Under British rule for only 40 years, about 5,000 people called it home. Not much existed past Maiden Lane. Industry focused on the harbor. The original Trinity Church had just been built. Yellow fever was epidemic.
And in autumn of that year a boardinghouse keeper named Sarah Kemble Knight (at left) set out on horseback from her hometown of Boston to journey to Manhattan and back, helping a friend handle legal issues.
Traveling via horse through colonial New England’s primitive roads and bunking in public houses would be rough for anyone, let alone a 38-year-old woman (she did have the help of a guide).
“The Cittie of New York is a pleasant well compacted place, situated on a Commodius River [which] is a fine harbor for shipping,” Knight wrote on her arrival in December 1704.
“[New Yorkers] are not strict in keeping the Sabbath as in Boston and other places where I had bin,” she writes. “They are sociable to one another and courteous and civill to strangers and fare well in their houses.”
“The English go very fasheonable in their dress. [But] the Dutch, especially the middling sort, differ from our women, in their habitt go loose. . . .” Knight says, explaining that the Dutch women wear a caplike headband that leaves their ears sticking out “which are sett out with jewels [with] jewells of a large size and many in number.”
New Yorkers are great entertainers, she says, and taverns “treat with good liquor liberally, and the customers drink as liberally and generally pay for’t as well….”
The 18th century city knew how to have a good time. “Their diversions in the winter is riding sleys about three or four miles out of town,” Knight writes, “where they have houses of entertainment at a place called the Bowery, and some go to friends houses who handsomely treat them.”
Sounds like modern city traffic and bad taxi drivers!
[Top image: National Women’s History Museum; second image: New York in 1695; NYC Tourist; third image: NYC in 1700, Wikipedia; fourth image: Fraunces Tavern, built by Samuel DeLancey in 1719 on Pearl and Broad Streets; NYPL]