Colony Of New York

Dutch Customs

"In the Colony of New York, the manners of the colonists, until the conquest by the English in 1664, were strictly Dutch, — the same steadfast pursuit of wealth, the same plodding industry, the same dress, air and physiognomy, which are given as characteristic of Holland, were equally characteristics of the inhabitants of New Amsterdam (New York City). After the English became the owners of the territory, the manners of the Dutch were more or less modified by intercourse with them; but they did not blend readily, and the differences were long to be observed.

The manners and customs of the Dutch were, doubtless, as singular and laughable as those of the [Puritan] New England colonies. The gable-end of their houses invariably faced on the street. They had large doors and small windows on every floor. The date of their erection, was curiously designated by iron figures on the front, and on the top of the roof was a fine-looking little weathervane.

The family always entered the gate, and most generally lived in the kitchen. The front door was never opened, except on special occasions, such as a marriage, a funeral, or a New Year's Day. The grand parlor was, of course, washed and sanded once a week, even if no one had stepped into it during the week. The sand on the floor was stroked into angles, and curves, and other figures, with the broom.

In the kitchen, near the chimney, the old burgher would sit for hours, in perfect silence, puffing his pipe, and looking into the fire with half-shut eyes, thinking of nothing on earth; while his "goede vrowe," on the opposite side, would sew, or knit, or mend stockings; the young folks, meanwhile, listening to some old crone of an [African American], who would entertain them with stories about New England witches, ghosts, and such like.

A well-regulated family, "always rose at day-break, dined at eleven, and went to bed about sun-down. At tea-parties, they commonly assembled at three o'clock in the afternoon, and returned at six. The tea table was crowned with a huge earthen dish, well stored with slices of fat pork, cut up into morsels, and swimming in fat. Sometimes the table was graced with immense apple pies, or saucers full of preserved peaches. Doughnuts, or "oly koeks" were seldom forgotten. Such is the humorous, and yet, for the most part truthful, account of the Dutch in New York, furnished by one of their own writers ["Knickerbocker's New York"].

These peculiarities are observable, to some extent, in Dutch settlements, even to the present time. Within the remembrance of the author [1858], the following occurrence took place. He was seated at the tea-table, while on a visit at a fine old Dutch gentleman's, when the mistress of' ceremonies said to him, "Sir, do you stir or bite?" "Stir or bite! Madam, pardon me, I do not understand you." "0," she replied, smiling, "some persons prefer to stir the sugar in the tea; others, to bite the sugar and sip the tea." Upon this, the old burgher remarked, that this was modern custom, but that at an earlier day the practice was to suspend a large lump of sugar directly over the tea-table, by a string from the ceiling, so that it could be swung round from mouth to mouth.

In other colonies [diversity] might be noticed, as those of the Fins in Delaware, the Roman Catholics in Maryland, and the Quakers in Pennsylvania; but, before the close of the period, the peculiarities of the several classes became less distinct by intercourse with the others, and every succeeding generation seemed to exhibit less strikingly those traits which distinguished the preceding. The elegant varieties of life were more tolerated, and the refinements of polished society appeared among the higher classes."


— A History of the United States, by Charles A. Goodrich, p.117, 1857


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