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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Evils and Inconveniences in New York

By John Miller (1666–1724)

[Chaplain of Fort James, New York, 1692–95. A Description of the Province and City of New York … in the year 1695.]

THE NUMBER of the inhabitants in this province are about three thousand families, whereof almost one-half are naturally Dutch, a great part English, and the rest French; which how they are seated, and what number of families of each nations, what churches, meeting houses, ministers or pretended ministers there are in each county, may be best discerned by the table here inserted. As to their religion, they are very much divided; few of them intelligent and sincere, but the most part ignorant and conceited, fickle and regardless. As to their wealth and disposition thereto, the Dutch are rich and sparing; the English neither very rich, nor too great husbands; the French are poor, and therefore forced to be penurious. As to their way of trade and dealing, they are all generally cunning and crafty, but many of them not so just to their words as they should be….

Come we now to consider those things which I have said to be either wanting or obstructive to the happiness of New York….

The first is the wickedness and irreligion of the inhabitants, which abounds in all parts of the province and appears in so many shapes, constituting so many sorts of sin, that I can scarce tell which to begin withal. But, as a great reason of an inlet to the rest, I shall first mention the great negligence of divine things that is generally found in most people, of what sect or party soever they pretend to be; their eternal interests are their least concern, and, as if salvation were not a matter of moment, when they have opportunities of serving God they care not for making use thereof; or, if they go to church, ’tis but too often out of curiosity, and to find out faults in him that preacheth rather than to hear their own, or, what is yet worse, to slight and deride where they should be serious. If they have none of those opportunities, they are well contented, and regard it little if there be any who seem otherwise and discontented. Many of them, when they have them, make appear by their actions ’twas but in show; for though at first they will pretend to have a great regard for God’s ordinances, and a high esteem for the ministry, whether real or pretended, a little time will plainly evidence that they were more pleased at the novelty than truly affected with the benefit, when they slight that which they before seemingly so much admired, and speak evil of him who before was the subject of their praise and commendation, and that without any other reason than their own fickle temper and envious humor. In a soil so rank as this, no marvel if the Evil One find a ready entertainment for the seed he is minded to cast in; and from a people so inconstant and regardless of heaven and holy things, no wonder if God withdraw his grace, and give them up a prey to those temptations which they so industriously seek to embrace; hence is it, therefore, that their natural corruption without check or hinderance is, by frequent acts, improved into habits most evil in the practice and difficult in the correction.

One of which, and the first I am minded to speak of, is drunkenness, which, though of itself a great sin, is yet aggravated in that it is an occasion of many others. ’Tis in this country a common thing, even for the meanest persons, so soon as the bounty of God has furnished them with a plentiful crop, to turn what they can as soon as may be into money, and that money into drink, at the same time when their family at home have nothing but rags to protect their bodies from the winter’s cold; nay, if the fruits of their plantations be such as are by their own immediate labor convertible into liquor, such as cider, perry, etc., they have scarce the patience to stay till it is fit for drinking, but, inviting their pot-companions, they all of them, neglecting whatsoever work they are about, set to it together, and give not over till they have drunk it off. And to these sottish engagements they will make nothing to ride ten or twenty miles, and at the conclusion of one debauch another generally is appointed, except their stock of liquor fail them. Nor are the mean and country people only guilty of this vice, but they are equaled, nay surpassed, by many in the city of New York, whose daily practice is to frequent the taverns, and to carouse and game their night employment.

This course is the ruin and destruction of many merchants, especially those of the younger sort, who, carrying over with them a stock, whether as factors, or on their own account, spend even to prodigality, till they find themselves bankrupt ere they are aware.