Sunday In NYC 1869


The quiet of a Sabbath morning in the lower part of the city is in marked contrast to the confusion and hubbub of the week. Crossing the street is a dangerous effort to life and limb near the South Ferry or at Bowling Green during any week day. On Sundays it is as quiet as a cathedral. Broadway, on which Old Trinity stands sentinel at one end, and aristocratic Grace at the other, is swept clean and is deserted. An occasional coach, bringing to the hotels a Sabbath traveler, or a solitary express wagon loaded down with
baggage, is all that breaks the solitude. The broad, clean pavement of Broadway glistens with the morning sun, and is as silent as the wilderness. The revelers, gamblers, the sons and daughters of pleasure, who ply their trade into the small hours of the morning, sleep late ; and the portions of the city occupied by them are as silent as the tomb. The sanitary blessings of the Sabbath to a great city are seen in all the lower part of New York. Laboring classes cease from toil, loiter about, well shaved and with clean shirts, and smoking their pipes. Children from the lowest dens, the foulest cellars, the darkest alleys, come on to the sidewalk with an attempt at cleanliness, with their best robes, or an effort to mend their dilapidated appearance by a little bit of ribbon or a rude ornament. Newsboys, with their faces washed, their hair combed with their fingers, offer their papers in subdued tones. In a quiet voice the bootblacks ask, " Black your boots ?" and exhibit their own shoes polished out of respect to the day. The utmost quiet prevails along the docks. Piers and wharves are swept clean, and the silence of a pestilence pervades these noisy marts of trade. The sailors do their morning work quietly in a holiday rig.

On the North and East Rivers are moored thousands of vessels, every one of which carries its flag at its mast-head. Bethel churches and floating chapels are open to seamen. The dram-shops make a compromise with the day by sanding floors, putting their employees in clean shirts, and closing up one half of their shutters.


The churches are generally well attended in the morning. As the bells call to prayer, New York comes to the pavement, elegantly dressed, as for a soiree or a matinee. The streets present an attractive and gay appearance. The cars are crowded with people on their way to their religious homes, without regard to distance or locality. Wealthy church-goers come out with their dashing teams. Their splendid outfits appear to great advantage on a beautiful Sabbath morning. Churches the most crowded in the morning have a poor attendance in the afternoon. But for the name of it, most of them might as well be closed the rest of the day. New York boasts about a half dozen sensation preachers, who have a hold on the masses, and can draw a second audience. But for "gospel preaching," as it is called, one sermon a day is as much as our people care to hear, and more than they inwardly digest.
Clustering together in a fashionable locality, within sight and sound of each other, are more costly churches than can be found on any spot in the world. Most of these churches have come from down town. Selling their property in lower New York at a great price,
they all want a fashionable up-town location. Leaving other parts neglected, these churches crowd on to one another. Two or three of them are on one block. The singing and preaching in one church is heard in another. Costly and elegant, most of them are thinly attended. Looking on their rich adornments, and inquiring the price of pews, one is at a loss to conceive where people of moderate means go to church in this city.


The sermon over, the dinner digested, then comes pleasure. The morning quiet of lower New York gives place to revelry. Funerals, attended by a military or civic procession and bands of music, are kept till Sunday afternoons, if the corpse has to be packed in ice. Central Park is crowded. Fashionable people turn out in immense numbers. Everything that can go on four legs is engaged of liverymen for Sunday in advance. An afternoon's drive costs from ten to fifty dollars. The same cars that convey people to morning worship convey those who do not own teams to their afternoon pleasures. Theatres of the lower order are opened. Public gardens, concert saloons, and lager-beer enclosures are crowded. Dancing, bowling, drinking, carousing, gambling, occupy the crowd. The removal of the down-town churches leaves an immense population to spiritual neglect and indifference. The strongholds of piety are leveled, and on their foundations Mammon holds her high carnival. Where once the aristocratic lived are reeking tenement-houses, and the day is given up to revelry and dissipation.

Religious Peculiarities

If a minister has a rich and fashionable congregation, success is certain, though his talents are feeble and his gifts small. He may be an able and popular pulpit orator, and he will generally fail if he depends upon the popular ear. Over one of our congregations, the most fashionable in the city, where it is difficult to get a seat at any price, a minister has been settled for years, on a high salary, who could not get a call to a common country congregation. His intellect is not above the average, his feeble voice does not half fill the house, his utterance is choked and muddy, he has a jerky delivery, and his manners are forbidding and unattractive.

On the other hand, men come to New York who bring with them immense local popularity. Having succeeded elsewhere, they expect to carry New York by storm. They are brought here to rescue waning congregations, to fill an empty house, to sell costly pews. The reputation they bring avails them nothing. A man must make his own mark in the city. Men who have been eminently successful in other places do not succeed at all here. Men of talent, genius, eloquence, are preaching in halls, preaching in little chapels, preaching to small and humble congregations, preaching on starving salaries, who would make their mark elsewhere. But New York is very fascinating, and men hold on. Not long since one of our religious societies held its anniversary. It secured a popular New England minister to preach, one who fills any house in his own vicinity. A commanding church was selected, and, to accommodate the crowd who were expected, extra seats were put in the aisles, vestibule, and on the platform.

The evening came, with the preacher, but the crowd came not. In the face of the vacant chairs and empty extra seats the services were conducted with a deadening effect New Yorkers did not know the preacher, and would not go to hear him.

Foreigners and Sunday

The foreign population in the city is immense. Every nationality is represented. Should the great bell of the City Hall clang out its peal, and draw the population that live around it to its doors, a man standing on the steps could speak to as motley a group as Peter addressed on the day of Pentecost. The Jews occupy whole streets, and drive out other nationalities. Their stores are open on Sunday, and a large part of them keep neither their own Sabbath nor ours. The Germans, Irish, Italians, Portuguese, abound. Noisy trade goes on in the quarters where foreigners live, and the Sabbath is filled with noisy, wanton, and
drunken violators. Places of amusement are many, and dancing, drinking, and revelry, guided by heavy brass bands, girdle the city. The great mass of the foreign population attend no church. The Sabbath of the Continent is becoming common in the city. The observance of the day grows less and less. Pleasure-seekers are more open, and their number is increased by the fashionable and influential. Every wave of foreign emigration lessens the dry land of religious observance. Churches are swept away, and none arise to take their place. The infidel German, the undevout Jew, the illiterate foreign population, led by an omnipotent press, unite to create a popular sentiment that is pushing out gradually, but surely, the observance of the Sabbath and the attendance on public worship. The Sabbath of the Hollanders promises to be a thing of the past.

Website: The History
Article Name: Sunday In NYC 1869
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Sunshine and Shadow In New York by Matthew Hale Smith; Hartford: J.B. Burr and Company-1869
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