Description of the City of New York in 1748 Part I

By Professor Peter Kahn
October 29, 1748. At night we took up our lodgings at Elizabeth-town Point, an inn, about two English miles distant from the town, and the last house on this road belonging to New Jersey. The man who had taken the lease of it, together with that of the ferry near it, told us that he paid a hundred and ten pounds of Pennsylvania currency to the owner.

Oct. 30. We were ready to proceed on our journey at sun-rising. Near the inn where we had passed the night, we were to cross a river, and we were brought over, together with our horses, in a wretched half-rotten ferry. This river came a considerable way out of the country and small vessels could easily sail up it. This was a great advantage to the inhabitants of the neighboring country, giving them an opportunity of sending their goods to New York with great ease ; and they even made use of it for trading to the West Indies. The country was low on both sides of the river, and consisted of meadows. But there was no other hay to be got, than such us commonly grows in swampy grounds; for as the tide comes up in this river, these low plains were sometimes overflowed when the water was high. The people hereabouts are said to be troubled in summer with immense swarms of gnats or mosquitoes, which sting them and their cattle. This was ascribed to the low swampy meadows, on which these insects deposit their eggs, which are afterwards hatched by the heat.

As soon as we had got over the river, we were upon Staten Island, which is quite surrounded with salt water. This is the beginning of the province of New York. Most of the people settled here were Dutchman, or such as came hither whilst the Dutch were yet in possession of this place. But at present they were scattered among the English and other European inhabitants, and spoke English for the greatest part. The prospect of the country here is extremely pleasing, as it is not so much intercepted by woods, but offers more cultivated fields to view. Hills and vallies still continued, as usual, to change alternately.

The farms were near each other. Most of the houses were wooden; however some were built of stone. Near every farm house was an orchard with apple trees. Here, and on the whole journey before, I observed a press for cider at every farm house, made in different manners, by which the people had already pressed the juice out of the apples, or were just busied with that work. Some people made use of a wheel made of thick oak planks, which turned upon a wooden axis, by means of a horse drawing it, much in the same manner as the people do with wood; except that here the wheel runs upon planks. Cherry trees stood along the enclosures round corn fields.

The corn fields were excellently situated, and either sown with wheat or rye. They had no ditches on their sides, but (as is usual in England) only furrows, drawn at greater or lesser distances from each other. In one place we observed a water mill, so situated, that when the tide flowed, the water ran into a pond; but when it ebbed, the floodgate was drawn up, and the mill driven by the water, flowing out of the pond.

About eight o'clock in the morning we arrived at the place where we were to cross the water, in order to come to the town of New York. We left our horses here, and went on board the yacht: we were to go eight English miles by sea ; however, we lauded about eleven o'clock in the morning at New York. We saw a kind of wild ducks in immense quantities upon the water: the people called them blue bills, and they seem to be the same with our Pintal Ducks, or Linnaeus's Anas acuta: but they were very shy. On the shore of the continent we saw some very fine sloping corn fields, which at present looked quite green, the corn being already come up. We saw many boats, in which the fishermen were busy catching oysters : to this purpose they make use of a kind of rakes with long iron teeth bent inwards ;these they used either single, or two tied together, in such a manner, that the teeth were turned towards each other.

Oct. 31. About New York they find innumerable quantities of excellent oysters, and there are few places which have oysters of such an exquisite taste, and of so great a size: they are pickled and sent to the West Indies and other places ; which is done in the following manner. As soon as the oysters are caught, their shells are opened, and the fish washed clean ; some water is then poured into a pot, the oysters are put into it, and they must boil for a while; the pot is then taken off from the fire again, the oysters taken out and put upon a dish, till they are somewhat dry: then you take some mace, allspice, black pepper, and as much vinegar as you think sufficient to give a sourest taste. All this is mixed with half the liquor in which the oysters were boiled, and put over the fire again. While you boil it, great care is to be taken in scumming off the thick scum; at last the whole pickle is poured into a glass or earthen vessel, the oysters are put into it, and the vessel is well stopped to keep out the air. In this manner oysters will keep for years together, and may be sent to the most distant parts of the world.

The merchants here buy up great quantities of oysters about this time, pickle them in the above mentioned manner and send them to the West Indies: by which they frequently make a considerable profit : for, the oysters, which cost them five shillings of their currency, they commonly sell for a pistole, or about six times as much as they gave for them; and sometimes they get even more: the oysters which are thus pickled have a very fine flavor. The following is another way of preserving oysters : they are taken out of the shells, fried with butter, put into a glass or earthen vessel with the melted butter over them, so that they are quite covered with it, and no air can get to them. Oysters prepared in this manner have likewise an agreeable taste, and are exported to the West Indies and other parts.

Oysters are here reckoned very wholesome, some people assured us, that they had not felt the least inconvenience, after eating a considerable quantity of them. It is likewise a common rule here, that oysters are best in those months, which have and ran their name, such as September, October, &c ; but that they are not so good in other months ; however there are poor people, who live all the year long upon nothing but oysters and bread.

The sea near New York, affords annually the greatest quantity of oysters. They are found chiefly in a muddy ground, where they lie in the slime, and are not so frequent in a sandy bottom : a rocky and a stony bottom is seldom found here. The oyster shells are gathered in great heaps, and burnt into a lime, which by some people is made use of in building houses, but is not reckoned so good as that made of limestone. On our journey to New York, we saw high heaps of oyster shells near the farm-houses, upon the sea shore ; and about New York, we observed the people had carried them upon the fields, which were sown with wheat. However they were entire, and not crushed.


Website: The History
Article Name: Description of the City of New York in 1748 Part I
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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