Charles Fenno Hoffman.

The pioneers of New-York : an anniversary discourse delivered before the St. Nicholas Society of Manhattan, December 6, 1847 online

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DECEMBER 6, 1847.

[■'The first settlement of this State coincided with its natural advantages. Wliile Englishmen
came to America, either flying from ecclesiastical intolerance or pursuing the treasure its savages
were sunposed to possess. Dutchmen, insoired by the spirit of trade, instead of sitting down on
the slvirts of the New World, boldly penetrated to the head navigation of the Hudson. They
built there a fort in the year 1614, and gave it the name of that august family, whose talents and
labors, alike in the cabinet and the field, secured the liberty of England as well as of Holland,
and established the Independence of Europe. * * * Children of commerce, we were rocked in
the cradle of war, and sucked the principles of liberty with our mother's milk."— Governeur
Morris, Dec. 6, 1812.]





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106 Fulton-Street.


Mr. President and Brethren of the St. Nichohis Society, I greet
you on the occasion of this anniversary of the revival of our
ancient fraternity : a revival which first brought us together in
genial fellowship, to honor the memory and keep alive the
traditions of the early pioneers of New- York of every race.

I will not emulate the learned Diedrich Knickerbocker, by
commencing this discourse with a history of the rest of the world,
as forming a proper prefatory chapter to the more important
annals of Manhattan, but like him, I must resort to pages ancient
as those of Sanchoniathan Manetho and Berosus, for the proper
and duly ceremonious introduction of my theme.

Among the countless legends of Arabian fiction, there is a story
of a certain travelling angel — ^a sort of spirit tourist, who, wandering
about from planet to planet, would always after an interval of a
thousand years, look in upon our orb as it were, and rest his wings
for awhile near a particular spot, upon which he invariably first

That fair spot of earth, it would seem, when fiirst he visited it,
was wildly overgrown with ancient trees, and one lonely half-
naked savage stalked amid their glooms, the only human occupant.

" Art thou the only dweller here? " asked the wayfaring angel.

" I dwell not here." replied the savage, " I but wandered
hither like thyself — -man dwells not here — man never hath dwelt
herel" and the sullen hunter strode off to deeper coverts and a
more lonely shade.

A tlionsand years went by — a!:;iiin the angel stood upon the
earth !

He !^aw the eternal hills "around, the same. But the leafy
plain which they had enc-ireled, how looked it now?

Mosques — domes — minarets, the sanctuaries of the faithful, the
abodes of a million of worshippers, reflected the sunshine from
their white parapets. The streets swarmed with life. The rich
bazaars, the marble palaces and frequent fountains, proclaimed
centuries of busy toil of successful industry, of present abounding
luxury. " This noble and flourishing city ! How long hath it
stood here? " asked the angel of one of its thronged multitude.

" Knowest thou not the diadem city of the earth?" responded
the inhabitant. "This city! It was always thus magnificent!
Alia alone can tell when first its mosques were reared by the

Another thousand years have passed away — the angel is again
there. He stands upon the shrubless and barren borders of a lake
where fishermen are drawing their nets, and he calls to them from
the shore —

" Friends ! where is the ancient city which once reposed amid
these hills?"

The fishermen shake their heads : they have never heard of it.
Their fathers have fished for many generations in that lake, which
always washed the base of the surrounding hills as now !

The legend goes on to relate that the spirit ti-aveller returned
twice or thrice yet again at the same intervals of time. Where he
looked for the lake on his next visit, he found a meadowy pasture!

The herdsmen tending the flocks that were scattered over it,
laughed at his tradition of the sandy shored lake; and turning up
the rich black soil with their staves, averred that those grassy fields
had ever been the same as now.

On his final visit the angel found a still more novel aspect on
the scene. The very mountains which once girdled it had sunk
into the earth, and yielded their jilace to tw^o broad arms of the
sea, which now encircled that legendary spot in their embrace.
The turfy savannah, for which he looked, was now broken up into

hill and dale, laced by pebbled brooks or seamed here and there
by deep artificial excavations. The once grassy and mountain-
girt plain had become an isi-ano. He saw in one part strange
shrubs, growing here there upon pinnacles of rock, whicli had either
been thrown down from hills that had crumbled long ago, or lifted
up by hidden energies of the earth beneath. But many roads
crossed each other at intervals between them. In the most rugged
situations the labor of man had so far subdued the ungenial soil,
that many a garden and orchard relieved and diversified that
island ; over which from the sea-ward extremity a vast city seemed
to be growing even while the angel gazed : growing up from the
very bosom of the bitter and brackish waters, as if the energies of
old Ocean himself were lifting it from bis foam, and pushing it as
it expanded, still farther and farther landward !

This, (quoth the angel.) nuist be an intelligent people, who
make so thrifty a use of this forbidding soil — this must be a people
most highly favored by a god-like Intelligence, whom the ix>wers
of nature thus combine to favor in rearing their fast growing city.

And he asked one of the dwellers, " Where are the ancient races
that once flourished here? "

" This is a neiv land," was the reply. " It has been a wilderness
since time began — a desert untrod liy civilized man till tee came to
settle and reclaim it."

"Well, then (said the iiKpiisitive spirit,) this no])le city, who
reared it from the waves?"

" We did — we Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock," cried the same
half a dozen voices in the highest Puritan key.

"Why. my friends, (said the angel, speaking now with something
of a Dutch accent.) even while I have gazed upon this moiling
multitude, gazed through the two centuries, which are to me but
as a moment of time. I have seen three races of men succeeding
each other in power here, and all of them preceded you on the
spot whose story of yesterday you profess to tell me."

And such is history ! — Such, in the moral world developed
around us, are the broad contrasts, the incessant changes in human
thought and action, that although upon our continent, we find only

in Uximil and Palenqiie, some approach to the physical realization
of the Arabian fable, it shadows forth but too truly the mind of
man. The alternate mental feebleness and proud intellectual
achievement of our race, its darling love of existing idols, its
arrogant reliance ujwn the Present, its childlike forgetfulness or
stupid and dotard oblivion of the Past. Its again re-nascent
energies and its insolent confidence that the youth thus once more
j-e-invigorated, though rocked on the graves of coiottless civilizations,
shall preserve its fresh enlightenment for ever.

Such is histoi-y ! Alas ! too often such especially is American
history. Such, above all, is the history of the State in which we
live — a growing empire of more than two centuries, with a story
only of yesterday.

The predominance of the English race in the ultimate settlement
of these United States, has made us but too ready to forget the
claims of other nations (which are likewise represented in its
present population) to the honor of exploring and planting it.

Without diminishing the glory of Cabot in maritime exploration,
to the navigators of Holland is due the credit of carefully
surveying our whole Atlantic coast, and minutely mapping that part
of it from Cape Cod to Henlopen. To the French, tbat of making
known our vast inland waters, from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to
the tideless wave of Lake Superior, the savage torrent of the
Missouri, and the far winding current of the Mississippi.

The nautical enterprize and the abundant maritime resources
of the Dutch, whose navy (according to Sir Walter Raleigh)
numbered ten ships to one for that of England,* gave them pre-
eminent advantages over all other nations in examining the indented
coast of the whole Atlantic sea-board of America, and selecting
the most elegible points for such colonies as they chose to plant ;
while the topographical science of the French, (whose skill in

* At a later day one Dutch commercial establishment alone without the aid
of the Provincial or Federal government of the United Provinces, "could equip a
fleet of fifty sail of the line without building a single vessel." [Baanage in the
Universal History.) Dutch words still supply half the technical terms used on

engineering was subsequently made famous over Europe by the
pupils of Vauban.) fitted them for tbe reconnoisancc which they
consummated with so much skill upon this Northern Continents

The very points which the latter selected for military or trading
posts two hundred years ago, have since become the most important
towns west of the Alleglianies.

Oswego, Niagara, Pittsburg, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, and
New Orleans, have all fulfilled the destiny that was predicted for
them when designated by the sagacious Frenchmen as the keys
of the respective regions in which they are situated.

Nor have our pure Anglo-Saxon chroniclers contented 'them-
selves with slurring over the all-important part which other
Europeans had alike in planting this vast empire, and in developing
its exhaustless resources. But with regard to this State particularly,
in their works of solemn history, in their school books, in their
public lectures, and in their anniversary addresses, they, in the
blind pursuit of an unmeaning theory, seem to aim with singular
industry and a most perverted ability, to obliterate the peculiar
story of New-York, and point on to New England, her elder
provincial sister here, as a modern colony of Massachusetts Bay!
A most erroneous and offensive assumption, which is every day
more and more passing into the minds of the multitude as estab-
lished truth. And while tlie Massachusetts-man, the Virginian and
South Carolinian, are still identified with their fathers, in both
private and historical association ; New- York, alike in the partisan
writings of the annalist and in the habitual mention of the daily
press, is scarcely recognized as having more than a territorial
existence previous to the revolution. The popular plirase of
" OUB Pilgrim fathers," has become perfectly domesticated in the
public lecture-rooms of this city ; and no one thinks of discussing
a question of morals in the newspapers, without referring to "the
customs of our Puritan ancestry." Both these phrases, indeed,
have more than once, of late years, been used in our State
Legislature, to add force to some doctrinal appeal. And if the
inquiring spirit of the aiwlogue makes his " angel visits " as far
between as formerly, lie will find not a recognition remaining of


the ten generations of pioneering energy of which this State was
the scene before tlie Puritan interpreter of history was abroad.

It should be renieiubered, that while modern New-York is so
much indebted to the healthful current of New England immigration,
which poured in innuediately after the revolution, her ancient story,
which new associations are so fast obliterating, is characteristically
her own. Her own at least from the landing of Hendrick Hudson
In 1G09, to her first act of revolution in seizing the stamped paper of
the British crown in 1766. And while it might be in very ques-
tionable taste to carp at or arraign the natural associations of those
who compose, if not the largest, yet perhaps the most intelligent,
and possibly the most valuable portion of our fellow citizens through-
out the State generally, yet this covering up and obliteration of her
ancient story is not altogether well I New-York, though she had no
Sjieedweil nor Mayflower freighted with precious hearts, daring the
wilderness for conscience's sake — New York was still planted,
and earlier planted, by men as bold to confront the perils of a new
climate or the horrors of savage warfare, as those who landed at
Plymouth — by men, too, who penetrated beyond the mountains,
and established their little colonies a hundred and fifty miles from
the sea-shore, without thinking that they did anything extraordinary
enough to transmit their names to posterity.* AVhy is it that we

"Schenectady was commenced shortly after Christiause planted a colony at
Fort Orange, acting under the edict of 1614." (Dunlap.) Individual enterprize
having thus started the colony on the Hudson, and those individuals having
established four colonial stations, one at Manhattan, one at the head of ship
navigation, one at the head of tide water, and one on the Mohawk, all prior to
1618 and each of which is at this moment a populous town; the date of the
actual settlement of the Hudson cannot be arbitrarily postponed to the subsequent
periods of their chartered settlements, under specific corporations. If the colonies
planted under the edict of 1614, be set aside for the further acts of colonization
which took place under the incorporations and charters of 1621, 1623, 1629, or
1645, in order to place us here after the Puritans, we ought by the same reasoning
to assume a much later and still more striking era of the colonization of New- York,
as the great landmark of our history. That landmark, which most definitely severs
us from New-England as being no Puritan province of hers, is the English planting
of this colony by the cavaliers of Charles II. time, when the Duke of York took


liear so imu-h ol' " tlie I'liritau Anglo-Saxon stock," who tirst
settled on tlie outer-casing of tins continent? Why is it that we
hear so little of those who struck inwardly to its heart, and
grappled at once with its strong vital pulsations at the head of its
tide-waters? Those hold Belgic navigatoirs, whose tiag led that
of England on every sea — those devoted Huguenots, who recoiled
with such energy from the grasp of despotism, that they made hut
one stride from luxurious France to this then savage wilderness —
tliose brave English cavaliers, wlio recoiling from Puritan intoler-
ance, with the same determined spirit as did the Huguenots from
Papal higotry, came hither with little but cloak and rapier, to
carve out their fortunes amid the forests of New-York? Why is it
that we hear so seldom of this trinity of good blood, which blending
for two hundred j-ears on the soil of New York, now flows in the
veins of her native-horn children, and bred a crop of men that
will mate with the " Puritan Anglo Saxon " in any State of this

It is because yoii, brethren of St. Nicholas, have too long
neglected the story of your fathers! Too coldly fostered, or too
carelessly criticised the efforts of your own sons or of strangers,
to illustrate it. It is because too many of the modern children of
New- York, looking back for ever, like the patriarch's wife, to
scenes they have left, offer but petrified affections to those local
memories and that State pride to ichich yon yourselves are so
faithless !

In those old colonial days, when the now popular dogmas about
" the Puritan Anglo-Saxon race " had not been broached, either in
the student's closet or the breeder's stable, the chance traveller
who visited the banks of the Hudson and Mohawk, oliserved the
happy fusion of national prejudices, and the general ease and
uniformity of sentiment which prevailed among the descendants of
the different Euro]iean stocks by which that noble valley was
originall,\' jdanted: Imt. while recording that the general svstem of

possession here, and filled the province with En-rlishmen as different in charaoter
from the Puritans as were the Netherlanders themselves.


opinions here was far more liberal and tolerant tban that prevailing
in tbe neigliboring colonies, those who have stated the fact leave
us to make up our own judgment as to the cause. We may
ascribe the amiable trait to the social intercourse and frequent
intermarriages of the different races already alluded to; we may
attribute it to the homely fact, that most of the settlers of New-
York came hither to enjoy life, not to establish creeds ; to secure
a (lonu'stic fireside, not to make converts to new political truths ;
or. lastly, we may look for the cause in the nature of their favorite
pursuits, and the mollifying effect, upon manners, of many a simple
old festal custom : for our graceless Knickerbockers danced round
a Maypole in the Bowerie. while the Puritan Anglo-Saxons
burned witches at Salem. But in which ever direction we look,
we are compelled to admit, that the planters of this Hollander
colony— the Norman refugees to this Huguenot asylum, the cavalier
exiles to this P^nglish province, whose commingled blood flows in
the veins of the children of St. Nicholas, have left the Creoles of
the soil of New-York no claim to the glories which we cheerfully
accord to other sections of the colonial stock of America, on the
score of their genuine Anglo-Saxon Puritan descent.

We claim no ])restige of European origin; no hereditary right
of superior intelligence; no aristocracy of race which shall place
us at the head of the colonial planters of these United States, as
the leading type of them all. We have no rivalship with the
English Churchman of ancient Virginia, or the English Puritan
of old Massachusetts ; with the Roman Catholic who planted
tolerant Maryland, or the Swedish laitheran of the gallant little
State of Delaware.

We claim only that the spirit which characterized the pioneers
of New-York is her own, and that it was borrowed from no other
American colony. That her ancient political history is her own,
and not an excres

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Online LibraryCharles Fenno HoffmanThe pioneers of New-York : an anniversary discourse delivered before the St. Nicholas Society of Manhattan, December 6, 1847 → online text (page 1 of 6)