Early New York – Wrestling With Harlem

THE lapse of time, I find, has wrought as great havoc with the patronymics of Hollanders as my boyish lips ever did with the names of Hebrew worthies and the rivers and hills of Palestine. Indeed, it would be next to impossible to trace some of the older New York families by the names which they now bear. Take the Rutgers for an example. Among the colonists who sailed for New Amsterdam in October, 1636, was Rutger Jacobsen Van Schoenderwerdt. The last name indicates that the future settler came from a pretty Dutch village near where the Van Rensselaers had their country-seat. Twenty-five years later he had become owner of a brewery and a sloop that traded to Albany, and was a magistrate and ” the Honorable Rutger Jacobsen on the records of Church and State. His only son was known as Harman Rutgers, a private in the doughty burgher corps of New Amsterdam, afterwards its captain, a brewer like his father, and who became a purchaser of the brewery of Isaac de Forest, son of one of the earlier pioneers of Harlem, whose dwelling-house and brewery were on the north side of Stone Street, near Whitehall, where the well that supplied water for the brew is said still to be visible. He was a sturdy scion of the Holland stock and devout withal, for in his family Bible, after announcement of his marriage, he places on record the prayer which many a modern citizen would be shamefaced about writing, though he might hold it in his heart : ” May the Lord grant us a long and happy life together. Amen.” But then he prayed for his brewery, too : May the Lord bless the work of our hands!”

Time has played similar tricks with some of the names which the old settlers in Harlem brought with them from the father-land. Claude le Maistre, for instance, an exile in Holland from his home in Artois, France, was the ancestor of the entire Delamater family in this country, one of whose descendants, Schuyler Colfax, born in a house yet standing in North Moore Street, became Vice-president of the United States. Joost Van Oblinus, one of the original patentees, and a magistrate of worth and renown in the annals of the old city and village, would find his name changed to Oblienis and Oblenis, and finally become entirely extinct on the Island of Manhattan, though it is yet found in other parts of the State, and in more than one case has oddly taken, through some strange influence of association, the Irish form of O’Blenis.

There were, in the early part of the seventeenth century, a large number of French Hugenots who had become refugees for religion’s sake, in Holland, among them the original members to whom the Corporation of New Amsterdam issued patents for lands in Harlem. Captain Joannes Benson, whose descendants left their name imprinted on the mill and stream which became noted in village annals, was an exception, and by birth a Swede. Into his family the McGowns married, and from this source, also, Eugene Benson, the artist, now of Rome, Italy, traces his lineage. Jan Dyckman, ancestor of the family of that name at Kingsbridge, became one of the most prosperous and wealthiest of the colonists, and, like the Brevoorts and Montanyes-the latter claiming their common ancestry in Abram de la Montanye-left many descend-ants both in the direct and collateral branches, as did the descendants of Daniel Tourneur, a native of Picardy, in France, who have won their spurs alike in mercantile life and in society.

This very week in which I write has seen the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the ministry of the Rev. Thomas E. Vermilye, D.D., the venerable senior pastor of the Collegiate Reformed Dutch Church, and he, with the bankers who bear that name, and nearly all who bear the name of Vermilye or Vermilyea, trace their common ancestry to Johannes Vermilye, the patentee who came originally from one of the Walloon towns in Artois. One of the most intelligent and the most noted of the Harlem colonists was Resolved Waldron, a printer of old Amsterdam and a burgher of New Amsterdam, whose descendants were many, and who was connected laterally, through his issue, with many of the leading families of the colony. His name has remained unchanged in the male line. But perhaps the most curious change of all to be noticed in this connection is that which gave to the settlement the Kortright ancestry. Cornelis Jansen, a stout trooper in the father-land, who bequeathed to his eldest son, Johannes, “the best horse and the best saddle, and the best boots and the best pistols; holsters, carbine, and cut lass,” did not leave him any patronymic, but Johannes was at first called Cornelissen, and took the name Kortright when he had acquired the farm of Cornelis Kortright by purchase and entered upon its possession. The name thus taken as of right going with the land was faithfully transmitted to his descendants.

A week or two ago I received a letter from a valued friend in Harlem, in which he asked whether I had ever heard that the village was once called Lancaster or New Lancaster? In writing back, I rather ridiculed the suggestion, and yet I lacked discretion, for he was right. When Richard Nicolls became governor of the colony, acting under his Royal Highness and eminent rascality the Duke of York, he had sought to please his master by changing the name of New Amsterdam to New York, and then cast his eyes around for other changes which should obliterate, so far as they went, the memory of the Dutch occupation. The flourishing little settlement of New Haarlem caught his gaze, and forthwith he drew up a patent in which the ” freeholders and inhabitants ” are notified that “the said town shall no longer be called New Haarlem, but shall be known and called by the name of Lancaster.” This was one of the titles borne by his master, the besotted Duke of York, to whose pleasures the fertile Duchy of Lancaster, in England, contributed its revenues. The people of Harlem were at first astounded and then indignant. They determined to ignore the Governor’s order and take the consequences. Happily, the change was not insisted upon, and it appears in no deeds of record, and exists only in the above patent, which is addressed to the “inhabitants of Harlem, alias Lan-caster, upon the Island of Manhattan,” and in the written directions for drafting it, in which Governor Nicolls presented three conditions to be observed, viz.: That the town should be forever thereafter called by the name of Lancaster ; that one or more boats should be built,” fit for a ferry,” and that the range of the cattle into the hills and forests to the west of the village should be extended. The latter two conditions the village burghers were very glad to grant, but the former they stoutly and steadfastly rejected.

The settlement had been originally christened Nieuw Haarlem, by Governor Perlis Stuyvesant, who exercised royal prerogatives in such matters. There was no one of the pioneers who came from Haarlem on the Sparen, and therefore no jealousies could be excited. Perhaps the last (and best) of the Dutch governors fancied there was a resemblance between the two localities-for the old city was washed by a gentle river and girt about with groves of elms, a great beauty in a land where forests were rare. Quiet as was ancient Haarlem, its history was heroic. For this reason above all others the settlers at New Haarlem were determined not to lose the inspiration of a glorious name, more especially not at the bidding of the Duke of York, whose fidelity to the reformed faith of England was more than suspected. For it must be borne in mind that the village was, in the first place, a city of refuge for those who had suffered from religious persecution-the axe, the sword, the stake, and the dungeon of the Inquisition. Of the thirty-two heads of families who were freeholders in 1661, eleven were French Protestant refugees; four were Walloons of French birth ; four were Danes, three Swedes, three of German extraction, and but eight, or one-fourth of the whole number, were Hollanders. Many of the French subsequently removed to Staten Island and New Rochelle, and the farms were mostly sold to Hollanders, rarely to Englishmen, and the village thus became settled down to Dutch customs and modes of thought, and thus remained to the early part of the present century.

A ferry was as necessary to the comfort of the early Dutch farmers as the church and the tavern. The cattle-fairs at New Amsterdam had brought New England horse-jockeys to that city, and when it was discovered that the cattle from that region were preferable to the domestic breed from Holland, the patentees at Harlem were anxious to trade with them. The ferry was leased for six years to Johannes Vet. veelen, ” previded hee keepe a convenient house and lodging for passengers att Haarlem, and he shell have a small peece of land on Bronckside (Morrisania) and a place to build a house on, which he must cleare and not spoyle the meadow.” In consideration of his building these houses, ” the governor hath freed him from paying any excise for what wine or beere he shall retayle for one year.” One penny in silver was the ferriage for a foot traveller; sevenpence in silver for man and horse, and sixpence for a horse or any other animal. As carriages and wagons were not in use, no charge is specified, but to feed a horse for one day or night “with hay or grasse cost sixpence. Queerest and quaintest of the charges in the list headed “Ye Ferryman and His Rates” were those for hotel accommodation. They read : ” For lodging any person, 8 pence per night, in case they have a bed with sheets, and without sheets, 2 pence in silver.” If one may be privileged to read between these lines, it would appear that ” the great unwashed” sometimes travelled up and down the country between Boston and New Amsterdam, always to the horror of the good Dutch housewives, who carried cleanliness to such a pitch of conscience that they went gladly to domestic martyrdom for their faith, as in the case of one portly housewife in Harlem who scrubbed her floor until it broke through with her weight and landed her in the cellar.

The ferry had been in operation but a year when honest Martin Verveelen found his receipts rapidly diminishing, and waking from his slumbers to discern the cause, was informed that the horse-traders from Connecticut were driving their cattle across the ford at Spuyten Duyvil, and thus escaping the dues for ferriage. Complaint was at once made to the magistrates, and an investigation showed that “one John Barcker had passed with a great number of cattle and horses,” broke down fences that stood in the way and greatly defrauded the revenues, whereupon he was cast in exemplary damages. But the future needed to be provided against, and by order of the authorities Verveelen. removed to Papparmamin, ” on the main side” of Spuyten Duyvil, and set up his ferry anew at ” the wading place,” exacting tribute of all who passed that way except “men going or coming with a packett from our governor of New Yorke, or coming from the governor of Connectecott,” who “shall be ferried free.” In later years a ferry was opened at Harlem proper, the ferry-house standing at the foot of Church Lane, where One Hundred and Twenty-sixth street touches the Harlem River. It was torn down in 1867, and, with one exception, was the last relic of the ancient dorp or village.

It was not until 1673 that a monthly mail was established between New York and Boston by way of Harlem, and then it became a sensation anticipated for weeks to see the mounted postman rein up at the village tavern with his “portmantles” bursting with letters, and packages of portables, tarrying only long enough to bait his horse and refresh his inner man and then dashing away through mud or dust towards distant New England. A century later the Eastern Post-road was opened, and mail-coaches went through once a week, pausing for refreshment at Harlem, and then turning up the road to Kingsbridge to cross over by the bridge. Seventy-five years ago the mail-coaches travelled from New York to Boston twice a week, and only fifty years ago there was not a loco-motive running on the Island of Manhattan. The New York and Harlem Railway Company was incorporated in 1831, and two years later had horse-cars running on a single track to Murray Hill. But it was a herculean task to cut through the Yorkville tunnel, and it was not until 1840 that the first steam train on the road was put in operation between Thirty-second Street and One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street. The locomotive first used on this road exploded on the Fourth of July, 1843, and occasioned a great loss of life. The scene of the catastrophe was at Fourth Avenue and Fifteenth Street. The temporary structure at which tickets were sold in Harlem in 1840 was a shed that was little larger than an election booth, and much resembled one.

A volume might be written concerning the early settlers of this village that has suddenly become a mighty city-their homely, industrious ways, their uprightness and piety, their thrift, their pride of independence, their love of fireside and home. I have been able to do scant justice to these toilers at the foundations of the city, but their ghosts have been pleasant companions at ” My Summer Acre,” and have been more real to me than those who pass upon the streets and are of to-day. They will always be to me as the scents of the roses and honeysuckles that withered in the garden and on the porch, imperishable in memory.