Jacksonian Miscellanies, #69

September 15, 1998

New York City 1817-18

Copyright by the editor, Hal Morris, Secaucus, NJ 1997. Permission is granted to copy, but not for sale, nor in multiple copies, except by permission.

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New York City 1817-18

The following is from Haswell, Charles, Reminiscences of New York by an Octogenarian (1816 to 1860), (NY Harper 1896), which has been featured before. This chapter seems, to me at least, especially rich in lively detail.


JACOB RADCLIFFE (1817 ­ 1818),

1817. IN this year were opened the following streets: First, Second, Third, Fourth, Sixth, Orchard, Chrystie, Forsyth, Eldridge, Allen, and Ludlow, the five last named after military and naval heroes, viz.: Lieutenant­colonel John Chrystie, killed on the Niagara frontier; Lieutenant colonel Forsyth of the Rifles, wounded in Canada in the same year; Lieutenant Eldridge, scalped in Canada; Lieutenant William H. Allen, wounded in the action between the Argus and H.B.M.S. Pelican; Lieutenant Ludlow, killed in the engagement between the Chesapeake and H.B.M.S. Shannon. Pike Street perpetuates the name of General Pike, killed in the attack upon York (Toronto), Canada-all in the same year of 1813.

Anthony Street (Worth), had been extended to Orange (Baxter), making at the intersection with Cross (Park) Street, five angular corners; these were designated and known as the "Five Points"-a locality that attained a national reputation as the resort of the abandoned of both sexes and of all nations.

This year saw the beginning of the North River Steamboat Co., hence to Albany. In evidence of the rising commerce of New York at this time it should be noted here that on March 8 twenty­five square­rigged vessels, besides schooners and sloops, proceeded to sea, and on the 7th of November following there were thirty­six arrivals of sea­going vessels inside Sandy Hook. In August a horse­boat was for the first time put on the ferry to Hoboken. On November 29 the Staten Island Ferry was improved by employment of a steamboat, the Nautilus, making four trips a day; fare twenty­five cents Captain Cornelius Vanderbilt (afterward the "Commodore"), as owner and master of the rowing and sailing ferry­boat Dread, took from the ship Neptune, stranded at Sandy Hook, four hundred and six thousand dollars in specie. Attached to the Fire Department was a floating fire­engine, the machinery of which some years after was transferred over a well in what was then the Corporation Yard, now the site of the Tombs, and designated Supply Engine No. I.

The Custom House occupied the new building at the corner of Wall and Nassau streets (see page 155), which was taken down 1834, and replaced with a new structure which is now the Subtreasury. On February 20 the banks resumed specie payments. The New York Exchange Board of Brokers in this year consisted of twenty­eight members. The City Directory (Longworth's) contained but 19,677 names; it is worthy of note that up to about the year 1825 this publication gave in addition to names and residences information, complete as to some matters but as to others only partial, as concerning the tariff, some city ordinances, the courts, the common council, watchmen, nurses, firemen, etc. In December of the year it was officially estimated that there were twenty thousand hogs running at large in the streets of the city. The question was asked about this time why the rear of the City Hall had been made of freestone, while its front and ends were of white marble, and the explanation was given that at the time the Hall was designed its location was so far up­town that the authorities of the day decided it would be useless to incur the cost of a marble rear, when there would be few or none to see it; as a writer of that period declared, it "would be out of sight of all the world."

In these days our civic fathers met in council in the afternoon and adjourned promptly at six, when the Keeper (Custodian) of the City Hall received them in the "tea room," as it was termed, where a substantial entertainment was provided, followed by schnapps and pipes.

The name of the triangular plot at the intersection of Cherry and Pearl streets, or St. George's Square, was changed to Franklin Square, and it is an odd coincidence that in this same year James and John Harper began business at the corner of Front and Dover Streets; the chief. significance of Franklin Square at the present day being the long continuance there of the great publishing house of Harper & Bros., thus founded in the year when the Square was named in honor of a very eminent printer.

It was in this year that the Legislature authorized the construction of the Erie Canal, from Albany to Buffalo, approved by the Council of Revision; a distance of 363 miles, with a width at surface of 40 feet, at bottom 28 feet, and a depth of 4 feet, locks 90 feet in length and 15 feet in width. The first shovelful of earth was raised on July 4 of this year at Rome, and the work was finished in 1825.

In Canal Street on the west side, near to Broadway, there was on Saturday afternoons a horse­market at which the street venders of fish, oysters, clams, etc., supplied themselves; the prices varying from dollars to cents. It has been told that on one occasion one of a family of children, who had been indulged with a ride on one of her father's horses, was so pleased with the amusement that she solicited her mother to aid her father with another shilling, to enable him to buy a "bully one."

At this date, or just before, there was a notorious character called "Potpie" Palmer, who was said to have entered a kitchen during the War of the Revolution and run off with a potpie. He is here mentioned because his name was a by­word among the boys of the time, coupled with the declaration,

He was also the "bugbear," or croque­mitaine, held up by mothers and nurses to frighten unruly children into submission.

M. Paff, known as "Old Paff," formerly at 20 Wall Street, now kept a variety or bric­a­brac store at 221 Broadway, on a part site of the present Astor House. He also bought and sold paintings, and some marvellous stories were told of his availing himself of his knowledge in purchasing old, laid­aside paintings, restoring them, and selling them at a great profit.

In November the soi­disant Baron von Hoffman, last from St. Thomas, landed in New York, having crossed the North River from Paulus Hook (Jersey City) in a row­boat, and in explanation of his want of a Wardrobe, letters of introduction, etc., he alleged that his trunks were lost in transit on the river.

A daily paper recited, as a matter of interesting information, that in Paris there were street shoeblacks, and the announcement gave rise to much speculation and even wonderment, for at this time the industry of boot and shoe blacking was confined to persons usually occupying a low­rent cellar, who called at your residence in the forenoon, received your boots and shoes of the previous day's wear and returned them cleaned in the afternoon, terms one dollar per month.

At this time, and later, ladies walking to or from any public place along a crowded sidewalk were commonly subject to the indignity of having their dresses maliciously defiled by tobacco juice ejected upon them by evil­disposed persons from behind. So frequent were the per perpetrations of this offence that the newspapers of the day referred to it, and ladies were restricted to the wear of dresses that would be the least injured by this pollution. I know of a case where a Cashmere shawl was much injured,-it is yet in existence,-and soon after an expensive dress was soiled. As I have already remarked, the custom of tobacco chewing was very common at the time under mention. I offer no apology for the mention of these trivialities, only explaining that under the conditions of the period-the small size of New York and the dearth of more significant general news-trifles became important and were made the subjects of towntalk. To report them, therefore, is to illustrate the life of that day and my ­ concern is to reveal New York as it actually was near eighty years ago, not to maintain "the dignity of history." This explanation is to be applied to all cases wheresoever I deal with matters of small import in the course of this volume.

Before the introduction of shop butchers, when a butcher in any of the public markets became possessed of an exceptionally fine beef or a number of sheep, he would parade them through the principal streets, as Broadway, Bowery, Greenwich, and Grand streets, preceded by a band of music and followed by the fellow­butchers of his market, with their aprons and sleeves on, in their wagons (of a different construction from that of a later time), the cortege being arrested before the house of the customers of the butcher, when it was expected of the occupants to step out and give an order for such part of the animal paraded as they elected.

A large building on the East side of Broadway, between Seventeenth and Eighteenth streets, was known as the Manhattan Bank(3), and so designated in a map of a later day; but why so termed I have forgotten.

The weather at this time was so intensely cold that the head and all harbors of Long Island Sound were closed by ice.

Manufacturers, ship and house builders, masons, etc., made their business calls and city travel on horseback to such an extent that on a Saturday one would see a dozen saddled horses hitched to awnings and lamp­posts in and about Wall Street.

1818: All the public bulkheads and piers (commonly and erroneously termed docks) and slips were rented for one year for $42,750. Essex Market, on Grand between Essex and Ludlow streets, was built. Fourth Street and Sixth Avenue, from Carmine Street to Greenwich Lane, were opened.

The Chambers Street (later the Bleecker Street), the first bank for savings, was opened on 26th of March in a room in the basement of the New York Institution, which was a building on the site of the present Court House, and used as an Almshouse, Court House, and in part by Scudder's Museum (see ante p. 83), and in this its first year two hundred and thirteen thousand dollars were received by it. This bank has continued always a monument of wise and honest management, conducted in the spirit of its originators, who at its beginning declared their objects to be "to cherish meritorious industry, to encourage frugality and retrenchment, and to promote the welfare of families, the cause of morality, and the good order of society." Philip Hone records in his "Diary," under date of July 12, 1841, on taking office as president of this bank, his gratification "at having been elevated by the unanimous vote of my associates to the honorable station of president of the greatest associated institution in the United States"-greatest, he goes on to say, in influence and volume of business transacted, and then adds, "and greatest (I think I may from experience assert) in the good which it has already done and all it may hereafter (with a continuance of the blessings of Almighty God) be the means of doing." This is a vibration of the keynote struck by the founders of the institution; they and their successors for a long time gave their services as managers gratuitously, however absorbing and laborious the duty might have been. The list of elder Presidents includes, besides Mr. Hone, the names of John Pintard, Najah Taylor, Marshall S. Bidwell, John C. Green, and Robert Lenox Kennedy, while the present trustees compose a gathering of men foremost in New York for business capacity and integrity. This bank, until lately known as the Bleecker Street, is now at Fourth Avenue and Twenty­second Street.

The average of the passages in 1817, hence to Liverpool, was twenty­three days, and from Liverpool to this port, forty­five days. In August a London newspaper acknowledged receiving advices from India by way of New York.

On political occasions a buck's tail was worn in front of the hat by the Republicans (Democrats), members of the Tammany Society; it was held to be a symbol of Liberty, and had been originally worn in the Revolution to distinguish Whigs from Tories.

As an illustration of the nationality of our citizens at this time, so few were the Germans that, upon occasion of a well­known and intelligent citizen of Hackensack being asked if the language he spoke (now known as Jersey Dutch) was alike to that of the Germans, he replied he did not know, but that one of his neighbors had met a German and spoken to him, but he did not understand him. So rare was then the meeting with a German in New York !

In consequence of the frequent robbing of the United States mail­coach, between this city and Washington, the Post­office Department was compelled to employ guards, and offer arms to the passengers; and piracy was so common in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico that the Government fitted out and despatched cruisers for its suppression.

John Barnes, comedian, and for many years a well known and popular member of the Park Theatre Company; Miss Leesugg, afterward the wife of James Hackett; and James W. Wallack, all of England, made their first appearance here in this year. September, Wallack first appeared as Macbeth, thus beginning what was destined to be a long and brilliant career in New York. He came here again ten years later.

At the New Market course in May, American Eclipse, owned by C. H. Van Ranst, a horse that became famous some years after as the winner of the great stake of twenty thousand dollars (1824) at Union Course, L.I., ran a first heat of three miles in six minutes and four seconds, and a second in six minutes and five seconds.

That familiar and ever to be remembered house of entertainment, the City Hotel, on the west side of Broadway, opened in 1806, occupied the front from Thames to Cedar Street. It was kept by Chester Jennings, assisted by the celebrated Willard, who, for his urbanity of manner and wonderful remembrance of persons, was the theme of many a tale. Abram C. Dayton,, in his interesting "Last Days of Knickerbocker Life," relates the following tale: "A gentleman, with nothing peculiar in person, name, or position to fix his identity, had been a transient guest of the house, but owing to a serious illness of a favorite child, his stay had been prolonged many days beyond his anticipations, and on the convalescence of the patient he had paid his bill and left for his distant home. Nothing more. He did not even remember that Willard had exchanged with him any other than the most ordinary civilities After an absence of more than five years, business called him once more to the city, and, with carpet­bag in hand, he stood face to face with Willard, awaiting his turn to put down his name and to be assigned an apartment. Ere he had uttered a word, or given the slightest sign of recognition, the traveller was astounded by: "How are you, Mr. ? Hope your boy recovered! Glad to see you again! Show this gentleman to his old room, No.-"

There was at this period a well­known lounger on Broadway of the name of McDonald Clarke, who was known in consequence of his writings and some eccentric manners of dress and expression as the "mad poet." An elegy he wrote upon his mother indicated talent far above mediocrity. In an interview with him and an editor of a paper, the conversation turned upon ancestry; when the former said, "If you seek for ancestry in this city, you are most likely to stumble over a lap­stone or a butcher's stall." He died on March 5, 1842, in the Poorhouse. In July the soi­disant Baron von Hoffman, before referred to, essayed, or affected, to stab himself. The operations of this man filled for more than a year so general and so conspicuous a place in the eyes of the public, and in the interest and communications of society, that they are worthy of a reference. Landing upon a pier in the city, without baggage (alleged to have been lost in transit of the river, as before mentioned), he announced himself as Baron von Hoffman, and being accredited and received as such, he soon displayed himself as a gentleman of connections and fortunes. His turnout, a tilbury, with a horse laden with gilded harness, was daily seen in Broadway. As it became indispensably necessary for him to meet the expenses of his establishment, repay borrowed moneys, and retain his position, he paid his addresses to a lady of this city and was well received and welcomed; but, unfortunately for him, a friend of the lady's accidentally discovered in a jeweller's shop on Broadway the rejected corner of a piece of parchment, which, appearing to him to have its inner lines alike to that of a seal he had just seen on a patent of nobility of the baron's, he took possession and compared it, and thus closed the career in this country of one of the most pretentious swindlers that ever appeared here. Much more in connection with this affair might be written, but insomuch as there are relations and descendants of the persons that figured in it, it is proper to omit further mention. The man had been a valet and a courier.

There were not in this year ten private carriages proper. Many years past I essayed to recapitulate the number of citizens who possessed them, and I could not exceed seven, and to meet some one or more I may have missed, I put the number as first above.

James D. Oliver, a barber, occupied the upper part of the store No. 27 Nassau Street, corner of Maiden Lane, from 1818. Many of his patrons were the celebrities of the period; being observing, loquacious, and caustic in his remarks, the barber and his sayings were frequently quoted.

The price of the best beef in the market was at this date 12­1/2 cents per pound; mutton, 8 cents; fowls, per pair, 56 cents; oak wood, $2.25 per cord; walnut, $3.50, and pine, $1.62­1/2 Shad, unless brought from Philadelphia by stage and steamboat, were not in the market until they were taken in the Upper Bay and North River.

At No. 269 Broadway, near Warren Street, there was the confectionery shop of Peter Cotte, who occasionally received a bunch of bananas, which he displayed outside to the wonder of a great proportion of our citizens, juveniles, and country people. He procured them from some venturesome officers of a vessel trading from Havana.

The Richmond Hill House, built in 1760, was located on a hill of considerable elevation, commanding a fine prospect, its site bounded by Varick, Charlton, Macdougal, and Vandam streets. It was occupied by General Washington in 1776, and by Vice­president Adams in 1788: when its advantages as a country residence were described as being one and one­half miles from the city. Built for his pleasure by Paymaster­general Mortier of the British Army, it was the scene of lavish hospitality in his day, as well as when it was in the dignified occupancy of John Adams, while he resided there. Then, in 1804, it passed by lease into Aaron Burr's possession, who dwelt here while he also was Vice­president, and for a considerable term besides. Even after Burr's tenancy the house maintained its traditionary fame as the seat of elegant private life. Being located on very high ground, in order to reduce it to the grade of the street it was this year undermined, rested on a cradle or sliding ways, and launched to the desired locality and grade. In 1834 it was added to and converted into a theatre known as the Richmond Hill, and subsequently was used as a road house. At this theatre (Richmond Hill), on the occasion of a row in the gallery, a coal stove in full ignition was hurled from it to the pit, and "Bill" Harrington, well­known from his defeat of his opponent in a ring in Philadelphia, took an active part in protecting parties who were present in the boxes.

Boarding­schools for boys were very differently operated from those of a later period, and, writing from experience, I can report that school was always opened with the reading of a chapter from the Bible. The range of our school­books was very limited; we were examined on Fridays as to our retention of that we had been taught or acquired during the preceding days of the week, and if we failed twice (two marks) we lost the Saturday holiday. On Sundays we were not only compelled to attend both morning and afternoon service, when the "minister," preparatory to giving the text of his sermon, laid his watch in front of him, and resolutely, consistently, and punctually read from his manuscript one full hour; and during the intervals between rising, meals, and sermons, we were not allowed to indulge in any amusement, or to read other than the Bible, and loud talking and laughing were offences not readily pardoned.

We were allowed two vacations of one week each in April and September, to enable us to procure clothes suited to the coming season, and on two of our National holidays, Fourth of July and Thanksgiving Day. Christmas and New Year's were ignored; and we were neither drilled or uniformed, but often striped. In fact,

Morning prayer, schoolroom, and the Bible were the three great lights or guides of our faith and duties, which were supplemented by three lesser, as "Lindley Murray," "Daboll," and a birch rod; and it is worthy of record that then, and for many years after, our school­books were very primitive. Analytical treatises in arithmetic, mechanics, chemistry, and physics; familiar and instructive readers in history, etc.; etymology, descriptive geography, et id genus omne, were wholly unknown to us. There were bounds assigned out of which we were not permitted to pass, and there were no evening or other amusements extra muros, yet we enjoyed the gathering of fruits and nuts, base­ball, skating, and coasting in their seasons; and in our rambles of a Saturday holiday, woe to any snake we met, as neither a bog nor the interstices of a stone wall were security against the zealous labors of twenty hands; the point of honor (unless he was a constrictor or venomous) was to take him by the tail and snap his head off.

John Street Church (Methodist) was dedicated in this year.

Dr. Jacob Rabineau was proprietor and operator of a floating swimming­bath, located in the season at foot of Warren Street. One day in the week was assigned for the exclusive use of females.

James and John Harper, subsequently Harper & Bros., in this year printed and issued their first book, Locke's "Essay Concerning Human Understanding."

The Humane Society provided "apparatus for the recovery of drowned persons," as it was termed, and deposited one at Brooklyn Ferry House, one at City Dispensary, and one in a building at the corner of Greenwich (No. 296) and Duane streets. The notice which was attached to the front of the building was there until within a few years (1895).

The commissioners of the Almshouse established a soup house at corner of Cross Street (which ran from Chambers to Duane Street) and Tryon Row.

It was in July of this year that the remains of General Richard Montgomery, killed in the assault on Quebec in December, 1775, were transferred from Canada to St. Paul's chapel. Congress, in 1776, had voted the cenotaph to his memory that is set in the east front of St. Paul's. Governor Clinton notified Mrs. Montgomery of the time when the steamboat, the Richmond, bearing the general's body, would pass her country seat on the Hudson, and at that hour the constant widow, still mourning the loss of "her soldier" after a lapse of more than forty years, appeared upon the portico of her mansion. The Richmord approached and stopped; the military band on board played a Dead March; a salute was fired, and the boat bearing the precious burden passed on.

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