Flatbush Colonial Days Part II

It was Pinkster Day, and all Flatbush was celebrating. The negro slaves had done practically no work for a week in anticipation of the holiday. Many of them had been off to the Brooklyn Ferry, where they tried in various ways to earn money for gingerbread and rum, without which the Pinkster celebration would be like a Fourth of July of a small boy who had no firecrackers. They had started early in the morning for a neighboring fair, and they would not return until long after night-fall.

The Dutch "vrouws" had much to do, and were up early. They hurried the men through breakfast and sent them out of the house. Little piles of beach sand were scattered here and there over the newly scrubbed floors, where the women had placed them the previous day. These piles were difficult to avoid, and woe was on the head of the clumsy father or son who disturbed one of them. Now they were swept into waves over the floor, sanding it completely. When this had been done, and every pot and kettle scoured to a mirror like uprightness, the "vrouws" put on several petticoats, short enough to show several inches of red or blue stockings, which they had knitted themselves, tied clean aprons around their generous waists, and were ready to go with the men to the nearest Pinkster field for a frolic. Even now in May the fields of Long island are beautiful, but in those days they fairly blazed with azalea and other wild-flowers. These frolics were great fun for old and young. There were May poles for the children and various games into which they entered with spirit. men and women laughed and talked, sang Dutch songs in strenuous voices, and there was much strong beer to drink, and no end of "soft wafels" to be washed down.

With the afternoon the frolic came to an end and the town people returned to their homes, to receive or make visits. The absence of one worthy "vrouw" had been noticed at the Pinkster frolic, and several of the women determined to pay her a visit, thinking that she might be ill. They found the doors tightly shut, and the shutters over the windows. they hammered on the knocker without getting an answer. This was an unheard of thing for Pinkster day, when every home was open and ready to extend hospitality. Something certainly was wrong, and they determined to force an entrance. At last they succeeded, and found the good woman seated in a chair with her apron over her head, sobbing bitterly. The house was in disorder, and they could not account for it.

"Whatever is the matter?" they asked in chorus. "It is that man Jan!" cried the "vrouw," and she flew into a rage at the thought of her troubles. Jan was her husband. "Yesterday morning I discovered that the sand box was absolutely empty, and sent him to the beach to bring back a load, for you know floors must be freshly sanded for Pinkster day. He did not come back, so the house I had to shut."

"What do you think has happened to him?" said the angry wife. "I will show him what has happened to him. The knave is at the tavern, drinking beer with the worthless crew that hold forth there. He will come home tonight without any sand, but he will be sorry."

The women left her in the darkened house, and the things they said about the faithless Jan will not bear telling. They were sorry for her, though, for her Pinkster day was utterly spoiled, and Pinkster came but once a year, the first day after Whit Sunday.

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When the British landed at Bath on August 22, 1776, there was a wild scramble to get away from Flatbush, Flatlands and the other southern towns of Kings County. Many sent their women and children across the bay to New Brunswick and other points in New Jersey. Others were content to move up the island with as much of their belongings as they could carry. Cornelius Vanderveer was captain of the Flatbush militia, and after sending his family away he returned to get his arms and uniform, which were hidden in a thicket near an old house, which still stands in Flatbush-ave. He found the British in possession of the town and was compelled to follow a circuitous route to reach the hiding place. Attended by one slave he succeeded, and in order not to have to carry anything he put on his uniform and shouldered his rifle., in trying to regain the American lines he ran into a Hessian sentinel and was captured.

He was taken before the officer of the guard, who was for hanging him on the spot. No defense was possible under the circumstances, and the militia captain said his prayers. They had a rope around his neck and were preparing to swing him up on a neighboring tree, when some one in authority interfered. He was taken before Lord Cornwallis, who sent him to New Utrecht. There a royalist friend secured his release. he went before Captain Cuyler, one of General Howe's aids, who asked:

"Will you take a 'protection' and go back to your farm?"

"If you don't ask me to fight against my country," said Vanderveer. "That I will never do."

"That need not worry you," said the British officer. "We have fighting men enough without you. You may go to the rebels or to the devil, for all I care." But he wrote out an order to the effect that Vanderveer was under Lord Cornwallis's protection and was not to be disturbed.

He went home in full confidence and found the homestead in possession of a company of Hessians. They were stabiling their horses in some of the rooms, using the drawers of bureaus for feeding troughs. They showed how much respect they had for a "protection" by stripping Vanderveer of his clothing, even to his shirt. For several days he had to cover his nakedness in an old greatcoat which he kept closed by a rope tied around the waist.
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The oldest house in Flatbush is the Murphy home-stead. It stands in Flatbush-ave., opposite Fennimore st., hoary with age, but uninteresting in its history. A short distance above it, on the way to Brooklyn proper, stands the Lefferts homestead, almost as old, and more interesting.

Title to the property dates back to 1661, when many acres of land were granted to Pietrus Lefferts by Governor Stuyvesant. The original patent, still preserved by James Lefferts, who owns and occupies the homestead, framed and hung in his library, is still clear and legible, although yellow and somewhat faded by age. When the Hessians, under the brave but cruel Colonel Donop, occupied Flatbush by order of Lord Cornwallis, the old homestead, then owned and occupied by Leffert Lefferts, was used by this officer as his headquarters. In the big parlor was planned the battle of Long island. The place was made untenable by the savage attack of the Americans, who obliged the mercenaries to retreat.

It is related that long after the battle was over, children climbing in the tree that stands on the south side of the gate found hidden among its granches a dispatch from Washington to Putnam. The supposition is that two Continental soldiers who were captured in the Lefferts house when the Hessians made their sudden appearance in Flatbush were the bearers of the dispatch, and found time to hide their papers, although not to escape.

The Lefferts homestead was rebuilt a year after the battle of Long island, and has remained unchanged, with the exception of an extension that was added to the rear. Some of the oaken rafters that were saved from the burned house were used in its construction, and they are as solid today as they were when hewn in the woods.

In the attic were stored three old cherry wood chests, used for packing away clothing and other articles. Some years ago an accident disclosed the fact that one of these chests was fitted with a false bottom. The curious Lefferts who tore it open found therein a quantity of Continental money which no record mentions but which was undoubtedly hoarded up by Leffert Lefferts while the American soldiers were struggling for liberty. it amounted to nearly $2,000 in Continental bills.

The homestead built with large, wide hallway and stairway and great rooms as was the style in those days has a famous attic. Tradition says that more than one spy of the Continental army found a hiding place in its roomy recesses. In it is built, of solid masonery, the smokeroom, where hams and bacon were cured.

The old Dutch barn built by Leffert Lefferts is still intact. In it, kept as a curiosity, is the o ld Dutch farm wagon. A bill found in the old accounts some time ago shows that repairs were made on the wagon in 1798. After the battle of Long island Colonel Donop seized the barn and used it as a hospital for his wounded soldiers until the cold weather made it unfit for this purpose.

Colonel Donop, so the story goes, approached the old barn one dark night while it was still used as a hospital, and overheard two soldiers, standing on the south side of the building, discussing a plan for giving information to the Americans. He captured the men with his own hands, it is said, marched them into the barn, and without a court martial or benefit of clergy, had them hanged to a rafter.

The Hessians left one evidence of their long occupancy of Flatbush that still causes trouble to farmers there. They were fond of leeks. In their camps they ate them and scattered the seeds, which took root in the fertile soil. The leeks grew wild after that, and notwithstanding the efforts of the generations of farmers that have tilled the land since then, the leek is still a nuisance, and requires constant attention to be kept from filling the fields,


Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Flatbush Colonial Days Part II
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


 The New York Tribune February 23, 1902
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