Knickerbocker's History of New York/Book II/Chapter VIII

Chapter VIIIEdit

The land being thus fairly purchased of the Indians, a circumstance very unusual in the history of colonization, and strongly illustrative of the honesty of our Dutch progenitors, a stockade fort and trading house were forthwith erected on an eminence in front of the place where the good St. Nicholas had appeared in a vision to Oloffe the Dreamer; and which, as has already been observed, was the identical place at present known as the Bowling Green.

Around this fort a progeny of little Dutch-built houses, with tiled roofs and weathercocks, soon sprang up, nestling themselves under its walls for protection, as a brood of half-fledged chickens nestle under the wings of the mother hen. The whole was surrounded by an enclosure of strong palisadoes, to guard against any sudden irruption of the savages. Outside of these extended the corn-fields and cabbage-gardens of the community, with here and there an attempt at a tobacco plantation; all covering those tracts of country at present called Broadway, Wall Street, William Street, and Pearl Street, I must not omit to mention, that in portioning out the land a goodly "bowerie" or farm was allotted to the sage Oloffe, in consideration of the service he had rendered to the public by his talent at dreaming; and the site of his "bowerie" is known by the name of Kortlandt (or Cortland) Street to the present day.

And now the infant settlement having advanced in age and stature, it was thought high time it should receive an honest Christian name. Hitherto it had gone by the original Indian name of Manna-hata, or, as some will have it, "The Manhattoes;" but this was now decried as savage and heathenish, and as tending to keep up the memory of the pagan brood that originally possessed it. Many were the consultations held upon the subject without coming to a conclusion, for though everybody condemned the old name, nobody could invent a new one. At length, when the council was almost in despair, a burgher, remarkable for the size and squareness of his head, proposed that they should call it New Amsterdam. The proposition took everybody by surprise; it was so striking, so apposite, so ingenious. The name was adopted by acclamation, and New Amsterdam the metropolis was thenceforth called. Still, however, the early authors of the province continued to call it by the general appelation of "The Manhattoes," and the poets fondly clung to the euphonious name of Manna-hata; but those are a kind of folk whose tastes and notions should go for nothing in matters of this kind.

Having thus provided the embryo city with a name, the next was to give it an armorial bearing or device, as some cities have a rampant lion, others a soaring eagle; emblematical, no doubt, of the valiant and high-flying qualities of the inhabitants: so after mature deliberation a sleek beaver was emblazoned on the city standard as indicative of the amphibious origin and patient persevering habits of the New Amsterdamers.

The thriving state of the settlement and the rapid increase of houses soon made it necessary to arrange some plan upon which the city should be built; but at the very first consultation on the subject a violent discussion arose; and I mention it with much sorrowing as being the first altercation on record in the councils of New Amsterdam. It was, in fact, a breaking forth of the grudge and heart-burning that had existed between those two eminent burghers, Mynheers Ten Broeck and Harden Broeck, ever since their unhappy dispute on the coast of Bellevue. The great Harden Broeck had waxed very wealthy and powerful from his domains, which embraced the whole chain of Apulean mountains that stretched along the gulf of Kip's Bay, and from part of which his descendants have been expelled in latter ages by the powerful clans of the Joneses and the Schermerhornes.

An ingenious plan for the city was offered by Mynheer Harden Broeck, who proposed that it should be cut up and intersected by canals, after the manner of the most admired cities in Holland. To this Mynheer Ten Broeck was diametrically opposed, suggesting in place thereof that they should run out docks and wharves, by means of piles driven into the bottom of the river, on which the town should be built. "By these means," said he, triumphantly, "shall we rescue a considerable space of territory from these immense rivers, and build a city that shall rival Amsterdam, Venice, or any amphibious city in Europe." To this proposition Harden Broeck (or Tough Breeches) replied, with a look of as much scorn as he could possibly assume. He cast the utmost censure upon the plan of his antagonist, as being preposterous, and against the very order of things, as he would leave to every true Hollander. "For what," said he, "is a town without canals?--it is like a body without veins and arteries, and must perish for want of a free circulation of the vital fluid."--Ten Breeches, on the contrary, retorted with a sarcasm upon his antagonist, who was somewhat of an arid, dry-boded habit; he remarked, that as to the circulation of the blood being necessary to existence, Mynheer Tough Breeches was a living contradiction to his own assertion; for everybody knew there had not a drop of blood circulated through his wind-dried carcase for good ten years, and yet there was not a greater busybody in the whole colony. Personalities have seldom much effect in making converts in argument; nor have I ever seen a man convinced of error by being convicted of deformity. At least such was not the case at present. If Ten Breeches was very happy in sarcasm, Tough Breeches, who was a sturdy little man, and never gave up the last word, rejoined with increasing spirit; Ten Breeches had the advantage of the greatest volubility, but Tough Breeches had that invaluable coat of mail in argument called obstinacy; Ten Breeches had, therefore, the most mettle, but Tough Breeches the best bottom--so that though Ten Breeches made a dreadful clattering about his ears, and battered and belabored him with hard words and sound arguments, yet Tough Breeches hung on most resolutely to the last. They parted, therefore, as is usual in all arguments where both parties are in the right, without coming to any conclusion; but they hated each other most heartily for ever after, and a similar breach with that between the houses of Capulet and Montague did ensue between the families of Ten Breeches and Tough Breeches.

I would not fatigue my reader with these dull matters of fact, but that my duty as a faithful historian requires that I should be particular; and, in truth, as I am now treating of the critical period when our city, like a young twig, first received the twists and turns which have since contributed to give it its present picturesque irregularity, I cannot be too minute in detailing their first causes.

After the unhappy altercation I have just mentioned, I do not find that anything further was said on the subject worthy of being recorded. The council, consisting of the largest and oldest heads in the community, met regularly once a week, to ponder on this momentous subject; but, either they were deterred by the war of words they had witnessed, or they were naturally averse to the exercise of the tongue, and the consequent exercise of the brains--certain it is, the most profound silence was maintained--the question, as usual, lay on the table--the members quietly smoked their pipes, making but few laws, without ever enforcing any, and in the meantime the affairs of the settlement went on--as it pleased God.

As most of the council were but little skilled in the mystery of combining pot-hooks and hangers, they determined most judiciously not to puzzle either themselves or posterity with voluminous records. The secretary, however, kept the minutes of the council with tolerable precision, in a large vellum folio, fastened with massy brass clasps; the journal of each meeting consisted but of two lines, stating in Dutch that "the council sat this day, and smoked twelve pipes on the affairs of the colony." By which it appears that the first settlers did not regulate their time by hours, but pipes, in the same manner as they measure distances in Holland at this very time; an admirably exact measurement, as a pipe in the mouth of a true-born Dutchman is never liable to those accidents and irregularities that are continually putting our clocks out of order.

In this manner did the profound council of New Amsterdam smoke, and doze, and ponder, from week to week, month to month, and year to year, in what manner they should construct their infant settlement; meanwhile the town took care of itself, and, like a sturdy brat which is suffered to run about wild, unshackled by clouts and bandages, and other abominations by which your notable nurses and sage old women cripple and disfigure the children of men, increased so rapidly in strength and magnitude, that before the honest burgomasters had determined upon a plan it was too late to put it in execution--whereupon they wisely abandoned the subject altogether.