In the Kingdom of Sugar

Sometime over the spring or early summer of 1717, an obscure artist-engraver named William Burgis finished a six-foot-wide panoramic drawing entitled A South Prospect of the Flourishing City of New York in the Province of New York in America. Better known as the “Burgis View,” it depicts the East River waterfront of Manhattan from the Battery to the foot of Catherine Street (slightly north of where the Brooklyn Bridge now stands). That Burgis meant to emphasize the Britishness of the city is readily apparent. At the very center of his panorama he placed Trinity Church, topped by a steeple disproportionately taller than nearby buildings. Besides drawing attention to the privileged status of Anglicanism, this device defines a visual axis of power that runs down Wall Street, passes through the Royal Navy’s Station Ship, and terminates in the coat of arms of the royal governor, Colonel Robert Hunter. A bevy of oversized Union Jacks and Red Ensigns reiterates that the city is a British possession, while the absence of other national flags serves as a reminder that the Navigation Acts excluded vessels of foreign nations from every British port.

Equally apparent in the Burgis View is New York’s prosperity. The economy of the town had perked up since the end of Queen Anne’s War a couple of years before. Imports as well as exports were advancing vigorously, and over the next decade it was the rare year that didn’t see at least two hundred vessels clear the port. Burgis’s perspective evokes and celebrates this latest round of expansion by exaggerating the density of the built environment and depicting every structure that could be taken as evidence of municipal progress—churches, markets, substantial private residences, wharves, shipyards—each carefully rendered and identified by number. Lilliputian merchants walking to the Exchange, shipwrights at work on the hull of a new vessel, a man driving a steer along the waterfront, and other figures not only make the scene more lifelike but suggest the scope and variety of enterprise in the city as well. So does the impressive throng of merchantmen, sloops, warships, yachts, and ships’ boats on the river, perhaps celebrating a royal birthday or other special occasion (two vessels can be seen firing salutes).


The Burgis View, 1717. Visible in the lower right-hand corner is the Brooklyn ferry landing, where cattle and produce from Long Island were brought across to the growing city. Almost directly above the ferry house, on the Manhattan shore, are the shipyards that built vessels for the West Indian trade. (© Collection of The New-York Historical Society)


New York was flourishing when William Burgis saw it thanks mainly to a prodigious rise in the English market for sugar. In 1660, when it was a luxury associated with social privilege, England consumed a thousand hogsheads of sugar. That figure had since increased a hundredfold while the per capita annual consumption of sugar doubled, driven up by a combination of improved purchasing power and falling prices. By 1730 sugar would be as embedded in English culture as Whig principles were in English politics. A cup of heavily sweetened chocolate or coffee—accompanied by candies, cakes, or bread slathered with molasses—was integral to the daily rituals of middle-class life and a practical way to supplement the caloric intake of poorly nourished workers.

Changes in production and exchange moved in tandem with the rise in consumption. Until 1710 or so, half of England’s sugar came from the tiny (166 square miles) island of Barbados. Between 1710 and 1720, however, notwithstanding the fact that its annual output continued to rise, Barbados was eclipsed by the development of numerous new plantations on Jamaica and four of the Leeward Islands: Antigua, Nevis, St. Kitts, and Montserrat. By the 1730s their combined production accounted for fully 85 percent of the sugar exported from the British West Indies, and sugar from all sources had emerged as the single most valuable article of British overseas trade. “White gold,” they called it.

By then, too, wealthy West Indian planters—far wealthier, as a group, than their tobacco- and rice-cultivating counterparts on the North American mainland—were leaving their affairs in the hands of agents and returning home to England, where they set themselves up on sprawling estates and elbowed their way into social prominence alongside the old landed aristocracy and commercial bourgeoisie. The most ambitious went to Parliament, where they fought tenaciously to promote what came to be known as the West Indian “interest.” Among their most notable achievements were the rum ration ordered by the Royal Navy in 1731 (half a pint per man per day) and the Molasses Act of 1733, which gave the planters a virtual monopoly of the North American market by laying prohibitively high duties on foreign (i.e., French) sugar, molasses, and rum imported into the mainland colonies. Not surprisingly, protecting the West Indies from foreign rivals, especially the French, became a central imperative of British foreign policy, a fact acknowledged by the placement of permanent British naval stations on Jamaica and Antigua.

Sugar also brought wealth to British refiners, shippers, bankers, insurers, and investors, not to mention the royal treasury, which came to depend on the taxes and duties sugar and sugar products could be made to bear. Thousands of workers were employed in the refineries and distilleries of London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and other British ports. Their need for food and clothing and shelter created jobs, in turn, for additional thousands of laboring people and was an important reason for that great upsurge of manufacturing around the middle of eighteenth century—the industrial revolution.

No less momentous was the parallel Africanization of the West Indian populations. Between 1678 and 1745 the number of whites living on the Leeward Islands declined from 10,400 to 9,500 while the number of African slaves rose from 8,500 to 59,500. In the half century from 1651 to 1700 some 78,000 slaves had been brought to Jamaica; between 1701 and 1750 imports ballooned to 339,000. All told, between 1700 and 1775 the West Indies absorbed 1.2 million slaves.

After 1713, when Britain was awarded the asiento—the coveted exclusive right to supply Spanish America with slaves—the business was almost entirely in British hands. When Parliament broke the Royal African Company’s monopoly two years later, independent slavers raced in to open new markets as well as new sources of supply. A report of 1753 said that British captains purchased 34,250 slaves every year from Africa; a second report, fifteen years later, put the figure at 53,100.


It became so profitable to raise sugar that West Indian planters, preferring to cover their land in cane rather than waste it growing food or raising stock, turned to New England and the Middle Colonies for essential supplies. New York merchants had traded in the islands for a long time, of course; some, like Colonel Lewis Morris, maintained extensive business and family connections there. But in the opening years of the eighteenth century the West Indian market became a cornerstone of the city’s economy. By 1720 or so half the ships entering or leaving the port were on their way to or from the Caribbean; another one-quarter to one-third were on their way to or from other North American colonies, moving goods often as not destined for reexport to the Caribbean.

Outward bound, New Yorkers hauled the flour, corn, pork, beef, and naval stores (tar, pitch, turpentine, lumber, and the like) without which the West Indian plantations couldn’t survive (New York flour, in particular, was regarded as the finest available). They returned with bills of exchange, bills of credit, warehouse certificates, and (infrequently) specie—plus sugar, rum, molasses, cotton, indigo, lime juice, salt, cocoa, pimento, ginger, and other tropical commodities for which there were markets in the city itself, elsewhere on the North American mainland, or in London.

It wasn’t specialized work. Most merchants were jacks-of-all-trades who dealt in whatever goods came their way and almost always functioned as both wholesalers and retailers. The typical vessel was a modest, all-purpose sloop or brig with a single deck, a few hands, and multiple owners (who often as not held “eights,” or one-eighth shares). Its cargo represented the combined “ventures” of several traders, including members of the crew, who trusted the ability of the master or captain (who not only ran the ship but also served as the business agent of its owners) to find the best market for their goods and return with something of value. Prevailing winds and currents dictated a standard route that looped down to Barbados, swung up into the Leewards, crossed over to Jamaica, then pointed for home through either the Gulf Passage (between Florida and Cuba) or the Windward Passage (between Cuba and Santo Domingo). In practice, such a voyage would ordinarily be broken by frequent return visits to this port or that as the captain hunted among the islands to find the most favorable prices for his wares or to assemble a cargo for the homeward voyage.

Success was never a foregone conclusion. Pirates ceased to plague the Caribbean after a British expedition ran down Edward Teach (“Blackbeard”) in 1718. Even so, untimely gluts or shortages, bad weather, poor judgment by a master or supercargo, an unexpected outbreak of war—any one of them could doom a voyage and bring its sponsors to ruin. To minimize such dangers, the merchants of New York and other colonial ports developed networks of correspondents upon whom they could depend for credit, for the disposal of a cargo, for the collection of debts, and for reliable news about distant crops, weather, prices, and public affairs.

As they matured, these networks facilitated intricate multilateral exchanges in both commodities and commercial paper that involved other New York merchants, indirectly but no less deeply, in the West Indian trade. Around the middle of the century, for example, Gerard G. Beekman (grandson of the Leislerian Gerardus Beekman) ran a store on Beekman Street from which he presided over a remarkable variety of projects that depended in one way or another on Caribbean products and markets. He sold limes and indigo on commission for a Philadelphia merchant, bought ginger from another Philadelphia merchant and paid for it with a shipment of logwood, bought more ginger at New London, Connecticut, that a commission agent sold for him at Boston and Newport, sold rum on commission for a Rhode Island merchant, shipped bread and flour to Rhode Island for reexport to the West Indies and used the proceeds to buy molasses that he sold on his own account in New York, and invested in a large order of cocoa that he meant to sell either there or in Philadelphia, depending on the market. Beekman’s quick thinking must have saved the day more than once for his correspondents, as it did for the Rhode Islander whose shipment of cheese “Spoiling with maggets” seemed lost until Beekman hired a cartman to peddle it on the streets of New York. It was a safe bet that he would one day take advantage of a similar favor in return.

Knowing that the difference between profit and loss might well be a matter of whether or not they complied with the Navigation Acts, Beekman and his correspondents didn’t scruple at evasive measures—bribing customs collectors, doctoring ships’ manifests, circulating fraudulent bond certificates, and outright smuggling. After Parliament passed the Molasses Act in 1733, such conduct became almost a way of life. Planters on Guadeloupe, Martinique, and other islands of the French West Indies responded to the law by offering premium prices for North American provisions and asking less for sugar and molasses than did their British counterparts. When it became evident that customs officials were making only halfhearted attempts at enforcement, the profitability of illicit trade for North American merchants was assured. (It may have accounted for one-third of all northern commerce.) Beekman himself became so accustomed to smuggling that he would complain bitterly if circumstances compelled him to pay full duty on the rum and molasses he imported by way of Rhode Island.

What Beekman and men like him almost never did was invest their profits in plantations. Trade, not production, was the New Yorkers’ forte, and they tended to think of the West Indian plutocracy as wildly dissolute and irresponsible. Nor did more than a handful of them engage in direct trade with England. Local products alone couldn’t fetch high enough prices in the mother country to pay for imported manufactures. Also, because the prevailing winds blew out of the west, getting back to New York from, say, Bristol or Liverpool was a hazardous and time-consuming proposition. Ships outward bound from British ports usually took tropical routes to the New World, dropping down to Madeira to catch the Canaries Current, then winging across to the West Indies and working up the North American coast. Over time, improvements in ship rigging and design—the appearance of the gaff-rigged “schooner,” the development of jib and headsails, and the adoption of the helm wheel—gradually made it easier to sail in the teeth of the westerlies. Even then, however, the majority of New York merchants continued to concentrate on the West Indies and other North American colonies.

The net result was the economic triangulation of three strikingly different systems of production: the small-farm hinterlands of northern seaports, the slave-labor plantations of the Caribbean, and the wage-labor workshops of early industrial England. New York now lived by feeding the slaves who made the sugar that fed the workers who made the clothes and other finished wares that New Yorkers didn’t make for themselves. Along the way, they closed in on their old objective of breaking Boston’s grip on the economies of southern New England. Lying a week closer to Barbados and ten days closer to Jamaica, the city enjoyed a natural advantage over Boston in competition for the lucrative West Indian markets. Inexorably, pressed by Philadelphia’s domination of the mid-Atlantic region, New York merchants took control of the New England coasting trade. Commercially becalmed, Boston sank into a depression from which it wouldn’t recover for years. After 1750 New York ranked second only to Philadelphia in wealth and population.


By 1720, if not earlier, the economy of New York advanced and receded throughout the year in a seasonal rhythm that was unmistakably West Indian in origin. Between November and January, the East River waterfront buzzed with activity as merchants and captains rushed to get down to the islands in time to take delivery of the new sugar crop, usually ready soon after the first of the year. The pace slackened in the early spring, then picked up again between April and June as the ships raced back to escape hot-weather diseases and hurricanes. Another brief lull was followed, in the high summer, by the arrival of additional vessels from other mainland ports (usually Boston) and, in the fall, from Britain.

The effects of the West Indian connection were visible as well in the expansion of commercial agriculture around the city. On innumerable small and medium-size plots, ranging from a few dozen to a few score acres in extent, the rural populations of Long Island, Staten Island, New Jersey, and Westchester—many relying heavily on slave labor—produced an ever-growing volume of foodstuffs for the Caribbean market. Bigger and richer landowners like Lewis Morris, nephew and heir of Colonel Lewis Mor­ris, built productive complexes that combined elements of slave plantations and industrial villages. From Morrisania, his nineteen-hundred-acre estate in what is now the southwest corner of the Bronx, he and his workforce—which in 1691 included one of the area’s largest concentrations of slaves (twenty-two men, eleven women, six boys, two girls)—sent corn, wheat, barley, oats, lumber, and a variety of livestock to Manhattan for export to the West Indies. (The Morris property ran west from the Harlem River to Intervale Avenue, with the manor house near the junction of 132nd Street and Cypress Avenue, overlooking Long Island Sound.) Morris ground the grain in his own gristmill and cut the lumber in his own sawmill. He kept his own sloop, and even operated an ironworks at Tintern, New Jersey. His products—as was the case with all lumber, grain, flour, meat, and leather exported to the West Indies—were carefully scrutinized by government inspectors as to size, weight, and quality and labeled accordingly. All exported butter, for example, was packed in firkins branded “N.Y.”

Shipbuilding grew rapidly to meet the demand for the single-masted sloops and two-masted brigs needed for Caribbean and coastal commerce. In 1728, having made a fortune in the West Indies, “Boss” William Walton founded a shipyard on the East River at the foot of Catherine Street (just north of the Brooklyn Bridge, about where the Alfred E. Smith Houses now stand), and another five were soon in operation nearby. Sail lofts and ropewalks (the enlongated workshops that made rigging and lines for ships) likewise enjoyed unprecedented prosperity—as did millers, cartmen, chandlers, and other trades heavily dependent on oceangoing commerce. Coopers worked hard to keep up with mounting demand for wooden firkins, casks, tubs, and vats, their livelihoods protected by duties on the importation of empty containers from other colonies.

Other New Yorkers flourished by processing imports from the West Indies, above all sugar. In 1730 Nicholas Bayard announced in the Gazette that he had erected, virtually next door to City Hall, a “Refining House for Refining all sorts of Sugar and Sugar Candy, and has procured from Europe an experienced artist in that Mystery.” In time, Livingstons, Roosevelts, Van Cortlandts, and Rhinelanders would follow him into the business of turning brown sugar into clean white loaves of table sugar, suitable for export to Europe or the West Indies. By the early 1720s, moreover, sixteen distillers were turning molasses into rum (much of the raw material having been smuggled in from Martinique). In addition, after 1715, New Yorkers began importing tobacco for conversion into snuff, a process that involved the grinding and flavoring of dried tobacco leaf.

The movement of these exports and imports would have been impossible without the labor of “Jack Tar,” the seafaring man who loaded, sailed, and unloaded the city’s growing merchant fleet. Mariners had been a familiar presence on Manhattan ever since the West India Company first set up shop, but never in such quantities: by the second or third decade of the eighteenth century, not counting the masses of transients who drifted from port to port in search of work on the docks or merchant vessels, perhaps one out of every four or five adult male residents of New York earned his livelihood as a mariner. It was a notoriously hard existence—periodic bouts of unemployment punctuated by long, isolating voyages on ships where the dangers, atrocious conditions, harsh discipline, strict division of labor, and exploitative wages prefigured the industrial factories of a later era. Since most men quit (or died) after fewer than ten years at sea, the average age of crews tended to fall somewhere between twenty-five and thirty. No other trade or occupation in the city developed a stronger sense of collective identity and interest, however. More than once, crowds of “Brother Tars” in their distinctive attire—baggy breeches (tarred to keep out water), checked shirts, “fearnought” jackets, Monmouth caps—swarmed out of waterfront gin mills and rookeries to confront a tyrannical captain, dishonest “crimps” (the recruiting agents who filled out crews for merchants), or a press gang from one of His Majesty’s warships. Their fine disdain for thrift, sobriety, polite speech, and organized religion constituted a standing challenge to the values of respectable society. “A merry life and a short one”: that was the sailor’s motto.

Because the perils of the sea threatened the owners as well as crews of ships, access to reliable marine insurance was a matter of increased importance in the city. Rather than rely solely on underwriters in London or Amsterdam, a few prominent New York merchants began to insure voyages on their own, forming consortiums of wealthy residents willing to share the risks at an attractive rate of interest. Similarly, the need for access to capital promoted the expansion of private banking. One lawyer went so far as to advertise his services as an intermediary, inasmuch as “many Persons in this Province have often Occasion to borrow Money at Interest, and others have sums of Money lying by them which they want to put out.” All transactions, he added, would be managed with the “greatest Secrecy and Integrity.”

Indeed the legal profession too was changing significantly in these years. Until quite recently, all but a few of New York’s two dozen or so lawyers had been self-taught “attorneys” rather than formally trained “barristers.” Their knowledge of the law was often rudimentary, most of their work consisted of collecting debts or making out conveyances, and even the busiest of them doubled as tavern keepers, ferry operators, and tradesmen. Now, however, the demands of an increasingly complex international economy, together with the new, anglicized legal system, gave the edge to professionals with expensive university educations. Their desire to set higher standards had already led to the formation of the city’s first bar association in 1709.

With the expansion of trade, too, came more taverns and coffeeshops. Between 1694 and 1720 fifty-four tavern keepers, victuallers, and vintners were granted the “freedom” of the city. New inns and ordinaries like the Black Horse Tavern joined the old King’s Arms in providing residents and travelers alike with food, lodging, and a convivial setting for business. The Exchange Coffee House, which opened in 1729 at Broad and Water, became the principal scene of real estate transactions, while the Merchants’ Coffee House (originally named the Jamaica Pilot Boat) catered to merchants active in auctions and shipping.

Taverns, and the dozens of dramshops that catered to seamen and the laboring classes, were often run by widows who received free licenses from the Common Council, an inexpensive form of relief. Women were also prominent in the retail shops that boomed after the late 1720s. The Widow Lebrosses carried Canary wine and olive oil in her store at Hanover Square, the city’s shopping center, while the Widow Vanderspiegel and her son sold imported window glass. Mrs. Edwards started a cosmetics business in 1736, offering “An admirable Beautifying Wash, for Hands Face and Neck, it makes the Skin soft, smooth and plump, it likewise takes away Redness, Fredkles, Sun-Burnings, or Pimples.” The continuing role of women in trade, English as well as Dutch, promoted a certain feistiness among their ranks that ran contrary to prescriptions for proper female behavior. In 1733 the Widow Lebrosses and other “She Merchants” complained bitterly to the press that while they were “full as Entertaining” as men, and certainly as brave, the governor never invited them to dinner “at Court.” As taxpayers who “in some measure contribute to the support of the government, they reasoned, “we ought to be entitled to some of the sweets of it.”

The typical retail shop carried a wide range of goods. In 1733 George Talbot displayed beds, chairs, tables, chests of drawers, and andirons. In 1736 the “New Store in Hanover Square” offered haberdashery, dry goods, laces, pictures, pipes, snuff, cutlery, hardware, and glassware. Visitors to William Bradford’s printing office could buy coffee, Bohea tea, and “Very good oatmeal” in addition to books. Thomas Adams, a stationer, had also begun selling reading matter, and by 1719 there were perhaps four booksellers in town.

The diversity of imported goods in New York was matched by their costliness. Governor Hunter asserted that a 100 percent advance over London prices was “reckoned cheap” on Manhattan, where profits from the West Indian trade, swollen by indirect earnings from insurance and interest on loans, were contributing to a relentless rise in the concentration of wealth. As early as 1716 John Fontaine, a visitor from Virginia, met “many rich people” in New York; ten years later the richest 10 percent of the population—mostly merchants, with a sprinkling of lawyers and landed gentlemen who had taken up residence in town—controlled half the city’s wealth. Judging by estate inventories of upper-class households, these rich New Yorkers proceeded to accumulate luxuries—silver, fine furniture, carpets—at a significantly greater rate than their seventeenth-century forebears.

The demand for luxury goods and services in turn spurred the formation of a pool of skilled local artisans and tradespeople. By the 1720s fine work was being turned out by New York goldsmiths, silversmiths, watchmakers, potters, and jewelers. Families of means seeking self-portraits patronized a small group of local artists (known more colloquially as “phiz mongers”), including old Evert Duycinck. “Crooked women” seeking to “appear strate” could get help at the stay shop run by James Munden and Thomas Butwell. Nichols Bailey, coachmaker, sold chaises and chairs for ladies. Barbers and periwig makers arrived to cater to their husbands.

For food and other provisions, New Yorkers shopped at the municipal markets, of which (by 1728) there were five along the East River waterfront—one at the end of each major street (Broad, Coenties Slip, Wall Street, Old Slip, and Maiden Lane). But much of what city households needed was grown and made by its women. Housewives, aided by daughters and perhaps female slaves, produced soap and candles, smoked meats, put up garden fruits and vegetables, spun flax, dyed yarn, wove cloth, and sewed clothes. Governor Cornbury observed in 1705 that New Yorkers made “very good linen” for domestic use as well as “very good serges [and] linsey-woolseys.” Several years later, the Board of Trade was advised to make them stop, because if they began to produce cloth for the market it would be “very much to the prejudice of our manufactures at home.”

Finally, New York’s developing connection to the West Indies brought a sharply higher frequency of epidemic disease. A ship from the islands was blamed for a major outbreak of smallpox in 1690, and after the turn of the century malaria, yellow fever, and other tropical scourges became an all too familiar part of life in the city. In 1702 a visitor informed William Penn that “at York they are visited with a mortal distemper . . . which sweeps off great numbers; tis such a visitation as that place, they say, never knew before, carrying off eight, ten, or twelve in one day.” Over a three-month period, smallpox and “malignant fever” claimed 570 lives—better than 10 percent of the popu­lation. Because well-to-do residents “left their usual habitations and Retired into the Country”—Lord Cornbury retreated as far as Albany—the poorer classes suffered a disproportionate share of the fatalities and the immiseration that often followed.

New York had plenty of doctors, among them Cadwallader Golden, who graduated from the University of Edinburgh and studied medicine in London before migrating to Philadelphia. When he moved up to New York in 1718, Golden discovered to his dismay that twenty “Chirurgeons” and two “Barber-Chirurgions” had been admitted into freemanship over the previous two decades. “The practice of Physick being undervalued,” Golden found it necessary to supplement his income by wholesaling imported drugs (and stockings) to local shopkeepers and apothecaries (Mrs. Golden occasionally moved some of his merchandise at retail). Of course it wasn’t only the oversupply of doctors that caused New Yorkers to undervalue “the practice of Physick,” for the current state of medical knowledge still put great stock in such useless practices as purging and bleeding. Colden’s own contribution to the problem was to take an active part in opposing the introduction of inoculation in 1722, although his colleagues eventually accepted the idea in time to minimize fatalities in the epidemic that struck the city in 1731.


Nowhere was the impact of the West Indian trade on New York more obvious than in its burgeoning population of African slaves. Stuyvesant, York, Bellomont, and others had dreamed in years past of making the city an entrepot in the slave trade or exploiting slave labor for the production of commodities. Yet despite the best efforts of the Dutch West India Company and York’s Royal African Company, slavery remained a marginal feature of the municipal economy. Decade after decade, New York merchants took only a fitful interest in slaving, and the number of slaves on and around Manhattan rose more slowly than the rest of the population. When Stuyvesant surrendered in 1664, New Amsterdam counted about fifteen hundred whites, three hundred slaves (half the colony-wide total of six hundred), and seventy-five freedmen. Forty years later, the 1703 census found forty-four hundred whites and somewhere between six and seven hundred blacks in New York City alone—more than twice as many, but down from 20 percent to around 12 or 13 percent of the total (enslaved Indians, never common, were exceedingly rare after 1700).

Everything changed during the second and third decades of the eighteenth century, as the city became more closely tied to the plantation colonies of the West Indies. Their insatiable demand for servile labor and foodstuffs drew growing numbers of city merchants into the slave trade. By 1730 it had become big business in the countinghouses of Pearl Street and Hanover Square, never representing more than a minor share of the total tonnage involved in overseas commerce yet sufficiently lucrative that few merchants weren’t involved at one time or another.

In the city itself, where cheap labor was always in short supply, the economic advantages of slaveowning became harder to overlook as greater availability brought down costs. By the early eighteenth century, the price of a prime slave was roughly equivalent to the annual wages of a skilled craftsman, and direct imports began to soar. In the first quarter of the eighteenth century, twenty-four hundred slaves would be legally imported into New York, with another five thousand to follow over the next fifty years (maybe six hundred or so of whom would be smuggled in): seventy-four hundred in all, greater than the entire population of the city in 1700. More blacks came involuntarily to New York in the eighteenth century, in other words, than whites came voluntarily in the seventeenth.

The proportion and distribution of slaves in the city’s population increased accordingly. In 1712 nearly a thousand of New York’s sixty-four hundred inhabitants—somewhat over 15 percent—were black, and better than 40 percent of its households owned a slave. By 1746 African Americans comprised about 21 percent of the city’s residents—more than 2,440 in a total population of nearly 11,720. This was the highest concentration of slaves north of Virginia. At least half the city’s households now contained one or more slaves.

Merchants bought slaves to fill out their crews and toil on their docks. Shipbuilders put them to work in the bustling East River yards. Coopers, butchers, carpenters, blacksmiths, tinners, and other artisans prospered by training them up in the mysteries of their crafts. In 1715 Governor Hunter remarked on the manumission of a butcher’s slave, “who by his faithful and diligent service, had helpt to gain most part of his masters Wealth.” Tradesmen unable to afford slaves found themselves at a competitive disadvantage, and in 1737 the provincial assembly received a report of widespread opposition to the “pernicious custom of breeding slaves to trades,” which “reduced [whites] to poverty for want of employ.”

Wealthy New Yorkers began to utilize slaves as domestic servants. (“Please to buy mee two negro men about eighteen years of age,” Cadwallader Golden instructed his commercial agent in 1721. “I design them for Labour & would have them strong & well made. Please likewise to buy mee a negro Girl of about thirteen years old my wife has told you that she designes her Cheifly to keep the children & to sow”) And if ever there wasn’t enough work to do, owners could hire their slaves out at half the going rate of free labor—enough, as a rule, to bring an annual return of between 10 and 30 percent on the initial investment. This business was already so brisk by 1711 that the Common Council designated the Meal Market at the foot of Wall Street as the authorized site for the purchase, sale, and hire of slaves. From time to time the council itself appropriated funds to hire slaves for construction and cleanup projects around town.


From New York Weekly Journal, April 15, 1784. (© Collection of The New-York Historical Society)

Across the East River, in Kings and Queens counties, slaves did almost everything. They worked for merchants, grocers, physicians, attorneys, tallow chandlers, coachmakers, ropemakers. Samuel Hallet’s slave piloted ships on the river. But the bulk of rural slave labor was employed in agriculture. Bondsmen and bondswomen cut, hauled, and split firewood; carted dung, mended fences, thatched roofs, and repaired farm buildings; raised vegetables, fruits, animals; plowed fields, mowed meadow grasses, harvested potatoes, cut and husked corn; butchered hogs and salted and barreled the meat; cooked, kept house, sewed, spun, knit, repaired clothing, attended table—and in their off-moments were hired or leased to others.

The 1738 census turned up twenty-three hundred people in Kings County, of whom one in four was a slave. Brooklyn, whose 705 inhabitants made it the largest village, had 158 slaves (22 percent). Flatbush, second largest with 539 inhabitants, contained 129 slaves (24 percent). In Bushwick, population 327, there were another 78 slaves (24 percent). The 185 whites of tiny New Utrecht owned 84 slaves (an astonishing 31 percent). By contrast, the overall proportion of slaves stood at 14 percent in Queens and Suffolk counties, 18 percent in Richmond, and 13 percent in Westchester.

The highest concentrations of slaves occurred on the great Westchester and Hudson Valley estates, where slavery settled in alongside indentured servitude and tenantry. Caleb Heathcote, created lord of Scarsdale Manor in 1702, depended on dozens of slaves, indentured servants, and tenants to produce lumber, grain, cloth, and leather goods for export. By mid-century, Frederick Philipse’s son Adolph had some eleven hundred tenants and two dozen slaves on Philipsburg Manor, an agricultural-industrial complex that not only produced a variety of grains for the New York market but ground and bolted (sifted) them in its own mills, packed them in its own barrels, and shipped them downriver in its own sloops.

But these high concentrations of slaves were extremely unusual, for most New York masters owned no more than two or three slaves. Their need for slaves, their ability to purchase slaves, and their capacity to house and feed slaves were on an utterly different scale from the masters of cash-crop plantations in the southern colonies. Even so, the life of a slave in a small household could be as harsh, in its own way, as in the rice and tobacco fields of Carolina or Virginia. When an SPG catechist named Elias Neau began to baptize slaves in New York, masters resisted on the grounds that conversion imposed constraints on their property rights—even after a 1706 law, supported by Neau, affirmed that it did not. It was almost impossible, moreover, for slaves to form enduring family units because masters routinely opposed slave weddings, broke up husbands and wives to raise cash, sold off infants as well as superannuated adults, and wrote wills dividing up their chattel among their heirs. In 1717 Cadwallader Golden sold a slave woman to a purchaser on Barbados precisely because he wanted to remove her from her children. “I could have sold her here to good advantage,” he admitted, “but I have several other of her Children which I value and I know if she should stay in this country she would spoil them.”

New York slaves were divided on cultural lines as well: those imported from the West Indies and thus already “seasoned” (perhaps speaking Spanish), or those—two out of every five in these years—who arrived directly from Africa. Typically, the latter had roots in the Akan-Asante society of the continent’s west coast, a fact reflected in the large numbers named, according to Akan-Asante practice, after the days on which they were born—e.g., Quashee (Sunday), Cudjo (Monday), Quaco (Wednesday), Cuffee or Cuff (Friday), and so on.

Notwithstanding such obstacles, many slaves found common ground in practicing and perpetuating African customs, both sacred and secular. Burials were a focal point of the wider slave community, a chance to engage in traditional funerary rites. The interment ground lay north of the city, in a low-lying area that ran east from Broadway toward a deep ravine that continued to the Fresh Water Pond. It may have been used by the Africans since before the English conquest, because it lay near many of the plots granted half-freed slaves. It was certainly well established by 1713, a year after blacks were denied interment in Trinity’s graveyard. “They are buried in the Common,” wrote the Rev. John Sharpe in 1713, “by those of their country and complexion without the office, on the contrary the Heathenish rites are performed at the grave by their countrymen.” Bodies were wrapped in shrouds fastened with brass pins and placed in wooden coffins; some had coins placed over their eyes, while others were adorned with seashells, glass beads, or buttons of bone and pewter. They were laid to rest with their heads facing west, as was done in Africa.1

These nighttime ceremonies were disturbingly outside white jurisdiction, although whites themselves habitually foreclosed other options. In 1722, for example, the Common Council passed a law requiring that “all negroes and Indian slaves dying within this corporation on the South side of the fresh water be buried by daylight at or before sunset,” while three years later a Bushwick town meeting resolved that “no negro at all shall be buried in this aforesaid churchyard.” Similarly, whites attempted, with at best mixed success, to prevent slaves from coming together in great and occasionally raucous gatherings, especially on the Sabbath. “On Sundays while we are at our Devotions,” Elias Neau remarked in 1703, “the streets are full of Negroes, who dance and divert themselves.” In 1710 they were said to “feast and Revell in the Night time.”


The same demand for labor that led New Yorkers to purchase slaves in record numbers stimulated an upsurge of immigration from Europe in the early decades of the eighteenth century. First to arrive were the Palatine Germans. Mostly Lutherans and Calvinists, they had barely recovered from the terrible devastation of the Thirty Years War when they were overrun, again and again, by the armies of Louis XIV during Queen Anne’s War. In the wake of the catastrophic epidemics and famines that followed the French invasion of the Rhineland in 1707, they appealed to the British government for help. Queen Anne, eager to rescue Protestants from the clutches of a Catholic despot, said the Palatines could take up land in British North America; Parliament, eager to populate the colonies, passed a law naturalizing foreign Protestants.

No one was prepared for the response. By the end of 1709 at least thirteen thousand German refugees had already crowded into London, and thousands more were said to be on the way. All manner of schemes were developed for putting the Palatines to work in Ireland, Wales, or one of Britain’s overseas possessions. Most promising was a proposal to settle them in communities along the Hudson River in New York, “where they might be useful to this kingdom, particularly in the production of naval stores, and as a frontier against the French and their Indians.” A small advance party reached New York in 1708 and began a settlement at Newburgh, fifty-five miles north of the city.

The main body of Palatines, some twenty-five hundred in all, arrived in the summer of 1710 with Governor Hunter. Flabbergasted at the sheer magnitude of this invasion, which amounted to roughly 40 percent of the city’s population, and frightened by an outbreak of typhus among the exhausted and malnourished newcomers, the Common Council quarantined the Palatines on Nutten (Governors) Island. There they languished while Hunter tried to find them land and city merchants cashed in on their desperate need for food, clothing, and shelter. Several hundred Palatines died in the course of the summer and were buried in unmarked graves. Of those who survived, about eighteen hundred were subsequently transported up to several tracts of land lying along the Hudson, where they founded half a dozen small communities. The rest, around 350 individuals, settled in New York City. Forty or so were apprenticed out to local residents, including John Peter Zenger, who went to work in William Bradford’s printshop. The others were probably widows and children.

Things got worse. The Palatines soon learned that they weren’t to be independent proprietors but indentured servants of the crown, obliged to work at the pleasure of the governor until the costs of transporting and relocating them had been paid off. Hunter’s agents herded them into labor gangs to do the noisome, unfamiliar work of extracting turpentine, tar, and pitch from pitch pines; children orphaned by the typhus epidemic were apprenticed off in Albany and other towns. Enraged, the Palatines mutinied, and Hunter sent troops to restore order. It then became clear that the land chosen for them was poorly suited for cultivating pitch pines—whereupon Hunter turned them loose to fend for themselves. Some found their way to the Mohawk Valley. Others scattered into New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Still others returned to the city. No one could have been happy with the outcome except perhaps the merchants who, like Lewis Morris and Robert Livingston, realized tidy profits selling them spoiled food and second-rate supplies at inflated prices. Livingston also wound up with sizable numbers of Palatines as his tenants.

Close behind the Palatines came the Irish, though on their own rather than with official backing. Roughly two out of three were the so-called Ulster Scots or Scots-Irish, the descendants of hundreds of thousands of Scottish Presbyterians driven by chronic poverty and religious persecution to settle Ireland’s northern counties during the seventeenth century. After 1715 a succession of blows—parliamentary suppression of the Irish woolens industry, crop failures and famine, rack-renting by absentee English land-lords—forced them to move again, first to Irish coastal ports, then to America. Between 1720 and 1730 the mainland colonies as a whole absorbed more than fifteen thousand Ulster Scots.

With them came between sixty and eighty thousand Roman Catholics (many of them possibly Gaelic-speaking) from Ireland’s southern counties, driven out by legal proscription, Protestant prejudice, and the erosion of traditional communities. While cheap land on the frontier was their primary goal, a substantial though undetermined number made their way to New York City. Many arrived as indentured servants who contracted to serve an employer for a stated period of time, in exchange for passage and keep (“sufficient Meate drinke and App[arel] during his said time,” as one indenture phrased it). Sometimes this was arranged in Europe, as in 1729, when tailor William Presland agreed, in the presence of the lord mayor of Dublin, to serve New York merchant John Colgan for four years. Others were advertised for sale in the New- York Gazette on their arrival. (“Redemptioners” were those who agreed to pay for their passage within a stated period after arriving in America; if they failed to “redeem” this debt, the captain who brought them could sell their services to the highest bidder as indentured servants.)

When the ship Thomas arrived from London in October 1728, its owners invited the public to purchase the indentures of “several Men, Women and Boys, Servants, amongst whom there are several Tradesmen, as Bakers, Weavers, Bricklayers, Carpenters, Shoemakers, Glassiers, Coopers, &c.” Not infrequently, entire families were on the market. “To Be Sold,” read one advertisement at the middle of the century: “A German Servant Man, with his Wife and Son, of about Six Years old, who are to serve five Years, he is as compleat a Gardner as any in America; understands a Flower and Kitchen Gardens to Perfection.” (Only a tiny fraction of these were the convicted felons routinely sent out from the mother country as indentured servants: most such “transported” convicts wound up in the plantation colonies of the Chesapeake or the West Indies.)

What drew artisans to New York was the good pay they could expect after they had served their terms. In “York city,” James Murray wrote home in 1737, “a Wabster gets 12 Pence a Yeard, a Labourer gets 4 Shillings and 5 Pence a Day, a Lass gets 4 Shillings and 6 Pence a Week for spinning on the Wee Wheel, a Carpenter gets 6 Shillings a Day, and a Tailor gets 20 Shillings for making a Suit of deaths, a Wheel-wright gets 16 Shillings for making Lint Wheels a Piece.”

Despite Murray’s assurances to those left behind that his new homeland was a “bonny Country,” a servant’s life could be a harsh one, as attested by the mounting number of advertisements for runaways published in the Gazette during the 1730s. One Hugh Agen, his master advised, “wears a light coloured blew Coat” and “is an Irish man” though he “pretends to be a Doctor and to let Blood.” Nevertheless, well before the middle of the eighteenth century the Irish, Protestant and Catholic, had become the most numerous and rapidly expanding element of the city’s working population. New York’s reputation as a market for Irish servants was indeed so well established by then that Dublin could boast two inns, both named the New York and Philadelphia Arms, where shipping agencies processed prospective immigrants for the voyage over.


(The New York Society Library)

Not to be confused with the Scots-Irish were immigrants from Scotland proper. Like Robert Livingston, handfuls of native Scots had found their way to New York in search of fame and fortune during the final decades of the seventeenth century. But after 1707, when the Act of Union with England opened a period of sweeping economic and social upheaval, immigration from Scotland accelerated. As in Ireland, enclosures and rack-renting displaced tens of thousands of cotters from their traditional holdings; the failure of the Jacobite rising of 1715, and of a second rising in 1745, drove away thousands more, at least some of whom were banished prisoners of war. All told, more than twenty-five thousand Scots—perhaps as many as fifty thousand—found their way to America before the end of the colonial period. Most settled in the Carolinas, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania, but there was always a regular trickle to New York, where “Presbyterians,” Scots as well as Scots-Irish, had become a force in the life of the city by the third decade of the century. In 1716, “att the desire of a few especially Scots people,” visiting minister James Anderson began preaching and was soon called to serve as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, conducted in the manner of the Church of Scotland. The erection of its first building, on the north side of Wall Street between Broadway and Nassau streets, offered clear evidence of how much the climate had changed since Cornbury’s persecution of the Rev. Francis Makemie, an Ulster Scot.

Though at first, as Anderson reported in 1717, his church’s supporters were “yet but few & none of the richest,” the expanding commercial ties between New York and Scotland (which after the Union of 1707 was allowed to trade directly with the American colonies) drew a number of well-to-do merchants and professionals. So did the appointment of a string of Scotsmen—Hunter, Burnet, and Montgomerie—to serve as governor of the colony. Indeed Hunter, a Scot well known in the coffeehouses of London and boon companion of such literary luminaries as Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, and Jonathan Swift, prompted a miniature Scottish Enlightenment in the city. Described by one admiring colonist as “a gentleman of as refined a taste as any we have known or perhaps heard of in America,” Hunter gathered unto himself a small group of intellectuals united in the belief that fortune had set them down in a cultural wasteland. Together they discussed books, conducted experiments with pendulums and telescopes, and collaborated on an Italian translation of Addison’s play Cato. Hunter himself composed Latin odes and achieved a certain literary renown in 1714 with the publication of Androboros: A Biographical Farce in Three Acts, the first play written and printed in America.

Conspicuous in Hunter’s circle were the attorney James Alexander, the physician Cadwallader Golden, and the proprietor of Morrisania, Lewis Morris. Alexander, one of the Jacobites transported to America after the 1715 rising, had an aptitude for mathematics and engineering that immediately brought him to the governor’s attention; under Hunter’s aegis, he embarked on a long and illustrious public career (along the way training an entire generation of New York lawyers in his office). Golden, whom Hunter appointed surveyor-general of the province, possessed one of the most original minds in the colonies. His copious writings on physics, botany, history, and ethnography (especially his History of the Five Indian Nations, first published by William Bradford in 1727) would earn him an international reputation—New York’s answer, as it were, to Benjamin Franklin. Boasting a library of three thousand books, not much smaller than that of Harvard College, Golden was a devoted student of Cicero, Virgil, Tacitus, Shakespeare, Milton, and Addison. He composed poetry, dabbled in the natural sciences, and taught the Linnaean system of plant categorization to his daughter Jane, whose subsequent research made her something of a celebrity among botanists on both sides of the Atlantic.

The same need for mercantile and professional expertise that helped break down resistance to dissenting Protestants helped revitalize New York’s Jewish community. The first generation of immigrants had moved elsewhere by the early 1660s—Asser Levy was for many years the only one remaining in town—but the 1680s brought a steady trickle of Portuguese-speaking Sephardim from the West Indies, Surinam, France, and England. Religious services had resumed in 1682, and although its appeals for formal recognition of the right to public worship were consistently rejected, the congregation wasn’t molested. By the mid-eighties it had acquired a private burying ground (a corner of which still survives on St. James Place opposite Chatham Square); by the mid-nineties, if not earlier, it was openly using a house on Beaver Street as a synagogue.

Yet New York Jews faced legal hurdles to earning a livelihood in the city. The great majority weren’t English citizens, and the Navigation Acts explicitly prohibited them from doing business in England or in any English colony (even the right of native-born Jews to engage in trade or own property remained less than secure). Legal naturalization didn’t provide an attractive solution to the problem, since Parliament required prospective subjects to swear an Anglican oath of allegiance. The alternative was to obtain a patent of denization from the crown, allowing the recipient to settle and trade in specified parts of the realm. But this required money and political connections, and only a dozen or so Jewish residents of New York ever managed to become endenizened in England. In addition, the provincial assembly, in 1683, had decreed that anyone wishing to be naturalized in New York would have to be a professing Christian.

Almost immediately, however, the potentially adverse effects of such a restriction on the city’s commercial interests compelled local authorities to be more accommodating (just as they had once compelled the West India Company to make Stuyvesant accept the presence of Jews in New Amsterdam). Governor Fletcher began the practice, continued by his successors, of granting letters of endenization to Jews and other aliens, for a fee, few or no questions asked. After 1718, moreover, the Assembly routinely naturalized Jews on its own authority and permitted them to omit the phrase “on the true faith of a Christian” from the necessary oaths. The municipal corporation meanwhile quietly ignored instructions from England that the privileges and duties of freemanship be restricted to native-born, naturalized, or endenizened subjects. Even before the turn of the century, as a result, Jews were serving on juries, in the militia, and on the Common Council; many would hold the office of constable (one of whose duties was to collect taxes for the Anglican Church). Similarly, although the English Test Act of 1673 barred Jews (and Catholics) from sitting in the Assembly or holding appointive office, local custom allowed Jews to vote freely in provincial as well as municipal elections. (When this was called into question in 1737, the Assembly voted to deprive Jews of the franchise. The decision wasn’t strictly enforced, though, and within a few years Jews were again going to the polls without interference.) Of equal importance, Jews inherited the economic right—for which Asser Levy had fought decades earlier in New Amsterdam—to trade in local commerce like other burghers. This right to make a living as they pleased, without constraint, wouldn’t be available to them in England for another half century.

In this climate, New York Jews flourished. Nathan Simson made his mark in the West Indian trade and retired at the end of the 1720s with an estate valued at sixty thousand pounds. His son Joseph was one of several Jewish merchants who did so well marketing kosher beef in the islands and elsewhere that by the 1740s the stamp K. Sh.I., kasher (Congregation Shearith Israel, kosher) was recognized throughout the colonies. The marriage of Jacob Franks to Bilah Abigail Levy in 1712 not only ensured Franks’s success in trade but was also the beginning of a mercantile dynasty that would be renowned in London and Philadelphia as well as in New York. Luis Moses Gomez shipped New York wheat to Lisbon, used the profits to import wine from Madeira, then expanded his operations to include furs, slaves, rum, and English manufactured wares. In addition to such families, who ranked among the city’s wealthiest residents, Jews occupied positions as peddlers, candlemakers, butchers, watchmakers, goldsmiths, and shopkeepers.

The community was not without its internal divisions. The immigration of more and more German speakers in the early eighteenth century—by 1730 a majority of the 225 Jews in New York were Ashkenazim—stirred resentment among the Sephardim. Proud, socially conscious families like the Gomezes resisted intermarriage with “Tudescos” (i.e., Germans), even wealthy ones like the Franks, and tensions between the two groups were reflected in their tendency to live in different parts of town: Sephardim in the East Ward, Ashkenazim in the Dock Ward. When the congregation decided to erect a new synagogue on Mill Street (South William) in 1728, the Sephardim made no secret of their apprehension that it would adopt Ashkenazic liturgical practices. By the midthirties, however, Ashkenazim and Sephardim came up with an arrangement that enabled them to present a more unified front to their sometimes hostile neighbors: henceforth the president of the congregation would normally be an Ashkenazi, while services continued to follow Spanish-Portuguese ritual under the leadership of a Sephardic hazzan. The use of Portuguese in congregational records and on tombstones nonetheless slowly but surely yielded to English; before the middle of the century it had disappeared altogether.


Bilah Abigail Franks. “Still it Gives me a Secret pleasure to Observe the faire Character Our Family has in [this] place by Jews and Christians,” she once wrote. {American Jewish Historical Society)

Despite New York’s reputation for allowing “perfect freedom of conscience for all, except Papists” (as one Dutch dominie put it in 1741), the attainment by some Jews of social and economic standing stirred resentment. On one occasion, in 1743, a mob attacked a Jewish funeral cortege, seized the corpse, and subjected it to a mock conversion. A less clear-cut case of anti-Semitic violence would occur half a dozen years later, when Oliver De Lancey organized a mob to attack the home of a recently arrived Jewish merchant. They smashed all the windows, broke down the door, wrecked the interior, and threatened to rape the man’s wife—on the grounds, De Lancey allegedly said, that she looked like the wife of Governor George Clinton, “and if he could not have her, he would have her likeness.” Oddly, De Lancey’s own wife was Phila Franks, daughter of Jacob and Bilah.


As New York grew ever more integrated into the English empire, and trade with Holland ever more attenuated, the position of the city’s Dutch declined accordingly, more so than met the eye. Well into the second decade of the eighteenth century, travelers continued to marvel at the tenacity of Dutch speech, Dutch dress, and Dutch architectural conventions in New York. Sarah Kemble Knight, in 1704, was astonished at how different its Dutch women looked. “The English go very fashionable in their dress,” Mrs. Knight wrote. “But the Dutch, especially the middling sort, differ from our women, in their habitt go loose, were [wear] French muches wch are like a Capp and a head band in one, leaving their ears bare, which are sett out wth Jewells of a large size and many in number. And their fingers hoop’t with Rings, some with large stones in them of many Coullers as were their pendants in their ears, which You should see very old women wear as well as Young.” A dozen years later John Fontaine remarked that most houses still went up “after the Dutch manner, with the gable-ends toward the street,” and in the Burgis View of 1717 it is indeed possible to make out, huddling along the waterfront below Wall Street, the stepped gables and sharply pitched roofs that bore silent witness to the days when New York was New Amsterdam.

Yet between 1700 and 1720 the Dutch component of the city’s white population fell below 50 percent for the first time, and its marginalization, underway for a generation, passed the point of no return. A select company of Dutch traders with good connections in London or the West Indies—Rip van Dam, Abraham De Peyster, Jacobus Van Cortlandt—prospered in the boom that followed Queen Anne’s War. As a group, however, Dutch merchants now formed a distinct minority of the city’s wealthiest inhabitants, and proportionally fewer Dutch New Yorkers owned slaves than either the English or the French. What was more, fully 80 percent of the families in the city’s poorer neighborhoods were Dutch. The Dutch had managed to carve ethnic niches in the labor force—they were disproportionately represented among the ranks of coopers, smiths, masons, cordwainers, cartmen, and other laboring people—but these niches were at the lower end of the city’s economy. The Dutch were losing ground politically too. Prior to Leisler’s Rebellion, most mayors of New York had been Dutch; after Leisler, not only were most mayors English or French, but as a rule the Dutch held a third or fewer of the seats on the Common Council.

After 1720 Dutch was almost exclusively reserved for private communication or worship. Subsequent attempts to provide Dutch-language schooling for the young invariably failed, and by the early 1740s even bilingualism was a thing of the past. “The Dutch tongue Declines fast among Us Especially with the Young people,” wrote a saddened Cornelius van Home, grandson of a New Amsterdam settler. “All Affairs are transacted in English and that Language prevails Generally Amongst Us.”

Affirmatively Dutch communities did survive along the Hudson River, over in New Jersey, on Staten Island, or out on Long Island. Dutchess, Orange, and Ulster counties remained predominately Dutch for years; Albany was almost exclusively Dutch, and would long remain so. Overall, nevertheless, the Dutch now constituted a clearly dwindling minority of the colony’s population, and Dutch settlements outside the city were becoming more clannishly isolated from the rest of the world.

Dwindling population and waning prosperity were accompanied by a pietist movement that tunneled through the Reformed Church during Queen Anne’s War. The pietists’ message—part denunciation of orthodox clerical authority, part attack on liturgical formalism, part summons to individual spiritual renewal—reaped bountiful harvests of souls along the rural frontiers of New York and New Jersey, home to large numbers of Leislerians who hadn’t forgotten the Church’s complicity in their leader’s defeat and execution. When an evangelical dominie named Theodore Frelinghuysen began preaching among the villages of New Jersey’s Raritan Valley in 1720, the movement erupted into an open revolt.

These afflictions, combined with the chronic shortage of Dutch-speaking dominies, the missionary efforts of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and the growing social status commanded by the Church of England, helped expand Anglican congregations. Every year prominent Dutch families went over to the Church of England—Beekmans, Roosevelts, Schuylers, Stuyvesants, Van Cortlandts, Verplancks, Van Dycks. Huguenots too embraced Anglicanism, most notably Elias Neau, who had been an influential elder in the Huguenot Church before enlisting with the SPG. By the 1730s the French Church had all but vanished.

Other institutions that had shielded the Dutch way of life in the first generation or two after the English conquest were in comparable disarray. No longer recognized in provincial courts since the Judiciary Act, the mutual will—last line of defense against British patriarchalism—virtually disappeared from use in the early eighteenth century. As among the English, married women used their husbands’ names; a husband enjoyed full control of his wife’s personal property (clothing, housewares, money) and had the right to administer (though not dispose of) her real estate until his death, even if she should die before him. Though some Dutch women continued to run businesses, they were now almost always widows, far outnumbered by men. (And perhaps because they had more to lose from Anglicization, Dutch women were slower than their husbands to abandon the Reformed communion. After 1700 women comprised two-thirds of the new members of the Dutch Church.)

De Lanceys, Livingstons, Schuylers, Van Rensselaers, Beekmans, Morrises, Philipses: New Yorkers now tended to speak of them in the plural not merely because these families spread so luxuriantly as time went on, but because in an anglicized environment it was the family name that determined social standing and political influence. Outsiders could and often did acquire money and reputation, but the price was going up all the time and more and more rich men were starting out as the sons (or sons-in-law) of other rich men.

Rich women, by the same token, were being held to new standards of purity and obedience with the expectation that they would devote themselves to childrearing, household management, and the mastery of such parlor rituals as the serving of “high tea” (now de rigueur among the English upper classes). “Let your Dress your Conversation & the whole Business of your life be to please your Husband & to make him happy & you need not fail of being so your self,” Cadwallader Golden wrote his daughter Elizabeth De Lancey in 1737. It was advice that might well serve as the epitaph of Dutch New York.

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