between the present Fulton and Warren Streets. This land has always been held intact, identified under various titles as government changed. The British, upon occupation of the island, passed it over to the private uses of the Duke of York, increasing the property by the purchase of the farm of Annetje Jans; which extended as far north as the present Christopher Street. When the Duke of York became king, this tract was known as the King's Farm, and when it became the royal property of Queen Anne, as the Queen's Farm.

This grant as described by Mrs. Lamb in her history of New York consisted of sixty-two acres granted to Roelof Jans beginning south of Warren Street, extending along Broadway as far as Duane Street, thence in a northwesterly direction for a mile and a half to Christopher Street, forming a sort of unequal triangle with its base upon the North River.

Roelof Jans died soon after receiving this grant, leaving a wife and four children; and his widow, Annetje, married Dominie Bogardus, in 1638, whereupon her farm was known as the Dominie Bouwerie. When the English took possession of the island this grant was confirmed by the government; the heirs sold the farm in 1671 to Governor Lovelace; it was afterwards incorporated into the King's Farm, and in 1703 was presented by Queen Anne to Trinity Church.

This farm constituted Queen Anne's munificent grant to the English Church in the Island of New York which has made the Trinity Corporation at the present day so powerful a factor in the growth and development of the city. The English Church in the Island of New York meant, in those days, Trinity Church, the parent church from which all the rest have sprung. The corporation has preserved the grant practically intact, and still retains possession of it. This farm for many years blocked the westward growth of the city, the citizens naturally preferring to build where they could acquire title to the land.

The English rulers of the province did little to distinguish themselves, and proved, if possible, less to the taste of the colonials than the Dutch governors. Most of them were men of harsh manner, despotic in their rule, and chiefly interested in getting what they could for themselves out of the colony. Colonel Richard Nicholls, who was in command of the British soldiers when the fort was taken, became the first English governor, and by tact and moderation contrived to win the esteem of the people. He made little change in the city government, and appointed as mayor Thomas Willett, a man well known and well liked in the community. The "Duke's Laws" proved liberal both in letter and in spirit, providing that no Christian should be molested for his religious beliefs--an especially grateful clause, carried out in practice when, upon the introduction of the English church in the colony, the Dutch dominie and the English chaplain made common use of the church within the fort, one occupying it in the morning and the other in the afternoon.

Nicholls was succeeded by Colonel Francis Lovelace, whose effort was all for the growth and betterment of the province. He established a Merchants' Exchange, whose meetings were held once a week at about where Exchange Place now crosses Broad Street, fixing upon that locality its present inheritance; and he also started the famous mail route to Boston. Each first Monday of the month, the mail coach, in the hands of a carrier whom Lovelace, in a letter to Governor Winthrop of Connecticut, describes as "active, stout, and indefatigable," set out from New York, making its first stage Hartford, and expected to return within the month from Boston. The first mail from New York to Boston, also the first on the continent, started on New Year's Day, 1673, following bridle path and Indian trail, directing the course of the future highway that still, beyond the Harlem River, retains the name--Boston Post Road.

The interruption in English rule caused by the retaking of the province by a Dutch fleet, in 1673, as an incident in the naval war then on between England and Holland, dislodged Lovelace, and when by the treaty of Westminster New Netherland was transferred from the States General to Charles II, that monarch restored it to his brother, who appointed Edmund Andros, a major of dragoons to the post of governor. It was he who caused the passage of the Bolting Act, in 1678, which granted New York merchants a monopoly of the manufacture of flour, and laid the foundation of the city's fortunes. So important a measure was it that we find it symbolized in the seal of New York, whose shield bears the sails of a windmill and the two flour barrels in commemoration of the Bolting Act. The two beavers, alternating with the barrels between the blades of the sail, refer to that earliest industry of the island, the fur trade. The sailor and Indian, supporting the shield, stand, respectively, for the Duke of York, in his character of Lord High Admiral of England, and the aboriginal inhabitants of his American province. The bald eagle rising from a demi-terrestial globe, replaces the crown of the original seal.

Colonel Thomas Dongan, a genial Irishman, was the best of the English governors, a man of high birth and character, who secured for the province, under the Dongan Charter, in 1686, the most definite advance towards self government yet accorded any of the colonies. This charter of liberties still forms the basis of New York's civic rights. Amended by Queen Anne, in 1708, and further amplified by George II, in 1730, into the Montgomery Charter, it was confirmed by the assembly of the province in 1732, making New York virtually a free city.

But for the most part these were lawless days and governors came with pomp to be sent away in disgrace. Meantime piracy flourished practically, it has been thought, under the protection of officials of the province. Governor Fletcher was suspected of sharing in private booty; and merchants, who feared to carry on regular trade as their ships were almost sure to be seized, openly bought the pirates' cargoes, contending that "they were right in purchasing goods wherever found, and were not put upon inquiry as to the source from which they were derived." Indeed so well did the merchants and ship owners of New York and the "privateers," as the Red Sea men were politely called, understand one another, that the pirate captain, in rich yet outlandish garb, was a familiar figure in the streets of New York towards the end of the seventeenth century.

With French and English vigilance scouring the southern waters in determined effort to put down the practice, and increasing defection of Gallic and British pirate captains who showed a meek willingness to adopt honesty as the best policy, when driven to extremes, the news that piracy, disguised as privateering, was winked at by the New York authorities, circulated rapidly among the captains serving under the black flag. New York became the universal port of refuge where piratical booty was disposed of at enormous gains, and no questions asked, for the profits were mutual and home products entrusted to the buccaneers for sale at their Madagascar rendezvous brought fabulous returns on the original investment.

Suddenly, however, this was all to end with the withdrawal of Fletcher and the appointment of Lord Bellomont, whose mission was to put down piracy at all costs. By a curious irony of fate, his first effort in this direction launched the noblest pirate of them all, the famous Captain Kidd, a Scot, resident of New York, highly recommended as a seaman of known honesty and valour, who had proved his bravery as a privateer against the French, and for some years commanded the packet Antigua, trading between New York and London. In 1695, on the recommendation of Robert Livingston, a colonist, then in London, Bellomont placed Kidd in command of a privateer, giving him letters of marquee against the French, with a special commission to suppress piracy. His ship, the Adventure, sailed from Plymouth for New York, and from New York to Madagascar, with a crew of one hundred and fifty men. He was financed by a syndicate and took shares to the amount of six thousand dollars, Livingston signing his bond for one-half that amount. Thirty thousand dollars was subscribed and the profits of the cruise, less a royalty of ten per cent for the king, were to be divided among the members of the syndicate. Just how this peculiar deal squared itself with the strict line of law and equity it was supposed to uphold defies a casual analysis. At any rate, the king, though a stockholder, took the precaution not to advance the money for his share in so equivocal an enterprise. Kidd followed the lines of least resistance. Failing as an opponent of piracy, he succumbed to the entreaties or threats of a mutinous crew, replaced his ensign with a black flag, and, plundering and sinking ships, became a terror of the seas. His adventurous career ended in 1699, when, having exhausted his ingenuity in eluding his pursuers, he appeared in the eastern end of Long Island Sound, where, burying his treasure, as we are told, on Gardiner's Island, he opened communication with Lord Bellomont, who was then in Boston. Representing himself as the victim of his crew, turned pirate against his will, he offered to share a large part of his booty with the governor or the syndicate of noblemen who had sent him to the East Indies. Bellomont heard his story, and, on the ground of his failure to account for the Quedah Merchant, his last prize, sent him to England, where he was tried at Old Bailey, and hanged on Execution Dock, in the city of London--the victim of his own misdeeds and the scapegoat for a pretty complication of political treachery.

During Lord Bellomont's administration a first effort was made to light the streets by means of a lantern, fitted with a candle, hung on a pole from the window of every seventh house; and a night watch was established consisting of four men. The governor removed what remained of the city wall and laid out Wall Street on the line of the fortification; he erected the new city hall in Wall Street near Nassau Street, equipped with dungeons for criminals, cells for debtors, a court room, and such modern improvements commensurate with the city's growth. The city hall also contained the first library, afterwards known as the Society Library.

Under Governor Hunter, in 1711, the first slave market was established at the foot of Wall Street, and Negroes began to form a large proportion of the city's population. Slave importation into New York began some time prior to 1628, and reached a climax about 1746, when a census of the city revealed the presence of twenty-four hundred Negroes in a total population of less than twelve thousand souls. The same insensate fear of the unknown and incalculable that led the Whites to inhuman treatment of the native Indians was now turned with even more injustice against the race which they had imported to these shores. Under the constant dread of a servile insurrection, rigid and cruel laws regulating the conduct of Negroes were enforced, and a fury of feeling grew up against the slaves, who were accused of plotting against their masters and of committing the most frightful depredations. The slightest infringement of the laws that deprived them of most of the blessings of liberty met with instant and unmitigated punishment. The burning and hanging of Negro slaves, in the little valley beyond the Collect Pond, became the order of the day, and a most pitiable state of affairs ensued, in which the harassed blacks confessed to crimes of which they were innocent in order to save their lives; the panic culminating in the famous "Negro Plot," of 1741, only comparable in its terrible expiation to the witchcraft abominations of Salem, in the previous century. When it was all over a revulsion of feeling took place in favor of the Negroes, who, in ten years, were admitted to the franchise, while slavery was practically abolished, in 1758, by the act declaring all children born of slave parents from that time free.

This was New York until about the time of the outbreak of the Revolution.