The original name of the island wherein the squadron of Communipaw was thus propitiously thrown, is a matter of some dispute, and has already undergone considerable vitiation — a melancholy proof of the instability of all sublunary things, and the vanity of all our hopes of lasting fame! For who can expect his name will live to posterity, when even the names of mighty islands are thus soon lost in contradiction and uncertainty?
The name most current at the present day, and which is likewise countenanced by the great historian Vander Donck, is MANHATTAN; which is said to have originated in a custom among the squaws, in the early settlement, of wearing men’s hats, as is still done among many tribes. “Hence,” as we are told by an old governor who was somewhat of a wag, and flourished almost a century since, and had paid a visit to the wits of Philadelphia, “hence arose the appellation of man-haton, first given to the Indians, and afterwards to the island” — a stupid joke! — but well enough for a governor.
Among the more venerable sources of information on this subject, is that valuable history or the American possessions, written by Master Richard Blome in 1687, wherein it is called Manhadaes and Manahanent; nor must I forget the excellent little book, full of precious matter, of that authentic historian, John Josselyn, Gent., who expressly calls it Manadaes.
Another etymology still more ancient, and sanctioned by the countenance of our ever-to-be-lamented Dutch ancestors, is that found in certain letters still extant; which passed between the early governors and their neighbouring powers, wherein it is called indifferently Monhattoes — Munhatos, and Manhattoes, which are evidently unimportant variations of the same name; for our wise forefathers set little store by those niceties either in orthography or orthoepy which form the sole study and ambition of many learned men and women of this hypercritical.
This last name is said to be derived from the great Indian spirit Manetho, who was supposed to make this island his favourite abode, on account of its uncommon delights. For the Indian traditions affirm that the bay was once a translucid lake, filled with silver and golden fish, in the midst of which lay this beautiful island, covered with every variety of fruits and flowers; but that the sudden irruption of the Hudson laid waste these blissful scenes, and Manetho took his flight beyond the great waters of Ontario.
These, however, are fabulous legends to which very cautious credence must be given; and although I am willing to admit the last quoted orthography of the name, as very suitable for prose, yet is there another one founded on still more ancient and indisputable authority, which I particularly delight in, seeing that it is at once poetical, melodious, and significant — and this is recorded in the before-mentioned voyage of the great Hudson, written by master Juet; who clearly and correctly calls it MANNA-HATA — that is to say, the island of Manna, or in other words — “a land flowing with milk and honey.”
It having been solemnly resolved that the seat of empire should be transferred from the green shores of Pavonia to this delectable island, a vast multitude embarked, and migrated across the mouth of the Hudson, under the guidance of Oloffe the Dreamer, who was appointed protector or patron to the new settlement.
And hear let me bear testimony to the matchless honesty and magnanimity of our worthy forefathers, who purchased the soil of the native Indians before erecting a single roof — a circumstance singular and almost incredible in the annals of discovery and colonization.
The first settlement was made on the south-west point of the island, on the very spot where the good St. Nicholas had appeared in the dream. Here they built a mighty and impregnable fort and trading house, called FORT AMSTERDAM, which stood on that eminence at present occupied by the customhouse, with the open space now called the Bowling-Green in front.
Around this potent fortress was soon seen a numerous progeny of little Dutch houses, with tiled roofs, all which seemed most lovingly to nestle under its walls, like a brood of halffledged chickens sheltered under the wings of the mother hen. The whole was surrounded by an inclosure of strong palisadoes, to guard against any sudden irruption of the savages, who wandered in hordes about the swamps and forests that extended over those tracts of country at present called Broadway, Wall-street, William-street, and Pearl-street.
No sooner was the colony once planted, than it took root and throve amazingly; for it would seem that this thrice-favoured island is like a munificent dunghill, where every foreign weed finds kindly nourishment, and soon shoots up and expands to greatness.
And now the infant settlement having advanced in age and stature, it was thought high time it should receive an honest Christian name, and it was accordingly called NEW- AMSTERDAM. It is true, there were some advocates for the original Indian name, and many of the best writers of the province did long continue to call it by the title of “Manhattoes;” but this was discountenanced by the authorities, as being heathenish and savage.
Besides, it was considered an excellent and praiseworthy measure to name it after a great city of the old world; as by that means it was induced to emulate the greatness and renown of its namesake — in the manner that little snivelling urchins are called after great statesmen, saints, and worthies and renowned generals of yore, upon which they all industriously copy their examples, and come to be very mighty men in their day and generation.
The thriving state of the settlement, and the rapid increase of houses, gradually awakened the good Oloffe from a deep lethargy, into which he had fallen after the building of the fort. He now began to think it was time some plan should be devised on which the increasing town should be built. Summoning, therefore, his counsellors and coadjutors together, they took pipe in mouth, and forthwith sunk into a very sound deliberation on the subject.
At the very outset of the business an unexpected difference of opinion arose, and I mention it with much sorrowing, as being the first altercation on record in the councils of NewAmsterdam. It was a breaking forth of the grudge and heartburning that had existed between those two eminent burghers, Mynheers Tenbroeck and Hardenbroeck, ever since their unhappy altercation on the coast of Bellevue. The great Hardenbroeck had waxed very wealthy and powerful, from his domains, which embraced the whole chain of Apulean mountains that stretched along the gulf of Kip’s Bay, and from part of which his descendants have been expelled in later ages by the powerful clans of the Joneses and the Schermerhornes.
An ingenious plan for the city was offered by Mynheer Tenbroeck, who proposed that it should be cut up and intersected by canals, after the manner of the most admired cities in Holland. To this Mynheer Hardenbroeck was diametrically opposed, suggesting in place thereof, that they should run out docks and wharves, by means of piles driven into the bottom of the river, on which the town should be built. By these means, said he triumphantly, shall we rescue a considerable space of territory from these immense rivers, and build a city that shall rival Amsterdam, Venice, or any amphibious city in Europe.
To this proposition, Ten Broeck (or Ten Breeches) replied, with a look of as much scorn as he could possibly assume. He cast the utmost censure upon the plan of his antago nist, as being preposterous, and against the very order of things, as he would leave to every true Hollander. “For what,” said he, “is a town without canals? — it is a body without veins and arteries, and must perish for want of a free circulation of the vital fluid.”
Tough Breeches, on the contrary, retorted with a sarcasm upon his antagonist, who was somewhat of an arid, dry-boned habit; he remarked, that as to the circulation of the blood being necessary to existence, Mynheer Ten Breeches was a living contradiction to his own assertion; for every body knew there had not a drop of blood circulated through his wind-dried carcass for good ten years, and yet there was not a greater busy-body in the whole colony. Personalities have seldom much effect in making converts in argument — nor have I ever seen a man convinced of error by being convicted of deformity.
At least such was not the case at present. Ten Breeches was very acrimonious in reply, and Tough Breeches, who was a sturdy little man, and never gave up the last word, rejoined with increasing spirit — Ten Breeches had the advantage of the greatest volubility, but Tough Breeches had that invaluable coat of mail in argument called obstinacy — Ten Breeches had, therefore, the most mettle, but Tough Breeches the best bottom — so that though Ten Breeches made a dreadful clattering about his ears, and battered and belaboured him with hard words and sound arguments, yet Tough Breeches hung on most resolutely to the last. They parted, therefore, as is usual in all arguments where both parties are in the right, without coming to any conclusion — but they hated each other most heartily for ever after, and a similar breach with that between the houses of Capulet and Montague did ensue between the families of Ten Breeches and Tough Breeches.
I would not fatigue my reader with these dull matters of fact, but that my duty as a faithful historian requires that I should be particular — and, in truth, as I am now treating of the critical period, when our city, like a young twig, first re. ceived the twists and turns that have since contributed to give it the present picturesque irregularity for which it is celebrated, I cannot be too minute in detailing their first causes.
After the unhappy altercation I have just mentioned. I do not find that any thing farther was said on the subject worthy of being recorded. The council, consisting of the largest and oldest heads in the community, met regularly once a week, to ponder on this momentous subject. But either they were deterred by the war of words they had witnessed, or they were naturally averse to the exercise of the tongue, and the consequent exercise of the brains — certain it is, the most profound silence was maintained — the question as usual lay on the table — the members quietly smoked their pipes, making but few laws, without ever enforcing any, and in the meantime the affairs of the settlement went on-as it pleased God.
As most of the council were but little skilled in the mystery of combining pot-hooks and hangers, they determined most judiciously not to puzzle either themselves or posterity with voluminous records. The secretary, however, kept the minutes of the council with tolerable precision, in a large vellum folio, fastened with massy brass clasps; the journal of each meeting consisted but of two lines, stating in Dutch, that “the council sat this day, and smoked twelve pipes, on the affairs of the colony.”
By which it appears that the first settlers did not regulate their time by hours, but pipes, in the same manner as they measure distances in Holland at this very time; an admirably exact measurement, as a pipe in the mouth of a true-born Dutchman is never liable to those accidents and irregularities that are continually putting our clocks out of order. It is said, moreover, that a regular smoker was appointed as council clock, whose duty was to sit at the elbow of the president and smoke incessantly: every puff marked a division of time as exactly as a second-hand, and the knocking out of the ashes of his pipe was equivalent to striking the hour.
In this manner did the profound council of NEW- AMSTERDAM smoke, and doze, and ponder, from week to week, month to month, and year to year, in what manner they should construct their infant settlement — meanwhile, the town took care of itself, and like a sturdy brat which is suffered to run about wild, unsackled by clouts and bandages, and other abominations by which your notable nurses and sage old women cripple and disfigure the children of men, increased so rapidly in strength and magnitude, that before the honest burgomasters had determined upon a plan, it was too late to put it in execution — whereupon they wisely abandoned the subject altogether.