The Fort At The Battery Pre: 1869 Part I
 

 
 

This edifice was a point of great interest during the century and a half of our colonial history. Most of the chief political and military events of our early history either originated or were carried out within its walls, while, in social aspects, from the fact of its embracing within the enclosure the residence of the successive chiefs of the province, and also of their families when they accompanied them from Europe, a tone was given to the society of the city by its inmates.

Originally constructed by the Dutch, at an early period after the original settlement of the island, it was for a long period an earthwork, though planned on scientific principles, and of the shape and size which it always afterward maintained. As emergencies arose for strengthening it, additional stonework was raised in place of the earthen walls, and thus, in course of time, it was made to present solid walls all around, and was a formidable military work. It was never, however, its fortune to be tested in point of strength, and, therefore, the incidents of its history are limited to social and political events connected with it. The object of this article is to present some few reminiscences connected with its occupants and their families.


The first of the Dutch governors who made any pretensions to ceremonious official life was the distinguished Chief-Governor Stuyvesant. The earlier directors were of less ostentatious character. They had been bred in civil professions, while he was a soldier and had been accustomed to command in other parts of the world. His abilities would have warranted a more important position than that to which lie was assigned in this colony. But his maimed condition, having lost a leg in the service of his country, impaired his usefulness in some respects. Governor Stuyvesant brought his family with him, and, as is always the case with colonial governors—those who have places to give—was attended by various poor but respectable relatives. These were of a better class, socially, than the mere maintained. As emergencies arose for strengthening it, additional stonework was raised in place of the earthen walls, and thus, in course of time, it was made to present solid walls all around, and was a formidable military work. It was never, however, its fortune to be tested in point of strength, and, therefore, the incidents of its history are limited to social and political events connected with it. The object of this article is to present some few reminiscences connected with its occupants and their families. The first of the Dutch governors who made any pretensions to ceremonious official life was the distinguished Chief-Governor Stuyvesant. The earlier directors were of less ostentatious character. They had been bred in civil professions, while he was a soldier and had been accustomed to command in other parts of the world. His abilities would have warranted a more important position than that to which lie was assigned in this colony. But his maimed condition, having lost a leg in the service of his country, impaired his usefulness in some respects. Governor Stuyvesant brought his family with him, and, as is always the case with colonial governors—those who have places to give—was attended by various poor but respectable relatives. These were of a better class, socially, than the mere emigrants, and gave a tone to society which was profitably exhibited in the attention soon after given to educational objects. The cultivated Bayards, who were not only classical scholars but were acquainted with the French and English languages, could not but influence the community in which they established themselves, and a classical school soon supplied the wants of the community.

It would be interesting to know something more concerning the wife of the governor, as the lady who forms the head of the family of an executive officer is of great social importance in the community ; she establishes the tone of society to a great extent, and her influence for weal or woe is of no little extent. The histories of the time give little information concerning her family. But in one of the local records the entry occurs of "Judith Isendoorn weduwe von de Heer Dr. Gen. Stuyvesant" ; we have here, therefore, the maiden name of the lady in question. She must have been accompanied by some of her family, as we find among the early marriages that of Domine Luyck to Judith Iscadoorn, which took place a few years after the governor's arrival in New York. In the absence of other data, we give the lady credit of being a worthy partner of her distinguished husband. To what extent she took part in the inauguration of the governor, who, according to cotemporary though inimical accounts, came " like a peacock with great state and pomp, is not known." Some of the principal inhabitants going to welcome him were left to wait " for several hours bareheaded, "while Stuyvesant himself remained covered, " as if he was the Czar of Muscovy." The whole community was brought together to witness the ceremony, but the governor's haughty carriage " caused some to think that he would not be a father " to them.

The fort appears to have been a disagreeable place of residence to the governor's family. They at first removed to a private habitation in the town, and then built a " bouwery," or farmhouse a few miles distant from the town, where, after the official term of the governor closed, they passed In dignified retirement the remainder of their lives.

The tenancy of the mansion in the fort now fell into the possession of a stranger. Red coats paraded in the court where for half a century the Dutch soldier held undisputed sway. A strange language was introduced into the records of the secretary's office; and, in short, all the evidence of a complete revolution of dynasties characterized the appearance of the fort, while the town still presented little change. The new governor, Colonel Nichols, was not accompanied by his family as far as we know. He was on
a military expedition, and his business was to settle the change of government. Notwithstanding the unpleasant nature of his functions, he does not seem personally to have been on bad terms with the inhabitants ; and after a few years' successful labor he left the place on friendly terms, and amid the well-wishings of the people. He was succeeded by a functionary of the civic class, Francis Lovelace, who appears to have been a clever gentleman, somewhat out at the elbows, as he was arrested for debt some time during his American experiences. With the English, the colonies afforded many nice pickings for the aristocracy and nobility of that nation ; the rule of appointments to high office seems to have been, when there was trouble to send able men to quiet it, so that needy men without ability might succeed them and reap the harvest of a time of peace and plenty.

The flaunting flag of England waved over Fort James eight or nine years, not much, it may be presumed, to the satisfaction of the Dutch burghers, whose habitations surrounded it. A momentary gleam of the old nationality then presented itself. The warlike Benkes (Bencas), with a Dutch squadron entered the port. The English governor was away on a visit to Connecticut, and had left no sufficient means of defense to his deputy. The Dutchman would admit of no apologies for delay, but demanded that the fort rightfully belonging to the Dutch must be surrendered. Men were landed on the North river shore above the city, marched across the fields into Broadway, and fixed their standards and planted their cannon on the north end of the present Bowling Green (then the " Parade "), and facing the fort gate. The circumstances admitted of little delay, and the fortress was surrendered. The English marched out, and the Hollanders took possession. Once more manifestoes, oaths, and proclamations issued from the public offices in the Dutch language. A civic functionary, who accompanied the squadron to inaugurate any new government which might fall into its hands, was established in office with due ceremonies, and all the people joined in a vigorous preparation for resistance against any attempt to recapture it.

But treaties sometimes do the work of armies, and much to the chagrin of the people of the colony their labors in increasing the strength of their fortifications were turned by the scrawl of a pen to the advantage of their enemies, as on the cessation of the war the province of New York was finally relinquished to the English, in return for other places captured from the Dutch. " Fort William Hendrick," therefore, was rechristened. It presented at this period a more warlike appearance than in the old times of the sod work; stone bastions had been built, and a stockade erected around it.

The successor to the government was an able administrative officer, who had received a military education. His early life had been in the royal household, where his father held an important office, so that he naturally was inclined to present a show of ceremony to the public eye. Lady Mary Andros, an accomplished daughter of an aristocratic English family, accompanied her husband, and presided over the provincial court circle. It was at this period that English society began to make a figure in the affairs of New York, though the circle was limited for a time. In such matters nationality gives way to circumstances, and the leading families among the Dutch, who could make pretensions to official positions in the local government, soon adapted themselves to the new regime and conformed their social habits to those of the refined circle surrounding the governor's family. Marriages between the two races frequently occurred, where the inducement on one side was a daughter of a wealthy old settler, and, on the other, a gay young Englishman on good terms with the officials. For the first time state carriages with postillions and outriders entered the fort, grooms and lackeys mingled in the fort premises with the soldiers, and a grand display of ceremonials characterized its precincts. Lady Andros died at Boston a few years subsequently.

Now arrived a governor, Colonel Dongan, who excited much commotion in the religious community. He was an Irishman by birth and of a noble family (afterward Earl of Limerick), and of military antecedents. He was pretty well understood to be a Catholic; we infer that he was not in an independent pecuniary condition, as he was not without pressing creditors. He is described as a crafty man. The people never took to him kindly; stories of religious ceremonies in the fort excited apprehensions on the part
of the Protestant inhabitants, and, upon the whole, his administration was gloomy and uninteresting in a social point of view. He was a money-making man, and became largely interested in land operations, so that, after his administration ceased, he remained here for some years to see to his estate. Meanwhile the fort was under the jurisdiction of a subordinate to Sir Edmund Andros, who had been invested with the government of all the north-eastern colonies.

The capture of the fort by the people of the colony resulted from the fall of the dynasty of the Stuarts in England and the success of the Protestant party. This capture took place in the early summer of 1689,and thenceforward for nearly two years the fort was the center of attraction. It was in civil war that its guns first shed the blood of an enemy. During this period a family of the colonists for the first time occupied the mansion in the fort as the residence of the Chief of the State, a residence of the most melancholy nature, characterized by a wedding, soon after which the bridegroom and his father-in-law departed for a prison and a death on the gallows.

Succeeding these unfortunate occupants, came again one of the military adventurers common to the period, Colonel Sloughter, who, however, soon breathed his last within its walls, the qualms of conscience, it is supposed, having expedited his illness. He had signed the death-warrant of the people's representatives but two months before, and thereafter had no peace. But his successor, Colonel Fletcher, was, perhaps, the most unscrupulously rapacious individual who had yet handled the government. Instead of a
scene of courtly splendor the fort was the rendezvous of adventurers of all descriptions. Those were the days when piracy was among the fashionable amusements of the day. Under the mask of privateering or slave trading the seas were traversed by rovers, under the patronage of officials who, for a consideration, supplied them with characters and sea-papers. Of these officials Fletcher was the most unscrupulous, and did not hesitate to invite well-known pirates to his table. At this period New York was the notorious rendezvous of this class of robbers, where they could always find protection. So loud a voice was raised throughout the civilized nations of Europe against the policy of England in respect to the police of the sea that political affairs were affected by it, and the administration was forced to yield to the general voice, and make an effort to suppress these official marauders.

The Earl of Bellomont brought his wife with him, and once more the headquarters of the governor were made respectable by the amenities of society. Again the ceremonious state of an English nobleman diffused its magic influence on the population. A fourth of a century under the permanent English rule had not been without its results upon the general affairs of the province. The accession to the English class of the population had been steady, and a fair proportion of that nationality was numbered among the merchants and leading citizens. Lawyers and professional characters had established their residences here. Some families even sent their children to Europe to attend the colleges of Oxford or Cambridge. The affairs of the government kept pace with these advancing steps in the fortunes of the province. The fort was garrisoned by a large number of soldiers, while a ship of war rendezvoused in the harbor, enlivening the scene by the passage of barges, and the music of the bands at the military and naval headquarters, while the officers of the army and navy gave zest and variety to social life in the fort and town. Lady Bellomont, who was a courtly dame, was popular with all classes, and the public generally sympathize! with her at the loss of her husband, who was the first of the colonial governors who died while in official life.

In point of rank the successor of Lord Bellomont was his superior, being allied to royalty itself, his aunt having married King James II.; but in respect to personal character, as also in ability in administration, Lord Cornbury was much inferior to his official predecessor. Lady Cornbury, after long illness, died in the fort mansion, aged 34 years, soon after which her husband returned to England, where, by the death of his father, he became Earl of Clarendon.


 
Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: The Fort At The Battery Pre: 1869 Part I
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina

Source:

BIBLIOGRAPHY: From My collection of Books: Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York; Joseph Shannon 1869
Time & Date Stamp: