Description of the City of New York in 1748 Part III

By Professor Peter Kahn
NEW YORK, the capital of a province of the same name, is situated under forty deg. and forty min. north lat. and seventy four deg. and four min. of western long, from London and is about ninety-seven English miles distant from Philadelphia. The situation of it is extremely advantageous for trade: for the town stands upon a point which is formed by two bays ; into one of which the river Hudson discharges itself, not far from the town; New York is therefore on three sides surrounded with water: the ground it
is built on, is level in some parts, and hilly in others : the place is generally reckoned very wholesome.

The town was first founded by the Dutch: this, it is said, was done in the year 1623, when they were yet masters of the country; they called it New Amsterdam, and the country itself New Holland. The English, towards the end of the year 1664, taking possession of it under the conduct of Des Cartex, and keeping it by the virtue of the next treaty of peace, gave the name of New York to both the town and the province belonging to it: in size it comes nearest to Boston and Philadelphia. But with regard to its fine buildings, its opulence, and extensive commerce, it disputes the preference with them: at present it is about half as big again as Gothenburgh in Sweden.

The streets do not run so straight as those of Philadelphia, and have sometimes considerable bendings: however they are very spacious and well-built, and most of them are paved, except in high places, where it has been found useless. In the chief streets there are trees planted, which in summer give them a fine appearance, and during the excessive heat at that time, afford a cooling shade: I found it extremely pleasant to walk in the town, for it seemed quite like a garden: the trees which are planted for this purpose are chiefly of two kinds. The Water beech, or Linnaeus's Platanus occidentalis, are the most numerous, and give an agreeable shade in summer, by their great and numerous leaves. The Locust tree or Linnaeus's Robinia Pfeud-Acacia, is likewise frequent: its fine leaves, and the odoriferous scent which exhales from its flowers, make it very proper for being planted in the streets near the houses, and in gardens. There are likewise lime trees and elms in these walks, but they are not by far so frequent as the others: one seldom met with trees of the same sort next to each other, they being in general planted alternately.

Besides numbers of birds of all kinds which make these their abode, there are likewise a kind of frogs which frequent them in great numbers in summer; they are Dr. Linnaeus's Rana arborea, and especially the American variety of this animal. They are very clamorous in the evening and in the nights (especially when the days had been hot, and a rain was expected) and in a manner drown the singing of the birds. They frequently make such a noise, that it is difficult for a person to make himself heard.

Most of the houses are built of bricks; and are generally strong and neat, and several stories high. Some had, according to old architecture, turned the gable-end towards the streets; but the new houses were altered in this respect. Many of the houses had a balcony on the roof, on which the people used to sit in the evenings in the summer season; and from thence they had a pleasant view of a great part of the town, and likewise of part of the adjacent water and of the opposite shore. The roofs are commonly covered with tiles or shingles: the latter of which are made of the white fir tree, or Pinus Strobus (Linn. sp. plant.) which grows higher up in the country. The inhabitants are of opinion, that a roof made of these shingles is as durable as one made in Pennsylvania of the White Cedar, or Cupressus Thyoides (Linn. spec, plant.) The walls were whitewashed within; and I did not any where see hangings, with which the people in this country seem in general to be but little acquainted. The walls were quite covered with all sorts of drawings and pictures in small frames. On each side of the chimneys they had usually a sort of alcove; and the wall under the windows was wainscoted, and had benches placed near it. The alcoves, and all the wood work, were painted with a bluish grey color.

There are several churches in the town, which deserve some attention.

1. The English Church, built in the year 1695,at the west end of the town, consisting of stone, and has a steeple with a bell. 2. The new Dutch Church, which is likewise built of stone, is pretty large, and is provided with a steeple; it also has a clock, which is the only one in the town. This church stands almost due from north to South. No particular point of the compass has here been in general attended to in erecting sacred buildings. Some churches stand as is usual from east to west, others from south to North, and others in different positions. In this Dutch church there is neither altar, vestry, choir, sconces, nor paintings. Some trees are planted round it, which make it look as if it were built in a wood. 3. The Old Dutch Church, which is also built of stone. It is not so large as the new one. It was painted in the inside, though without any images, and adorned with a small organ, of which governor Burnet made them a present. The men, for the most part, sit in the gallery, and the women below. 4. The Presbyterian church, which is pretty large, and was built but lately. It is of stone, and has a steeple and a bell in it. 5. The German Lutheran Church. 6. The German Reformed Church. 7. The French Church, for protestant refugees.8. The Quaker's Meeting House. 9. To these may be added the Jewish Synagogue, which I mentioned before.

Towards the sea, on the extremity of the promontory, is a pretty good fortress, called Fort George, which entirely commands the fort, and can defend the town, at least from a sudden attack on the sea side. Besides that, it is likewise secured on the north, or towards the shore, by a palisade, which however (as for a considerable time the people have had nothing to fear from an enemy) is in many places in a very bad state of defense.

There is no good water to be met with in the town itself, but at a little distance there is a large spring of good water, which the inhabitants take for their tea, and for the uses of the kitchen. Those however, who are less delicate in this point, make use of the water from the wells in town, though it be very bad. This want of good water lies heavy upon the horses of the stranger that come to this place; for they do not like to drink the water from the wells in the town.

The port is a good one; ships of the greatest burthen can lie in it, quite close up to the bridge: but its water is very salt, as the sea continually comes in upon it; and therefore is never frozen, except in extraordinary cold weather. This is of great advantage to the city and its commerce ; for many ships either come in or go out of the port at any time of the year, unless the winds be contrary; a convenience, which, as I have before observed, is wanting at Philadelphia is secured from all violent hurricanes from the south-east by Long Island, which is situated just before the town: therefore only the storms from the south west are dangerous to the ships which ride at anchor here, because the port is open only on that side. The entrance however has its faults; one of them is, that no men of war can pass through it; for though the water is pretty deep, yet it is not sufficiently so for great ships. Sometimes even merchant ships of a large size have, by the rolling of the waves and by sinking down between them, slightly touched the bottom, though without any bad consequences. Besides this, the canal is narrow; and for this reason many ships have been lost here, because they may be easily cast upon a sand, if the ship is not well piloted. Some old people, who had constantly been upon this canal, assured me, that it was neither deeper nor shallower at present, than in their youth.

The common difference between high and low water, at New York, amounts to about six feet, English measure. But at a certain time in every month, when the tide flows more than commonly, the difference in the height of the water is seven feet.

New York probably carries on a more extensive commerce, than any town in the English American provinces; at least it may be said to equal them: Boston and Philadelphia however, come very near up to it. The trade of New York extends to many places; and it is said they send more ships from thence to London than they do from Philadelphia. They export to that capital all the various sorts of skins which they buy of the Indians, sugar, logwood, and other dying woods, rum, mahogany, and many other goods which are the produce of the West Indies; together with all the specie which they get in the course of trade. Every year they build several ships here, which are sent to London, and there sold ; and of late years they have shipped a quantity of iron to England, In return for these, they import from London stuffs, and every other article of English growth or manufacture, together with all sorts of foreign goods. England and especially London, profits immensely by its trade with the American colonies; for not only New York, but likewise all the other English towns on the continent, import so many articles from England, that all their specie, together with the goods which they get in other countries, must altogether go to Old England, in order to pay the amount, to which they are however insufficient. From hence it appears how much a well-regulated colony contributes to the increase and welfare of its mother country.


Website: The History
Article Name: Description of the City of New York in 1748 Part III
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: From My Collection of Books: Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York; Joseph Shannon 1869
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