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Life In New York Under The English Rule

It will be worth while to stop for a moment and contemplate the manner of life and amusements of the people of New York in these years that formed the eve of the Revolution. Their habits were regular, or rather, their hours were regular.

"They rose early, if not with the sun, and had an hour or more at their office or stores, which, before the Revolution, were usually under the same roof as their dwellings, and after a visit to the market, which no head of a New York house ever omitted, breakfasted in a hearty manner. The dinner-hour was from one to three, and the tea at nightfall, what today would be called "high-tea." A supper invariably followed at the tavern, or coffee-house, where ale or punch was drunk, crabs were picked out, or escalloped oysters (a favorite dish) eaten, and pipes smoked in the winter; or in the summer lighter beverages, with fruits and ices, consumed at the tea and mead-houses, the Ranelagh or the Vauxhall, on the outskirts of the town. For the high gentry, the English officials, and those of the colony in particular, who had country estates in the neighborhood of New York, racing was the chief delight. New Yorkers of today will open their eyes when they are told that in 1742 a race was run on the Church Farm, not a stone's throw to the northwest from where the present Astor House stands; and that here, in 1750-five horses running for the October subscription plate Mr. Lewis Morris, Jr., carried away the first prize. His horse is not named.

It was not the custom then to name horses which had not taken a purse, and this race was open only to horses which had never taken a purse in Manhattan Island. The great course was the Newmarket, on Hempstead Plains, an ideal piece of ground for a track, to which, in May of that year, twenty chairs and chaises crossed the ferry the day before the "event," and a far greater number of horses, "and it was thought that the number of horses on the plains at the race far exceeded a thousand." The chief racing stables in the New York province were those of Morris and De Lancey in Westchester. In 1753 the subscription plate was run for at Greenwich, on the estate of Admiral Sir Peter Warren, who died the year previous, and which was now in charge of his kinsman and executor, Oliver De Lancey, a famous sportsman. General Monckton later occupied "Richmond" during his brief stay in this government. The governor had a fine horse named Smoaker, with which John Leary, the jockey of the day, won a bowl, which he would not surrender to Watts, the general's friend, not even under threat of the terrors of the law. Five years later Leary was still tenacious. Besides the Church Farm and Greenwich tracks, there was a third course at Harlem. There were other New Yorkers keen for the sport; Anthony Rutgers, of New York, and Michael Kearney, Irish-born, who married a daughter of Lewis Morris, and was ancestor of the dashing Phil Kearney, of military fame, were thorough sportsmen. The middle and southern colonies were not behind in their love of sports. Dr. Hamilton led the patrons of the turf in New Jersey, and Mr. Daniel Dulaney, who was also of Irish birth, those of Maryland."
 
 Horse Racing

In the years that followed there grew up quite a spirit of rivalry in horse racing between the northern and southern colonies.

The years 1767, 1768 and 1769 are memorable in the history of the turf. Lewis Morris won reputation for his Westchester stables with his American Childers and Strumpet. In October, 1769, James De Lancey, with his imported horse, Lath, brought home from the Centre course at Philadelphia the 100 prize. The De Lancey stables were the most expensive of any in the north, and from this period to the Revolution their colors were on every course. A curious instance shows the difficulties sportsmen as well as tradesmen had to contend with because of the debased state of the coinage and irregular values of the currency of the colonies. On the Maryland course, Dulaney made a match with De Lancey for a race for a "struck hall-bushel" of Spanish dollars that is, by weight. Later the Marylanders declined to stake their money against Virginia currency at the Leestown course on the Potomac, the Virginia paper having been "counterfeited in a masterly manner."

The most celebrated of the races of the stamp act period was that between True-Briton and Selim, in 1765, at the very height of the hostile feeling against Great Britain. True-Briton was English-born: Selim, a grandson of the Godolphin Arabian, was American-born and had the fleetest foot in the colonies. The race was over the Philadelphia course and for 1,000 stakes. One Waters, who owned True-Briton, had challenged the continent, in true British boastfulness of language to a trial of speed. Samuel Galloway, of Maryland, answered his defiance with Selim. The race was hardly a trial of speed, but the matchless Selim bore off the honors and the purse. Another True-Briton belonging to James De Lancey won Revolutionary fame. It is said of this animal that Col. Oliver De Lancey would jump him back and forth from a standstill over a five-barred gate. In 1768, the "terrific Selim" came to grief with Dr. Hamilton's Figure, a scion of the Duke of Devonshire's Arabian, on the course of Upper Marlborough, near Newburgh-on-the-Hudson. These are but instances of the trials for speed in which the New York stables were represented. They serve to show not only the spirit, but the wealth of the period.

Water Racing

Racing on the water was not much in fashion, though the gentry had their barges, and some their yachts or pleasure sailboats. The most elaborate barge (with awning and damask curtains) of which there is mention was that of Governor Montgomerie, and the most noted yacht was the "Fancy," belonging to Col. Lewis Morris, whose Morrisania manor, on the peaceful waters of the Sound, gave fine harbor and safe opportunity for sailing. There is an interesting account of a boat race in 1756 by one of sixteen whaleboats (each manned by six men) which arrived in New York from Cape Cod on the way to Albany for bateau service in the Canada campaign, with a "pettianger" belonging to the city. The Cape Cod men won the wager with ease, much to the chagrin of the townsmen.

Other Less Humane Sports

Cock-fighting was a more aristocratic pastime. The De Lanceys were patrons of this cruel sport, one to be traced to an English origin, but hardly less cruel than the old Dutch and New Netherland custom of "pulling the goose." Good fighting-cocks were advertised in the New York papers, as were cock-gaffs of silver and steel; and the sign of the Fighting-Cocks long hung in such an aristocratic neighborhood as next door to the Exchange Coffee House. In 1763, however, it had been removed to a tavern at the Whitehall slip. Shrove Tuesday was the day for the pitched mains. This sport lasted well into this century as a public amusement. Again, fox-hunting was a favorite pastime, both in the Pennsylvania and the New York Colony. There were foxes on this island, but the less broken grounds of Long Island afforded better running and by permission each year three days' sport was had on Flatland Plains, the huntsmen meeting at daybreak during the autumn racing season. That the sport offended some gentle natures appeared by a letter from a female, published before the Revolution, which closes with the delightful satire.:

A fox is killed by twenty men,
That fox perhaps had killed a hen;
A gallant act no doubt is here!
All wicked foxes ought to fear
When twenty dogs and twenty men
Can kill a fox that killed a hen.

Balls, Theaters, etc.

The public balls were given at the principal taverns. After the middle of the century the long room at the City Arms, on the Broadway, was the favorite dancing hall. The most minute account of the dances appears in the notice of the ball in honor of Prince of Wales' birthday, in 1735, at the Black Horse Tavern, near the old Dutch church. The ball opened with French dances, the gavotte, the minuet, the courante, and the chaconne all somewhat grave in their movement, and therefore suited to the stiff-starched fashion of both female and male attire. After this Mrs. Norris led down the country dances. She was the daughter of Col. Lewis Morris, and had married Captain Norris of H.M.S. "Tartar," second son of Admiral Sir John Norris, an officer on the Atlantic station. Dancing assemblies met also at the City Arms once a fortnight during the gay season. In 1763 Charles McEvers and C. Duane were the managers. Concerts, instrumental and vocal, were given here also. In 1765 Mr. Hulet announced a concert, and that "the first violin would be performed by a gentleman lately arrived," and a solo by the same hand (evidently an amateur), the other instrumental parts by gentlemen of the town. The dancing assembly was an idea of Edward Willett, the host of the Province Arms, and the subscription to each meeting was eight shillings.

 


Article Information:
Article Name: Life In New York Under The English Rule
Website: http:www.thehistorybox.com |Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina
Source: BIBLIOGRAPHY: From My Collection of Books:   History of New York State 1523-1927 Publisher: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc.-New York, Chicago. Copyright: 1927 Volume I
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