The City During 1677-1700: Part I

The growth of New-York city during the whole of the seventeenth century was steady but not rapid. In 1677 an enumeration of all the tenements in the city was made, which showed an aggregate of three hundred and eighty-four dwellings of all classes. The progress of the city for the first sixty years of its existence is thus shown to have been only a little more than six houses for each year. The location of the houses by streets did not vary materially from the plan of the city noticed in a former chapter. Pearl-street still had the greatest number of dwellings ; but between this street and the East River was a belt of land of sufficient breadth to admit a row of houses to be placed there. This of course became a favorite location with the amphibious Hollanders, and at this enumeration no less than forty-eight houses were set down to " the water-side,"—the future Water- street. Broadway had also advanced very considerably, and now contained some fifty dwellings; while on the extreme east side of the town, " Smith's Vley,"
or valley, (now William-street,) was becoming a well- occupied street. The city wall was maintained with much care, as the great safeguard of the inhabitants against foreign enemies.

Wards Of The City

At this period the city was divided into seven wards. The West ward included the streets immediately about the fort, on both sides of Broadway, and the shore of the Hudson River. The North ward lay to the east of this, and west of the canal, and came as far south as the fort. South ward lay directly below this, and was the wealthiest portion of the city. Yet further south was Dock ward—also a rich locality. These last two wards contained more than half of the entire property of Manhattan Island. East ward lay in the region of Smith's Vley and the Countess's Key,—now Coenties-slip. The five wards covered the whole area of the city within the wall; but just beyond that bulwark, and extending some miles outward, was the Out ward; and still further northward, embracing the upper portion of the island, was Harlem ward. Each of these portions of the city was entitled to an alderman in the city council.

Laws and Ordinances

The city fathers, at that primitive period, appear to have exercised a truly paternal care over their municipal charge. It was ordered that "the watch should be set at eight o'clock every evening, after ringing the bell, and the gates locked at nine, and opened again at daylight." To prevent the possibility of a surprise by the Indians, it was directed that" every citizen should have a musket, and powder and balls, constantly in readiness for use." Especial care was taken that the city should be properly provided with public houses; and as if there was danger that there would be some lack of regard to the wants of those for whom such houses are provided, it was further ordered that " all persons who keep public houses shall sell beere, as well as wyne and other liquors, and keep lodgings for strangers," and a tariff of prices for each article of refreshment was fixed by authority. To facilitate building, it was ordered that " the land in the city convenient to build on, if the parties who own the same do not speedily build thereon, may be valued and sold to those who are willing to build." The streets were to be cleaned every Saturday, and the carmen were required to carry away the dirt, or forfeit their license. No butchering was allowed to be done within the city, but a public slaughter-house
was built over the water, beyond the wall, in " the Smith's Vley." To the denizens of this metropolis such laws as these read strangely. This was probably that " good old time " so often referred to by querulous old people.

Enlargement of the City

In 1676 a law was passed providing for paving some of the principal streets. That now known as Whitehall-street was the first to receive this attention. Soon after the great canal was ordered to be filled up, and changed to a street, and named Broad-street, which was also immediately paved. Previous to this the water had come up to Garden-street, (now Exchange Place,) and the ferry-boats landed their passengers near the upper part of the canal. A few years after, a street was opened between this and Broadway, called New-street, by Adrian Waters, for which contribution to the public interest he was exempted from paying taxes for six years. " Beaver graft" was also doomed to the same treatment that had been awarded to "de Heere graft," and the road in the Smith's " Vley was regulated and paved as a street of the city.

Regulations of Trade

The tendency to cherish monopolies was, from an early period, strongly exhibited in the affairs of the_city. Trade was accounted a peculiar privilege, that only " freemen " might enjoy; and the privileges of freemen were granted only on certain carefully guarded conditions. The price paid by a merchant for the "freedom of the city" was six beavers. None but freemen of three years' standing were allowed to trade up the Hudson, and only those of New-York city could trade over sea. The shipping of the port amounted, in 1683, to about thirty sailing vessels, and nearly fifty open boats. The number of carmen was fixed by law at "twenty, and no more."

The Flour Monopoly

But of all the monopolies enjoyed by the citizens, to the exclusion of the country people, that of bolting and packing flour was at once the most valuable to the former and oppressive to the latter. A considerable trade in flour with the West Indies had grown up, of which the farmers in the interior had gladly availed themselves for disposing of their surplus crops. It so happened, however, that a large portion of the profits of this trade came to the millers and the merchants of the city, who bought the wheat of the farmers, and converted it into flour for transportation. No mill was allowed to be erected out of the city for making flour for market, and the packing of flour was forbidden to all but the city millers. Against this oppressive monopoly the country people remonstrated long and loudly; and as the provincial assembly was composed chiefly of country members, it was at length abolished. This, however, was not effected without a severe struggle, and only against loud and earnest remonstrances on the part of the city people, who seem to have been persuaded that the perpetuation of their peculiar privileges was essential to the prosperity, if not indeed to the very existence, of the city.

Further Extension of the Town

From -the facts stated in the petition of the city corporation to the assembly against the repeal of the "flour monopoly," some notion of the growth of the city may be obtained. It is evident, however, that in their zeal to prove the great value of the trade in question, the city fathers rather over-estimate the attainments of the city. They state that at the beginning of the trade, in 1678, only three hundred and eighty-four houses were found in the city; the annual revenue was not over two thousand pounds; and there were only three ships, seven boats, and eight sloops owned in the city. But at that time, when the trade had been in progress sixteen years, there were sixty ships,. forty boats, and twenty-five sloops. The revenue had also increased to five thousand pounds per year; and there were nine hundred and eighty-three houses, of which not less than two-thirds depended on he flour-trade. But although the petition in favor of the monopoly did not succeed, the city survived the shock; and though its growth was afterward less rapid, it was quite as favorable to the general interest.

A Dangerous Rival

About this time New-York was threatened with a formidable rivalry from the opposite side of the Hudson. The people of New-Jersey found it quite too difficult for them to go all the way to New-York to do their trading, especially as the passage of the river was always tedious and often dangerous, and so a market was set up on their own side. This became a cause of alarm to the New-Yorkers. Complaints were made that " trade and revenue had suffered," and fears were expressed that New-York would be greatly injured by the " diversion of trade " to the west side of the river.

Progress of "Breukelen."

A town had been planted just across the East River at an early period of the history of New-Netherland, which, from the unevenness of the surface of the surrounding country, was called Breukelen, or Broken-land, a name since softened into the less significant but more euphonious word Brooklyn. This town was regarded more favorably than that on the shore of New-Jersey, and was treated rather as a younger sister than a dangerous rival. By an early regulation of the corporation of New-York, cooperating with the authorities of Brooklyn, " a fayre and market was held in Breukelen on the first Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and in New-York on the three succeeding days." A regular ferry between the two places had been maintained for many years, under the control of the corporation of New-York. The rates of ferriage were fixed by law,—" for a single person eight stivers, in wampum, or a silver twopence; each person in company, half that price; or if after sunset, double price." This ferry at an early period became a source of revenue to the city. For several years previous to 1698 it was rented out at one hundred and forty pounds a year; and that year it was leased for seven years, at an annual rent of one hundred and sixty-five pounds. The lessee, in this case, was the celebrated Rip Van Dam, an individual who figured largely in his times in the affairs of both the city and the province.

Sale of City Lots

The large increase of houses in the city, noticed in a former section, necessarily caused an increased demand for building lots, and accordingly we find frequent mention of sales of public property for that purpose. A few years previous to the time now under notice, a portion of the old burying-ground in Broadway was ordered to be laid out in lots of twenty-five feet front, and " sold at public outcry." This is the first case on record of the sale of real estate at auction in this city. In 1689 fourteen lots, " near the Countess's Quay," were sold at auction for about thirty-five pounds each, and eleven others at twenty-seven pounds each. A little later public surveyors were appointed to lay out streets and lots; and frequent grants of land were made by the corporation for trifling considerations.

In the early part of the year 1692, it was directed that " all lands in front of the Vley, from the block-house to Mr. Beekman's, be sold:—the lots between the block-house and the Green-lane (Maiden- lane) at twenty-five shillings per foot; and those from the Green-lane to Mrs. Van Clyff's, at eighteen shillings per foot." These lots were accordingly offered at those rates, but found no purchasers—the prices being thought above their value. Soon afterward, however, twenty-three lots on the Vley were sold at auction at an average rate of about twenty-six pounds each; a lot at the end of Broad-street was valued at eighty pounds. About this time wharves were built at the foot of King (Pine) street, and of Maiden-lane, extending out from high-water mark, which was then nearly up to William-street.

Outside Localities

With the increase of the city, two places of some importance beyond the city wall began to come into notice. One of these was the residence of Mrs. Van Clyff, who seems to have kept a public house, on Smith-street, near the present corner of John and William-streets. A lane was opened between the two leading highways, now William and Pearl-streets, which, on the early maps of the city, is called Van Clyff-street,—this now constitutes a part of John street. At a much later period, her name, with a modernized orthography, was given to a street leading from her residence to " the Swamp."

The other was the farm and residence of William Beekman. His house stood upon a gentle eminence to the west of the Swamp. Mr. Beekman was among the most considerable citizens of his times, was several times chosen alderman of his ward, and was the proprietor of a large tract of ground in that neighborhood, including " the Swamp," and reaching up to " the Common." As early as 1656, a controversy arose between himself and some of the citizens, who claimed the right of driving their cattle across his lands. The case at length came before the city council, where the defendants showed " that it had been customary with them to herd their cattle every year on the Common, and there had been a right of way there before their time." This defense was deemed satisfactory, and the right of way was thus established. A lane was afterward fenced across the farm, long known as Beekman's lane, for the use of those enjoying the right of way to the Common. This was the beginning of Beekman street, which, however, was not opened and regulated as a public thoroughfare till nearly a hundred years later.

In 1696, Teunis De Kay petitioned the corporation for leave " to open a carte way" from the head of Broad-street toward the city Common, "by the pye-woman's," offering to do all the work necessary at his own expense, if he could have " the soil." Probably at that time there was an opening in the wall at the head of Broad-street, allowing the egress and ingress of teams and vehicles, as it is known there was no gate at that place. The petition was granted, and the beginning of Nassau-street was the result. At first, indicating the professed design of the projector of the enterprise, it was called " Horse-and-cart-street," and afterward " Kip-street," till it received its present name.

Defenses Of The City

In Governor Dongan's report to the Board of Trade, in England, dated in 1697, he complains of a want of adequate defenses for the city. It is probable that his excellency was not more in dread of foreign enemies than of his own people, who, he says, were " growing every day more numerous, and are generally at a turbulent disposition." He describes the principal fort as " well situated for the defense of the harbor, on a point made by the junction of the Hudson River and the Sound." It had thirty-nine guns, and two mortar pieces, with the necessary ammunitions and military stores. The inland side of the city had for fifty years been protected by the city wall, a stockade of timbers and heavy planks, that extended along the line of the present Wall-street from the East River to Broadway, and thence to the Hudson River, and down its bank to the point of rocks below the fort. This wall was originally built to protect the city from the Indians, and was now becoming somewhat neglected, and soon after was entirely removed.

Agreeably to the suggestions of the governor, additional fortifications were soon afterward erected at prominent points around the city. At the foot of Winchell street was a battery of fifteen guns, called Whitehall, which name was also soon after given to the street. Leyster's Half-moon stood on the Hudson, near the fort. The State-house battery, of five guns, was at the eastern extremity of the mole and dock, and directly in front of the State-house. The Burghers' battery, of ten guns, stood at the eastern extremity of the wall; and the North-western block-house at its junction with the Hudson River. At the city gates, on Broadway and Smith street, were guard-houses of stone for the defense of the gates, which served also for keepers' lodges.

Public Edifices

The public buildings of the city were, at this period, neither numerous nor of imposing appearances. The State-house (stadt-haus) stood at the corner of Dock street and the Countess's Key. This building was sold and diverted to private uses in 1699, and was succeeded by the new City Hall, erected soon afterward, at the head of Broad-street. The State-house was the center
of municipal affairs. In front of it were the stocks, the cage, and the ducking-stool—instruments for the correction of minor offenses. The Custom-house was also on Dock street, a little farther to the west. At the foot of King (now Pine) street were abattoirs, or public slaughter-houses, already spoken of.

Of places of worship the French (Huguenot) church stood on the south side of Beaver-street, midway between Broadway and Broad-street. The Jews' synagogue was similarly situated on Mill-street. In the fort was the king's chapel, which was also used as an English church ; and the Dutch Calvinists had a church on Garden-street, just east of Broad-street. Trinity church was erected on the spot still occupied by its successor about the close of this period. Just above this church was a piece of ground set apart for the site of the parsonage, and beyond this were the buildings belonging to the King's Farm. Between these buildings and the river was the windmill one of the most important appendages of the city and on the opposite side of Broadway was Governor Dongan's garden.

Website: The History
Article Name: The City During 1677-1700: Part I
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY:  New York: A Historical Sketch of the Rise and Progress Of the Metropolitan City of America by a New Yorker, Published by Carlton & Phillips-New York: 1853
Time & Date Stamp: