Description of the City of New York in 1748 Part II

By Professor Peter Kahn
The Indians, who inhabited the coast before the arrival of the Europeans, have made oysters and other shell fish their chief food : and at present, whenever they come to a salt water, where oysters are to be got, they are very active in catching them, and sell them in great quantities to other Indians, who live higher up in the country : for this reason you see immense numbers of oyster and muscle shells piled up near such places, where you are certain that the Indians formerly built their huts. This circumstance ought to make us cautious in maintaining, that in all places on the sea shore, or higher up in the country, where such heaps of shells are to be met with ; the latter have lain there ever since the time that those places were overflowed by the sea.

Lobsters are likewise plentifully caught hereabouts, pickled much in the same way as oysters, and sent to several places. I was told of a very remarkable circumstance about these lobsters, and I have afterwards frequently heard it mentioned. The coast of New York had already European inhabitants for a considerable time, yet no lobsters were to be met with on that coast; and though the people fished ever so often, they could never find any signs of lobsters being in this part of the sea : they were therefore continually brought in great well-boats from New-England, where they are plentiful ; but it happened that one of these well-boats broke in pieces near Hellgate, about ten English miles from New York, and all the lobsters in it got off. Since that time they have so multiplied in this part of the sea, that they are now caught in the greatest abundance.

Nov. 1. A Kind of cold fever, which the English in this country call Fever and Ague, is very common in several parts of the English Colonies. There are, however, other parts where the people have never felt it. I will in the sequel describe the symptoms of this disease at large. Several of the most considerable inhabitants of this town assured me, that this disease was not near so common in New York, as it is in Pennsylvania, where ten were seized by it, to one in the former province; therefore they were of opinion, that this disease was occasioned by the vapors arising from stagnant fresh water, from marshes, and from rivers ; for which reason those provinces, situated on the sea shore, could not be so much affected by it. However the carelessness with which people eat quantities of melons, peaches, and other juicy fruit, in summer, was reckoned to contribute much towards the progress of this fever; and repeated examples confirmed the truth of this opinion. The Jesuit's bark was reckoned a good remedy against it. It has, however, often been found to have operated contrary to expectation, though I am ignorant whether it was adulterated, or whether some mistake had been committed in the manner of taking it. Mr. Data van Ilorne, a merchant, told me, that he cured himself, and several other people, of this fever, by the leaves of the common Garden sage, or Salvia officinalis of Linnoeus. The leaves are crushed or pounded in a mortar and the juice is pressed out of them ; this is continued till they get a spoonful of the liquid, which is mixed with lemon juice. This draught is taken about the time that the cold fit comes on ; and after taking it three or four times, the fever does not come again.

The bark of the white oak was reckoned the best remedy which had as yet been found against the dysentery. It is reduced to a powder and then taken : some people assured me, that in cases where nothing would help, this remedy had given a certain and speedy relief. The people in this place likewise make use of this bark (as is usually done in the English colonies) to dye wool a brown color, which looks like that of bohea tea, and does not fade by being exposed to the sun. Among the numerous shells which are found on the sea shore, there are some, which by the English are called Clams, and which bear some resemblance to the human ear. They have a considerable thickness, and are chiefly white, excepting the pointed end, which both without and within has a blue color, between purple and violet. They are met with in vast numbers on the sea shore of New York, Long Island, and other places.

A Considerable commerce is carried on in this article, with such Indians as live further up the country. When these people inhabited the coast, they were able to catch their own clams, which at that time made a great part of their food; but at present this is the business of the Dutch and English, who live on Long Island and other maritime provinces. As soon as the shells are caught, the fish is taken out of them, drawn upon a wire, and hung up in the open air, in order to dry by the heat of the sun. When this is done, the flesh is put into proper vessels, and carried to Albany upon the river Hudson; there the Indians buy them, and reckon them one of their best dishes. Besides the Europeans, many of the native Indians come annually down the sea shore, in order to catch clams, proceeding with them afterwards in the manner I have just described.

The shells of these clams are used by the Indians as money, and make what they call their wampum; they likewise serve their women for an ornament, when they intend to appear in full dress. These wampum are properly made of the purple parts of the shells, which the Indians value more than the white parts. A traveler, who goes to trade with the, Indians, and is well stocked with them, may become a considerable gainer; but if he take gold coin, or bullion, he will undoubtedly be a loser; for the Indians, who live farther up the country, put little or no value upon these metals which we reckon so precious, as I have frequently observed in the course of my travels. The INDIANS formerly made their own wampums, though not without a deal of trouble ; but at present the Europeans employ themselves that way; especially the inhabitants of Albany, who get a considerable profit by it.

Nov. 2. Besides the different sects of Christians, there are many Jews settled in New York, who possess great privileges. They have a synagogue and houses, and great country seats of their own property, and are allowed to keep shops in town. They have likewise several ships, which they freight, and send out with their own goods. In fine, they enjoy all the
privileges common to the other inhabitants of this town and province.

During my residence at New York, this time and in the next two years, I was frequently in company with Jews. I was informed, among other things, that these people never boiled any meat for themselves on Saturday, but that they always did it the day before ; and that in winter they kept a fire during the whole Saturday. They commonly eat no pork ; yet I have been told by several men of credit, that many of them (especially among the young Jews) when traveling, did not make the least difficulty about eating this, or any other meat that was put before them ; even though they were in company with Christians. I was in their synagogue last evening for the first time, and this day at noon I visited it again, and each time I was put into a particular seat, which was set apart for strangers or Christians. A young Rabbi read the divine service, which was partly in Hebrew, and partly in the rabbinical dialect. Both men and women were dressed entirely in the English fashion ; the former had all of them their hats on, and did not once take them off during service. The galleries, I observed, were appropriated to the ladies, while the men sat below. During prayers the men spread a white cloth over their heads; which perhaps is to represent sackcloth. But I observed that the wealthier sort of people had a much richer cloth than the poorer ones. Many of the men had Hebrew books, in which they sang and read alternately. The Rabbi stood in the middle of the synagogue, and read with his face turned towards the east: he spoke, however, so fast, as to make it almost impossible for any one to understand what he said.


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


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