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EW YORK is settled upon the west end of the island having that small arm of the sea which divides it from Long Island on the south side of it, which runs away eastward to New England, and is navigable though dangerous. For about ten miles from New York is a place called Hel Gat which being a narrow passage, there runneth a violent stream both upon ebb and flood, and in the middle lieth some Islands of rocks, which the current sets so violently upon that it threatens present shipwreck; and upon the flood is a large whirlpool which continually sends forth a hideous roaring, enough to affright any stranger from passing any further, and to wait for some charm to conduct him through; yet to those that are well acquainted little or no danger, yet a place of great defence against any enemy coming in that way, which a small fortification would absolutely prevent and necessitate them to come in at the west end of Long Island by Sandy Hook, where Nutten Island doth force them within command of the Fort at New York, which is one of the best Pieces of Defense in the north parts of America.
"New York is built most of brick and stone and covered with red and black tile, and the land being high, it gives at a distance a pleasing aspect to the spectators. The bay upon the south side which joins to the sea, it is so fortified with bars of sands and shoals, that it is a sufficient defense against any enemy. Upon the south side of Long Island in the winter lie stores of Whales and Crampusses, which the inhabitants begin with small boats to make a trade, catching
to their no small benefit. Also innumerable multitude of seals which make an excellent oil. They lie all the winter upon some broken marshes and beaches or bars of sand before mentioned, and might be easily got were there some skilful men would undertake it. Hudson River runneth by New York northward into the Country towards the head of which is seated New Albany (a place of great trade with the Indians) betwixt which and New York being above one hundred miles is as good corn land as the world affords."
Such was one of the first published accounts of the colony of New York, written much in the style of Mandeville, and it is probably as accurate a description of Manhattan Island and environs as may be found.
The "hideous roaring" of Hell Gate has moderated its tone; the seals that once basked upon the marshes of southern Long Island have taken themselves to more congenial shores; and the whales and grampuses that frolicked in its waters probably continue their sports in quieter places. The bar, once such an obstacle to navigation, is there no longer; it has subsided into the harbor bottom or else continues its "moanings" in some other locality, allowing vessels of the largest size to approach the city except at the lowest tide: this has proved of great benefit to the young colony.
As a violent storm makes itself known by ripples breaking upon far distant shores, so the great disturbance in France occasioned by the revocation of the "Edict of Nantes" caused itself to be felt even in the insignificant little colony of New York; the majority of whose inhabitants had scarcely recovered from the shock occasioned by the fact of being handed over, like so much merchandise, into the hands of another sovereign.
During the years 1685-6 a continuous tide of immigration poured into this obscure colony. Every
vessel arriving in its port brought some of the refugees; which fact caused a considerable amount of puffing in the long pipes of the Dutch inhabitants, and of increased loquacity amongst the English portion of the colony.
Not indeed that these good people were unwilling to extend the hospitality of the new world to their unfortunate fellow-creatures, there being quite a sufficiency of room for all; but even the best-tempered people are apt to be discomposed at innovations in time-honored customs, and certainly many would be necessitated by the admission of so great a number of persons of a different nationality.
Indeed they had already commenced. The first and most important of which was a change in the established postal system.
Although more than a decade of years had passed since the government of the colony as well as its name had been changed, its members still retained the characteristic trait of its former proprietors, — evidenced in a degree of phlegmatic temperament rarely met with outside of those in whose veins flow the blood of the settlers from Holland, or perhaps in others who, from constant and intimate association with them, had contracted the same peculiarity.
The New Yorkers were certainly a slow people. The "hideous roaring" of Hell Gate on the one side of them and the harbor bar on the other, may account for foreign commerce and domestic trade having passed to other ports, thereby increasing the importance of the sister colonies of Philadelphia and Boston: nevertheless its best friends could call it nothing else but slow.
In the year 1686 the discontinuance of their postal system called the "Coffee House Delivery," considered sufficiently good for the past one hundred years, was the immediate cause of the present disturbance of the even tenor of community life.
One should have lived in the days of coffee houses to fully understand the inconvenience of this innovation.
During the early days of the Dutch settlement, the population of Nieu Amsterdam being small and communication with the mother country limited, there had been but little epistolary correspondence, and that little mostly confined to merchants respecting their cargoes.
It was the custom in those days to hoist the flag of the "Privileged West India Company" upon the flagstaff in the old fort, whenever a vessel appeared in sight; and its orange and blue decoration was the signal for a general turnout of the masculine portion of the community to watch and speculate upon the approach of the ship.
Upon its arrival, this correspondence was immediately consigned to its respective owners. Those who expected any news of either personal or general nature received it by hand in the former case, and in the latter contingency by word of mouth. If, perchance, there should be an unclaimed missive it was left in the care of some responsible person until an owner was found to claim it.
In time, however, the captains of the vessels, finding sufficient to occupy them besides answering questions and delivering letters, placed the latter, upon landing, in the most popular resort in those days, which was the coffee house. From there they were quickly claimed, read, and discussed over cups of fragrant coffee. The finding of owners for unclaimed missives was greatly facilitated by the custom of fastening them upon a board hung in some conspicuous part of the public room. The endeavor to decipher the almost illegible, and in some cases all but undecipherable, superscriptions helped to pass an idle moment away and also give basis for speculation.
This custom had been continued even after the
English had possession of the settlement, as in the coffee house met all the great and learned men of the place, as well as the wits and visiting celebrities; and great was the flow of wit and reason over the favorite beverage, as they discussed the news that was interchanged and circulated to an extent that would cast into the shade the far-famed locutionary powers of the fairer portion of the community-but of course men will never admit this.
In the year of '86 all this was changed, for an official order had been issued that all letters coming by ships should in future be sent direct to the Custom House; consequently the "Coffee House Delivery became a thing of the past.
American spirit, however, was not to be thus easily conquered; for when later on the British government started a post office, continental post was likewise started, and patronized to such an extent that the governmental one had very little to do.
Although letters were no longer distributed there, the coffee houses still held their own in the public affection as places of general resort; holding amongst our ancestors the place the club houses of the nineteenth century do to their descendants. There, matters of great importance as well as matters of no importance at all were discussed, from wars and rumors of wars abroad to a runaway horse at home. Every ship arrival supplied a stock of news to be exchanged or retailed in greater or lesser quantities as suited the will of the giver and the moderate or immoderate desires of the recipient.
When the subject of taxation without representation was discussed, and, later on, that of an independent government mooted, the meetings, formerly of a social nature, assumed a seriousness befitting the matters discussed, and sittings were long and frequent. It was in the coffee house known as "The City Arms," which