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

Chapter XIEdit

There is something exceedingly sublime and melancholy in the spectacle which the present crisis of our history presents. An illustrious and venerable little city--the metropolis of a vast extent of uninhabited country--garrisoned by a doughty host of orators, chairmen, committee-men, burgomasters, schepens, and old women--governed by a determined and strong-headed warrior, and fortified by mud batteries, palisadoes, and resolutions--blockaded by sea, beleaguered by land, and threatened with direful desolation from without; while its very vitals are torn with internal faction and commotion! Never did historic pen record a page of more complicated distress, unless it be the strife that distracted the Israelites during the siege of Jerusalem, where discordant parties were cutting each other's throats at the moment when the victorious legions of Titus had toppled down their bulwarks, and were carrying fire and sword into the very sanctum sanctorum of the temple!

Governor Stuyvesant having triumphantly put his grand council to the rout, and delivered himself from a multitude of impertinent advisers, despatched a categorical reply to the commanders of the invading squadron, wherein he asserted the right and title of their High Mightinesses the Lords States General to the province of New Netherlands, and trusting in the righteousness of his cause, set the whole British nation at defiance!

My anxiety to extricate my readers and myself from these disastrous scenes prevents me from giving the whole of this gallant letter, which concluded in these manly and affectionate terms:----

    "As touching the threats in your conclusion, we have nothing to
    answer, only that we fear nothing but what God (who is as just as
    merciful) shall lay upon us; all things being in His gracious
    disposal, and we may as well be preserved by Him with small
    forces as by a great army, which makes us to wish you all
    happiness and prosperity, and recommend you to His
    protection.--My lords, your thrice humble and affectionate
    servant and friend,

    "P. STUYVESANT."

Thus having thrown his gauntlet, the brave Peter stuck a pair of horse-pistols in his belt, girded an immense powder-horn on his side, thrust his sound leg into a Hessian boot, and clapping his fierce little war-hat on the top of his head, paraded up and down in front of his house, determined to defend his beloved city to the last.

While all these struggles and dissentions were prevailing in the unhappy city of New Amsterdam, and while its worthy but ill-starred governor was framing the above quoted letter, the English commanders did not remain idle. They had agents secretly employed to foment the fears and clamors of the populace; and moreover circulated far and wide through the adjacent country a proclamation, repeating the terms they had already held out in their summons to surrender, at the same time beguiling the simple Nederlanders with the most crafty and conciliating professions. They promised that every man who voluntarily submitted to the authority of his British Majesty should retain peaceful possession of his house, his vrouw, and his cabbage-garden. That he should be suffered to smoke his pipe, speak Dutch, wear as many beeches as he pleased, and import bricks, tiles, and stone jugs from Holland, instead of manufacturing them on the spot. That he should on no account be compelled to learn the English language, nor eat codfish on Saturdays, nor keep accounts in any other way than by casting them up on his fingers, and chalking them down upon the crown of his hat; as is observed among the Dutch yeomanry at the present day. That every man should be allowed quietly to inherit his father's hat, coat, shoe-buckles, pipe, and every other personal appendage; and that no man should be obliged to conform to any improvements, inventions, or any other modern innovations; but, on the contrary, should be permitted to build his house, follow his trade, manage his farm, rear his hogs, and educate his children, precisely as his ancestors had done before him from time immemorial. Finally, that he should have all the benefits of free trade, and should not be required to acknowledge any other saint in the calendar than St. Nicholas, who should thenceforward, as before, be considered the tutelar saint of the city.

These terms, as may be supposed, appeared very satisfactory to the people, who had a great disposition to enjoy their property unmolested, and a most singular aversion to engage in a contest, where they could gain little more than honor and broken heads: the first of which they held in philosophic indifference, the latter in utter detestation. By these insidious means, therefore, did the English succeed in alienating the confidence and affections of the populace from their gallant old governor, whom they considered as obstinately bent upon running them into hideous misadventures; and did not hesitate to speak their minds freely, and abuse him most heartily, behind his back.

Like as a mighty grampus, when assailed and buffeted by roaring waves and brawling surges, still keeps on an undeviating course, rising above the boisterous billows, spouting and blowing as he emerges, so did the inflexible Peter pursue, unwavering, his determined career, and rise, contemptuous, above the clamors of the rabble.

But when the British warriors found that he set their power at defiance, they despatched recruiting officers to Jamaica, and Jericho, and Nineveh, and Quag, and Patchog, and all those towns on Long Island which had been subdued of yore by Stoffel Brinkerhoff, stirring up the progeny of Preserved Fish and Determined Cock, and those other New England squatters, to assail the city of New Amsterdam by land, while the hostile ships prepared for an assault by water.

The streets of New Amsterdam now presented a scene of wild dismay and consternation. In vain did Peter Stuyvesant order the citizens to arm and assemble on the Battery. Blank terror reigned over the community. The whole party of Short Pipes in the course of a single night had changed into arrant old women--a metamorphosis only to be paralleled by the prodigies recorded by Livy as having happened at Rome at the approach of Hannibal, when statues sweated in pure affright, goats were converted into sheep, and cocks, turning into hens, ran cackling about the street.

Thus baffled in all attempts to put the city in a state of defence, blockaded from without, tormented from within, and menaced with a Yankee invasion, even the stiff-necked will of Peter Stuyvesant for once gave way, and in spite of his mighty heart, which swelled in his throat until it nearly choked him, he consented to a treaty of surrender.

Words cannot express the transports of the populace on receiving this intelligence; had they obtained a conquest over their enemies, they could not have indulged greater delight. The streets resounded with their congratulations--they extolled their governor as the father and deliverer of his country--they crowded to his house to testify their gratitude, and were ten times more noisy in their plaudits than when he returned, with victory perched upon his beaver, from the glorious capture of Fort Christina. But the indignant Peter shut his doors and windows, and took refuge in the innermost recesses of his mansion, that he might not hear the ignoble rejoicings of the rabble.

Commissioners were now appointed on both sides, and a capitulation was speedily arranged; all that was wanting to ratify it was that it should be signed by the governor. When the commissioners waited upon him for this purpose they were received with grim and bitter courtesy. His warlike accoutrements were laid aside; an old Indian night-gown was wrapped about his rugged limbs; a red nightcap overshadowed his frowning brow; an iron-grey beard of three days' growth gave additional grimness to his visage. Thrice did he seize a worn-out stump of a pen, and essay to sign the loathsome paper; thrice did he clinch his teeth, and make a horrible countenance, as though a dose of rhubarb-senna, and ipecacuanha, had been offered to his lips. At length, dashing it from him, he seized his brass-hilted sword, and jerking it from the scabbard, swore by St. Nicholas to sooner die than yield to any power under heaven.

For two whole days did he persist in this magnanimous resolution, during which his house was besieged by the rabble, and menaces and clamorous revilings exhausted to no purpose. And now another course was adopted to soothe, if possible, his mighty ire. A procession was formed by the burgomasters and schepens, followed by the populace, to bear the capitulation in state to the governor's dwelling. They found the castle strongly barricaded, and the old hero in full regimentals, with his cocked hat on his head, posted with a blunderbuss at the garret window.

There was something in this formidable position that struck even the ignoble vulgar with awe and admiration. The brawling multitude could not but reflect with self-abasement upon their own pusillanimous conduct, when they beheld their hardy but deserted old governor, thus faithful to his post, like a forlorn hope, and fully prepared to defend his ungrateful city to the last. These compunctions, however, were soon overwhelmed by the recurring tide of public apprehension. The populace arranged themselves before the house, taking off their hats with most respectful humility; Burgomaster Roerback, who was of that popular class of orators described by Sallust as being "talkative rather than eloquent," stepped forth and addressed the governor in a speech of three hours' length, detailing, in the most pathetic terms, the calamitous situation of the province, and urging him, in a constant repetition of the same arguments and words, to sign the capitulation.

The mighty Peter eyed him from his garret window in grim silence. Now and then his eye would glance over the surrounding rabble, and an indignant grin, like that of an angry mastiff, would mark his iron visage. But though a man of most undaunted mettle--though he had a heart as big as an ox, and a head that would have set adamant to scorn--yet after all he was a mere mortal. Wearied out by these repeated oppositions, and this eternal haranguing, and perceiving that unless he complied the inhabitants would follow their own inclination, or rather their fears, without waiting for his consent; or, what was still worse, the Yankees would have time to pour in their forces and claim a share in the conquest, he testily ordered them to hand up the paper. It was accordingly hoisted to him on the end of a pole, and having scrawled his hand at the bottom of it, he anathematised them all for a set of cowardly, mutinous, degenerate poltroons--threw the capitulation at their heads, slammed down the window, and was heard stumping downstairs with vehement indignation. The rabble incontinently took to their heels; even the burgomasters were not slow in evacuating the premises, fearing lest the sturdy Peter might issue from his den, and greet them with some unwelcome testimonial of his displeasure.

Within three hours after the surrender, a legion of British beef-fed warriors poured into New Amsterdam, taking possession of the fort and batteries. And now might be heard from all quarters the sound of hammers made by the old Dutch burghers, in nailing up their doors and windows, to protect their vrouws from these fierce barbarians, whom they contemplated in silent sullenness from the garret windows as they paraded through the streets.

Thus did Colonel Richard Nichols, the commander of the British forces, enter into quiet possession of the conquered realm, as locum tenens for the Duke of York. The victory was attended with no other outrage than that of changing the name of the province and its metropolis, which thenceforth were denominated New York, and so have continued to be called unto the present day. The inhabitants, according to treaty, were allowed to maintain quiet possession of their property, but so inveterately did they retain their abhorrence of the British nation that in a private meeting of the leading citizens it was unanimously determined never to ask any of their conquerors to dinner.

    NOTE.

    Modern historians assert that when the New Netherlands were thus
    overrun by the British, as Spain in ancient days by the Saracens,
    a resolute band refused to bend the neck to the invader. Led by
    one Garret Van Horne, a valorous and gigantic Dutchman, they
    crossed the bay and buried themselves among the marshes and
    cabbage gardens of Communipaw, as did Pelayo and his followers
    among the mountains of Asturias. Here their descendants have
    remained ever since, keeping themselves apart, like seed corn, to
    repeople the city with the genuine breed, whenever it shall be
    effectually recovered from its intruders. It is said the genuine
    descendants of the Nederlanders who inhabit New York still look
    with longing eyes to the green marshes of ancient Pavonia, as did
    the conquered Spaniards of yore to the stern mountains of
    Asturias, considering these the regions whence deliverance is to
    come.