Mirror for Gotham: New York as Seen by Contemporaries from Dutch Days to the Present

By Bayrd Still | Go to book overview

2. NEW W YORK UNDER BRITISH RULE

NEW YORK REMAINED SMALL by modern standards during the period of British rule. On the eve of the American Revolution--more than a century after England's acquisition of New Amsterdam--its population still did not exceed 25,000. At the time of the British conquest, fully a third of the available street-front space south of the "wall" remained unoccupied; and as late as 1775, the built-up portion of the city extended northeastward from the base of the island for little more than a mile. Yet to observers of the later eighteenth century, the burgeoning little seaport at the tip of Manhattan Island was a community of considerable consequence, the second largest in Britain's New World domain. 1

The compactness of the place, with its "Brick and Stone" buildings, rising sometimes to five and six stories and roofed with red and black tile, impressed early visitors to the newly acquired British possession. Daniel Denton, a Long Islander, reported its "pleasing Aspect" in his A Brief Description of New-York, a promotional tract published for British consumption as early as 1670. Architectural novelties, reflecting the Dutch influence, intrigued two Bostonians who visited the city at the turn of the eighteenth century. Most of the brick houses bore the date of the year of construction, "contrived of Iron cramps to hold in ye timber to the walls," wrote Benjamin Bullivant, a visitor of 1697. The ornamentation of their narrow fronts, with brick of "divers Coullers and laid in Checkers," attracted the attention of his more widely quoted compatriot, school- mistress Sarah Knight, who journeyed from Boston to New York on horseback in 1704. The interiors of the houses were "neat to admiration," she reported, "the wooden work . . . kept very white scowr'd . . . and the hearths . . . laid with the finest tile that I ever see."2

Dutch neatness was more agreeable to the average British visitor than the Dutch architectural practice of placing the gable end of the dwelling toward the street. Soon, however, the structural con-

-15-

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Mirror for Gotham: New York as Seen by Contemporaries from Dutch Days to the Present
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • Illustrations xiii
  • Excerpts from Contemporary Descriptions xv
  • 1. When New York Was New Amsterdam 3
  • 2. New W York Under British Rule 15
  • 3. Resistance, Revolution, and Reconstruction (1765-1789) 37
  • 4. New York in the Early National Period 54
  • 6. a Bustling City (1845-1860) 125
  • 7. New York in the Sixties 167
  • 8. the Emergence of the Modern City (1870-1900) 205
  • 9. the Golden Generation (1900-1930) 257
  • 10. the Maturing Metropolis: World Capital 300
  • Notes 341
  • Bibliography 373
  • Index 401
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