Plymouth Rock, 1920

A hundred years ago this year for the tricentennial of the Mayflower landing, a neoclassical portico by the architectural firm, McKim, Mead & White, was erected over Plymouth Rock.

The lead architect on the project was partner William M. Kendall. It was Kendall who had chosen the inscription, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” for the New York City General Post Office building designed by the firm in 1912. The line, taken from a description by Herodotus of the Persian postal couriers, has become the unofficial motto of the US Postal Service.

Kendall was the son of classicist Joshua Kendall, and a Mayflower descendant.

See also: The Mayflower Quadricentennial and Around Plymouth.

The Mayflower Quadricentennial

As 2020 marks the 400th anniversary of Mayflower landing at Plymouth Rock, we traveled to Cape Cod Bay this summer for a quiet commemoration. My children descend on their mother’s side from the Mayflower passenger Richard Warren, so it was an occasion to pay regards to their sixteen-times great grandfather. Not to mention a welcome respite: sea mist and cool gray skies throughout.

The original Mayflower returned to London with her captain and was probably demolished in Rotherhithe around 1624. But in the 1950s a replica museum ship was moored at Long Wharf near Plymouth Rock where it remains a popular tourist attraction. Mayflower II is seaworthy, having sailed from England where she was built, following her predecessor and namesake. But in the lead-up to the quadricentennial the ship underwent extensive restoration at Mystic seaport in Connecticut. A crew member told me that approximately seventy per cent of the wood is new.

This past week was the homecoming for Mayflower II which returned to Plymouth on Monday.

See also: Plymouth Rock, 1920 and Around Plymouth.

At the Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow

This year is the bicentennial of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” The story first appeared in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, which was published in serial between 1819 and 1820.

To mark the occasion, I attended a dramatic reading of the story at The Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow, New York. The church itself features prominently in the story. It was an old feature on the landscape when Irving lived nearby in Tarrytown. Built in 1685 by Frederick Philipse, the Lord of Philipse Manor, whose vast patroonship extended south all the way to Spuyten Duyvil in the Bronx, the building is still owned by the Dutch Reformed parish in Tarrytown.

Manhattan in Better Days

Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer writing in The Century Magazine (May, 1897):

There have been times when the word “suburban” rang pleasantly in the ears of the citizen of New York. Such must have been the times, long ago, when Greenwich village and Chelsea village were the summer resorts of local magnates, and when Harlem village (legend affirms it) was a health-resort so placidly umbrageous, Dutch, and small that people who could not sleep in town were sent out there, assured of a week of unbroken slumber. And such, again, were the nearer times when all the isle was still suburban north of Washington Square, covered with farms, and dotted with country mansions that were often set in forest-like domains, and often fronted on the East or the North or the Harlem River.

New Year’s Day in Old New York

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The Lotus Magazine lamented in January of 1916 that, “[i]t may be a matter of thirty-five long years ago—possibly longer—that the custom of New Year’s calls was abandoned in New York.”

As part of the social season around Christmastide the hosting (and visiting) of open houses on the first of the year “came down from the time when New York was a Dutch colony.”

According to The Lotus:

From old Dutch times to about 1880 New Year’s Day in New York was devoted to the universal interchange of visits. Every door was thrown wide open. It was a breach of etiquette to omit any acquaintance in these annual calls, when old friendships were renewed and family differences were amicably settled. A hearty welcome was extended even to strangers of presentable appearance.

Everywhere “the traditions of tremendous Dutch eating and drinking were faithfully observed.” Certain houses were noted for their specialities: “At one it was eggnog; at another, rum punch; at this one, pickled oysters; at that, boned turkey, or marvellous chocolate, or perfect Mocha coffee, or, for the connoisseur a drop of old Madeira, as soft as rainwater and as delicate in flavor as the texture of the glass from which it was sipped.” Everyone served New Year’s cakes, “in the form of an Egyptian cartouch.” Matthew Wills writes in JSTOR Daily that, “No explanation of that particular design is given, so we may surmise that Egyptomania, born of Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign of 1798-1801 and subsequently fostered by the Victorians, was still going strong.”

At the height of the tradition, when New York society was still a small world of friends, the open houses were merry, informal gatherings. For the young they must have been looked forward to with much excitement. Wills writes, “By the mid-1800s, these calls were also a chance for single young men to meet single young women. It was a good way to scout out the possibilities on both sides of the marriage market.”

But by the 1880s the city had become too populous and anonymous for such a civilized tradition. The writers of The Lotus conclude that, “The gradual breaking down of all the lines of conventionality into a wild and unseemly riot of visits led to the finish of the custom.” More’s the pity.

Autumn in Washington Irving Country

We recently moved out of New York City to leafier climes in the Hudson Valley. This is my favorite part of the world. I have roots here. My mother grew up in the town where we settled. My grandparents were ceramic artists and figures of some importance in Midcentury Modern design. They had their studio and factory here. I went to school about an hour north. My wife and I are expecting our third child now. I am grateful for this to be their home.

Fall is in the air. Cold weather seems to have followed me back from England. There is a fire blazing in the hearth. This is the finest season in New York: comfortable, nostalgic, melancholy, beautiful.

Washington Irving, our greatest writer, sets the scene:

It was, as I have said, a fine autumnal day; the sky was clear and serene, and nature wore that rich and golden livery which we always associate with the idea of abundance. The forests had put on their sober brown and yellow, while some trees of the tenderer kind had been nipped by the frosts into brilliant dyes of orange, purple, and scarlet…As Ichabod jogged slowly on his way, his eye…ranged with delight over the treasures of jolly autumn.

Peter Stuyvesant at St Mark’s

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St Mark’s Church In-The-Bowery is a late-Georgian Episcopal parish church at the intersection of 10th Street, Stuyvesant Street, and Second Avenue in Manhattan. The present building was completed and consecrated in 1799. But it stands on the site of an older church.

Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch governor of New Netherland colony, built his family chapel there in 1660 when the property was part of his land. Stuyvesant had purchased a farm (or bowery) comprising the present-day East Village from the Dutch West India Company in 1651.

Stuyvesant’s grandson sold the chapel to the Episcopal Church in 1793, for the honorary sum of a dollar, to serve the residents of Stuyvesant Village. St Mark’s was incorporated as the first Episcopal parish independent of Trinity Church in the United States.

Along with the land the parish became the custodian of Stuyvesant himself. He is buried in the churchyard. A stone in the wall above his grave reads:

In this Vault lies buried
PETRUS STUYVESANT
Late Captain General and Governor in Chief of Amsterdam
in New Netherland now called New-York
and the Dutch West-India Islands died Feb’y A.D. 1672
aged 80 years.

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Nearby is a bust of Governor Stuyvesant given to the people of New York by Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands in 1915.

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Lost Streets of New York

In 2013 city planners widened the sidewalks at Astor Place to create a pedestrian plaza. As a consequence they partially demolished two of the oldest streets in Manhattan.

Plaques on the pavement are all that remain of the western terminus of Stuyvesant Street and the eastern terminus of Astor Place. There was an uproar over the plan at the time (I remember writing letters) due to the antiquity of these roads.

Stuyvesant Street originally ran through the farm of Peter Stuyvesant, the last director-general of the Dutch colony of New Netherland. Astor Place was built in the nineteenth century but follows the course of an Indian trail that also dates to the seventeenth century.

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The Queen at Trinity Church

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Trinity Church on Wall Street is the oldest Episcopal parish in New York. It was founded with a grant of land from King William III in 1696. The royal charter stipulated rent of “One Pepper Corne” per year to be paid to the Crown. This was a formality, of course, and was never asked for or paid.

In 1976, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II toured the United States as a gesture of good will during the bicentennial of American Independence. On July 9 she visited Trinity Church. The Reverend Ray Parks, who was rector at the time, presented her with 279 pepper corns representing 279 years of back rent.

Read more (and see video) at the Trinity Church website.

Heraldry of Dutch New York

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Proposed coat of arms for New Amsterdam, unknown artist, 1630

I was looking through the archives of the New-York Historical Society when I came across the image above, identified as a “proposed” coat of arms for what is now New York City when it was still New Amsterdam. It had been presented to the Dutch West India Company in 1630, but was not approved. An article at the New Netherland Institute explains:

Among the papers of Hans Bontemantel, Director of the Amsterdam Chamber of the West India Company, held by the New York Public Library are…drawings of proposed coats of arms for New Amsterdam and New Netherland prepared by an anonymous artist in 1630 for the consideration of the Heeren XIX (the Lords Nineteen)…ruling council of the West India Company.

The coat of arms designed for the whole of New Netherland colony, which encompassed most of eastern New York State, was approved at this time. It consisted of “a black beaver on a gold field, with embroidery of white Zeewant on a blue background, decked with a count’s crown.”

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Coat of arms of New Netherland, unknown artist, 1630

It may have been that the Heeren rejected the proposed arms for the city because of the beavers rampant supporting the shield. The lion supporters on the arms of old Amsterdam were considered too important to be replaced altogether. The artist prepared a second version which included the lions, moving the beaver to the crest. This version was accepted on a provisional basis but was also ultimately rejected.

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Provisional arms of New Amsterdam, unknown artist, 1630.

Note: in the designation of right, left, and center, the New Netherland Institute confuses the proposed arms for New Netherland with the second version of the proposed arms for New Amesterdam.