To the Editor of the Knickerbocker.
Sir: I observe, with pleasure, that you are performing from time to time a pious duty, imposed upon you, I may say, by the name you have adopted as your titular standard, in following in the footsteps of the venerable Knickerbocker, and gleaning every fact concerning the early times of the Manhattoes which may have escaped his hand. I trust, therefore, a few particulars, legendary and statistical, concerning a place which figures conspicuously in the early pages of his history, will not be unacceptable. I allude, Sir, to the ancient and renowned village of Communipaw, which, according to the veracious Diedrich, and to equally veracious tradition, was the first spot where our ever-to-be-lamented Dutch progenitors planted their standard and cast the seeds of empire, and from whence subsequently sailed the memorable expedition under Oloffe the Dreamer, which landed on the opposite island of Manhatta, and founded the present city of New-York, the city of dreams and speculations.
Communipaw, therefore, may truly be called the parent of New-York; yet it is an astonishing fact, that though immediately opposite to the great city it has produced, from whence its red roofs and tin weather-cocks can actually be descried peering above the surrounding apple orchards, it should be almost as rarely visited, and as little known by the inhabitants of the metropolis, as if it had been locked up among the Rocky Mountains. Sir, I think there is something unnatural in this, especially in these times of ramble and research, when our citizens are antiquity-hunting in every part of the world. Curiosity, like charity, should begin at home; and I would enjoin it on our worthy burghers, especially those of the real Knickerbocker breed, before they send their sons abroad to wonder and grow wise among the remains of Greece and Rome, to let them make a tour of ancient Pavonia, from Weehawk even to the Kills, and meditate, with filial reverence, on the moss-grown mansions of Communipaw. Sir, I regard this much neglected village as one of the most remarkable places in the country. The intelligent traveller, as he looks down upon it from the Bergen Heights, modestly nestled among its cabbage-gardens, while the great flaunting city it has begotten is stretching far and wide on the opposite side of the bay, the intelligent traveller, I say, will be filled with astonishment; not, Sir, at the village of Communipaw, which in truth is a very small village, but at the almost incredible fact that so small a village should have produced so great a city. It looks to him, indeed, like some squat little dame, with a tall grenadier of a son strutting by her side; or some simple-hearted hen that has unwittingly hatched out a long-legged turkey.
But this is not all for which Communipaw is remarkable. Sir, it is interesting on another account. It is to the ancient province of the New-Netherlands and the classic era of the Dutch dynasty, what Herculaneum and Pompeii are to ancient Rome and the glorious days of the empire. Here every thing remains in statu quo, as it was in the days of Oloffe the Dreamer, Walter the Doubter, and the other worthies of the golden age; the same broad-brimmed hats and broad-bottomed breeches; the same knee-buckles and shoe-buckles; the same close-quilled caps and linsey-woolsey short-gowns and petticoats; the same implements and utensils and forms and fashions; in a word, Communipaw at the present day is a picture of what New-Amsterdam was before the conquest. The “intelligent traveller” aforesaid, as he treads its streets, is struck with the primitive character of every thing around him. Instead of Grecian temples for dwelling-houses, with a great column of pine boards in the way of every window, he beholds high peaked roofs, gable ends to the street, with weather-cocks at top, and windows of all sorts and sizes; large ones for the grown-up members of the family, and little ones for the little folk. Instead of cold marble porches, with close-locked doors and brass knockers, he sees the doors hospitably open; the worthy burgher smoking his pipe on the old-fashioned stoop in front, with his “vrouw” knitting beside him; and the cat and her kittens at their feet sleeping in the sunshine.
Astonished at the obsolete and “old world” air of every thing around him, the intelligent traveller demands how all this has come to pass. Herculaneum and Pompeii remain, it is true, unaffected by the varying fashions of centuries; but they were buried by a volcano and preserved in ashes. What charmed spell has kept this wonderful little place unchanged, though in sight of the most changeful city in the universe? Has it, too, been buried under its cabbage-gardens, and only dug out in modern days for the wonder and edification of the world? The reply involves a point of history, worthy of notice and record, and reflecting immortal honor on Communipaw.
At the time when New-Amsterdam was invaded and conquered by British foes, as has been related in the history of the venerable Diedrich, a great dispersion took place among the Dutch inhabitants. Many, like the illustrious Peter Stuyvesant, buried themselves in rural retreats in the Bowerie; others, like Wolfert Acker, took refuge in various remote parts of the Hudson; but there was one staunch, unconquerable band that determined to keep together, and preserve themselves, like seed corn, for the future fructification and perpetuity of the Knickerbocker race. These were headed by one Garret Van Horne, a gigantic Dutchman, the Pelayo of the New-Netherlands. Under his guidance, they retreated across the bay and buried themselves among the marshes of ancient Pavonia, as did the followers of Pelayo among the mountains of Asturias, when Spain was overrun by its Arabian invaders.
The gallant Van Horne set up his standard at Communipaw, and invited all those to rally under it, who were true Nederlanders at heart, and determined to resist all foreign intermixture or encroachment. A strict non-intercourse was observed with the captured city; not a boat ever crossed to it from Communipaw, and the English language was rigorously tabooed throughout the village and its dependencies. Every man was sworn to wear his hat, cut his coat, build his house, and harness his horses, exactly as his father had done before him; and to permit nothing but the Dutch language to be spoken in his household.
As a citadel of the place, and a strong-hold for the preservation and defence of every thing Dutch, the gallant Van Horne erected a lordly mansion, with a chimney perched at every corner, which thence derived the aristocratical name of “The House of the Four Chimneys.” Hither he transferred many of the precious reliques of New-Amsterdam; the great round-crowned hat that once covered the capacious head of Walter the Doubter, and the identical shoe with which Peter the Headstrong kicked his pusillanimous councillors down-stairs. St. Nicholas, it is said, took this loyal house under his especial protection; and a Dutch soothsayer predicted, that as long as it should stand, Communipaw would be safe from the intrusion either of Briton or Yankee.
In this house would the gallant Van Home and his compeers hold frequent councils of war, as to the possibility of re-conquering the province from the British; and here would they sit for hours, nay, days, together smoking their pipes and keeping watch upon the growing city of New-York; groaning in spirit whenever they saw a new house erected or ship launched, and persuading themselves that Admiral Van Tromp would one day or other arrive to sweep out the invaders with the broom which he carried at his mast-head.
Years rolled by, but Van Tromp never arrived. The British strengthened themselves in the land, and the captured city flourished under their domination. Still, the worthies of Communipaw would not despair; something or other, they were sure, would turn up to restore the power of the Hogen Mogens, the Lord States-General; so they kept smoking and smoking, and watching and watching, and turning the same few thoughts over and over in a perpetual circle, which is commonly called deliberating. In the mean time, being hemmed up within a narrow compass, between the broad bay and the Bergen hills, they grew poorer and poorer, until they had scarce the wherewithal to maintain their pipes in fuel during their endless deliberations.
And now must I relate a circumstance which will call for a little exertion of faith on the part of the reader; but I can only say that if he doubts it, he had better not utter his doubts in Communipaw, as it is among the religious beliefs of the place. It is, in fact, nothing more nor less than a miracle, worked by the blessed St. Nicholas, for the relief and sustenance of this loyal community.
It so happened, in this time of extremity, that in the course of cleaning the House of the Four Chimneys, by an ignorant housewife who knew nothing of the historic value of the reliques it contained, the old hat of Walter the Doubter and the executive shoe of Peter the Headstrong were thrown out of doors as rubbish. But mark the consequence. The good St. Nicholas kept watch over these precious reliques, and wrought out of them a wonderful providence.
The hat of Walter the Doubter falling on a stercoraceous heap of compost, in the rear of the house, began forthwith to vegetate. Its broad brim, spread forth grandly and exfoliated, and its round crown swelled and crimped and consolidated until the whole became a prodigious cabbage, rivalling in magnitude the capacious head of the Doubter. In a word, it was the origin of that renowned species of cabbage known, by all Dutch epicures, by the name of the Governor’s Head, and which is to this day the glory of Communipaw.
On the other hand, the shoe of Peter Stuyvesant being thrown into the river, in front of the house, gradually hardened and concreted, and became covered with barnacles, and at length turned into a gigantic oyster; being the progenitor of that illustrious species known throughout the gastronomical world by the name of the Governor’s Foot.
These miracles were the salvation of Communipaw. The sages of the place immediately saw in them the hand of St. Nicholas, and understood their mystic signification. They set to work with all diligence to cultivate and multiply these great blessings; and so abundantly did the gubernatorial hat and shoe fructify and increase, that in a little time great patches of cabbages were to be seen extending from the village of Communipaw quite to the Bergen Hills; while the whole bottom of the bay in front became a vast bed of oysters. Ever since that time this excellent community has been divided into two great classes: those who cultivate the land and those who cultivate the water. The former have devoted themselves to the nurture and edification of cabbages, rearing them in all their varieties; while the latter have formed parks and plantations, under water, to which juvenile oysters are transplanted from foreign parts, to finish their education.
As these great sources of profit multiplied upon their hands, the worthy inhabitants of Communipaw began to long for a market at which to dispose of their superabundance. This gradually produced once more an intercourse with New-York; but it was always carried on by the old people and the negroes; never would they permit the young folks, of either sex, to visit the city, lest they should get tainted with foreign manners and bring home foreign fashions. Even to this day, if you see an old burgher in the market, with hat and garb of antique Dutch fashion, you may be sure he is one of the old unconquered race of the “bitter blood,” who maintain their strong-hold at Communipaw.
In modern days, the hereditary bitterness against the English has lost much of its asperity, or rather has become merged in a new source of jealousy and apprehension: I allude to the incessant and wide-spreading irruptions from New-England. Word has been continually brought back to Communipaw, by those of the community who return from their trading voyages in cabbages and oysters, of the alarming power which the Yankees are gaining in the ancient city of New-Amsterdam; elbowing the genuine Knickerbockers out of all civic posts of honor and profit; bargaining them out of their hereditary homesteads; pulling down the venerable houses, with crow-step gables, which have stood since the time of the Dutch rule, and erecting, instead, granite stores, and marble banks; in a word, evincing a deadly determination to obliterate every vestige of the good old Dutch times.
In consequence of the jealousy thus awakened, the worthy traders from Communipaw confine their dealings, as much as possible, to the genuine Dutch families. If they furnish the Yankees at all, it is with inferior articles. Never can the latter procure a real “Governor’s Head,” or “Governor’s Foot,” though they have offered extravagant prices for the same, to grace their table on the annual festival of the New-England Society.
But what has carried this hostility to the Yankees to the highest pitch, was an attempt made by that all-pervading race to get possession of Communipaw itself. Yes, Sir; during the late mania for land speculation, a daring company of Yankee projectors landed before the village; stopped the honest burghers on the public highway, and endeavored to bargain them out of their hereditary acres; displayed lithographic maps, in which their cabbage-gardens were laid out into town lots: their oyster-parks into docks and quays; and even the House of the Four Chimneys metamorphosed into a bank, which was to enrich the whole neighborhood with paper money.
Fortunately, the gallant Van Hornes came to the rescue, just as some of the worthy burghers were on the point of capitulating. The Yankees were put to the rout, with signal confusion, and have never since dared to show their faces in the place. The good people continue to cultivate their cabbages, and rear their oysters; they know nothing of banks, nor joint stock companies, but treasure up their money in stocking-feet, at the bottom of the family chest, or bury it in iron pots, as did their fathers and grandfathers before them.
As to the House of the Four Chimneys, it still remains in the great and tall family of the Van Hornes. Here are to be seen ancient Dutch corner cupboards, chests of drawers, and massive clothes-presses, quaintly carved, and carefully waxed and polished; together with divers thick, black-letter volumes, with brass clasps, printed of yore in Leydon and Amsterdam, and handed down from generation to generation, in the family, but never read. They are preserved in the archives, among sundry old parchment deeds, in Dutch and English, bearing the seals of the early governors of the province.
In this house, the primitive Dutch holidays of Paas and Pinxter are faithfully kept up; and New-Year celebrated with cookies and cherry-bounce; nor is the festival of the blessed St. Nicholas forgotten, when all the children are sure to hang up their stockings, and to have them filled according to their deserts; though, it is said, the good saint is occasionally perplexed in his nocturnal visits, which chimney to descend.
Of late, this portentous mansion has begun to give signs of dilapidation and decay. Some have attributed this to the visits made by the young people to the city, and their bringing thence various modern fashions; and to their neglect of the Dutch language, which is gradually becoming confined to the older persons in the community. The house, too, was greatly shaken by high winds, during the prevalence of the speculation mania, especially at the time of the landing of the Yankees. Seeing how mysteriously the fate of Communipaw is identified with this venerable mansion, we cannot wonder that the older and wiser heads of the community should be filled with dismay, whenever a brick is toppled down from one of the chimneys, or a weather-cock is blown off from a gable-end.
The present lord of this historic pile, I am happy to say, is calculated to maintain it in all its integrity. He is of patriarchal age, and is worthy of the days of the patriarchs. He has done his utmost to increase and multiply the true race in the land. His wife has not been inferior to him in zeal, and they are surrounded by a goodly progeny of children, and grand-children, and great-grand-children, who promise to perpetuate the name of Van Horne, until time shall be no more. So be it! Long may the horn of the Van Hornes continue to be exalted in the land! Tall as they are, may their shadows never be less! May the House of the Four Chimneys remain for ages, the citadel of Communipaw, and the smoke of its chimneys continue to ascend, a sweet-smelling incense in the hose of St. Nicholas!
With great respect, Mr. Editor,
Your ob’t servant,