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Art. IV.-Annals of Philadelphiu; being a Collection of
Memoirs, Anecdotes, and Incidents of the City and its Inhabitants, from the Days of the Pilgrim Founders, with Facts of Olden Time of New York City. By John F. WatSON, Member of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: Carey & Hart: 1830. pp. 740.
If the applause of all times, and all nations, has been given to those who faithfully record the annals of their country; if praise scarcely less elevated, and, perhaps, yet more sincere, has been readily bestowed on such as have preserved those delightful and interesting facts, which illustrate the lives and habits of eminent men, who, though descended to the tomb, live in the memory of generations that have succeeded them; if it be deemed a noble effort of exalted intelligence, graphically to portray the manners, the pursuits, and modes of life of various and remarkable societies of mankind, as has been done by the immortal father of history, and by the great Roman author, who has left in his sketch of the ancient Germans, a model of the deepest observation as well as of exquisite felicity of expression; if beyond all these, the meed of patriotic zeal has been assigned to those who diligently inquire and carefully hand down the bright passages which adorn the place of our own birth and peculiar affections—then surely may we be justified in assigning to the author or compiler of this great work, (for it boasts not less than seven hundred and forty closely printed pages) a place of more than ordinary distinction, since it is his to unite in its multifarious pages, specimens of each kind of merit which has thus received the approbation of mankind. His has not been the task of metamorphosing by the magic aid of scissors and of paste, old pages into new volumes ; nor has his been the labour of building an immortal fame on the thoughts or researches of those who have gone before. Like the illustrious author who has secured for immortality “the history of New York from the beginning of the world,” he seems to have found but little to his purpose in “the incredible multitude of excellent works which have been written about his country;" and he has pursued the nobler aim of rescuing from the frail records of tradition, and embodying in undying pages, innumerable facts which otherwise would have descended irrevocably to the tomb, with the venerable gentlemen and ancient gentlewomen, in whose memories they were stored, as fondly as the recollections of his own lovely Argos in the heart of the expiring companion of Æneas. “They had no poet and they died” —such has been the fate of many an illustrious man, who has adorned his own neighbourhood by actions, which, under luckier auspices, might have gained for him the laurel of fame. Who would have known the virtues, the courage, the exploits of many a Glaucus, a Quintus, a Caius, a Thersilochus, now living in immortal fame, had they not been held
up to the admiration of succeeding ages by the genius of the poet, or the coveted praise of the historian? Who would have known that in New York, a hundred and fifty years since, no one was well dressed who did not wear at least six pair of small-clothes, had it not been for the patient researches of the illustrious Knickerbocker, through the ancient purlieus, and among the venerable grandfathers and colloquial grandmothers of that wonderful city? Who, in like manner, glorying in our own good town of brotherly love, will not rejoice to learn, from the valuable record to which we call the attention of our readers, that his ancestors “never saw such things as our Mahometan whiskers on Christian men,” and that in their days, carpets were articles of luxury so wonderful and highly prized, that “persons showed strong signs of distress at being obliged to walk over them, and when urged to come in, would steal along close to the sides of the room, tip-toed, instinctively, to avoid sullying them ?” Facts like these, carefully preserved, hand down to successive generations the lessons of their ancestors, and from them they learn to change and to improve the present by the experience and wisdom of the past.
No one can be more impressed with the value of such memorials, than the author or compiler of this volume; for he assures us in the commencement of his preface, that the contemplation of them “is an impress of the Deity-our hold on immortality.” He is then naturally led to allude to the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii, Stonehenge and the Zodiac of Dendera, and to compare with them the abundant themes of unparalleled surprise which we discover in the march of civilization and improvement, from the first landing of our pilgrim fathers, down to our own eventful day-eventful, as we ascertain from his subsequent pages, on account of our canals rivaling the aqueducts of imperial Rome, our cities of the West rising by enchantment, our exports of eighty millions, our vapour vessels, our great Missouri, our freedom from despots and standing armies, and all those interesting facts which are so profitably recalled to our memories once a year, on the great national anniversary, by the genius and eloquence of innumerable orators, and which are now cited to prove, if proof indeed were wanting, the value and importance to be derived from arresting the fleeting progress of time over the traditions and customs of Philadelphia.
Nor is the zeal of our author limited to a single volume, bulky as it is-or to seven hundred and forty pages--a space evidently too limited to contain the eventful history of one hundred and fifty years. We learn from him, that in addition to the portion of his researches now given to the world, two manuscript volumesof unknown dimensions, indeed, but without doubt, of equal interest and importance—have been placed in the Philadelphia Library, and in the possession of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, whence, in time to come, some Montfaucon or Gronovius may dig rich ore to illustrate and adorn the annals of our country. A notice has also been inserted in a public journal, calling on those whose memories are stored with reminiscences of the past, to send them to the office where it is published, to be used for a future edition. In a word, our children will in all probability have the happiness of possessing a treasure which Monkbarns himself might have envied, in the shape of volumes to which the present, praiseworthy as it is in regard to dimensions, must appear as insignificant as the thin face of a macaroni fifty years since, beside a visage of the present day adorned with the flowing locks and pagan protuberancy of whiskers, which the annalist justly regards with such orthodox contempt.
Knowing the national literary propensity, to go back on all occasions, as near to Adam and the deluge as possible, we confess we were somewhat startled with the ominous title of the first chapter—“A general introductory history." To do our annalist justice, however, he does not stop long on the “general history,” but despatching it in five pages, rushes at once into the middle of things. And here we may be permitted to assign just praise to the system he has adopted in the arrangement of his materials. Not pursuing the usual course of annalists, by a dry and chronological system, which obliges the weary reader to look through page after page before he can light upon an interesting fact—not dividing his volume into chapters and sections consisting of a certain number of pages, which answer no purpose that we are aware of, except to serve like taverns on the road side, where we may repose a while from the fatigues of rapid perusal—but looking to that diversity of tastes which may be reasonably supposed to sway all of us, when recurring to the lessons of our venerable progenitors, and wishing to facilitate the reference of every one to those peculiar lessons by which he may desire to profit, he has divided his work according to the subjects of which he treats, and by placing each of these at the head of the page, as well as in an ample preliminary table of contents, he has done all that the systematic student can desire. Thus we find, at the fortieth page—“ Civil government embarrassing to Friends”-a title which attracts at once the interest and attention of the politician, the lawyer, the metaphysician, and the theologian ; since it may well be supposed to involve deep questions affecting the social, moral, friendly, and religious intercourse of man. That there are in all communities, individuals to whom civil government is rather embarrassing, is not to be doubted, even if it were not proved by those dark and ancient edifices, whose lofty walls and grated windows, frown with baronial grandeur amid most of the haunts of men; but the fact assumes entirely a new and more interesting aspect when it relates to our virtuous ancestors, at those times when they became “ like a perplexed hen with her duck-chickens”—we use the expressive language of our author, in describing these primitive embarrassments. Again, turning over a few pages, we find “ Penny-pot House and Landing,” emblazoned in German characters, not unworthy to have pointed out from a sign-post the house and landing themselves, to travellers by land or water-to say nothing of the lithographic print which faces the title, and preserves for ever the counterfeit presentment of a place, which, as we learn at the same page, was early famed for its beer, was afterwards called the Jolly Tar Inn, faced the south, and was two stories high. We confess, however, that the embarrassment felt from civil government, and the Penny-pot House itself, attracted our attention infinitely less than a title which we soon after lighted upon, though not made conspicuous by German characters, nor adorned by the pencil of an admiring artist :the title was “ Bathsheba’s bath and bower.” We certainly can find no fault with our author for omitting a picture of this spot ; the very name led us to fear that some of the naughty frolics of our venerable forefathers were to be described ; and imagination was all alive to witness in their pensive, romantic, and amorous moments, swains clad in “three-square hats, wigs, and coats with four large plaits in the skirts stiffened with buckram, and breeches very short above the stride,” and yielding damsels sighing in “mush-mellon or wagon bonnets, six russell thickly quilted petticoats inlaid with wool, and fine worsted green stockings with gay clocks surmounted with bunches of tulips.” Alas! the researches of our antiquary have been in vain; he has but been able to fix the spot where such scenes may well be supposed to have occurred, and as this was near the corner of Second and Dock streets, fancy has full scope to transform custom-house, insurance offices, and shops, into those "charming scenes of rural beauty” which were thought to resemble the spot consecrated by the loves of the frail spouse of Uriah. “John Kinsey's strange death"_" The celebrated tilt and tournament called the Meschianza"_“ The bloody election of 1742"-are, with several other titles, highly attractive; but we feel that in adverting to them thus unmethodically, we are deviating from that system which we are in duty bound to pursue, when diseussing the merits and character of a work like the present.
To proceed then somewhat more in order. The first division, after the general history to which we have alluded, is “Colonial and Philadelphia History.” From this we learn, that the first
explorer of our bay and river was a countryman of the illustrious Hendrick Hudson, by name captain Kornelis Jacobus Méy, who, as early as 1623, built fort Nassau, at Gloucester point. More fortunate than the Trojan navigator, he had not to offer up his life to secure the desirable nomenclature of the land he had discovered—but returningin safety to the broad and level plains of his own Holland, he left his name inscribed on a promontory, where it will endure as long as the hum of the musquitoe shall sooth the sleepless nights of the votary of fashion, or the victim of disease seek health or pleasure in the blue waves of father ocean-æternumque locus Palinuri nomen habebit. To the countrymen of Kornelis Jacobus Méy, succeeded those of captain Dugald Dalgetty's friend “Gustavus Adolphus, the lion of the north, and the bulwark of the protestant faith.” If the sober and modest Dutchmen had been wanting in regard to the length and variety of the names they assigned to places and things, the deficiency was amply compensated by the fertile language, or the not less fertile imagination, of the Swedes. Who can learn, without regret, the sacrilege of posterity, in barbarously curtailing or changing the sounding appellations given by those primitive godfathers of the land ? Is it credible, that we can now call by the brief and inexpressive name of Tinicum, an island once known by that of “Tutæ æ nung Tencho and Tenna kong ?” Can we learn, without emotion, that where Philadelphia now stands, were places designated by such names as Techoherassi, Nya-Wasa, Meulendael, and Lapananel--of which no trace now remains, save in the pages which thus preserve them, we trust, to be revived when the rage for villes and towns shall have sunk into a more just oblivion. We need hardly remind our readers, that, notwithstanding their long names, the Swedes were soon obliged to yield to the superior valour of those whose rights they usurped-and that the Dutch, led on by the renowned Peter the headstrong, defeated them in those celebrated battles which have been described by the great historian of New-Amsterdam—the renowned Knickerbocker. Alas! however, neither valour, nor long names, nor cocked hats, nor innumerable pairs of breeches, could save these fair regions from the spells of one of those evil spirits generated in the brains of lawyers, and unfortunately known to many of us—a deed of trust
. Beneath this, as we learn from our author, faded away all the wisdom of the Swedes, and the glories of the Dutch. To use his own expressive language,
“ In 1675, the west part of Jersey was sold out to one Edward Byllinge, a Friend, to whom William Penn, the founder, soon afterwards became a trustee. This seemingly unimportant and incidental connexion became the primum mobile or fulcrum to a lever, whose force may continue to operate on our destinies as long as Pennsylvania sball endure ! Penn, in his efforts to settle the estate of Byllinge, became so well acquainted with the region of Pennsylvania and colo