Christendom is gradually extricating itself, from the ignorance ferocity and crimes of the middle ages. It is no longer subject of boast, that the hand which wields the sword, never held a pen, and men have long since ceased to be ashamed of knowledge. The multiplied means of imparting principles and facts, and a more general diffusion of intelligence have conduced to establish sounder ethics and juster practices, throughout the whole civilized world. Thus he who admits the conviction, as hope declines with his years, that man deteriorates, is probably as far from the truth, as the visionary who sees the dawn of a golden age, in the commencement of the nineteenth century. That we have greatly improved, on the opinions and practices of our ancestors, is quite as certain, as that there will be occasion to meliorate the legacy of morals, which we shall transmit to posterity.
When the progress of civilization compelled Europe to correct the violence and injustice, which was so openly practised, until the art of printing became known, the other hemisphere made America the scene of those acts, which shame prevented her from exhibiting nearer home. There was little of a lawless, mercenary, violent and selfish nature, that the self-styled masters of the continent hesitated to commit, when removed from the immediate responsibilities of the society in which they had been educated. The Drakes, Rogers’ and Dampiers of that day, though enrolled in the list of naval heroes, were no other than pirates, acting under the sanction of commissions, and the scenes that occurred among the marauders of the land, were often of a character to disgrace human nature.
That the colonies which formed the root of this republic escaped the more serious evils of so gross and wide spread a corruption, can only be ascribed to the characters of those, by whom they were peopled.
Perhaps nine tenths of all the white inhabitants of the Union are the direct descendants of men who quitted Europe, in order to worship God, according to conviction and conscience. If the Puritans of New England, the Friends of Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, the Catholics of Maryland, the Presbyterians of the upper counties of Virginia, and of the Carolinas, and the Huguenots, brought with them the exaggeration of their peculiar sects, it was an exaggeration that tended to correct most of their ordinary practices. Still the English Provinces were not permitted, altogether, to escape from the moral dependency that seems nearly inseparable from colonial gouvernment, or to be entirely exempt from the wide contamination of the times.
The State of New York, as is well known, was originally a colony of the United Provinces. The settlement was made in the year 1613, and the Dutch East India Company, under whose authority the establishment was made, claimed the whole country between the Connecticut and the mouth of Delaware-bay, a territory which, as it had a corresponding depth, equalled the whole surface of the present kingdom of France. Of this vast region, however, they never occupied but a narrow belt on each side of the Hudson, with, here and there, a settlement on a few of the river flats, more inland.
There is a providence in the destiny of nations, that sets at naught the most profound of human calculations. Had the dominion of the Dutch continued a century longer, there would have existed in the very heart of the Union a people opposed to its establishment, by their language, origin and habits. The conquest of the English in 1663, though unjust and iniquitous in itself, removed the danger, by opening the way for the introduction of that great community of character, which now so happily prevails.
Though the English, the French, the Swedes, the Dutch, the Danes, the Spaniards and the Norwegians, all had colonies within the country, which now composes the United States, the people of the latter are more homogenous in character language and opinions, than those of any other great nation, that is familiarily known. This identity of character is owing to the early predominance of the English, and to the circumstance that New England and Virginia, the two great sources of internal emigration, were entirely of English origin. Still New York retains, to the present hour, a variety of usages that were obtained from Holland. Her edifices of painted bricks, her streets lined with trees, her inconvenient and awkward stoops, and a large proportion of her names are equally derived from the Dutch. Until the commencement of this century, even the language of Holland prevailed in the streets of the capital, and though a nation of singular boldness and originality in all that relates to navigation, the greatest sea-port of the country betrays many evidences of a taste, which must be referred to the same origin.
The reader will find in these facts a sufficient explanation of most of the peculiar customs, and of some of the peculiar practices, that are exhibited in the course of the following tale. Slavery, a divided language, and a distinct people are no longer to be found, within the fair regions of New-York, and, without pretending to any peculiar exemption from the weaknesses of humanity, it may be permitted us to hope, that these are not the only features of the narrative, which a better policy, and a more equitable administration of power have made purely historical.
Early released from the fetters of the middle ages, fetters that bound the mind equally with the person, America has preceded, rather than followed Europe, in that march of improvement which is rendering the present era so remarkable. Under a system, broad, liberal and just as hers, though she may have to contend with rivalries, that are sustained by a more concentrated competition, and which are as absurd by their pretension of liberality, as they are offensive by their monopolies, there is nothing to fear, in the end. Her political motto should be Justice, and her first and greatest care to see it administered to her own citizens.
The reader is left to make the application.