James Fenimore Cooper.

The water witch; or, The skimmer of the seas. A tale (Volume 1) online

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" Mais, que diable alloit-il faire dans cette galere ?"









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CHRISTENDOM is gradually extricating itself
from the ignorance, ferocity, and crimes of the
middle ages. It is no longer subject of boast
that the hand which wields the sword never
held a pen, and men have long since ceased to be
ashamed of knowledge. The multiplied means
of imparting principles and facts, and a more
general diffusion of intelligence, have conduced
to establish sounder ethics and juster practices
throughout the whole civilized world. Thus
he who admits the conviction, as hope declines
with his years, that man deteriorates, is pro
bably as far from truth as the visionary who
sees the dawn of a golden age in the commence
ment of the nineteenth century. That we have
greatly improved on the opinions and practices

r. 592


of our ancestors, is quite as certain as that there
will be occasion to meliorate the legacy of mo
rals which we shall transmit to posterity.

When the progress of civilization compelled
Europe to correct the violence and injustice
which was so openly practised until the art of
printing became known, the other hemisphere
made America the scene of those acts which
shame prevented her from exhibiting nearer
home. There was little of a lawless, mercenary,
violent, and selfish nature, that the self-styled
masters of the continent hesitated to commit,
when removed from the immediate responsi
bilities of the society in which they had been
educated. The Drakes, Rogers, and Dam piers
of that day, though enrolled in the list of naval
heroes, were no other than pirates, acting under
the sanction of commissions ; and the scenes that
occurred among the marauders of the land,
were often of a character to disgrace human

That the colonies which formed the root of
this republic escaped the more serious evils of a
so gross and widely spreading corruption, can


only be ascribed to the characters of those by
whom they were peopled.

Perhaps nine-tenths of all the white inhabitants
of the Union are the direct descendants of men
who quitted Europe, in order to worship God
according to conviction and conscience. If the
Puritans of New England, the Friends of Jersey,
Pennsylvania and Delaware, the Catholics of
Maryland, the Presbyterians of the upper coun
ties of Virginia, and of the Carolinas, and the
Huguenots, brought with them the exaggeration
of their peculiar sects, it was an exaggeration
that tended to correct most of their ordinary
practices. Still the English Provinces were not
permitted altogether to escape from the moral
dependency that seems nearly inseparable from
colonial government, or to be entirely exempt
from the wide contamination of the times.

The State of New York, as is well known,
was originally a colony of the United Provinces.
The settlement was made in the year 1613, and
the Dutch East India Company, under whose
authority the establishment was made, claimed
the whole country between the Connecticut and


the mouth of Delaware Bay ; a territory which,
as it had a corresponding depth, equalled the
whole surface of the present kingdom of France.
Of this vast region, however, they never occu
pied but a narrow belt on each side of the
Hudson, with here and there a settlement on a
few of the river flats more inland.

There is a providence in the destiny of na
tions that sets at nought the most profound of
human calculations. Had the dominion of the
Dutch continued a century longer, there would
have existed in the very heart of the Union, a
people opposed to its establishment by their
language, origin and habits. The conquest of the
English in 1663, though unjust and iniquitous
in itself, removed the danger, by opening the
way for the introduction of that great community
of character which now so happily prevails.

Though the English, the French, the Swedes,
the Dutch, the Danes, the Spaniards and the
Norwegians, all had colonies within the country
which now composes the United States, the peo
ple of the latter are more homogenous in charac
ter, language and opinions, than those of any


other great nation that is familiarly known. This
identity of character is owing to the early pre
dominance of the English, and to the circum
stance that New England and Virginia, the
two great sources of internal emigration, were
entirely of English origin. Still New York
retains to the present hour a variety of usages
that were obtained from Holland. Her edifices
of painted bricks, her streets lined with trees,
her inconvenient and awkward stoops, and a
large proportion of her names, are equally de
rived from the Dutch. Until the commence
ment of this century, even the language of
Holland prevailed in the streets of the capital ;
and though a nation of singular boldness and
originality in all that relates to navigation, the
greatest sea-port of the country betrays many
evidences of a taste which must be referred to
the same origin.

The reader will find in these facts a sufficient
explanation of most of the peculiar customs,
and of some of the peculiar practices that are
exhibited in the course of the following tale.
Slavery, a divided language, and a distinct peo-


pie, are no longer to be found within the fair
regions of New York ; and, without pretending
to any peculiar exemption from the weaknesses
of humanity, it may be permitted us to hope
that these are not the only features of the narra
tive which a better policy and a more equitable
administration of power have made purely his

Early released from the fetters of the middle
ages, fetters that bound the mind equally with
the person, America has preceded rather than
followed Europe in that march of improvement
which is rendering the present era so remark
able. Under a system, broad, liberal and just
as her s, though she may have to contend with
rivalries that are sustained by a more concen
trated competition, and which are as absurd by
their pretension of liberality, as they are offen
sive by their monopolies, there is nothing to
fear in the end. Her political motto should be
Justice, and her first and greatest care to see it
administered to her own citizens.

The reader is left to make the application.



f( What, shall this speech be spoke for our excuse ?
Or shall we on without apology ?"

Romeo and Juliet.

THE fine estuary which penetrates the Ame
rican coast, between the fortieth and forty -first
degrees of latitude, is formed by the confluence
of the Hudson, the Hackensack, the Passaie,
the Rariton, and a multitude of smaller streams ;
all of which pour their tribute into the ocean,
within the space named. The islands of Nas-

VOL. i. B


sau and Staten are happily placed to exclude
the tempests of the open sea, while the deep
and broad arms of the latter offer every de
sirable facility for foreign trade and internal
intercourse. To this fortunate disposition of
land and water, with a temperate climate, a
central position, and an immense interior, that
is now penetrated in every direction, either
by artificial or by natural streams, the city of
New York is indebted for its extraordinary
prosperity. Though not wanting in beauty, there
are many bays that surpass this in the charms
of scenery; but it may be questioned if the
world possesses another site that unites so
many natural advantages for the growth and
support of a widely extended commerce. As
if never wearied with her kindness, Nature
has placed the island of Manhattan at the
precise point that is most desirable for the
position of a town. Millions might inhabit the
spot, and yet a ship should load near every
door, and while the surface of the land just


possesses the inequalities that are required for
health and cleanliness, its bosom is filled with
the material most needed in construction.

The consequences of so unusual a con-
currence of favourable circumstances are well
known. A vigorous, healthful and continued
growth, that has no parallel even in the his
tory of this extraordinary and fortunate coun
try, has already raised the insignificant pro
vincial town, of the last century, to the level
of the second-rate cities of the other hemi
sphere. The New-Amsterdam of this continent
already rivals its parent of the other; and, so
far as human powers may pretend to predict,
a few fleeting years will place her on a level
with the proudest capitals of Europe.

It would seem that, as Nature has given its
periods to the stages of animal life, it has also
set limits to all moral and political ascendancy.
While the city of the Medici is receding from
its crumbling walls, like the human form shrink
ing into " the lean and slippered pantaloon, 1


the queen of the Adriatic sleeping on her
muddy isles, and Rome itself is only to be
traced by fallen temples and buried columns,
the youthful vigour of America is fast covering
the wilds of the west, with the happiest fruits
of human industry.

By the Manhattanese, who is familiar with
the forest of masts, the miles of wharves, the
countless villas, the hundred churches, the
castles, the smoking and busy vessels that
crowd his bay, the daily increase and the gen
eral movement of his native town, the picture
we are about to sketch will scarcely be recog
nized. He who shall come a generation later
will probably smile, that subject of admiration
should have been found in the existing condition
of the city : and yet we shall attempt to carry
the recolieQtions of the reader but a century
back in the brief history of his country.

As the sun rose on the morning of the 3rd of
June, 171 , the report of a cannon was heard
rolling along the waters of the Hudson, Smoke


issued from an embrasure of a small fortress,
that stood on the point of land where the river
and the bay mingle their waters. The explo
sion was followed by the appearance of a flag,
which, as it rose to the summit of its staff
and unfolded itself heavily in the light current
of air, shewed the blue field and red cross of
the English ensign. At the distance of several
miles, the dark masts of a ship were to be
seen, faintly relieved by the verdant back-ground
of the heights of Staten Island. A little cloud
floated over this object, and then an answering
signal came dull and rumbling to the town.
The flag that the cruiser set was not visible
in the distance.

At the precise moment that the noise of the
first gun was heard, the door of one of the
principal dwellings of the town opened, and a
man, who might have been its master, appeared
on its stoop, as the ill-arranged entrances of
the buildings of the place are still termed. He
was seemingly prepared for some expedition


that was likely to consume the day. A black,
of middle age, followed the burgher to the
threshold, and another negro, who had not yet
reached the stature of manhood, bore under
his arm a small bundle, that probably contained
articles of the first necessity to the comfort of
his master.

" Thrift, Mr. Euclid, thrift is your true phi
losopher s stone ;" commenced, or rather con
tinued in a rich, full-mouthed Dutch the pro
prietor of the dwelling, who had evidently been
giving a leave-taking charge to his principal
slave, before quitting the house " thrift hath
made many a man rich, but it never yet brought
any one to want. It is thrift which has built
up the credit of my house ; and, though it is
said by myself, a broader back and firmer
base belongs to no merchant in the colonies.
You are but the reflection of your master s
prosperity, you rogue, and so much the greater
need that you look to his interests. If the
substance is wasted, what will become of the


shadow ! When I get delicate, you will sicken ;
when I am a-hungered, you will be famished;
when I die, you may be ahem Euclid, I
leave thee in charge of goods and chattels,
house and stable, with my character in the
neighbourhood. I am going to the Lust in Rust
for a mouthful of better air. Plague and fevers !
I believe the people will continue to come into
this crowded town until it gets to be as pesti
lent as Rotterdam in the dog-days. You have
now come to years when a man obtains his
reflection, boy, and I expect suitable care and
discretion about the premises while my back is
turned. Now, harkee, sirrah : I am not en-
tirely pleased with the character of thy com
pany. It is not altogether as respectable as
becomes the confidential servant of a man of
a certain station in the world. There are thy
two cousins, Brom and Kobus, who are no
better than a couple of blackguards ; and as for
the English negro, Diomede he is a devil s
imp ! Thou hast the other locks at disposal, and,"


drawing with, visible reluctance the instrument
from his pocket, " here is the key of the stable.
Not a hoof is to quit it, but to go to the
pump and see that each animal has its food
to a minute. The devil s roysterers ! a Man
hattan negro takes a Flemish gelding for a
gaunt hound, that is never out of breath, and
away he goes, at night, scampering along the
highways like a yankee witch switching through
the air on a broomstick ; but mark me, Master
Euclid, I have eyes in my head, as thou knowest
by bitter experience ! D ye remember, rag-a-
muffin, the time when I saw thee, from the
Hague, riding the beasts, as if the devil spurred
them, along the dykes of Leyden, without re
morse as without leave ?"

<f I alway b rieve some make-mischief tell
Masser, dat time," returned the negro sulkily,
though not without doubt.

" His own eyes were the tell-tales. If mas
ters had no eyes, a pretty world would the
negroes make of it ! I have got the measure of


every black heel on the island registered in
the big book you see me so often looking into,
especially on Sundays ; and, if either of the
tire-legs I have named dares to enter my
grounds, let him expect to pay a visit to the
city Prevost, What do the wild cats mean ! Do
they think that the geldings were bought in
Holland, with charges for breaking in, shipment,
insurance, freight, and risk of diseases, to have
their flesh melted from their ribs like a cook s
candle ?"

" Ere not in done in all e island, but a co
lour man do him ! He do a mischief, and he
do all a work, too ! I won er what colour
Masser t ink war Capt. Kidd ?

" Black or white, he was a rank rogue ; and
you see the end he came to. I warrant you,
now, that water-thief began his iniquities by
riding the neighbours horses at night. His
fate should be a warning to every negro in the
colony. The imps of darkness ! The English
have no such scarcity of rogues at home, that
B 3


they could not spare us the pirate to hang up
on one of the islands, as a scarecrow to the
blacks of Manhattan.""

" Well, I t ink e sight do a white man
some good, too," returned Euclid, who had
all the pertinacity of a spoiled Dutch negro,
singularly blended with affection for him in
whose service he had been born. u I hear
ebbery body say, ere war 1 but two colour 1
man in he ship, and em bot war Guinea

tc A modest tongue, thou midnight scamperer !
Look to my geldings. Here here are two
Dutch florins, three stivers, and a Spanish
pistoreen for thee ; one of the florins is for thy
old mother, and with the others, thou canst
lighten thy heart in the Paus merry-makings.
If I hear that either of thy rascally cousins,
or the English Diomede, has put a leg across
beast of mine, it will be the worse for all
Africa ! Famine and skeletons ! here have I been
seven years trying to fatten the nags, and they


still look more like weasels, than a pair of
solid geldings."

The close of this speech was rather muttered
in the distance, and by way of soliloquy, than
actually administered to the namesake of the
great mathematician. The air of the negro
had been a little equivocal during the parting
admonition. There was an evident struggle
in his mind between an innate love of dis
obedience, and a secret dread of his master s
means of information. So long as the latter
continued in sight, the black watched his form
in doubt, and when it had turned a corner,
he stood at gaze, for a moment, with a negro
on a neighbouring stoop ; then both shook their
heads significantly, laughed aloud, and retired.
That night the confidential servant attended to
the interests of his absent master with a
fidelity and care which proved he felt his own
existence identified with that of a man who
claimed so close a right in his person ; and
just as the clock struck ten, he and the negro


Jast mentioned mounted the sluggish and over-
fattened horses, and galloped, as hard as foot
could be laid to the earth, several miles deeper
into the island, to attend a frolic at one of
the usual haunts of the people of their colour
and condition.

Had Alderman Myndert Van Beverout sus
pected the calamity which was so soon to suc
ceed his absence, it is probable that his mien
would have been less composed, as he pursued
his way from his own door on the occasion
named. That he had confidence in the virtue
of his menaces, however, may be inferred
from the tranquillity which immediately took
possession of features that were never disturbed
without wearing an appearance of unnatural
effort. The substantial burgher was a little
turned of fifty ; and an English wag. who had
imported from the mother country a love for
the humour of his nation, had once, in a con
flict of wits before the city council, described
him to be a man of alliterations. When called


upon to explain away this breach of parlia
mentary decorum, the punster had gotten rid of
the matter, by describing his opponent to be
" short, solid and sturdy in stature ; full,
flushed and funny in face ; and proud, ponderous
and pragmatical in propensities."" But, as is
usual, in all sayings of effort, there was more
smartness than truth in this description ; though
after making a trifling allowance for the colour
ing of political rivalry, the reader may receive
its physical portion, as sufficiently descriptive
to answer all the necessary purposes of this
tale. If we add that he was a trader of great
wealth and shrewdness, and a bachelor, we
need say no more in this stage of the narrative.
Notwithstanding the early hour at which this
industrious and flourishing merchant quitted his
abode, his movement along the narrow streets
of his native town was measured and dignified.
More than once, he stopped to speak to some
favourite family servant, invariably terminating
his inquiries after the health of the master, by


some facetious observation adapted to the ha
bits and capacity of the slave. From this it
would seem, that, while he had so exaggerated
notions of domestic discipline, the worthy bur
gher was far from being one who indulged by
inclination in the menaces he has been heard
to utter. He had just dismissed one of these
loitering negroes, when, on turning a corner,
a man of his own colour, for the first time that
morning, suddenly stood before him. The
startled citizen made an involuntary movement
to avoid the unexpected interview, and then,
perceiving the difficulty of such a step, he sub
mitted with as good a grace as if it had been
one of his own seeking.

" The orb of day the morning gun and
Mr. Alderman Van Beverout !" exclaimed the
individual encountered. 6i Such is the order of
events, at this early hour, on each successive
revolution of our earth."

The countenance of the Alderman had barely
time to recover its composure, ere he was


required to answer to this free and somewhat
facetious salutation. Uncovering his head, he
bowed so ceremoniously as to leave the other
no reason to exult in his pleasantry, as he

" The colony has reason to regret the services
of a governor who can quit his bed so soon.
That we of business habits stir betimes, is
quite in reason, but there are those in this
town, who would scarce believe their eyes did
they enjoy my present happiness. 1

" Sir, there are many in this colony who
have great reason to distrust their senses,
though none can be mistaken in believing they
see Alderman Van Beverout in a well employed
man. He that dealeth in the produce of the
beaver must have the animal s perseverance and
forethought ! Now, were I a king at arms,
there should be a concession made in thy fa
vour, Myndert, of a shield bearing the animal
mordant, a mantle of fur, with two Mohawk
hunters for supporters, and the motto, c Indus
try. "


" Or what think you, my Lord," returned
the other, who did not more than half relish
the pleasantry of his companion, " of a spotless
shield for a clear conscience, with an open
hand for a crest, and the motto, < Frugality and
Justice? "

" I like the open hand, though the conceit
is pretending. I see you would intimate that
the Van Beverouts have not need, at this late
day, to search a herald s office for honours.
I remember, now I bethink me, on some oc
casion to have seen their bearings ; a windmill,
courant dyke, coulant field, vert, sprinkled
with black cattle No ! then, memory is trea
cherous ; the morning air is pregnant with food
for the imagination !"

" Which is not a coin to satisfy a creditor,
my Lord," said the caustic Myndert.

" Therein has truth been pithily spoken.
This is an ill-judged step, Alderman Van Be-
verout, that lets a gentleman out by night, like
the ghost in Hamlet, to flee into the narrow


house with the crowing of the cock. The ear
of my royal cousin hath been poisoned, worse
than was the ear of < murdered Denmark, or
the partisans of this Mister Hunter would have
little cause to triumph."

"Is it not possible to give such pledges to
those who have turned the key, as will enable
your lordship to apply the antidote."

The question struck a chord that changed
the whole manner of the other. His air, which
had borne the character of a genteel trifler, be
came more grave and dignified, and notwith
standing there was the evidence of a reckless
disposition in his features, dress and carriage,
his tall and not ungraceful form, as he walked
slowly onward by the side of the compact Al
derman, was not without much of that insinuat
ing ease and blandishment, that long familiarity
with good company can give even to the lowest
moral worth.

" Your question, worthy Sir, manifests great
goodness of heart, and corroborates that repu-


tation for generosity the world so freely gives.
It is true that the Queen has been persuaded to
sign the mandate of my recal, and it is certain
that Mr. Hunter has the government of the
colony ; but these are facts that might be re
versed, were I once in a position to approach
my kinswoman. I do not disclaim certain in
discretions, Sir ; it would ill become me to deny
them in presence of one whose virtue is as severe
as that of Alderman Van Beverout. I have my
failings : perhaps, as you have just been pleased
to intimate, it would have been better had my
motto been frugality ; but the open hand, dear
Sir, is a part of the design you will not deny
me either. If I have weaknesses, my enemies
cannot refuse to say that I never yet deserted a

" Not having had occasion to tax your friend
ship, I shall not be the first to make the

" Your impartiality has come to be a pro
verb ! As honest as Alderman Van Beverout ;


as generous as Alderman Van Beverout, are
terms in each man s mouth ; some say as rich ;
(the small blue eye of the burgher twinkled).
But honesty, and riches, and generosity are of
little value, without influence. Men should
have their natural consideration in society.
Now is this colony rather Dutch than English,
and yet you see how few names are found in
the list of the council that have been known
in the province half a century ! Here are your

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