James Fenimore Cooper.

Satanstoe : or, The Littlepage manuscripts : a tale of the colony online

. (page 1 of 42)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperSatanstoe : or, The Littlepage manuscripts : a tale of the colony → online text (page 1 of 42)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook





Accessions No.

27 1892 , 1

Shelf No.





nf ijje


"The only amaranthine flower on earth,
Is virtue: the only treasure, truth." Spenser.







Entered, according to the Act of Congress, in the year 1845, by

in the clerk s office of the District Court for the Northern District
of New York.


EVERY chronicle of manners has a certain value.
When customs are connected with principles, in their
origin, development, or end, such records have a
double importance ; and it is because we think we
see such a connection between the facts and inci
dents of the Littlepage Manuscripts, and certain
important theories of our own time, that we give the
former to the world.

It is perhaps a fault of your professed historian, to
refer too much to philosophical agencies, and too lit
tle to those that are humbler. The foundations of
great events, are often remotely laid in very capri
cious and uncalculated passions, motives, or im
pulses. Chance has usually as much to do with the
fortunes of states, as with those of individuals ; or,
if there be calculations connected with them at all,
they are the calculations of a power superior to any
that exists in man.

We had been led to lay these Manuscripts before
the world, partly by considerations of the above na
ture, and partly on account of the manner in which
the two works we have named, " Satanstoe" and the
"Chainbearer," relate directly to the great New
York question of the day, ANTI-RENTISM ; which ques
tion will be found to be pretty fully laid bare, in the
third and last book of the series. These three works,

1* (5)


which contain all the Littlepage Manuscripts, do not
form sequels to each other, in the sense of personal
histories, or as narratives ; while they do in that of
principles. The reader will see that the early career,
the attachment, the marriage, &c. of Mr. Cornelius
Littlepage are completely related in the present book,
for instance ; while those of his son, Mr. Mordaunt
Littlepage, will be just as fully given in the " Chain-
bearer," its successor. It is hoped that the connec
tion, which certainly does exist between these three
works, will have more tendency to increase the value
of each, than to produce the ordinary effect of what
are properly called sequels, which are known to
lessen the interest a narrative might otherwise have
with the reader. Each of these three books has its
own hero, its own heroine, and its own picture of
manners, complete ; though the latter may be, and
is, more or less thrown into relief by its pendants.

We conceive no apology is necessary for treating
the subject of anti-rentism with the utmost frank
ness. Agreeably to our views of the matter, the ex
istence of true liberty among us, the perpetuity of
the institutions, and the safety of public morals, are
all dependent on putting down, wholly, absolutely,
and unqualifiedly, the false and dishonest theories
and statements that have been boldly advanced in
connection with this subject. In our view, New
York is, at this moment, much the most disgraced
state in the Union, notwithstanding she has never
failed to pay the interest on her public debt ; and her
disgrace arises from the fact that her laws are tram
pled under foot, without any efforts, at all commen
surate with the object, being made to enforce them.


[f words and professions can save the character of a
community, all may yet be well ; but if states, like
individuals, are to be judged by their actions, and
the "tree is to be known by its fruit," God help us !
For ourselves, we conceive that true patriotism
consists in laying bare everything like public vice,
and in calling such things by their right names.
The great enemy of the race has made a deep inroad
upon us, within the last ten or a dozen years, under
cover of a spurious delicacy on the subject of ex
posing national ills ; and it is time that they who
have not been afraid to praise, when praise was me
rited, should not shrink from the office of censuring,
when the want of timely warnings may be one cause
of the most fatal evils. The great practical defect
of institutions like ours, is the circumstance that
" what is everybody s business, is nobody s business ;"
a neglect that gives to the activity of the rogue a
very dangerous ascendency over the more dilatory
correctives of the honest man.



" Look you,

Who comes here : a young man, and an old, in solemn talk.**

As You Like It.

IT is easy to foresee that this country is destined to un
dergo great and rapid changes. Those that more properly
belong to history, history will doubtless attempt to record,
and probably with the questionable veracity and prejudice
that are apt to influence the labours of that particular muse ;
but there is little hope that any traces of American society,
in its more familiar aspects, will be preserved among us,
through any of the agencies usually employed for such pur
poses. Without a stage, in a national point of view at least,
with scarcely such a thing as a book of memoirs that relate?
to a life passed within our own limits, and totally without
light literature, to give us simulated pictures of our manners
and the opinions of the day, I see scarcely a mode by which the
next generation can preserve any memorials of the distinctive
usages and thoughts of this. It is true, they will have tra
ditions of certain leading features of the colonial society,
but scarcely any records ; and, should the next twenty years
do as much as the last, towards substituting an entirely new
race for tho descendants of our own immediate fathers, it is
scarcely too much to predict that even these traditions will
be lost in the whirl and excitement of a throng of strangers
Under all the circumstances, therefore, I have come to a de
termination to make an effort, however feeble it may prove,
to preserve some vestiges of household life in New York,
at least; while I have endeavoured to stimulate certain
friends in New Jersey, and farther south, to undertake simi
lar tasks in those sections of the country. What success


will attend these last applications, is more than I can say;
but, in order that the little I may do myself shall not be lost
for want of support, I have made a solemn request in my
will, that those who come after me will consent to continue
this narrative, committing to paper their own experience, as
I have here committed mine, down as low at least as my
grandson, if I ever have one. Perhaps, by the end of the
latter s career, they will begin to publish books in America,
and the fruits of our joint family labours may be thought
sufficiently matured to be laid before the world.

It is possible that which I am now about to write will be
thought too homely, to relate to matters much too personal
and private, to have sufficient interest for the public eye ;
but it must be remembered that the loftiest interests of man
are made up of a collection of those that are lowly ; and,
that he who makes a faithful picture of only a single im
portant scene in the events of single life, is doing something
towards painting the greatest historical piece of his day.
As I have said before, the leading events of my time will
find their way into the pages of far more pretending works
than this of mine, in some form or other, with more or less
of fidelity to the truth, and real events, and real motives ;
while the humbler matters it will be my office to record,
will be entirely overlooked by writers who aspire to enrol
their names among the Tacituses of former ages. It may
be well to say here, however, I shall not attempt the histo
rical mood at all, but content myself with giving the feelings,
incidents, and interests of what is purely private life, con
necting them no farther with things that are of a more
general nature, than is indispensable to render the narrative
intelligible and accurate. With these explanations, which
are made in order to prevent the person who may happen
first to commence the perusal of this manuscript from throw
ing it into the fire, as a silly attempt to write a more silly
fiction, I shall proceed at once to the commencement of my
proper task.

I was born on the 3d May, 1737, on a neck of land, called
Satanstoe, in the county of West Chester, and in the
colony of New York ; a part of the widely extended empire
that then owned tho sway of His Sacred Majesty, George II.,
King of Great Britain, Ireland, and France; Defender


sf the Faith ; and, I may add, the shield and panoply of the
Protestant Succession ; God bless him ! Before I say
anything of my parentage, I will first give the reader some
idea of the locus in quo, and a more precise notion of the
spot on which I happened first to see the light.

A " neck," in West Chester and Long Island parlance,
means something that might be better termed a " head and
shoulders," if mere shape and dimensions are kept in view.
Peninsula would be the true word, were we describing things
on a geographical scale ; but, as they are, I find it neces
sary to adhere to the local term, which is not altogether
peculiar to our county, by the way. The " neck" or penin
sula of Satanstoe, contains just four hundred and sixty-
three acres and a half of excellent West Chester land ; and
that, when the stone is hauled and laid into wall, is saying
as much in its favour as need be said of any soil on earth.
It has two miles of beach, and collects a proportionate
quantity of sea-weed for manure, besides enjoying near a
hundred acres of salt-meadow and sedges, that are not in
cluded in the solid ground of the neck proper. As my
father, Major Evans Littlepage, was to inherit this estate
from his father, Capt. Hugh Littlepage, it might, even at the
time of rny birth, be considered old family property, it having
indeed, been acquired by my grandfather, through his wife,
about thirty years after the final cession of the colony to
the English by its original Dutch owners. Here we had
lived, then, near half a century, when I was born, in the
direct line, and considerably longer if we included maternal
ancestors ; here I now live, at the moment of writing these
lines, and here I trust my only son is to live after me.

Before I enter into a more minute description of Satans
toe, it may be well, perhaps, to say a word concerning its
somewhat peculiar name. The neck lies in the vicinity of
a well-known pass that is to be found in the narrow arm of
the sea that separates the island of Manhattan from its
neighbour, Long Island, and which is called Hell Gate.
Now, there is a tradition, that I confess is somewhat confined
to the blacks of the neighbourhood, but which says that the
Father of Lies, on a particular occasion, when he was vio
lently expelled from certain roystering taverns in the New
Netherlands, made his exit by this well-known dangerous


pass, and drawing his foot somewhat hastily from among
the lobster-pots that abound in those waters, leaving behind
him as a print of his passage by that route, the Hog s Back,
the Pot, and all the whirlpools and rocks that render navi
gation so difficult in that celebrated strait, he placed it hur
riedly upon the spot where there now spreads a large bay
to the southward and eastward of the neck, just touching
the latter with the ball of his great toe, as he passed Down-
East ; from which part of the country some of our people
used to maintain he originally came. Some fancied resem
blance to an inverted toe (the devil being supposed to turn
everything with which he meddles, upside-down,) has been
imagined to exist in the shape and swells of our paternal
acres ; a fact that has probably had its influence in perpetu
ating the name.

Satanstoe has the place been called, therefore, from
time immemorial ; as time is immemorial in a country in
which civilized time commenced not a century and a half
ago: and Satanstoe it is called to-day. I confess I am
not fond of unnecessary changes, and I sincerely hope this
neck of land will continue to go by its old appellation, as
long as the House of Hanover shall sit on the throne of these
realms ; or as long as water shall run and grass shall grow.
There has been an attempt made to persuade the neighbour
hood, quite lately, that the name is irreligious and unworthy
of an enlightened people, like this of West Chester ; but it
has met with no great success. It has come from a Con
necticut man, whose father they say is a clergyman of the
* standing order ;" so called, I believe, because they stand
up at prayers ; and who came among us himself in the cha
racter of a schoolmaster. This young man, I understand,
has endeavoured to persuade the neighbourhood that Satans
toe is a corruption introduced by the Dutch, from Devil s
Town ; which, in its turn, was a corruption from Dibbleston ;
the family from which my grandfather s father-in-law pur
chased having been, as he says, of the name of Dibblee.
He has got half-a-dozen of the more sentimental part of our
society to call the neck Dibbleton ; but the attempt is not
likely to succeed in the long run, as we are not a people much
given to altering the language, any more than the customs
of our ancestors. Besides, my Dutch ancestors did not


purchase from any Dibblee, no such family ever owning tho
place, that being a bold assumption of the Yankee to make
out his case the more readily.

Satanstoe, as it is little more than a good farm in ex
tent, so it is little more than a particularly good farm in
cultivation and embellishment. All the buildings are of
stone, even to the hog-sties and sheds, with well-pointed
joints, and field walls that would do credit to a fortified
place. The house is generally esteemed one of the best in
the Colony, with the exception of a few of the new school.
It is of only a story and a half in elevation, I admit; but the
rooms under the roof are as good as any of that description
with which I am acquainted, and their finish is such as
would do no discredit to the upper rq^ms of even a York
dwelling. The building is in the shape of an L, or two
sides of a parallelogram, one of which shows a front of
seventy-five, and the other of fifty feet. Twenty-six feet
make the depth, from outside to outside of the walls. The
best room had a carpet, that covered two-thirds of the entire
dimensions of the floor, even in my boyhood, and there were
oil-cloths in most of the better passages. The buffet in the
dining-room, or smallest parlour, was particularly admired;
and I question if there be, at this hour, a handsomer in the
county. The rooms were well-sized, and of fair dimen
sions, the larger parlours embracing the whole depth of the
house, with proportionate widths, while the ceilings were
higher than common, being eleven feet, if we except the
places occupied by the larger beams of the chamber floors.

As there was money in the family, besides the Neck, and
the Littlepages had held the king s commissions, my father
having once been an ensign, and my grandfather a captain,
in the regular army, each in the earlier portion of his life,
we always ranked among the gentry of the county. We
happened to be in a part of Westchester in which were none
of the very large estates, and Satanstoe passed for property
of a certain degree of importance. It is true, the Morrises
were at Morrisania, and the Felipses, or Philipses, as these
Bohemian counts were then called, had a manor on the
Hudson, that extended within a dozen miles of us, and a
younger branch of the de Lanceys had established itself
even much nearer, while the Van Cortlandts, or a branch



of them, too, dwelt near Kingsbridge ; but these were all
people who were at the head of the Colony, and with whom
none of the minor gentry attempted to vie. As it was,
therefore, the Littlepages held a very respectable position
between the higher class of the yeomanry and those who,
by their estates, education, connections, official rank, and
hereditary consideration, formed what might be justly
called the aristocracy of the Colony. Both my father and
grandfather had sat in the Assembly, in their time, and, as
I have heard elderly people say, with credit, too. As for
my father, on one occasion, he made a speech that occupied
eleven minutes in the delivery, a proof that he had some
thing to say, and which was a source of great, but, I trust,
humble felicitation iifcthe family, down to the day of his
death, and even afterwards.

Then the military services of the family stood us in for a
great deal, in that day it was something to be an ensign
even in the militia, and a far greater thing to have the same
rank in a regular regiment. It is true, neither of my pre
decessors served very long with the King s troops, my father
in particular selling out ai the end of his second campaign ;
but the military experience, and I may add the military
glory each acquired in youth, did them good service for all
the rest of their days, Both were commissioned in the
militia, and my father actually rose as high as major in
that branch of the service, that Deing the rank he held, and
the title he bore, for the last fifteen years of his life.

My mother was of Dutch extraction on both sides, her
father having been a Hlauvelt, and her morher a Van Busser.
I have heard it said that there was even a rerationship be
tween the Stuyvesants and the Van Cortlandts, and the
Van Bussers; but I am not able to point out the actual
degree and precise nature of the affinity. I presume it was
not very near, or my information would have been more
minute. I have always understood that my mother brought
my father thirteen hundred pounds for dowry (currency,
not sterling), which, it must be confessed, was a very genteel
fortune for a young woman in 1733. Now, I very well
know that six, eight, and ten thousand pounds sometimes
fall in, in this manner, and even much more in the high
families ; but no one need be ashamed, who looks back fifty

8 AT AN S TOE. 15

years, and finds that his mother brought a thousand pounds
to her husband.

I was neither an only child, nor the eldest-born. There
was a son who preceded me, and two daughters succeeded,
but they all died in infancy, leaving me in effect the only
offspring for my parents to cherish and educate. My little
brother monopolised the name of Evans, and living for
some time after I was christened, I got the Dutch appella
tion of my maternal grandfather, for my share of the family
nomenclature, which happened to be Cornelius Corny
was consequently the diminutive by which I was known to
ail the whites of my acquaintance, for the first sixteen or
eighteen years of my life, and to my parents as long as
they lived. Corny Littlepage is not sdbad name, in itself,
and I trust they who do me the favour to read this manu
script, will lay it down with the feeling that the name is
none the worse for the use I have made of it.

I have said that both my father and grandfather, each in
his day, sat in the assembly ; my father twice, and my
grandfather only once. Although we lived so near the
borough of West Chester, it was not for that place they sat,
but for the county, the de Lanceys and the Morrises con
tending for the control of the borough, in a way that left
little chance for the smaller fishes to swim in the troubled
water they were so certain to create. Nevertheless, this
political elevation brought my father out, as it might be,
before the world, and was the means of giving him a per
sonal consideration he might not have otherwise enjoyed.
The benefits, and possibly some of the evils of thus being
drawn out from the more regular routine of our usually
peaceable lives, may be made to appear in the course of this

I have ever considered myself fortunate in not having
been born in the earlier and infant days of the colony,
when the interests at stake, and the events by which they
were influenced, were not of a magnitude to give the mind
and the hopes the excitement and enlargement that attend
the periods of a more advanced civilization, and of more
important incidents. In this respect, my own appearance
in this world was most happily timed, as any one will see
who will consider the state and importance of the colony in


the middle of the present century. New York could not
have contained many less than seventy thousand souls, in
cluding both colours, at the time of my birth, for it is sup
posed to contain quite a hundred thousand this day on
which I am now writing. In such a community, a man
has not only the room, but the materials on which to figure;
whereas, as I have often heard him say, my father, when
he was born, was one of less than half of the smallest
number I have just named. I have been grateful for this
advantage, and I trust it will appear, by evidence that will
be here afforded, that I have not lived in a quarter of the
wo) Id, or in an age, when and where, and to which great
events have been altogether strangers.

My earliest recollections, as a matter of course, are of
Satansloe and the domestic fireside. In my childhood and
youth, I heard a great deal said of the Protestant Succession,
tho House of Hanover, and King George II. ; all mixed up
w:th such names as those of George Clinton, Gen. Monckton,
Sir Charles Hardy, James de Lancey, and Sir Danvers
Osborne, his official representatives in the colony. Every
age has its old and its last wars, and I can well remember
that which occurred between the French in the Canadas
and ourselves, in 1744. I was then seven years old, and it
was an event to make an impression on a child of that
tender age. My honoured grandfather was then living, as
he was long afterwards, and he took a strong interest in the
military movements of the period, as was natural for an
old soldier. New York had no connection with the cele
brated expedition that captured Louisbourg, then the Gibral
tar of America, in 1745 ; but this could not prevent an old
soldier like Capt. Littlepage from entering into the affair
with all his heart, though forbidden to use his hand. As
the reader may not be aware of all the secret springs that
set public events in motion, it may be well here to throw in
a few words in the way of explanation.

There was and is little sympathy, in the way of national
feeling, between the colonies of New England and those
which lie farther south. We are all loyal, those of the
east as well as those of the south-west and south ; but there
is, and ever has been, so wide a difference in our customs,
origins, religious opinions, and histories, as to cause a broad


moral line, in the way of feeling, to be drawn between the
colony of New York and those that lie east of the Byram
river. I have heard it said that most of the emigrants to
the New England states came from the west of England,
where many of their social peculiarities and much of their
language are still to be traced, while the colonies farther
south have received their population from the more central
counties, and those sections of the island that are supposed
to be less provincial and peculiar. I do not affirm that such
is literally the fact, though it is well known that we of New
York have long been accustomed to regard our neighbours
of New England as very different from ourselves, whilst, I
dare say, our neighbours of New England have regarded
us as different from themselves, and insomuch removed
from perfection.

Let all this be as it may, it is certain New England is a
portion of the empire that is set apart from the rest, for
good or for evil. It got its name from the circumstance
that the English possessions were met, on its western
boundary, by those of the Dutch, who were thus separated
from the other colonies of purely Anglo-Saxon origin, by
a wide district that was much larger in surface than the
mother country itself. I am afraid there is something in
the character of these Anglo-Saxons that predisposes them
to laugh and turn up their noses at other races ; for I have
remarked that the natives of the parent land itself, who
come among us, show this disposition even as it respects
us of New York and those of New England, while the
people of the latter region manifest a feeling towards us,

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperSatanstoe : or, The Littlepage manuscripts : a tale of the colony → online text (page 1 of 42)