Life In Dutch Times

Good nature, love of home and cordial hospitality were distinguishing traits of the Dutch of New Amsterdam, according to contemporary chroniclers. Holidays were abundant and each season had its own peculiar and popular social festivals, such as quilting, apple parings and husking bees. When the work which served as an excuse for bringing the guests together had been completed, they sat down to a supper of waffles and chocolate, and ended the night with a lively dance.

Dancing was the favorite amusement among all classes. The slaves danced to the beating of their tom-toms and other rude musical instruments, while the young men and women gathered frequently to "trip the l light fantastic," either at their homes or around the maypole which annually was raised on the Bowling Green. Five public holidays were observed, Kerstrydt, or Christmas; Nieuw Jar, or New Year's; Paas, or Passover: Pinxter, or Whitsuntide, and the day of Santa Claus, St. Nicholas or Christ-kinkle.

Dinner parties were unknown, but they were more than made up for by the numerous tea parties. To take tea out was a Dutch Institution, and one of great importance. The matrons, arrayed in their best petticoats and linsey jacket, spun at home by their own wheels, wore capacious pockets hanging from their girdles outside of their dresses. The village gossip was talked over, neighbors' affairs discussed and stockings knitted industriously until tea time, when the important meal appeared on the table promptly at 6 o'clock. This was invariably the occasion for the display of the family plate and treasures of china. A large lump of loaf sugar was served with the tea, the beverage being sweetened by occasional nibbles. The consumption of waffles and doughnuts was heavy.

The kitchen fireplaces were of immense size, large enough to roast a sheep or a whole hog, and the hooks and trammels suspended huge iron pots and kettles. In the spacious chimney corners the children and negroes gathered, telling stories and cracking nuts by the light of blazing pine knots, while the industrious vows turned the spinning wheels, and their lords, the worthy burghers, gravely smoked their long pipes. When the clock struck the hour of 9 prayers were said and all retired, to arise with the dawn.

In one corner of the room always stood the huge oaken, iron or brass bound chest, full of household linen, spun by the women of the family, who delighted to display these domestic treasures to visitors. Later the chests gave way to chests of drawers, one drawer placed on another, until the pile nearly reached the ceiling and shining with polished brass ornaments. The bookcase, too, with its complicated writing bed, mysterious secret drawers and deep pigeonholes, came into use at about the same period. Side-boards were not introduced until later, and were entirely of English origin.

Floors Were Sanded

In another corner would be the Holland cupboard, with glass doors, conspicuously displaying the family plate and china. Little looking-glasses in narrow black wooden frames were in use. Two or three of the wealthiest burghers only possessed larger mirrors elaborately ornamented with gilding and flowers. About 1730 the sconce came into fashion a hanging or projecting candlestick with a mirror or polished metal to reflect the light. Pictures, such as they were, abounded, but they were, for the most part, rude engravings of Dutch cities and naval engagements.

There were no carpets among the early Dutch. Later on the famous pirate, Captain Kidd, is said to have owned the first carpet that the city saw, in his best room. Kidd's house was the most elaborately furnished in the city. With the Dutch the custom of sanding the floor of the principal room, or parlor, was universal, and the housewives took pride in their ability to trace fantastic patterns in the sand with their brooms.

But the most ornamental piece of furniture always was the bed. No mattresses were known then, the burghers thanking their stars that they were able to stretch their weary bones upon feathers and pull over them smaller beds of down. The "betste" or bedstead, was built into the house. It was constructed something like a cupboard, with doors, so that by day it could be hidden from sight. In the homes of the humble the "sloap banck," or sleep bunk, was the resting place. When guests came at private houses or in taverns it was the vrow or her maid who opened the doors of the "betste" for them and bade them "me te rusten," or good-night.

The Dutch liked milk, and plenty of it, as a beverage, although they were not believed to be adverse to an occasional glass of schnappe. All the prosperous citizens kept cows. There was a town cowherd, who every morning drove off the cows to pasture, looked after them during the day and herded them back at night.

Sunday was strictly observed. The "ke_?" or sexton, not only summoned the congregations by ringing the bell, but in stately procession he and his assistants bore the cuswhions of the burgomasters from the City Hall to the church and placed them in the official pews set aside for these functionaries. While services were in progress the schout went his rounds to see that quiet was kept in the streets and to prevent the negroes, who had holiday, and loafing Indians from making too much noise at their games. The Dutch church in the early period was inside the fort at the Battery. Here for half a century, from 1642 to 1693, the early Dutch worshipped in the Church of St. Nicholas, as it was named.

The Dutch women wore no bonnets. In New Amsterdam the modish dress was a colored petticoat, rather short waist jacket, colored hose of homespun woollen and wooden clogs, suitable for walking through the mud in a town which had no sidewalks or pavements. The Dutch burghers wore long waisted coats, with skirts almost to their ankles, and adorned with huge silver buttons.

The wardrobe of a burgomaster at the time the city was transferred to the English consisted of the following: A cloth coat with silver buttons, worth $15; a stuff coat, $10; cloth breeches, $1 10s; a cloth coat with gimp buttons, $7; a black cloth coat, $7; a black velvet coat, $15; a silk coat, breeches and doublet, $6 a silver coat, breeches and doublet, $5; a velvet waistcoat, with silver lace, $5; a buff coat with silk sleeves, $5; three grass green cloaks, $6 each, besides several old suits. There were, of course, linen and hose, shoes with silver buckles, a sugarloaf hat and a cane with a silver or ivory top.

All classes, high and low, went on foot, for horses and carriages were scarce. At funerals hot wine in winter was served to the mourners, and in summer port wine sangaree. When women were buried burned wine was sometimes served in silver tankards.

Shortly before the city was taken by the English there were a large number of young people of marriageable age, children of the original settlers. Several daughters of the wealthy burghers were married to visitors of title, Englishmen principally. Many romantic rural spots were naturally favorable to the important business of courtship, and there were several places of pleasant resort famed for this even at that early day. The "locust trees" were one, standing, as they did, upon a bluff on the shore of the North River back of the present Trinity churchyard. From this eminence the eye could wander over an extensive vista of river, bay, islands and the bluffs of the New Jersey shore. A little beyond the town was the Maiden's Valley, now Maiden Lane, a shady walk by the side of a little rivulet. The Dutch called it the Maagde Paatje, or Maiden's Path. South of this lane was the Clover Watje, or pasture field, and from John street, near Gold, led a walk to the pretty collect, or pond, where the Tombs and the Criminal Courts Building now stand.

Fashion, display and extravagance came with the advent of the free-spending English. House-wives in modern New York will linger with regret over the account of the servant maids of the Dutch regime who wore short gowns of green baize, with petticoats of linsey woolsey, and were content with a wage of 50 cents a week, with no nights or Sundays off.


Website: The History
Article Name: Life In Dutch Times
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


The New York Tribune September 25, 1909
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