Last living memories of the Durch culture


The last living memories, 200 years after New Netherland


1881, A glimpse of an old Dutch town, Albany [in Dutch: Beverwyck])from: Harper's New Monthly Magazine,1881,

Old Albany environment
Remembering: Albany Poem
Once more I stand, but now unknown, by sacred Hudson's tide,........
All the old lanes and pasture fields, with clover tops so fair,
Are lost to sight, no fences left, no shady bouweries  (farmhouses) there.......
[They] have begun with their ' improvements' to wipe out the old Dutch place.
I would not care to live and see such altered folks and ways,
Since half-doors swung wide open in those palmy old Dutch days,
When streets were cleaned by private hand, and all the city's light
Was furnished by the lanterns from each tenth house hung in sight".....

The margin of the river was overhung with willows and the picturesque little islands below the town were covered with foliage, and bordered by stately trees. 
Albany was indeed Dutch. The buildings were Dutch, the people were Dutch, the horses were Dutch, and all the dogs barked in Dutch. Every house having any pretension to dignity was placed with its gable end toward the street, and was surmounted by a rooster.
The Dutch were not the most enterpris­ing or active people; most of them pos­sessing, by saving, snug fortunes, in their old age made use of their accumulations, and left their descendants to build up their own. There were none among them, however, very rich or very poor, learned or ignorant, rude or polished. Inter­course was so free that gossip was almost unknown. Every pleasant afternoon the worthy burgher took his pipe, and, seated in the Market-house, settled the affairs of the Colonie.
In those days the boys and girls did not grow to be men and wo­men so soon as they do now. It would have been highly out of place for them to have thought of falling in love before they were out of their teens, or before Catrina had spun her pile of linen, and Volckert had several hundred guilders laid aside.
It has become common to speak of the elite of Albany as Knickerbockers - a name derived from Knikkerbakker, a baker of knickers.The Knickerbackers were among the first settlers of Albany, and took their surname from their trade, and their descendants who have substituted an o for an a do but burlesque their names. 
 When the Governor of the province, with others of rank, visited the town to hold conferences with the Six Nations, there were balls, parties, and ev­ery simple kind of amusement known. And then the Van Rensselaers, the Lansings, the Bogerts, the Schuylers, Wessels, Ten Broecks, Douws, Staats, Bleeckers, De Peysters, Gansevoorts, Ten Eycks, Cuylers, and other leading families, open­ed their hospitable doors. And speaking of doors reminds me of the brass knock­ers: why, modern bric-a-brac hunters would go into raptures over them.
The fashionable dress for ladies was a colored petticoat, rather short, waist jack­et, colored hose of homespun woolen, and high-heeled shoes.The Dutch gen­tlemen appeared in long-waisted coats, with skirts reaching to the ankles, and shoes adorned with large silver buckles, knee-breeches, and silk or woolen stock­ings, with cocked hats, or red - ringed worsted caps. But, more than this, they carried the turnip-shaped watch, with a heavy seal, the tobacco-box of embossed silver, on which was engraved the coat of arms surrounded by a scroll. In the pocket was the tongue-scrap­er, tooth, ear, and nail pick, the whole shut­ting within a guard or handle. The hair was worn in a queue, and was generally powder­ed, the front hair be­ing brushed straight down over the fore­head-a style now im­itated by young ladies.
Beverwijck houses
The houses in Beverwyck were very neat without and within. They were built chiefly of brick or stone and covered with white pine shingles or tiles from Holland. Most of them had terraced gables fronting the street with gutters extending from the eaves beyond the sidewalk to carry off the rainwater. Hence, the streets were almost impassable during a heavy storm of wind and rain. The streets were broad, and lined with shade trees, with here and there a bit of pavement. The houses were generally a story and a half high and well spread out on the ground-floor. Each bouwery had its grass plot and garden in the rear, where vegetables were produced in great abundance. In Memoir of the American Lady  it says that one or two families had very large gardens laid out in fanciful European style." The ''stoops" of the houses were raised above the street, and shaded by trees planted in commemoration of some event or the birth of some member of the family and here gathered the young and old at twilight. Every family had its cow pastured in a common field at the end of the town and it was a picturesque sight at evening to see each animal going home of its own accord to be milked, the tinkling bells hung round its neck heralding its approach. At eight o'clock the suppaan  bell (curfew bell, by the bell ringer) was rung, a signal that work was over for the day. 

A Look Inside the Dutch Home
The kitchen fire-places were enormous—large enough to roast a whole sheep or hog; and over the crackling hickory logs, suspended on hooks and trammels, bubbled and hissed the large iron pots and kettles. Here the family gathered, while by the light of the glowing fire and a tallow dip, the jufvrouws spun their linen and the burghers smoked their pipes. In the parlor, that reverenced apartment of state, was a similar large fire-place, with its hickory back-log, and its shovel and tongs keeping guard over the brass and-irons (or fire-dogs) and fender. The chimney jambs were inlaid with party-colored tiles of Scriptural designs brought from Holland, and were extremely quaint. The round tea table stood in the parlor, the large square dining table in the kitchen or family living-room. In one corner stood the old Dutch clock telling the year, month, day and hour, the rising and setting of the moon, and when each hour struck sending forth in silvery tones some antique air. In still another corner stood the Holland cupboard, with its glass doors, displaying the family plate and china. There was the massive tankard, the richly engraved punch-bowl, the shell-shaped sugar-bowl, with provisions for the "bite and stir," and the ooma  or sifter for cinnamon and sugar. On the top stood a decanter of large size, always filled with rum, and beside it a piece of a cow's horn, smooth on each end, and hollow, tipped with silver. Every morning before breakfast Mynheer must "take a horn" as an appetizer. 
In another corner stood the huge oaken, iron-bound chest, brimful of fine linen of home production. Later this gave place to the "chest of drawers," with its brass rings and key-holes. On the wall hung the pipe-case of mahogany, with the drawer underneath for tobacco. Every house of pretension had its cock-loft in the steep roof for house slaves. In the middle of the hall was the "hoist door," through which the wheat was hoisted up by a crane and stored in the loft. Over the front door was a shelf, with steps leading up to it. Here was placed a large tobacco box, always kept filled, and for every one to help himself. On the parlor walls hung the dim portraits of relatives in the Vaderlandt, and "ye sconce, a hanging candlestick, with a mirror to reflect ye rays." Chintz calico formed the curtains, which were put up without cornices. The windows were of very small panes of glass set in lead frames. The floors were sanded, with fanciful figures made in the sand with a broom handle. The best chairs were straight and high-backed, covered with hair-cloth, and ornamented with double and triple rows of brass nails. About 1700 the claw-foot sideboards, sofas, and tables were generally used. The high-post bedstead had its heavy curtains and valance of camlet, and on it a bed of live-geese feathers, with a lighter one for covering. The patch-quilt was a most marvelous affair. Over each door was usually a stone with the date of erection and name or initials of the builder. In later times the date was built in anywhere, and the general style of architecture was altered.     
The great Dutch festival days
The great festival days were Keestijd (X-mas), Nieuwjaarsdag (New Years Day) , Paaschdag (Easter Day) ,and Pinksterfeest (Pentecost). Christmas was of little importance among the Dutch, for New-Year was the day, and then it was that the right fat, jolly, roistering little St. Nicholas made his appearance, sometimes accompanied by his good-natured vrouw (wife) , Molly Grietje.

Should you enter the bouwery (framhouse) on New-Year's Eve, you would see the children gathered round the immense fire-place singing in muffled voices their evening hymns to the good saint. New-Year's Day was devoted to the universal interchange of visits. Every door was thrown wide open, and a warm welcome extended to friend and stranger. It was a breach of etiquette to omit any acquaintance in these annual calls, when old friendships were renewed, and family differences amicably settled. And here came the famous New-Year cake.
The Paas eggs were the feature of Easter. The Pinkster festivities commenced on the Monday after Whitsunday, and now began the fun for the negroes, for Pinkster was the carnival of the African race. 
During Pinksterday the negroes made merry with games and feasting, all pay­ing homage to the king "Charley of Pinkster Hill", who was held in awe and reverence as an African prince. In the evening there was a grand dance. They were covered with Pinkster blummies (flowers), the wild azalea or swamp.                                      
Higher Class Table Dainties
The table dainties of the higher classes were supaan en melk (hasty pudding),hoofdkaas, worst, koolslaa and the famous Dutch oliecoek, with the chopped raisin and ap­ple in the center. The renowned Peter Kalm says of the Dutch: ''They rise early, and go to bed late, and are almost overwise and cleanly in regard to the floor. The use of tea is general; coffee seldom. They seldom put sugar or milk in their tea, but take a small piece of the former in their mouths while sipping the beverage."
They breakfasted at seven, dined at twelve, and supped at six. Sweet milk and buttermilk were used at every meal. Cheese at dinner and breakfast was grated instead of sliced. The prevailing beverages were beer and water-though, to be candid, the Dutch thought the latter somewhat injurious when taken inwardly. Fish, flesh, and fowls, preserves of the richest kind, pastry, nuts, fruits, and various wines, were used by the richer classes, especially when entertaining company.
As an example of the richness of the food, an old receipt for wedding cake says it must be "mixed in a wash-tub" and contain twelve dozen eggs. Hospitality was pure and generous without formality, but nothing was allowed to interfere with household or farm duties. Every family had its brass mortar and pestle, used for grinding the grain for the household.
Dutch Funerals
Each house had its doodkamer, where the dead were placed until the funeral. Dutch ladies were famous for their at­tendance on such occasions, and, if the deceased were of their sex, burnt wine was served them in silver tankards. The funeral was always a great event, and the goedt vrouw's skill was spent to the utmost to load her table with choicest delicacies for the doodfeest, the most prominent dish being the doodkoeks. They were thick disks about four inches in diameter, and similar in ingredients to our New-Year cakes, and were kept for years as mementos of the departed.
Each burgher had a pipe of wine spiced in re­serve for his funeral, and I regret to say the mourners were often in a mournful condition after the event.

The invitations to a funeral were general-a custom still kept up among old Dutch families in Albany-and all relatives and friends received a written invitation to be present. Of course the attendance was large, and those who at­tended returned, as was the custom, to the house, not leaving till morning's light. In the course of the night a pipe of wine was drunk, dozens of pounds of tobacco consumed, grosses of pipes broken, not a whole decanter or glass left in the house, and finally the pall-bearers ended the debauch by kindling a fire with their scarfs.
The Dutch church
The Dutch church was very small. It stood at the intersec­tion of State Street and Broadway, com­manding both streets, as a security against the Indians. The win­dows were high from the ground, as it was too far from Fort Orange to be protected by its guns, and hence must guard against a sudden attack. The men carried their arms to service and sat in the gallery in order to be able to fire from the windows. The more venerable were seated on a raised platform against the walls, and the women sat out of dan­ger's way in the centre.
This church was replaced in 1715 and the new church was built round the old; and during the building service was held in the old church and only interrupted for two Sabbaths. The new edifice was an exact counterpart of the old, except in size, and being of stone. 

There was the same general ar­rangement and separation of the sexes. But now the congregation was a wealth­ier one, and several of the windows bore family arms in colored glass. There were the Schuyler, Douw, Van Rensselaer, and others. Each window had a heavy wooden shutter, fastened with a latch, and was never opened except on Sunday. The roof was very steep, and surmounted by a belfry and weather-cock.
Dominie Westerlo was the loved preacher, and called "our Westerlo" by his flock. The church was demolished in 1806, and the materials used in the building of the Middle Dutch Church, on Beaver  and Hudson streets. Many of the old families were buried under the church, and, as a special privilege, those who could pay for it were allowed burial under their seats.

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