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

Chapter VIIEdit

There is no sight more truly interesting to a philosopher than a community where every individual has a voice in public affairs; where every individual considers himself the Atlas of the nation; and where every individual thinks it his duty to bestir himself for the good of his country--I say, there is nothing more interesting to a philosopher than such a community in a sudden bustle of war. Such clamor of tongues--such patriotic bawling--such running hither and thither--everybody in a hurry--everybody in trouble--everybody in the way, and everybody interrupting his neighbor--who is busily employed in doing nothing! It is like witnessing a great fire, where the whole community are agog--some dragging about empty engines, others scampering with full buckets, and spilling the contents into their neighbors' boots, and others ringing the church bells all night, by way of putting out the fire. Little firemen, like sturdy little knights storming a breach, clambering up and down scaling-ladders, and bawling through tin trumpets, by way of directing the attack. Here a fellow, in his great zeal to save the property of the unfortunate, catches up some article of no value, and gallants it off with an air of as much self-importance as if he had rescued a pot of money; there another throws looking-glasses and china out of the window, to save them from the flames; whilst those who can do nothing else run up and down the streets, keeping up an incessant cry of "Fire! fire! fire!"

"When the news arrived at Sinope," says Lucian--though I own the story is rather trite-"that Philip was about to attack them, the inhabitants were thrown into a violent alarm. Some ran to furbish up their arms; others rolled stones to build up the walls; everybody, in short, was employed, and everybody in the way of his neighbor. Diogenes alone could find nothing to do; whereupon, not to be idle when the welfare of his country was at stake, he tucked up his robe, and fell to rolling his tub with might and main up and down the Gymnasium." In like manner did every mother's son in the patriotic community of New Amsterdam, on receiving the missives of Peter Stuyvesant, busy himself most mightily in putting things in confusion, and assisting the general uproar. "Every man," said the Stuyvesant manuscript, "flew to arms!" by which is meant that not one of our honest Dutch citizens would venture to church or to market without an old-fashioned spit of a sword dangling at his side, and a long Dutch fowling-piece on his shoulder; nor would he go out of a night without a lantern, nor turn a corner without first peeping cautiously round, lest he should come unawares upon a British army; and we are informed that Stoffel Brinkerhoff, who was considered by the old women almost as brave a man as the governor himself, actually had two one-pound swivels mounted in his entry, one pointing out at the front door, and the other at the back.

But the most strenuous measure resorted to on this awful occasion, and one which has since been found of wonderful efficacy, was to assemble popular meetings. These brawling convocations, I have already shown, were extremely offensive to Peter Stuyvesant; but as this was a moment of unusual agitation, and as the old governor was not present to repress them, they broke out with intolerable violence. Hither, therefore, the orators and politicians repaired, striving who should bawl loudest, and exceed the others in hyperbolical bursts of patriotism, and in resolutions to uphold and defend the government. In these sage meetings it was resolved that they were the most enlightened, the most dignified, the most formidable, and the most ancient community upon the face of the earth. This resolution being carried unanimously, another was immediately proposed--whether it were not possible and politic to exterminate Great Britain? upon which sixty-nine members spoke in the affirmative, and only one arose to suggest some doubts, who, as a punishment for his treasonable presumption, was immediately seized by the mob, and tarred and feathered, which punishment being equivalent to the Tarpeian Rock, he was afterwards considered as an outcast from society, and his opinion went for nothing. The question, therefore, being unanimously carried in the affirmative, it was recommended to the grand council to pass it into a law; which was accordingly done. By this measure the hearts of the people at large were wonderfully encouraged, and they waxed exceeding choleric and valorous. Indeed, the first paroxysm of alarm having in some measure subsided, the old women having buried all the money they could lay their hands on, and their husbands daily getting fuddled with what was left, the community began even to stand on the offensive. Songs were manufactured in Low Dutch, and sung about the streets, wherein the English were most woefully beaten, and shown no quarter; and popular addresses were made, wherein it was proved to a certainty that the fate of Old England depended upon the will of the New Amsterdammers.

Finally, to strike a violent blow at the very vitals of Great Britain, a multitude of the wiser inhabitants assembled, and having purchased all the British manufactures they could find, they made thereof a huge bonfire, and in the patriotic glow of the moment, every man present who had a hat or breeches of English workmanship pulled it off, and threw it into the flames, to the irreparable detriment, loss and ruin of the English manufacturers! In commemoration of this great exploit they erected a pole on the spot, with a device on the top intended to represent the province of Nieuw Nederlandts destroying Great Britain, under the similitude of an eagle picking the little island of Old England out of the globe; but either through the unskillfulness of the sculptor, or his ill-timed waggery, it bore a striking resemblance to a goose vainly striving to get hold of a dumpling.