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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

Knickerbocker Customs in the Pleasant Olden Time

By Charles Wolley (fl. 1700)

[A Two Years Journal in New-York. 1701.]

TO return from the wilderness into New York, a place of as sweet and agreeable air as ever I breathed in, and the inhabitants, both English and Dutch, very civil and courteous, as I may speak by experience, amongst whom I have often wished myself and family, to whose tables I was frequently invited, and always concluded with a generous bottle of Madeira. I cannot say I observed any swearing or quarrelling, but what was easily reconciled and recanted by a mild rebuke, except once betwixt two Dutch Boors (whose usual oath is “Sacrament”) which, abating the abusive language, was no unpleasant scene. As soon as they met (which was after they had alarmed the neighborhood) they seized each other’s hair with their forefeet, and down they went to the sod, their vrows and families crying out because they could not part them; which fray happening against my chamber window, I called up one of my acquaintance, and ordered him to fetch a kit full of water and discharge it at them, which immediately cooled their courage and loosed their grapples; so we used to part our mastiffs in England. In the same City of New York where I was minister to the English, there were two other ministers, or dominies as they were called there, the one a Lutheran, a German, or High-Dutch, the other a Calvinist, an Hollander, or Low-Dutchman; who behaved themselves one towards another so shyly and uncharitably as if Luther and Calvin had bequeathed and entailed their virulent and bigoted spirits upon them and their heirs forever. They had not visited or spoken to each other with any respect for six years together before my being there; with whom I being much acquainted, I invited them both with their vrows to a supper one night unknown to each other, with an obligation, that they should not speak one word in Dutch, under the penalty of a bottle of Madeira, alleging I was so imperfect in that language that we could not manage a sociable discourse; so accordingly they came, and at the first interview they stood so appalled as if the ghosts of Luther and Calvin had suffered a transmigration, but the amaze soon went off with a salve tu quoque and a bottle of wine, of which the Calvinist dominie was a true Carouzer, and so we continued our Mensalia the whole meeting in Latine, which they both spoke so fluently and promptly that I blushed at myself with a passionate regret, that I could not keep pace with them; and at the same time could not forbear reflecting upon our English schools and universities, who indeed write Latine elegantly, but speak it as if they were confined to mood and figure, forms and phrases, whereas it should be their common talk in their seats and halls, as well as in their school disputations and themes. This with all deference to these repositories of learning. As to the Dutch language, in which I was but a smatterer, I think it lofty, majestic and emphatical, especially the German or High-Dutch, which as far as I understand it is very expressive in the Scripture, and so underived that it may take place next the Oriental languages and the Septuagint. The name of the Calvinist was Newenhouse, of the Lutheran, Bernhardus Frazius, who was of a genteel personage, and a very agreeable behaviour in conversation. I seldom knew of any lawsuits, for indeed attorneys were denied the liberty of pleading. The English observed one anniversary custom, and that without superstition, I mean the strenarum commercium, as Suetonius calls them, a neighbourly commerce of presents every New-Years day:

Totus ab auspicio, ne foret annus iners.—Ovid, Fastor.

Some would send me a sugar-loaf, some a pair of gloves, some a bottle or two of wine. In a word, the English merchants and factors (whose names are at the beginning) were very unanimous and obliging. There was one person of quality, by name, Mr. Russell, younger brother to the late Lord Russell, a gentleman of a comely personage, and very obliging, to whose lodgings I was often welcome. But I suppose his fortune was that of a younger brother, according to Henry the VIII’s constitution, who abolished and repealed the Gavelkind custom, whereby the lands of the father were equally divided among all his sons, so that ever since the Cadets or younger sons of the English nobility and gentry, have only that of the poet to bear up their spirits.

  • Sum pauper, non culpa mea est, sed culpa parentum
  • Qui me fratre meo non genuere prius.
  • In my rude English rhyming thus:

  • I’m poor (my dad) but that’s no fault of mine,
  • If any fault there be, the fault is thine,
  • Because thou didst not give us Gavelkine.
  • The Dutch in New York observe this custom, an instance of which I remember in one Frederick Philips, the richest Myn Heer in that place, who was said to have whole hogsheads of Indian money or Wampam, who having one son and daughter, I was admiring what a heap of wealth the son would enjoy, to which a Dutchman replied, that the daughter must go halves, for so was the manner amongst them, they standing more upon nature than names; that as the root communicates itself to all its branches, so should the parent to all his offspring, which are the olive branches round about his table, and if the case be so, the minors and infantry of the best families might wish they had been born in Kent, rather than in such a Christendom as entails upon them their elder brother’s old clothes, or some superannuated incumbent reversion; but to invite both elder and younger brothers to this sweet climate of New York, when they arrive there, if they are induced to settle a plantation, they may purchase a tract of ground at a very small rate, in my time at two-pence or three-pence the acre, for which they have a good patent or deed from the governor.