Knickerbocker's History of New York/Book V/Chapter VII

Chapter VIIEdit

The grand council of the east held a solemn meeting on the return of their envoys. As no advocate appeared in behalf of Peter Stuyvesant, everything went against him. His haughty refusal to submit to the questioning of the commissioners was construed into a consciousness of guilt. The contents of the satchels and saddle-bags were poured forth before the council, and appeared a mountain of evidence. A pale bilious orator took the floor, and declaimed for hours and in belligerent terms. He was one of those furious zealots who blow the bellows of faction until the whole furnace of politics is red-hot with sparks and cinders. What was it to him if he should set the house on fire, so that he might boil his pot by the blaze? He was from the borders of Connecticut; his constituents lived by marauding their Dutch neighbors, and were the greatest poachers in Christendom, excepting the Scotch border nobles. His eloquence had its effect, and it was determined to set on foot an expedition against the Nieuw Nederlandts.

It was necessary, however, to prepare the public mind for this measure. Accordingly the arguments of the orator were echoed from the pulpit for several succeeding Sundays, and a crusade was preached up against Peter Stuyvesant and his devoted city.

This is the first we hear of the "drum ecclesiastic" beating up for recruits in worldly warfare in our country. It has since been called into frequent use. A cunning politician often lurks under the clerical robe; things spiritual and things temporal are strangely jumbled together, like drugs on an apothecary's shelf; and instead of a peaceful sermon, the simple seeker after righteousness has often a political pamphlet thrust down his throat, labeled with a pious text from Scripture.

And now nothing was talked of but an expedition against the Manhattoes. It pleased the populace, who had a vehement prejudice against the Dutch, considering them a vastly inferior race, who had sought the new world for the lucre of gain, not the liberty of conscience: who were mere heretics and infidels, inasmuch as the refused to believe in witches and sea-serpents, and had, faith in the virtues of horse-shoes nailed to the door; ate pork without molasses; held pumpkins in contempt, and were in perpetual breach of the eleventh commandment of all true Yankees, "Thou shalt have codfish dinners on Saturdays."

No sooner did Peter Stuyvesant get wind of the storm that was brewing in the east, than he set to work to prepare for it. He was not one of those economical rulers who postpone the expense of fortifying until the enemy is at the door. There is nothing, he would say, that keeps off enemies and crows more than the smell of gunpowder. He proceeded, therefore, with all diligence, to put the province and its metropolis in a posture of defence.

Among the remnants which remained from the days of William the Testy were the militia laws, by which the inhabitants were obliged to turn out twice a year, with such military equipments as it pleased God; and were put under the command of tailors and man-milliners, who, though on ordinary occasions they might have been the meekest, most pippin-hearted little men in the world, were very devils at parades, when they had cocked hats on their heads and swords by their sides. Under the instructions of these periodical warriors, the peaceful burghers of the Manhattoes were schooled in iron war, and became so hardy in the process of time, that they could march through sun and rain, from one end of the town to the other, without flinching; and so intrepid and adroit, that they could face to the right, wheel to the left, and fare without winking or blinking.

Peter Stuyvesant, like all old soldiers who have seen service and smelt gunpowder, had no great respect for militia troops: however, he determined to give them a trial, and accordingly called for a general muster, inspection, and review. But, O Mars and Bellona! what a turning-out was here! Here came old Roelant Cuckaburt, with a short blunderbuss on his shoulder and a long horseman's sword trailing by his side; and Barent Dirkson, with something that looked like a copper kettle, turned upside down on his head, and a couple of old horse pistols in his belt; and Dirk Volkertson, with a long duck fowling-piece without any ramrod, and a host more, armed higgledy-piggledy with swords, hatchets, snickersnees, crowbars, broomsticks, and what not; the officers distinguished from the rest by having their slouched hats cocked up with pins and surmounted with cocktail feathers.

The sturdy Peter eyed this nondescript host with some such rueful aspect as a man would eye the devil, and determined to give his feather-bed soldiers a seasoning. He accordingly put them through their manual exercise over and over again, trudged them backwards and forwards about the streets of New Amsterdam, until their short legs ached and their fat sides sweated again, and finally encamped them in the evening on the summit of a hill without the city, to give them a taste of camp life, intending the next day to renew the toils and perils of the field. But so it came to pass that in the night there fell a great and heavy rain, and melted away the army, so that in the morning when Gaffer Phoebus shed his first beams upon the camp, scarce a warrior remained, excepting Peter Stuyvesant and his trumpeter, Van Corlear.

This awful desolation of a whole army would have appalled a commander of less nerve; but it served to confirm Peter's want of confidence in the militia system, which he thenceforward used to call, in joke--for he sometimes indulged in a joke--William the Testy's broken reed. He now took into his service a goodly number of burly, broad-shouldered, broad-bottomed Dutchmen, whom he paid in good silver and gold, and of whom he boasted that, whether they could stand fire or not, they were at least water-proof.

He fortified the city, too, with pickets and palisadoes, extending across the island from river to river; and above all cast up mud batteries or redoubts on the point of the island where it divided the beautiful bosom of the bay.

These latter redoubts, in process of time, came to be pleasantly overrun by a carpet of grass and clover, and overshadowed by wide-spreading elms and sycamores, among the branches of which the birds would build their nests and rejoice the ear with their melodious notes. Under these trees, too, the old burghers would smoke their afternoon pipe, contemplating the golden sun as he sank in the west, an emblem of the tranquil end toward which they were declining. Here, too, would the young men and maidens of the town take their evening stroll, watching the silver moon beams as they trembled along the calm bosom of the bay, or lit up the sail of some gliding bark, and peradventure interchanging the soft vows of honest affection; for to evening strolls in this favored spot were traced most of the marriages in New Amsterdam.

Such was the origin of that renowned promenade, The Battery, which, though ostensibly devoted to the stern purposes of war, has ever been consecrated to the sweet delights of peace. The scene of many a gambol in happy childhood--of many a tender assignation in riper years--of many a soothing walk in declining age--the healthful resort of the feeble invalid--the Sunday refreshment of the dusty tradesman--in fine, the ornament and delight of New York, and the pride of the lovely island of Manna-hata.