Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Knickerbocker's History of New York, Complete by Washington Irving

Part 1 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.7 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

Produced by Charles Franks and PG Distributed Proofreaders

[Transcriber's note: The spelling irregularities of the original have
been retained in this etext.]









KNICKERBOCKER'S HISTORY OF NEW YORK is the book, published in December,
1809, with which Washington living, at the age of twenty-six, first won
wide credit and influence. Walter Scott wrote to an American friend, who
sent him the second edition----

"I beg you to accept my best thanks for the uncommon degree of
entertainment which I have received from the most excellently
jocose History of New York. I am sensible that, as a stranger to
American parties and politics, I must lose much of the concealed
satire of the piece, but I must own that, looking at the simple
and obvious meaning only, I have never read anything so closely
resembling the style of Dean Swift as the annals of Diedrich
Knickerbocker. I have been employed these few evenings in reading
them aloud to Mrs. S. and two ladies who are our guests, and our
sides have been absolutely sore with laughing. I think, too,
there are passages which indicate that the author possesses
powers of a different kind, and has some touches which remind me
much of Sterne."

Washington Irving was the son of William Irving, a sturdy native of the
Orkneys, allied to the Irvines of Drum, among whose kindred was an old
historiographer who said to them, "Some of the foolish write themselves
Irving." William Irving of Shapinsha, in the Orkney Islands, was a petty
officer on board an armed packet ship in His Majesty's service, when he
met with his fate at Falmouth in Sarah Sanders, whom he married at
Falmouth in May, 1761. Their first child was buried in England before
July, 1763, when peace had been concluded, and William Irving emigrated to
New York with his wife, soon to be joined by his wife's parents.

At New York William Irving entered into trade, and prospered fairly until
the outbreak of the American Revolution. His sympathy, and that of his
wife, went with the colonists. On the 19th of October, 1781, Lord
Cornwallis, with a force of seven thousand men, surrendered at Yorktown.
In October, 1782, Holland acknowledged the independence of the United
States in a treaty concluded at The Hague. In January, 1783, an armistice
was concluded with Great Britain. In February, 1783, the independence of
the United States was acknowledged by Sweden and by Denmark, and in March
by Spain. On the 3rd of April in that year an eleventh child was born to
William and Sarah Irving, who was named Washington, after the hero under
whom the war had been brought to an end. In 1783 the peace was signed, New
York was evacuated, and the independence of the United States acknowledged
by England.

Of the eleven children eight survived. William Irving, the father, was
rigidly pious, a just and honorable man, who made religion burdensome to
his children by associating it too much with restrictions and denials. One
of their two weekly half-holidays was devoted to the Catechism. The
mother's gentler sensibility and womanly impulses gave her the greater
influence; but she reverenced and loved her good husband, and when her
youngest puzzled her with his pranks, she would say, "Ah, Washington, if
you were only good!"

For his lively spirits and quick fancy could not easily be subdued. He
would get out of his bed-room window at night, walk along a coping, and
climb over the roof to the top of the next house, only for the high
purpose of astonishing a neighbor by dropping a stone down his chimney. As
a young school-boy he came upon Hoole's translation of Ariosto, and
achieved in his father's back yard knightly adventures. "Robinson Crusoe"
and "Sindbad the Sailor" made him yearn to go to sea. But this was
impossible unless he could learn to lie hard and eat salt pork, which he
detested. He would get out of bed at night and lie on the floor for an
hour or two by way of practice. He also took every opportunity that came
in his way of eating the detested food. But the more he tried to like it
the nastier it grew, and he gave up as impracticable his hope of going to
sea. He fastened upon adventures of real travelers; he yearned for travel,
and was entranced in his youth by first sight of the beauties of the
Hudson River. He scribbled jests for his school friends, and, of course,
he wrote a school-boy play. At sixteen his schooling was at an end, and he
was placed in a lawyer's office, from which he was transferred to another,
and then, in January, 1802, to another, where he continued his clerkship
with a Mr. Hoffman, who had a young wife, and two young daughters by a
former marriage. With this family Washington Irving, a careless student,
lively, clever, kind, established the happiest relations, of which
afterwards there came the deep grief of his life and a sacred memory.

Washington Irving's eldest brothers were beginning to thrive in business.
A brother Peter shared his frolics with the pen. His artist pleasure in
the theater was indulged without his father's knowledge. He would go to
the play, come home for nine o'clock prayers, go up to bed, and climb out
of his bed-room window, and run back and see the after-piece. So come
evasions of undue restraint. But with all this impulsive liveliness, young
Washington Irving's life appeared, as he grew up, to be in grave danger.
When he was nineteen, and taken by a brother-in-law to Ballston springs,
it was determined by those who heard his incessant night cough that he was
"not long for this world." When he had come of age, in April, 1804, his
brothers, chiefly his eldest brother, who was prospering, provided money
to send him to Europe that he might recover health by restful travel in
France, Italy and England. When he was helped up the side of the vessel
that was to take him from New York to Bordeaux, the captain looked at him
with pity and said, "There's a chap who will go overboard before we get
across." But Washington Irving returned to New York at the beginning of
the year 1806 with health restored.

What followed will be told in the Introduction to the of her volume of
this History of New York, by Diedrich Knickerbocker.



The following work, in which, at the outset, nothing more was contemplated
than a temporary _jeu-d'esprit_, was commenced in company with my brother,
the late Peter Irving, Esq. Our idea was to parody a small hand-book which
had recently appeared, entitled, "A Picture of New York." Like that, our
work was to begin an historical sketch; to be followed by notices of the
customs, manners and institutions of the city; written in a serio-comic
vein, and treating local errors, follies and abuses with good-humored

To burlesque the pedantic lore displayed in certain American works, our
historical sketch was to commence with the creation of the world; and we
laid all kinds of works under contribution for trite citations, relevant
or irrelevant, to give it the proper air of learned research. Before this
crude mass of mock erudition could be digested into form, my brother
departed for Europe, and I was left to prosecute the enterprise alone.

I now altered the plan of the work. Discarding all idea of a parody on the
"Picture of New York," I determined that what had been originally intended
as an introductory sketch should comprise the whole work, and form a comic
history of the city. I accordingly moulded the mass of citations and
disquisitions into introductory chapters, forming the first book; but it
soon became evident to me that, like Robinson Crusoe with his boat, I had
begun on too large a scale, and that, to launch my history successfully, I
must reduce its proportions. I accordingly resolved to confine it to the
period of the Dutch domination, which, in its rise, progress and decline,
presented that unity of subject required by classic rule. It was a period,
also, at that time almost a _terra incognita_ in history. In fact, I was
surprised to find how few of my fellow-citizens were aware that New York
had ever been called New Amsterdam, or had heard of the names of its early
Dutch governors, or cared a straw about their ancient Dutch progenitors.

This, then, broke upon me as the poetic age of our city; poetic from its
very obscurity, and open, like the early and obscure days of ancient Rome,
to all the embellishments of heroic fiction. I hailed my native city as
fortunate above all other American cities in having an antiquity thus
extending back into the regions of doubt and fable; neither did I conceive
I was committing any grievous historical sin in helping out the few facts
I could collect in this remote and forgotten region with figments of my
own brain, or in giving characteristic attributes to the few names
connected with it which I might dig up from oblivion.

In this, doubtless, I reasoned like a young and inexperienced writer,
besotted with his own fancies; and my presumptuous trespasses into this
sacred, though neglected, region of history have met with deserved rebuke
from men of soberer minds. It is too late, however, to recall the shaft
thus rashly launched. To any one whose sense of fitness it may wound, I
can only say with Hamlet----

"Let my disclaiming from a purposed evil
Free me so far in your most generous thoughts
That I have shot my arrow o'er the house,
And hurt my brother."

I will say this in further apology for my work: that if it has taken an
unwarrantable liberty with our early provincial history, it has at least
turned attention to that history, and provoked research. It is only since
this work appeared that the forgotten archives of the province have been
rummaged, and the facts and personages of the olden time rescued from the
dust of oblivion, and elevated into whatever importance they may actually

The main object of my work, in fact, had a bearing wide from the sober aim
of history, but one which, I trust, will meet with some indulgence from
poetic minds. It was to embody the traditions of our city in an amusing
form; to illustrate its local humors, customs and peculiarities; to clothe
home scenes and places and familiar names with those imaginative and
whimsical associations so seldom met with in our new country, but which
live like charms and spells about the cities of the old world, binding the
heart of the native inhabitant to his home.

In this I have reason to believe I have in some measure succeeded. Before
the appearance of my work the popular traditions of our city were
unrecorded; the peculiar and racy customs and usages derived from our
Dutch progenitors were unnoticed, or regarded with indifference, or
adverted to with a sneer. Now they form a convivial currency, and are
brought forward on all occasions; they link our whole community together
in good-humor and good-fellowship; they are the rallying points of home
feeling; the seasoning of our civic festivities; the staple of local tales
and local pleasantries; and are so harped upon by our writers of popular
fiction that I find myself almost crowded off the legendary ground which I
was the first to explore by the host who have followed in my footsteps.

I dwell on this head because, at the first appearance of my work, its aim
and drift were misapprehended by some of the descendants of the Dutch
worthies, and because I understand that now and then one may still be
found to regard it with a captious eye. The far greater part, however, I
have reason to flatter myself, receive my good-humored picturings in the
same temper with which they were executed; and when I find, after a lapse
of nearly forty years, this haphazard production of my youth still
cherished among them; when I find its very name become a "household word,"
and used to give the home stamp to everything recommended for popular
acceptation, such as Knickerbocker societies, Knickerbocker insurance
companies, Knickerbocker steamboats, Knickerbocker omnibuses,
Knickerbocker bread, and Knickerbocker ice; and when I find New Yorkers of
Dutch descent priding themselves upon being "genuine Knickerbockers," I
please myself with the persuasion that I have struck the right chord; that
my dealings with the good old Dutch times, and the customs and usages
derived from them, are n harmony with the feelings and humors of my
townsmen; that I have opened a vein of pleasant associations and quaint
characteristics peculiar to my native place, and which its inhabitants
will not willingly suffer to pass away; and that, though other histories
of New York may appear of higher claims to learned acceptation, and may
take their dignified and appropriate rank in the family library,
Knickerbocker's history will still be received with good-humored
indulgence, and be thumbed and chuckled over by the family fireside.

Sunnyside, 1848.




_From the "Evening Post" of October_ 26, 1809.


Left his lodgings some time since, and has not since been heard of, a
small elderly gentleman, dressed in an old black coat and cocked hat, by
the name of _Knickerbocker_. As there are some reasons for believing he is
not entirely in his right mind, and as great anxiety is entertained about
him, any information concerning him, left either at the Columbian Hotel,
Mulberry Street, or at the office of this paper, will be thankfully

P.S.--Printers of newspapers will be aiding the cause of humanity in
giving an insertion to the above.

* * * * *

_From the same, November_ 6, 1809.

_To the Editor of the "Evening Post."_

SIR,--Having read, in your paper of the 26th of October last, a paragraph
respecting an old gentleman by the name of _Knickerbocker_, who was
missing from his lodgings; if it would be any relief to his friends, or
furnish them with any clue to discover where he is, you may inform them
that a person answering the description given was seen by the passengers
of the Albany stage, early in the morning, about four or five weeks since,
resting himself by the side of the road, a little above King's Bridge. He
had in his hand a small bundle tied in a red bandana handkerchief: he
appeared to be traveling northward, and was very much fatigued and


* * * * *

_From the same, November_ 16, 1809.

_To the Editor of the "Evening Post."_

SIR,--You have been good enough to publish in your paper a paragraph about
_Mr. Diedrich Knickerbocker_, who was missing so strangely some time
since. Nothing satisfactory has been heard of the old gentleman since; but
a _very curious kind of a written book_ has been found in his room, in
his own handwriting. Now, I wish you to notice him, if he is still alive,
that if he does not return and pay off his bill for boarding and lodging,
I shall have to dispose of his book to satisfy me for the same.

I am, Sir, your humble servant,


Landlord of the Independent Columbian Hotel,

Mulberry Street.

* * * * *

_From the same, November_ 28, 1809.


INSKEEP and BRADFORD have in the press, and will shortly publish,

A History of New York,

In two volumes, duodecimo. Price three dollars.

Containing an account of its discovery and settlement, with its internal
policies, manners, customs, wars, &c. &c., under the Dutch government,
furnishing many curious and interesting particulars never before
published, and which are gathered from various manuscript and other
authenticated sources, the whole being interspersed with philosophical
speculations and moral precepts.

This work was found in the chamber of Mr. Diedrich Knickerbocker, the old
gentleman whose sudden and mysterious disappearance has been noticed. It
is published in order to discharge certain debts he has left behind.

* * * * *

_From the "American Citizen" December_ 6, 1809.

Is this day published,

By INSKEEP and BRADFORD, No. 128, Broadway,

A History of New York,

&c. &c.

(Containing same as above.)


It was some time, if I recollect right, in the early part of the fall of
1808, that a stranger applied for lodgings at the Independent Columbian
Hotel in Mulberry Street, of which I am landlord. He was a small,
brisk-looking old gentleman, dressed in a rusty black coat, a pair of
olive velvet breeches, and a small cocked hat. He had a few gray hairs
plaited and clubbed behind, and his beard seemed to be of some
eight-and-forty hours' growth. The only piece of finery which he bore
about him was a bright pair of square silver shoe-buckles; and all his
baggage was contained in a pair of saddle-bags, which he carried under his
arm. His whole appearance was something out of the common run; and my
wife, who is a very shrewd little body, at once set him down for some
eminent country schoolmaster.

As the Independent Columbian Hotel is a very small house, I was a little
puzzled at first where to put him; but my wife, who seemed taken with his
looks, would needs put him in her best chamber, which is genteelly set off
with the profiles of the whole family, done in black, by those two great
painters, Jarvis and Wood: and commands a very pleasant view of the new
grounds on the Collect, together with the rear of the Poor House and
Bridewell, and the full front of the Hospital; so that it is the
cheerfulest room in the whole house.

During the whole time that he stayed with us, we found him a very worthy,
good sort of an old gentleman, though a little queer in his ways. He would
keep in his room for days together, and if any of the children cried, or
made a noise about his door, he would bounce out in a great passion, with
his hands full of papers, and say something about "deranging his ideas;"
which made my wife believe sometimes that he was not altogether _compos_.
Indeed, there was more than one reason to make her think so, for his room
was always covered with scraps of paper and old mouldy books, lying about
at sixes and sevens, which he would never let anybody touch; for he said
he had laid them all away in their proper places, so that he might know
where to find them; though, for that matter, he was half his time worrying
about the house in search of some book or writing which he had carefully
put out of the way. I shall never forget what a pother he once made,
because my wife cleaned out his room when his back was turned, and put
everything to rights; for he swore he would never be able to get his
papers in order again in a twelve-month. Upon this my wife ventured to ask
him, what he did with so many books and papers? and he told her, that he
was "seeking for immortality"; which made her think, more than ever, that
the poor old gentleman's head was a little cracked.

He was a very inquisitive body, and when not in his room was continually
poking about town, hearing all the news, and prying into everything that
was going on; this was particularly the case about election time, when he
did nothing but bustle about him from poll to poll, attending all ward
meetings and committee-rooms; though I could never find that he took part
with either side of the question. On the contrary, he would come home and
rail at both parties with great wrath--and plainly proved one day to the
satisfaction of my wife, and three old ladies who were drinking tea with
her, that the two parties were like two rogues, each tugging at the skirt
of the nation; and that in the end they would tear the very coat off its
back, and expose its nakedness. Indeed, he was an oracle among the
neighbors, who would collect around him to hear him talk of an afternoon,
as he smoked his pipe on the bench before the door; and I really believe
he would have brought over the whole neighborhood to his own side of the
question, if they could ever have found out what it was.

He was very much given to argue, or, as he called it, philosophize, about
the most trifling matter, and to do him justice, I never knew anybody that
was a match for him, except it was a grave-looking old gentleman who
called now and then to see him, and often posed him in an argument. But
this is nothing surprising, as I have since found out this stranger is the
city librarian; and, of course, must be a man of great learning; and I
have my doubts if he had not some hand in the following history.

As our lodger had been a long time with us, and we had never received any
pay, my wife began to be somewhat uneasy, and curious to find out who and
what he was. She accordingly made bold to put the question to his friend
the librarian, who replied, in his dry way, that he was one of the
_Literati_; which she supposed to mean some new party in politics. I scorn
to push a lodger for his pay, so I let day after day pass on without
dunning the old gentleman for a farthing; but my wife, who always takes
these matters on herself, and is, as I said, a shrewd kind of a woman, at
last got out of patience, and hinted, that she thought it high time "some
people should have a sight of some people's money." To which the old
gentleman replied in a mighty touchy manner, that she need not make
herself uneasy, for that he had a treasure there (pointing to his
saddle-bags) worth her whole house put together. This was the only answer
we could ever get from him; and as my wife, by some of those odd ways in
which women find out everything, learnt that he was of very great
connections, being related to the Knickerbockers of Scaghtikoke, and
cousin german to the Congressman of that name, she did not like to treat
him uncivilly. What is more, she even offered, merely by way of making
things easy, to let him live scot-free, if he would teach the children
their letters; and to try her best and get her neighbors to send their
children also; but the old gentleman took it in such dudgeon, and seemed
so affronted at being taken for a schoolmaster, that she never dared to
speak on the subject again.

About two months ago, he went out of a morning, with a bundle in his
hand--and has never been heard of since. All kinds of inquiries were made
after him, but in vain. I wrote to his relations at Scaghtikoke, but they
sent for answer, that he had not been there since the year before last,
when he had a great dispute with the Congressman about politics, and left
the place in a huff, and they had neither heard nor seen anything of him
from that time to this. I must own I felt very much worried about the poor
old gentleman; for I thought something bad must have happened to him, that
he should be missing so long, and never return to pay his bill. I
therefore advertised him in the newspapers, and though my melancholy
advertisement was published by several humane printers, yet I have never
been able to learn anything satisfactory about him.

My wife now said it was high time to take care of ourselves, and see if he
had left anything behind in his room, that would pay us for his board and
lodging. We found nothing, however, but some old books and musty writings,
and his pair of saddle-bags; which, being opened in the presence of the
librarian, contained only a few articles of worn-out clothes and a large
bundle of blotted paper. On looking over this, the librarian told us, he
had no doubt it was the treasure which the old gentleman had spoke about;
as it proved to be a most excellent and faithful History of New York,
which he advised us by all means to publish; assuring us that it would be
so eagerly bought up by a discerning public, that he had no doubt it would
be enough to pay our arrears ten times over. Upon this we got a very
learned schoolmaster, who teaches our children, to prepare it for the
press, which he accordingly has done; and has, moreover, added to it a
number of notes of his own; and an engraving of the city, as it was at the
time Mr. Knickerbocker writes about.

This, therefore, is a true statement of my reasons for having this work
printed, without waiting for the consent of the author; and I here
declare, that if he ever returns (though I much fear some unhappy accident
has befallen him), I stand ready to account with him like a true and
honest man. Which is all at present----

From the public's humble servant,



* * * * *

The foregoing account of the author was prefixed to the first edition of
this work. Shortly after its publication, a letter was received from him,
by Mr. Handaside, dated at a small Dutch village on the banks of the
Hudson, whither he had traveled for the purpose of inspecting certain
ancient records. As this was one of those few and happy villages, into
which newspapers never find their way, it is not a matter of surprise,
that Mr. Knickerbocker should never have seen the numerous advertisements
that were made concerning him; and that he should learn of the publication
of his history by mere accident.

He expressed much concern at its premature appearance, as thereby he was
prevented from making several important corrections and alterations: as
well as from profiting by many curious hints which he had collected during
his travels along the shores of the Tappan Sea, and his sojourn at
Haverstraw and Esopus.

Finding that there was no longer any immediate necessity for his return to
New York, he extended his journey up to the residence of his relations at
Scaghtikoke. On his way thither he stopped for some days at Albany, for
which city he is known to have entertained a great partiality. He found
it, however, considerably altered, and was much concerned at the inroads
and improvements which the Yankees were making, and the consequent decline
of the good old Dutch manners. Indeed, he was informed that these
intruders were making sad innovations in all parts of the State; where
they had given great trouble and vexation to the regular Dutch settlers,
by the introduction of turnpike-gates and country school-houses. It is
said, also, that Mr. Knickerbocker shook his head sorrowfully at noticing
the gradual decay of the great Vander Heyden palace; but was highly
indignant at finding that the ancient Dutch church, which stood in the
middle of the street, had been pulled down since his last visit.

The fame of Mr. Knickerbocker's History having reached even to Albany, he
received much flattering attention from its worthy burghers; some of whom,
however, pointed out two or three very great errors he had fallen into,
particularly that of suspending a lump of sugar over the Albany
tea-tables, which they assured him had been discontinued for some years
past. Several families, moreover, were somewhat piqued that their
ancestors had not been mentioned in his work, and showed great jealousy of
their neighbors who had thus been distinguished; while the latter, it must
be confessed, plumed themselves vastly thereupon; considering these
recordings in the lights of letters patent of nobility, establishing their
claims to ancestry, which, in this republican country, is a matter of no
little solicitude and vain-glory.

It is also said, that he enjoyed high favor and countenance from the
governor, who once asked him to dinner, and was seen two or three times to
shake hands with him when they met in the street; which certainly was
going great lengths, considering that they differed in politics. Indeed,
certain of the governor's confidential friends, to whom he could venture
to speak his mind freely on such matters, have assured us that he
privately entertained a considerable good-will for our author--nay, he
even once went so far as to declare, and that openly too, and at his own
table, just after dinner, that "Knickerbocker was a very well-meaning sort
of an old gentleman, and no fool." From all which may have been led to
suppose, that, had our author been of different politics, and written for
the newspapers instead of wasting his talents on histories, he might have
risen to some post of honor and profit: peradventure to be a notary
public, or even a justice in the ten-pound court.

Besides the honors and civilities already mentioned, he was much caressed
by the _literati_ of Albany; particularly by Mr. John Cook, who
entertained him very hospitably at his circulating library and
reading-room, where they used to drink Spa water, and talk about the
ancients. He found Mr. Cook a man after his own heart--of great literary
research, and a curious collector of books At parting, the latter, in
testimony of friendship, made him a present of the two oldest works in his
collection; which were, the earliest edition of the Heidelberg Catechism,
and Adrian Vander Donck's famous account of the New Netherlands; by the
last of which Mr. Knickerbocker profited greatly in this his second

Having passed some time very agreeably at Albany, our author proceeded to
Scaghtikoke; where, it is but justice to say, he was received with open
arms, and treated with wonderful loving-kindness. He was much looked up to
by the family, being the first historian of the name; and was considered
almost as great a man as his cousin the Congressman--with whom, by-the-by,
he became perfectly reconciled, and contracted a strong friendship.

In spite, however, of the kindness of his relations, and their great
attention to his comforts, the old gentleman soon became restless and
discontented. His history being published, he had no longer any business
to occupy his thoughts, or any scheme to excite his hopes and
anticipations. This, to a busy mind like his, was a truly deplorable
situation; and had he not been a man of inflexible morals and regular
habits, there would have been great danger of his taking to politics or
drinking--both which pernicious vices we daily see men driven to by mere
spleen and idleness.

It is true he sometimes employed himself in preparing a second edition of
his history, wherein he endeavored to correct and improve many passages
with which he was dissatisfied, and to rectify some mistakes that had
crept into it; for he was particularly anxious that his work should be
noted for its authenticity; which, indeed, is the very life and soul of
history. But the glow of composition had departed--he had to leave many
places untouched which he would fain have altered; and even where he did
make alterations, he seemed always in doubt whether they were for the
better or the worse.

After a residence of some time at Scaghtikoke, he began to feel a strong
desire to return to New York, which he ever regarded with the warmest
affection; not merely because it was his native city, but because he
really considered it the very best city in the whole world. On his return
he entered into the full enjoyment of the advantages of a literary
reputation. He was continually importuned to write advertisements,
petitions, handbills, and productions of similar import; and, although he
never meddled with the public papers, yet had he the credit of writing
innumerable essays, and smart things, that appeared on all subjects, and
all sides of the question, in all which he was clearly detected "by his

He contracted, moreover, a considerable debt at the postoffice, in
consequence of the numerous letter he received from authors and printers
soliciting his subscription--and he was applied to by every charitable
society for yearly donations, which he gave very cheerfully, considering
these applications as so many compliments. He was once invited to a great
corporation dinner; and was even twice summoned to attend as a juryman at
the court of quarter sessions. Indeed, so renowned did he become, that he
could no longer pry about, as formerly, in all holes and corners of the
city, according to the bent of his humor, unnoticed and uninterrupted; but
several times when he has been sauntering the streets, on his usual
rambles of observation, equipped with his cane and cocked hat, the little
boys at play have been known to cry, "There goes Diedrich!" at which the
old gentleman seemed not a little pleased, looking upon these salutations
in the light of the praise of posterity.

In a word, if we take into consideration all these various honors and
distinctions, together with an exuberant eulogium, passed on his in the
Portfolio (with which, we are told, the old gentleman was so much
overpowered, that he was sick for two or three days) it must be confessed
that few authors have ever lived to receive such illustrious rewards, or
have so completely enjoyed in advance their own immortality.

After his return from Scaghtikoke, Mr. Knickerbocker took up his residence
at a little rural retreat, which the Stuyvesants had granted him on the
family domain, in gratitude for his honorable mention of their ancestor.
It was pleasantly situated on the borders of one of the salt marshes
beyond Corlear's Hook; subject, indeed, to be occasionally over-flowed,
and much infested, in the summer-time, with mosquitoes; but otherwise
very agreeable, producing abundant crops of salt grass and bulrushes.

Here, we are sorry to say, the good old gentleman fell dangerously ill of
a fever, occasioned by the neighboring marshes. When he found his end
approaching, he disposed of his worldly affairs, leaving the bulk of his
fortune to the New York Historical Society; his Heidelberg Catechism and
Vander Donck's work to the City Library; and his saddle-bags to Mr.
Handaside. He forgave all his enemies--that is to say, all that bore any
enmity towards him; for as to himself, he declared he died in good-will to
all the world. And, after dictating several kind messages, to his
relations at Scaghtikoke, as well as to certain of our most substantial
Dutch citizens, he expired in the arms of his friend the librarian.

His remains were interred, according to his own request, in St. Mark's
Churchyard, close by the bones of his favorite hero, Peter Stuyvesant; and
it is rumored that the Historical Society have it in mind to erect a
wooden monument to his memory in the Bowling Green.


"To rescue from oblivion the memory of former incidents, and to render a
just tribute of renown to the many great and wonderful transactions of our
Dutch progenitors, Diedrich Knickerbocker, native of the city of New York,
produces this historical essay."[1] Like the great Father of History,
whose words I have just quoted, I treat of times long past, over which the
twilight of uncertainty had already thrown its shadows, and the night of
forgetfulness was about to descend for ever. With great solicitude had I
long beheld the early history of this venerable and ancient city gradually
slipping from our grasp, trembling on the lips of narrative old age, and
day by day dropping piecemeal into the tomb. In a little while, thought I,
and those revered Dutch burghers, who serve as the tottering monuments of
good old times, will be gathered to their fathers; their children,
engrossed by the empty pleasures or insignificant transactions of the
present age, will neglect to treasure up the recollections of the past,
and posterity will search in vain for memorials of the days of the
Patriarchs. The origin of our city will be buried in eternal oblivion, and
even the names and achievements of Wouter Van Twiller, William Kieft, and
Peter Stuyvesant be enveloped in doubt and fiction, like those of Romulus
and Remus, of Charlemagne, King Arthur, Rinaldo, and Godfrey of Boulogne.

Determined, therefore, to avert if possible this threatened misfortune, I
industriously set myself to work to gather together all the fragments of
our ancient history which still existed; and, like my revered prototype,
Herodotus, where no written records could be found, I have endeavored to
continue the chain of history by well-authenticated traditions.

In this arduous undertaking, which has been the whole business of a long
and solitary life, it is incredible the number of learned authors I have
consulted, and all to but little purpose. Strange as it may seem, though
such multitudes of excellent works have been written about this country,
there are none extant which give any full and satisfactory account of the
early history of New York, or of its three first Dutch Governors. I have,
however, gained much valuable and curious matter from an elaborate
manuscript, written in exceeding pure and classic low Dutch, excepting a
few errors in orthography, which was found in the archives of the
Stuyvesant family. Many legends, letters, and other documents have I
likewise gleaned in my researches among the family chests and lumber
garrets of our respectable Dutch citizens; and I have gathered a host of
well-authenticated traditions from divers excellent old ladies of my
acquaintance, who requested that their names might not be mentioned. Nor
must I neglect to acknowledge how greatly I have been assisted by that
admirable and praiseworthy institution, the New York Historical Society,
to which I here publicly return my sincere acknowledgments.

In the conduct, of this inestimable work I have adopted no individual
model, but, on the contrary, have simply contented myself with combining
and concentrating the excellences of the most approved ancient historians.
Like Xenophon, I have maintained the utmost impartiality, and the
strictest adherence to truth throughout my history. I have enriched it,
after the manner of Sallust, with various characters of ancient worthies,
drawn at full length and faithfully colored. I have seasoned it with
profound political speculations like Thucydides, sweetened it with the
graces of sentiment like Tacitus, and infused into the whole the dignity,
the grandeur and magnificence of Livy.

I am aware that I shall incur the censure of numerous very learned and
judicious critics for indulging too frequently in the bold excursive
manner of my favorite Herodotus. And, to be candid, I have found it
impossible always to resist the allurements of those pleasing episodes,
which, like flowery banks and fragrant bowers, beset the dusty road of the
historian, and entice him to turn aside, and refresh himself from his
wayfaring. But I trust it will be found that I have always resumed my
staff, and addressed myself to my weary journey with renovated spirits, so
that both my readers and myself have been benefited by the relaxation.

Indeed, though it has been my constant wish and uniform endeavor to rival
Polybius himself, in observing the requisite unity of History, yet the
loose and unconnected manner in which many of the facts herein recorded
have come to hand rendered such an attempt extremely difficult. This
difficulty was likewise increased by one of the grand objects contemplated
in my work, which was to trace the rise of sundry customs and institutions
in these best of cities, and to compare them, when in the germ of infancy,
with what they are in the present old age of knowledge and improvement.

But the chief merit on which I value myself, and found my hopes for future
regard, is that faithful veracity with which I have compiled this
invaluable little work; carefully winnowing away the chaff of hypothesis,
and discarding the tares of fable, which are too apt to spring up and
choke the seeds of truth and wholesome knowledge. Had I been anxious to
captivate the superficial throng, who skim like swallows over the surface
of literature; or had I been anxious to commend my writings to the
pampered palates of literary epicures, I might have availed myself of the
obscurity that overshadows the infant years of our city, to introduce a
thousand pleasing fictions. But I have scrupulously discarded many a pithy
tale and marvelous adventure, whereby the drowsy ear of summer indolence
might be enthralled; jealously maintaining that fidelity, gravity, and
dignity which should ever distinguish the historian. "For a writer of this
class," observes an elegant critic, "must sustain the character of a wise
man writing for the instruction of posterity; one who has studied to
inform himself well, who has pondered his subject with care, and addresses
himself to our judgment rather than to our imagination."

Thrice happy, therefore, is this our renowned city, in having incidents
worthy of swelling the theme of history; and doubly thrice happy is it in
having such an historian as myself to relate them. For, after all, gentle
reader, cities of themselves, and, in fact, empires of themselves, are
nothing without an historian. It is the patient narrator who records their
prosperity as they rise--who blazons forth the splendor of their noontide
meridian--who props their feeble memorials as they totter to decay--who
gathers together their scattered fragments as they rot--and who piously,
at length, collects their ashes into the mausoleum of his work, and rears
a triumphant monument to transmit their renown to all succeeding ages.

What has been the fate of many fair cities of antiquity, whose nameless
ruins encumber the plains of Europe and Asia, and awaken the fruitless
inquiry of the traveler? They have sunk into dust and silence--they have
perished from remembrance for want of a historian! The philanthropist may
weep over their desolation--the poet may wander among their mouldering
arches and broken columns, and indulge the visionary flights of his
fancy--but alas! alas! the modern historian, whose pen, like my own, is
doomed to confine itself to dull matter of fact, seeks in vain among
their oblivious remains for some memorial that may tell the instructive
tale of their glory and their ruin.

"Wars, conflagrations, deluges," says Aristotle, "destroy nations, and
with them all their monuments, their discoveries, and their vanities. The
torch of science has more than once been extinguished and rekindled--a few
individuals, who have escaped by accident, reunite the thread of

The same sad misfortune which has happened to so many ancient cities will
happen again, and from the same sad cause, to nine-tenths of those which
now flourish on the face of the globe. With most of them the time for
recording their history is gone by: their origin, their foundation,
together with the early stages of their settlement, are for ever buried in
the rubbish of years; and the same would have been the case with this fair
portion of the earth if I had not snatched it from obscurity in the very
nick of time, at the moment that those matters herein recorded were about
entering into the widespread insatiable maw of oblivion--if I had not
dragged them out, as it were, by the very locks, just as the monster's
adamantine fangs were closing upon them for ever! And here have I, as
before observed, carefully collected, collated, and arranged them, scrip
and scrap, "_punt en punt, gat en gat_," and commenced in this little
work, a history to serve as a foundation on which other historians may
hereafter raise a noble superstructure, swelling in process of time, until
Knickerbocker's New York may be equally voluminous with Gibbon's Rome, or
Hume and Smollett's England!

And now indulge me for a moment: while I lay down my pen, skip to some
little eminence at the distance of two or three hundred years ahead; and,
casting back a bird's-eye glance over the waste of years that is to roll
between, discover myself--little I--at this moment the progenitor,
prototype, and precursor of them all, posted at the head of this host of
literary worthies, with my book under my arm, and New York on my back,
pressing forward, like a gallant commander, to honor and immortality.

Such are the vain-glorious misgivings that will now and then enter into
the brain of the author--that irradiate, as with celestial light, his
solitary chamber, cheering his weary spirits, and animating him to
persevere in his labors. And I have freely given utterance to these
rhapsodies whenever they have occurred; not, I trust, from an unusual
spirit of egotism, but merely that the reader may for once have an idea
how an author thinks and feels while he is writing--a kind of knowledge
very rare and curious, and much to be desired.


[1] Beloe's Herodotus.





According to the best authorities, the world in which we dwell is a huge,
opaque, reflecting, inanimate mass, floating in the vast ethereal ocean of
infinite space. It has the form of an orange, being an oblate spheroid,
curiously flattened at opposite parts, for the insertion of two imaginary
poles, which are supposed to penetrate and unite at the center; thus
forming an axis on which the mighty orange turns with a regular diurnal

The transitions of light and darkness, whence proceed the alternations of
day and night, are produced by this diurnal revolution successively
presenting the different parts of the earth to the rays of the sun. The
latter is, according to the best, that is to say, the latest, accounts a
luminous or fiery body, of a prodigious magnitude, from which this world
is driven by a centrifugal or repelling power, and to which it is drawn by
a centripetal or attractive force; otherwise called the attraction of
gravitation; the combination, or rather the counteraction, of these two
opposing impulses producing a circular and annual revolution. Hence result
the different seasons of the year--viz., spring, summer, autumn, and

This I believe to be the most approved modern theory on the subject;
though there be many philosophers who have entertained very different
opinions; some, too, of them entitled to much deference from their great
antiquity and illustrious characters. Thus it was advanced by some of the
ancient sages that the earth was an extended plain, supported by vast
pillars; and by others that it rested on the head of a snake, or the back
of a huge tortoise; but as they did not provide a resting place for either
the pillars or the tortoise, the whole theory fell to the ground for want
of proper foundation.

The Brahmins assert, that the heavens rest upon the earth, and the sun and
moon swim therein like fishes in the water, moving from east to west by
day, and gliding along the edge of the horizon to their original stations
during the night;[2] while, according to the Pauranicas of India, it is a
vast plain, encircled by seven oceans of mild, nectar, and other delicious
liquids; that it is studded with seven mountains, and ornamented in the
center by a mountainous rock of burnished gold; and that a great dragon
occasionally swallows up the moon, which accounts for the phenomena of
lunar eclipses.[3]

Beside these, and many other equally sage opinions, we have the profound
conjectures of Aboul-Hassan-Aly, son of Al Khan, son of Aly, son of
Abderrahman, son of Abdallah, son of Masoud el-Hadheli, who is commonly
called Masoudi, and surnamed Cothbeddin, but who takes the humble title of
Laheb-ar-rasoul, which means the companion of the ambassador of God. He
has written a universal history, entitled, "Mouroudge-ed-dharab or the
Golden Meadows, and the Mines of Precious Stones."[4] In this valuable work
he has related the history of the world, from the creation down to the
moment of writing; which was under the Khaliphat of Mothi Billah, in the
month Dgioumadi-el-aoual of the 336th year of the Hegira or flight of the
Prophet. He informs us that the earth is a huge bird, Mecca and Medina
constitute the head, Persia and India the right wing, the land of Gog the
left wing, and Africa the tail. He informs us moreover, that an earth has
existed before the present (which he considers as a mere chicken of 7,000
years), that it has undergone divers deluges, and that, according to the
opinion of some well-informed Brahmins of his acquaintance; it will be
renovated every seventy thousandth hazarouam; each hazarouam consisting of
12,000 years.

These are a few of the many contradictory opinions of philosophers
concerning the earth, and we find that the learned have had equal
perplexity as to the nature of the sun. Some of the ancient philosophers
have affirmed that it is a vast wheel of brilliant fire;[5] others that it
is merely a mirror or sphere of transparent crystal;[6] and a third class,
at the head of whom stands Anaxagoras, maintained that it was nothing but
a huge ignited mass of iron or stone--indeed he declared the heavens to be
merely a vault of stone--and that the stars were stones whirled upward
from the earth, and set on fire by the velocity of its revolutions.[7] But
I give little attention to the doctrines of this philosopher, the people
of Athens having fully refuted them by banishing him from their city; a
concise mode of answering unwelcome doctrines, much resorted to in former
days. Another sect of philosophers do declare, that certain fiery
particles exhale constantly from the earth, which, concentrating in a
single point of the firmament by day, constitute the sun, but being
scattered and rambling about in the dark at night, collect in various
points, and form stars. These are regularly burnt out and extinguished,
not unlike to the lamps in our streets, and require a fresh supply of
exhalations for the next occasion.[8]

It is even recorded that at certain remote and obscure periods, in
consequence of a great scarcity of fuel, the sun has been completely burnt
out, and sometimes not rekindled for a month at a time. A most melancholy
circumstance, the very idea of which gave vast concern to Heraclitus, that
worthy weeping philosopher of antiquity. In addition to these various
speculations, it was the opinion of Herschel that the sun is a
magnificent, habitable abode; the light it furnishes arising from certain
empyreal, luminous or phosphoric clouds, swimming in its transparent

But we will not enter further at present into the nature of the sun, that
being an inquiry not immediately necessary to the development of this
history; neither will we embroil ourselves in any more of the endless
disputes of philosophers touching the form of this globe, but content
ourselves with the theory advanced in the beginning of this chapter, and
will proceed to illustrate by experiment the complexity of motion therein
described to this our rotatory planet.

Professor Von Poddingcoft (or Puddinghead, as the name may be rendered
into English) was long celebrated in the University of Leyden for profound
gravity of deportment and a talent at going to sleep in the midst of
examinations, to the infinite relief of his hopeful students, who thereby
worked their way through college with great ease and little study. In the
course of one of his lectures, the learned professor seizing a bucket of
water swung it around his head at arm's length. The impulse with which he
threw the vessel from him, being a centrifugal force, the retention of his
arm operating as a centripetal power, and the bucket, which was a
substitute for the earth, describing a circular orbit round about the
globular head and ruby visage of Professor Von Poddingcoft, which formed
no bad representation of the sun. All of these particulars were duly
explained to the class of gaping students around him. He apprised them,
moreover, that the same principle of gravitation which retained the water
in the bucket restrains the ocean from flying from the earth in its rapid
revolutions; and he farther informed them that should the motion of the
earth be suddenly checked, it would incontinently fall into the sun,
through the centripetal force of gravitation: a most ruinous event to this
planet, and one which would also obscure, though it most probably would
not extinguish, the solar luminary. An unlucky stripling, one of those
vagrant geniuses who seem sent into the world merely to annoy worthy men
of the puddinghead order, desirous of ascertaining the correctness of the
experiment, suddenly arrested the arm of the professor just at the moment
that the bucket was in its zenith, which immediately descended with
astonishing precision upon the philosophic head of the instructor of
youth. A hollow sound, and a red-hot hiss, attended the contact; but the
theory was in the amplest manner illustrated, for the unfortunate bucket
perished in the conflict; but the blazing countenance of Professor Von
Poddingcoft emerged from amidst the waters, glowing fiercer than ever with
unutterable indignation, whereby the students were marvelously edified,
and departed considerably wiser than before.

It is a mortifying circumstance, which greatly perplexes many a
painstaking philosopher, that nature often refuses to second his most
profound and elaborate efforts; so that often after having invented one
of the most ingenious and natural theories imaginable, she will have the
perverseness to act directly in the teeth of his system, and flatly
contradict his most favorite positions. This is a manifest and unmerited
grievance, since it throws the censure of the vulgar and unlearned
entirely upon the philosopher; whereas the fault is not to be ascribed to
his theory, which is unquestionably correct, but to the waywardness of
Dame Nature, who, with the proverbial fickleness of her sex, is
continually indulging in coquetries and caprices, and seems really to take
pleasure in violating all philosophic rules, and jilting the most learned
and indefatigable of her adorers. Thus it happened with respect to the
foregoing satisfactory explanation of the motion of our planet; it appears
that the centrifugal force has long since ceased to operate, while its
antagonist remains in undiminished potency: the world, therefore,
according to the theory as it originally stood, ought in strict propriety
to tumble into the sun; philosophers were convinced that it would do so,
and awaited in anxious impatience the fulfillment of their prognostics.
But the untoward planet pertinaciously continued her course, not
withstanding that she had reason, philosophy, and a whole university of
learned professors opposed to her conduct. The philosophers took this in
very ill part, and it is thought they would never have pardoned the slight
and affront which they conceived put upon them by the world had not a
good-natured professor kindly officiated as a mediator between the
parties, and effected a reconciliation.

Finding the world would not accommodate itself to the theory, he wisely
determined to accommodate the theory to the world; he therefore informed
his brother philosophers that the circular motion of the earth round the
sun was no sooner engendered by the conflicting impulses above described
than it became a regular revolution independent of the cause which gave it
origin. His learned brethren readily joined in the opinion, being
heartily glad of any explanation that would decently extricate them from
their embarrassment; and ever since that memorable era the world has been
left to take her own course, and to revolve around the sun in such orbit
as she thinks proper.


[2] Faria y Souza: Mick. Lus. note b. 7.

[3] Sir W. Jones, Diss. Antiq. Ind. Zod.

[4] MSS. Bibliot. Roi. Fr.

[5] Plutarch de Plac. Philos. lib. ii. cap. 20

[6] Achill. Tat. isag. cap. 19; Ap. Petav. t. iii. p. 81; Stob.
Eclog. Phys. lib. i. p. 56; Plut. de Plac. Philos.

[7] Diogenes Laertius in Anaxag. 1. ii. sec. 8; Plat Apol. t. i.
p. 26; Plut. de Plac. Philos; Xenoph. Mem. 1. iv. p. 815.

[8] Aristot. Meteor. 1. ii. c. 2; Idem. Probl. sec. 15; Stob.
Ecl. Phys. 1. i. p. 55; Bruck. Hist. Phil, t. i. p. 1154, etc.

[9] Philos. Trans. 1795, p. 72; Idem. 1801, p. 265; Nich. Philos.
Journ. i. p. 13.


Having thus briefly introduced my reader to the world, and given him some
idea of its form and situation, he will naturally be curious to know from
whence it came, and how it was created. And, indeed, the clearing up of
these points is absolutely essential to my history, inasmuch as if this
world had not been formed, it is more than probable that this renowned
island, on which is situated the city of New York, would never have had an
existence. The regular course of my history, therefore, requires that I
should proceed to notice the cosmogony or formation of this our globe.

And now I give my readers fair warning that I am about to plunge, for a
chapter or two, into as complete a labyrinth as ever historian was
perplexed withal; therefore, I advise them to take fast hold of my skirts,
and keep close at my heels, venturing neither to the right hand nor to the
left, lest they get bemired in a slough of unintelligible learning, or
have their brains knocked out by some of those hard Greek names which will
be flying about in all directions. But should any of them be too indolent
or chicken-hearted to accompany me in this perilous undertaking, they had
better take a short cut round, and wait for me at the beginning of some
smoother chapter.

Of the creation of the world we have a thousand contradictory accounts;
and though a very satisfactory one is furnished us by divine revelation,
yet every philosopher feels himself in honor bound to furnish us with a
better. As an impartial historian, I consider it my duty to notice their
several theories, by which mankind have been so exceedingly edified and

Thus it was the opinion of certain ancient sages, that the earth and the
whole system of the universe was the Deity himself;[10] a doctrine most
strenuously maintained by Zenophanes and the whole tribe of Eleatics, as
also by Strabo and the sect of peripatetic philosophers. Pythagoras
likewise inculcated the famous numerical system of the monad, dyad, and
triad; and by means of his sacred quaternary, elucidated the formation of
the world, the arcana of nature, and the principles both of music and
morals.[11] Other sages adhered to the mathematical system of squares and
triangles; the cube, the pyramid, and the sphere; the tetrahedron, the
octahedron, the icosahedron, and the dodecahedron.[12] While others
advocated the great elementary theory, which refers the construction of
our globe and all that it contains to the combinations of four material
elements, air, earth, fire, and water; with the assistance of a fifth, an
immaterial and vivifying principle.

Nor must I omit to mention the great atomic system taught by old Moschus
before the siege of Troy; revived by Democritus of laughing memory;
improved by Epicurus, that king of good fellows; and modernized by the
fanciful Descartes. But I decline inquiring, whether the atoms, of which
the earth is said to be composed, are eternal or recent; whether they are
animate or inanimate; whether, agreeably, to the opinion of Atheists, they
were fortuitously aggregated, or, as the Theists maintain, were arranged
by a supreme intelligence.[13] Whether, in fact, the earth be an insensate
clod, or whether it be animated by a soul,[14] which opinion was
strenuously maintained by a host of philosophers, at the head of whom
stands the great Plato, that temperate sage, who threw the cold water of
philosophy on the form of sexual intercourse, and inculcated the doctrine
of Platonic love--an exquisitely refined intercourse, but much better
adapted to the ideal inhabitants of his imaginary island of Atlantis than
to the sturdy race, composed of rebellious flesh and blood, which
populates the little matter-of-fact island we inhabit.

Besides these systems, we have, moreover, the poetical theogony of old
Hesiod, who generated the whole universe in the regular mode of
procreation; and the plausible opinion of others, that the earth was
hatched from the great egg of night, which floated in chaos, and was
cracked by the horns of the celestial bull. To illustrate this last
doctrine, Burnet, in his theory of the earth,[15] has favored us with an
accurate drawing and description, both of the form and texture of this
mundane egg, which is found to bear a marvelous resemblance to that of a
goose. Such of my readers as take a proper interest in the origin of this
our planet will be pleased to learn that the most profound sages of
antiquity among the Egyptians, Chaldeans, Persians, Greeks, and Latins
have alternately assisted at the hatching of this strange bird, and that
their cacklings have been caught, and continued in different tones and
inflections, from philosopher to philosopher, unto the present day.

But while briefly noticing long celebrated systems of ancient sages, let
me not pass over, with neglect, those of other philosophers, which, though
less universal than renowned, have equal claims to attention, and equal
chance for correctness. Thus it is recorded by the Brahmins in the pages
of their inspired Shastah, that the angel Bistnoo transformed himself into
a great boar, plunged into the watery abyss, and brought up the earth on
his tusks. Then issued from him a mighty tortoise and a mighty snake; and
Bistnoo placed the snake erect upon the back of the tortoise, and he
placed the earth upon the head of the snake.[16]

The negro philosophers of Congo affirm, that the world was made by the
hands of angels, excepting their own country, which the Supreme Being
constructed himself that it might be supremely excellent. And he took
great pains with the inhabitants, and made them very black and beautiful;
and when he had finished the first man, he was well pleased with him, and
smoothed him over the face, and hence his nose, and the nose of all his
descendants, became flat.

The Mohawk philosophers tell us, that a pregnant woman fell down from
heaven, and that a tortoise took her upon its back, because every place
was covered with water; and that the woman, sitting upon the tortoise,
paddled with her hands in the water, and raked up the earth, whence it
finally happened that the earth became higher than the water.[17]

But I forbear to quote a number more of these ancient and outlandish
philosophers, whose deplorable ignorance, in despite of all their
erudition, compelled them to write in languages which but few of my
readers can understand; and I shall proceed briefly to notice a few more
intelligible and fashionable theories of their modern successors.

And, first, I shall mention the great Buffon, who conjectures that this
globe was originally a globe of liquid fire, scintillated from the body of
the sun, by the percussion of a comet, as a spark is generated by the
collision of flint and steel. That at first it was surrounded by gross
vapors, which, cooling and condensing in process of time, constituted,
according to their densities, earth, water, and air, which gradually
arranged themselves, according to their respective gravities, round the
burning or vitrified mass that formed their center.

Hutton, on the contrary, supposes that the waters at first were
universally paramount; and he terrifies himself with the idea that the
earth must be eventually washed away by the force of rain, rivers, and
mountain torrents, until it is confounded with the ocean, or, in other
words, absolutely dissolves into itself. Sublime idea! far surpassing that
of the tender-hearted damsel of antiquity, who wept herself into a
fountain; or the good dame of Narbonne in France, who, for a volubility of
tongue unusual in her sex, was doomed to peel five hundred thousand and
thirty-nine ropes of onions, and actually run out at her eyes before half
the hideous task was accomplished.

Whistorn, the same ingenious philosopher who rivaled Ditton in his
researches after the longitude (for which the mischief-loving Swift
discharged on their heads a most savory stanza), has distinguished himself
by a very admirable theory respecting the earth. He conjectures that it
was originally a chaotic comet, which, being selected for the abode of
man, was removed from its eccentric orbit; and whirled round the sun in
its present regular motion; by which change of direction, order succeeded
to confusion in the arrangement of its component parts. The philosopher
adds that the deluge was produced by an uncourteous salute from the watery
tail of another comet; doubtless through sheer envy of its improved
condition; thus furnishing a melancholy proof that jealousy may prevail
even among the heavenly bodies, and discord interrupt that celestial
harmony of the spheres so melodiously sung by the poets.

But I pass over a variety of excellent theories, among which are those of
Burnet, and Woodward, and Whitehurst; regretting extremely that my time
will not suffer me to give them the notice they deserve; and shall
conclude with that of the renowned Dr. Darwin. This learned Theban, who is
as much distinguished for rhyme as reason, and for good-natured credulity
as serious research, and who has recommended himself wonderfully to the
good graces of the ladies, by letting them into all the gallantries,
amours, debaucheries, and other topics of scandal of the court of Flora,
has fallen upon a theory worthy of his combustible imagination. According
to his opinion, the huge mass of chaos took a sudden occasion to explode,
like a barrel of gunpowder, and in that act exploded the sun--which, in
its flight, by a similar convulsion, exploded the earth, which in like
guise exploded the moon--and thus, by a concatenation of explosions, the
whole solar system was produced, and set most systematically in

By the great variety of theories here alluded to, every one of which, if
thoroughly examined, will be found surprisingly consistent in all its
parts, my unlearned readers will perhaps be led to conclude that the
creation of a world is not so difficult a task as they at first imagined.
I have shown at least a score of ingenious methods in which a world could
be constructed; and I have no doubt that had any of the philosophers above
quoted the use of a good manageable comet, and the philosophical
warehouse, chaos, at his command, he would engage to manufacture, a planet
as good, or, if you would take his word for it, better than this we

And here I cannot help noticing the kindness of Providence in creating
comets for the great relief of bewildered philosophers. By their
assistance more sudden evolutions and transitions are effected in the
system of nature than are wrought in a pantomimic exhibition by the
wonder-working sword of harlequin. Should one of our modern sages, in his
theoretical flights among the stars, ever find himself lost in the clouds,
and in danger of tumbling into the abyss of nonsense and absurdity, he has
but to seize a comet by the beard, mount astride of its tail, and away he
gallops in triumph like an enchanter on his hippogriff, or a Connecticut
witch on her broomstick, "to sweep the cobwebs out of the sky."

It is an old and vulgar saying about a "beggar on horseback" which I would
not for the world have applied to these reverend philosophers; but I must
confess that some of them, when they are mounted on one of those fiery
steeds, are as wild in their curvettings as was Phaeton of yore, when he
aspired to manage the chariot of Phoebus. One drives his comet at full
speed against the sun, and knocks the world out of him with the mighty
concussion; another, more moderate, makes his comet a kind of beast of
burden, carrying the sun a regular supply of food and faggots; a third, of
more combustible disposition, threatens to throw his comet like a
bombshell into the world, and blow it up like a powder magazine; while a
fourth, with no great delicacy to this planet and its inhabitants,
insinuates that some day or other his comet--my modest pen blushes while I
write it--shall absolutely turn tail upon our world and deluge it with
water! Surely, as I have already observed, comets were bountifully
provided by Providence for the benefit of philosophers to assist them in
manufacturing theories.

And now, having adduced several of the most prominent theories that occur
to my recollection, I leave my judicious readers at full liberty to
choose among them. They are all serious speculations of learned men--all
differ essentially from each other--and all have the same title to belief.
It has ever been the task of one race of philosophers to demolish the
works of their predecessors, and elevate more splendid fantasies in their
stead, which in their turn are demolished and replaced by the air-castles
of a succeeding generation. Thus it would seem that knowledge and genius,
of which we make such great parade, consist but in detecting the errors
and absurdities of those who have gone before, and devising new errors and
absurdities, to be detected by those who are to come after us. Theories
are the mighty soap-bubbles with which the grown-up children of science
amuse themselves while the honest vulgar stand gazing in stupid
admiration, and dignify these learned vagaries with the name of wisdom!
Surely Socrates was right in his opinion, that philosophers are but a
soberer sort of madmen, busying themselves in things totally
incomprehensible, or which, if they could be comprehended, would be found
not worthy the trouble of discovery.

For my own part, until the learned have come to an agreement among
themselves, I shall content myself with the account handed down to us by
Moses; in which I do but follow the example of our ingenious neighbors of
Connecticut; who at their first settlement proclaimed that the colony
should be governed by the laws of God--until they had time to make better.

One thing, however, appears certain--from the unanimous authority of the
before quoted philosophers, supported by the evidence of our own senses
(which, though very apt to deceive us, may be cautiously admitted as
additional testimony)--it appears, I say, and I make the assertion
deliberately, without fear of contradiction, that this globe really was
created, and that it is composed of land and water. It further appears
that it is curiously divided and parceled out into continents and islands,
among which I boldly declare the renowned island of New York will be found
by any one who seeks for it in its proper place.


[10] Aristot. ap, Cic. lib. i. cap. 3.

[11] Aristot. Metaph. lib. i. c. 5.; Idem, de Coelo, 1. iii, c.
I; Rousseau mem. sur Musique ancien. p. 39; Plutarch de Plac.
Philos. lib. i. cap. 3.

[12] Tim. Locr. ap. Plato. t. iii. p. 90.

[13] Aristot. Nat. Auscult. I. ii. cap. 6; Aristoph. Metaph. lib.
i. cap. 3; Cic. de Nat. Deor. lib. i. cap. 10; Justin Mart. orat.
ad gent. p. 20.

[14] Mosheim in Cudw. lib. i. cap. 4; Tim. de anim. mund. ap. Plat.
lib. iii.; Mem. de l'Acad. des Belles-Lettr. t. xxxii. p. 19.

[15] Book i. ch. 5.

[16] Holwell, Gent. Philosophy.

[17] Johannes Megapolensis. Jun. Account of Maquaas or Mohawk Indians.

[18] Drw. Bot. Garden, part i. cant. i. 1. 105.


Noah, who is the first seafaring man we read of, begat three sons, Shem,
Ham, and Japhet. Authors, it is true, are not wanting who affirm that the
patriarch had a number of other children. Thus Berosus makes him father of
the gigantic Titans; Methodius gives him a son called Jonithus, or Jonicus
(who was the first inventor of Johnny cakes); and others have mentioned a
son, named Thuiscon, from whom descended the Teutons or Teutonic, or, in
other words, the Dutch nation.

I regret exceedingly that the nature of my plan will not permit me to
gratify the laudable curiosity of my readers, by investigating minutely
the history of the great Noah. Indeed, such an undertaking would be
attended with more trouble than many people would imagine; for the good
old patriarch seems to have been a great traveler in his day, and to have
passed under a different name in every country that he visited. The
Chaldeans, for instance, give us his story, merely altering his name into
Xisuthrus--a trivial alteration, which to an historian skilled in
etymologies will appear wholly unimportant. It appears, likewise, that he
had exchanged his tarpaulin and quadrant among the Chaldeans for the
gorgeous insignia of royalty, and appears as a monarch in their annals.
The Egyptians celebrate him under the name of Osiris; the Indians as Menu;
the Greek and Roman writers confound him with Ogyges; and the Theban with
Deucalion and Saturn. But the Chinese, who deservedly rank among the most
extensive and authentic historians, inasmuch as they have known the world
much longer than any one else, declare that Noah was no other than Fohi;
and what gives this assertion some air of credibility is that it is a
fact, admitted by the most enlightened _literati_, that Noah traveled into
China, at the time of the building of the Tower of Babel (probably to
improve himself in the study of languages), and the learned Dr. Shuckford
gives us the additional information that the ark rested on a mountain on
the frontiers of China.

From this mass of rational conjectures and sage hypotheses many
satisfactory deductions might be drawn; but I shall content myself with
the simple fact stated in the Bible--viz., that Noah begat three sons,
Shem, Ham, and Japhet. It is astonishing on what remote and obscure
contingencies the great affairs of this world depend, and how events the
most distant, and to the common observer unconnected, are inevitably
consequent the one to the other. It remains to the philosopher to discover
these mysterious affinities, and it is the proudest triumph of his skill
to detect and drag forth some latent chain of causation, which at first
sight appears a paradox to the inexperienced observer. Thus many of my
readers will doubtless wonder what connection the family of Noah can
possibly have with this history; and many will stare when informed that
the whole history of this quarter of the world has taken its character and
course from the simplest circumstance of the patriarch's having but three
sons--but to explain.

Noah, we are told by sundry very credible historians, becoming sole
surviving heir and proprietor of the earth, in fee simple, after the
deluge, like a good father, portioned out his estate among his children.
To Shem he gave Asia; to Ham, Africa; and to Japhet, Europe. Now it is a
thousand times to be lamented that he had but three sons, for had there
been a fourth he would doubtless have inherited America, which, of
course, would have been dragged forth from its obscurity on the occasion;
and thus many a hard-working historian and philosopher would have been
spared a prodigious mass of weary conjecture respecting the first
discovery and population of this country. Noah, however, having provided
for his three sons, looked in all probability upon our country as mere
wild unsettled land, and said nothing about it; and to this unpardonable
taciturnity of the patriarch may we ascribe the misfortune that America
did not come into the world as early as the other quarters of the globe.

It is true, some writers have vindicated him from this misconduct towards
posterity, and asserted that he really did discover America. Thus it was
the opinion of Mark Lescarbot, a French writer, possessed of that
ponderosity of thought and profoundness of reflection so peculiar to his
nation, that the immediate descendants of Noah peopled this quarter of the
globe, and that the old patriarch himself, who still retained a passion
for the seafaring life, superintended the transmigration. The pious and
enlightened father, Charlevoix, a French Jesuit, remarkable for his
aversion to the marvelous, common to all great travelers, is conclusively
of the same opinion; nay, he goes still farther, and decides upon the
manner in which the discovery was effected, which was by sea, and under
the immediate direction of the great Noah. "I have already observed,"
exclaims the good father, in a tone of becoming indignation, "that it is
an arbitrary supposition that the grandchildren of Noah were not able to
penetrate into the new world, or that they never thought of it. In effect,
I can see no reason that can justify such a notion. Who can seriously
believe that Noah and his immediate descendants knew less than we do, and
that the builder and pilot of the greatest ship that ever was, a ship
which was formed to traverse an unbounded ocean, and had so many shoals
and quicksands to guard against, should be ignorant of, or should not
have communicates to his descendants, the art of sailing on the ocean?
Therefore, they did sail on the ocean--therefore, they sailed to
America--therefore, America was discovered by Noah!"

Now all this exquisite chain of reasoning, which is so strikingly
characteristic of the good father, being addressed to the faith, rather
than the understanding, is flatly opposed by Hans de Laet, who declares it
a real and most ridiculous paradox to suppose that Noah ever entertained
the thought of discovering America; and as Hans is a Dutch writer, I am
inclined to believe he must have been much better acquainted with the
worthy crew of the ark than his competitors, and of course possessed of
more accurate sources of information. It is astonishing how intimate
historians do daily become with the patriarchs and other great men of
antiquity. As intimacy improves with time, and as the learned are
particularly inquisitive and familiar in their acquaintance with the
ancients, I should not be surprised if some future writers should gravely
give us a picture of men and manners as they existed before the flood, far
more copious and accurate than the Bible; and that, in the course of
another century, the log-book of the good Noah should be as current among
historians as the voyages of Captain Cook, or the renowned history of
Robinson Crusoe.

I shall not occupy my time by discussing the huge mass of additional
suppositions, conjectures, and probabilities respecting the first
discovery of this country, with which unhappy historians overload
themselves in their endeavors to satisfy the doubts of an incredulous
world. It is painful to see these laborious wights panting, and toiling,
and sweating under an enormous burden, at the very outset of their works,
which, on being opened, turns out to be nothing but a mighty bundle of
straw. As, however, by unwearied assiduity, they seem to have established
the fact, to the satisfaction of all the world, that this country has
been discovered I shall avail myself of their useful labors to be
extremely brief upon this point.

I shall not, therefore, stop to inquire whether America was first
discovered by a wandering vessel of that celebrated Phoenician fleet,
which, according to Herodotus, circumnavigated Africa; or by that
Carthaginian expedition which, Pliny the naturalist informs us, discovered
the Canary Islands; or whether it was settled by a temporary colony from
Tyre, as hinted by Aristotle and Seneca. I shall neither inquire whether
it was first discovered by the Chinese, as Vossius with great shrewdness
advances; nor by the Norwegians in 1002, under Biron; nor be Behem the
German navigator, as Mr. Otto has endeavored to prove to the savants of
the learned city of Philadelphia.

Nor shall I investigate the more modern claims of the Welsh, founded on
the voyage of Prince Madoc in the eleventh century, who, having never
returned, it has since been wisely concluded that he must have gone to
America, and that for a plain reason if he did not go there, where else
could he have gone?--a question which most Socratically shuts out all
further dispute.

Laying aside, therefore, all the conjectures above mentioned, with a
multitude of others equally satisfactory, I shall take for granted the
vulgar opinion that America was discovered on the 12th of October, 1492,
by Christopher Colon, a Genoese, who has been clumsily nicknamed Columbus,
but for what reason I cannot discern. Of the voyages and adventures of
this Colon I shall say nothing, seeing that they are already sufficiently
known. Nor shall I undertake to prove that this country should have been
called Colonia, after his name, that being notoriously self-evident.

Having thus happily got my readers on this side of the Atlantic, I picture
them to myself, all impatience to enter upon the enjoyment of the land of
promise, and in full expectation that I will immediately deliver it into
their possession. But if I do, may I ever forfeit the reputation of a
regular bred historian! No--no--most curious and thrice-learned readers
(for thrice learned ye are if ye have read all that has gone before, and
nine times learned shall ye be if ye read that which comes after), we have
yet a world of work before us. Think you the first discoverers of this
fair quarter of the globe had nothing to do but go on shore and find a
country ready laid out and cultivated like a garden, wherein they might
revel at their ease? No such thing. They had forests to cut down,
underwood to grub up, marshes to drain, and savages to exterminate. In
like manner, I have sundry doubts to clear away, questions to resolve, and
paradoxes to explain before I permit you to range at random; but these
difficulties once overcome we shall be enabled to jog on right merrily
through the rest of our history. Thus my work shall, in a manner, echo the
nature of the subject, in the same manner as the sound of poetry has been
found by certain shrewd critics to echo the sense--this being an
improvement in history which I claim the merit of having invented.


The next inquiry at which we arrive in the regular course of our history
is to ascertain, if possible, how this country was originally peopled--a
point fruitful of incredible embarrassments; for unless we prove that the
aborigines did absolutely come from somewhere, it will be immediately
asserted in this age of scepticism, that they did not come at all; and if
they did not come at all, then was this country never populated--a
conclusion perfectly agreeable to the rules of logic, but wholly
irreconcilable to every feeling of humanity, inasmuch as it must
syllogistically prove fatal to the innumerable aborigines of this populous

To avert so dire a sophism, and to rescue from logical annihilation so
many millions of fellow-creatures, how many wings of geese have been
plundered! what oceans of ink have been benevolently drained! and how many
capacious heads of learned historians have been addled and for ever
confounded! I pause with reverential awe when I contemplate the ponderous
tomes in different languages, with which they have endeavored to solve
this question, so important to the happiness of society, but so involved
in clouds of impenetrable obscurity. Historian after historian has engaged
in the endless circle of hypothetical argument, and, after leading us a
weary chase through octavos, quartos, and folios, has let us out at the
end of his work just as wise as we were at the beginning. It was doubtless
some philosophical wild-goose chase of the kind that made the old poet
Macrobius rail in such a passion at curiosity, which he anathematises most
heartily as "an irksome, agonising care, a superstitious industry about
unprofitable things, an itching humor to see what is not to be seen, and
to be doing what signifies nothing when it is done." But to proceed.

Of the claims of the children of Noah to the original population of this
country I shall say nothing, as they have already been touched upon in my
last chapter. The claimants next in celebrity are the descendants of
Abraham. Thus Christoval Colon (vulgarly called Columbus), when he first
discovered the gold mines of Hispaniola, immediately concluded, with a
shrewdness that would have done honor to a philosopher, that he had found
the ancient Ophir, from whence Solomon procured the gold for embellishing
the temple at Jerusalem; nay, Colon even imagined that he saw the remains
of furnaces of veritable Hebraic construction, employed in refining the
precious ore.

So golden a conjecture, tinctured with such fascinating extravagance, was
too tempting not to be immediately snapped at by the gudgeons of
learning; and, accordingly, there were divers profound writers ready to
swear to its correctness, and to bring in their usual load of authorities
and wise surmises, wherewithal to prop it up. Vatablus and Robert Stephens
declared nothing could be more clear; Arius Montanus, without the least
hesitation, asserts that Mexico was the true Ophir, and the Jews the early
settlers of the country. While Possevin, Becan, and several other
sagacious writers lug in a supposed prophecy of the fourth book of Esdras,
which being inserted in the mighty hypothesis, like the keystone of an
arch, gives it, in their opinion, perpetual durability.

Scarce, however, have they completed their goodly superstructure when in
trudges a phalanx of opposite authors with Hans de Laet, the great
Dutchman, at their head, and at one blow tumbles the whole fabric about
their ears. Hans, in fact, contradicts outright all the Israelitish claims
to the first settlement of this country, attributing all those equivocal
symptoms, and traces of Christianity and Judaism, which have been said to
be found in divers provinces of the new world, to the Devil, who has
always effected to counterfeit the worship of the true Deity. "A remark,"
says the knowing old Padre d'Acosta, "made by all good authors who have
spoken of the religion of nations newly discovered, and founded, besides,
on the authority of the fathers of the church."

Some writers again, among whom it is with much regret I am compelled to
mention Lopez de Gomara and Juan de Leri, insinuate that the Canaanites,
being driven from the land of promise by the Jews, were seized with such a
panic that they fled without looking behind them, until stopping to take
breath, they found themselves safe in America. As they brought neither
their national language, manners, nor features with them it is supposed
they left them behind in the hurry of their flight. I cannot give my
faith to this opinion.

I pass over the supposition of the learned Grotius, who being both an
ambassador and a Dutchman to boot, is entitled to great respect, that
North America was peopled by a strolling company of Norwegians, and that
Peru was founded by a colony from China--Manco or Mungo Capac, the first
Incas, being himself a Chinese. Nor shall I more than barely mention that
Father Kircher ascribes the settlement of America to the Egyptians,
Budbeck to the Scandinavians, Charron to the Gauls, Juffredus Petri to a
skating party from Friesland, Milius to the Celtae, Marinocus the Sicilian
to the Romans, Le Comte to the Phoenicians, Postel to the Moors, Martin
d'Angleria to the Abyssinians, together with the sage surmise of De Laet,
that England, Ireland, and the Orcades may contend for that honor.

Nor will I bestow any more attention or credit to the idea that America is
the fairy region of Zipangri, described by that dreaming traveler Marco
Polo the Venetian; or that it comprises the visionary island of Atlantis,
described by Plato. Neither will I stop to investigate the heathenish
assertion of Paracelsus, that each hemisphere of the globe was originally
furnished with an Adam and Eve. Or the more flattering opinion of Dr.
Romayne, supported by many nameless authorities, that Adam was of the
Indian race; or the startling conjecture of Buffon, Helvetius, and Darwin,
so highly honorable to mankind, that the whole human species is
accidentally descended foam a remarkable family of monkeys!

This last conjecture, I must own, came upon me very suddenly and very
ungraciously. I have often beheld the clown in a pantomime, while gazing
in stupid wonder at the extravagant gambols of a harlequin, all at once
electrified by a sudden stroke of the wooden sword across his shoulders.
Little did I think at such times that it would ever fall to my lot to be
treated with equal discourtesy, and that while I was quietly beholding
these grave philosophers emulating the eccentric transformations of the
hero of pantomime, they would on a sudden turn upon me and my readers, and
with one hypocritical flourish metamorphose us into beasts! I determined
from that moment not to burn my fingers with any more of their theories,
but content myself with detailing the different methods by which they
transported the descendants of these ancient and respectable monkeys to
this great field of theoretical warfare.

This was done either by migrations by land or transmigrations by water.
Thus Padre Joseph d'Acosta enumerates three passages by land, first by the
north of Europe, secondly by the north of Asia, and, thirdly, by regions
southward of the Straits of Magellan. The learned Grotius marches his
Norwegians by a pleasant route across frozen rivers and arms of the sea,
through Iceland, Greenland, Estotiland, and Naremberga; and various
writers, among whom are Angleria, De Hornn, and Buffon, anxious for the
accommodation of these travelers, have fastened the two continents
together by a strong chain of deductions--by which means they could pass
over dry-shod. But should even this fail, Pinkerton, that industrious old
gentleman, who compiles books and manufactures geographies, has
constructed a natural bridge of ice, from continent to continent, at the
distance of four or five miles from Behring's Straits-for which he is
entitled to the grateful thanks of all the wandering aborigines who ever
did or ever will pass over it.

It is an evil much to be lamented that none of the worthy writers above
quoted could ever commence his work without immediately declaring
hostilities against every writer who had treated of the same subject. In
this particular authors may be compared to a certain sagacious bird,
which, in building its nest is sure to pull to pieces the nests of all
the birds in its neighborhood. This unhappy propensity tends grievously to
impede the progress of sound knowledge. Theories are at best but brittle
productions, and when once committed to the stream, they should take care
that, like the notable pots which were fellow-voyagers, they do not crack
each other.

My chief surprise is, that among the many writers I have noticed, no one
has attempted to prove that this country was peopled from the moon--or
that the first inhabitants floated hither on islands of ice, as white
bears cruise about the northern oceans--or that they were conveyed hither
by balloons, as modern aeronauts pass from Dover to Calais--or by
witchcraft, as Simon Magus posted among the stars--or after the manner of
the renowned Scythian Abaris, who, like the New England witches on
full-blooded broomsticks, made most unheard-of journeys on the back of a
golden arrow, given him by the Hyperborean Apollo.

But there is still one mode left by which this country could have been
peopled, which I have reserved for the last, because I consider it worth
all the rest; it is--by accident! Speaking of the islands of Solomon, New
Guinea, and New Holland, the profound father Charlevoix observes: "In
fine, all these countries are peopled, and it is possible some have been
so by accident. Now if it could have happened in that manner, why might it
not have been at the same time, and by the same means, with the other
parts of the globe?" This ingenious mode of deducing certain conclusions
from possible premises is an improvement in syllogistic skill, and proves
the good father superior even to Archimedes, for he can turn the world
without anything to rest his lever upon. It is only surpassed by the
dexterity with which the sturdy old Jesuit in another place cuts the
gordian knot--"Nothing," says he, "is more easy. The inhabitants of both
hemispheres are certainly the descendants of the same father. The common
father of mankind received an express order from Heaven to people the
world, and accordingly it has been peopled. To bring this about it was
necessary to overcome all difficulties in the way, and they have also been
overcome!" Pious logician! how does he put all the herd of laborious
theorists to the blush, by explaining in five words what it has cost them
volumes to prove they knew nothing about!

From all the authorities here quoted, and a variety of others which I have
consulted, but which are omitted through fear of fatiguing the unlearned
reader, I can only draw the following conclusions, which luckily, however,
are sufficient for my purpose. First, that this part of the world has
actually been peopled (Q.E.D.) to support which we have living proofs in
the numerous tribes of Indians that inhabit it. Secondly, that it has been
peopled in five hundred different ways, as proved by a cloud of authors,
who, from the positiveness of their assertions, seem to have been
eye-witnesses to the fact. Thirdly, that the people of this country had a
variety of fathers, which, as it may not be thought much to their credit
by the common run of readers, the less we say on the subject the better.
The question, therefore, I trust, is for ever at rest.


The writer of a history may, in some respects, be likened unto an
adventurous knight, who having undertaken a perilous enterprise by way of
establishing his fame, feels bound, in honor and chivalry to turn back for
no difficulty nor hardship, and never to shrink or quail, whatever enemy
he may encounter. Under this impression, I resolutely draw my pen, and
fall to with might and main at those doughty questions and subtle
paradoxes which, like fiery dragons and bloody giants, beset the entrance
to my history, and would fain repulse me from the very threshold. And at
this moment a gigantic question has started up, which I must needs take by
the beard and utterly subdue before I can advance another step in my
historic undertaking; but I trust this will be the last adversary I shall
have to contend with, and that in the next book I shall be enabled to
conduct my readers in triumph into the body of my work.

The question which has thus suddenly arisen is, What right had the first
discoverers of America to land and take possession of a country without
first gaining the consent of its inhabitants, or yielding them an adequate
compensation for their territory?--a question which has withstood many
fierce assaults, and has given much distress of mind to multitudes of
kind-hearted folk. And, indeed, until it be totally vanquished, and put to
rest, the worthy people of America can by no means enjoy the soil they
inhabit with clear right and title, and quiet, unsullied conscience.

The first source of right by which property is acquired in a country is
discovery. For as all mankind have an equal right to anything which has
never before been appropriated, so any nation that discovers an
uninhabited country, and takes possession thereof, is considered as
enjoying full property, and absolute, unquestionable empire therein.[19]

This proposition being admitted, it follows clearly that the Europeans who
first visited America were the real discoverers of the same; nothing being
necessary to the establishment of this fact but simply to prove that it
was totally uninhabited by man. This would at first appear to be a point
of some difficulty, for it is well known that this quarter of the world
abounded with certain animals, that walked erect on two feet, had
something of the human countenance, uttered certain unintelligible
sounds, very much like language; in short, had a marvelous resemblance to
human beings. But the zealous and enlightened fathers who accompanied the
discoverers, for the purpose of promoting the kingdom of heaven by
establishing fat monasteries and bishoprics on earth, soon cleared up this
point, greatly to the satisfaction of his holiness the Pope and of all
Christian voyagers and discoverers.

They plainly proved, and, as there were no Indian writers arose on the
other side, the fact was considered as fully admitted and established,
that the two-legged race of animals before mentioned were mere cannibals,
detestable monsters, and many of them giants--which last description of
vagrants have, since the time of Gog, Magog, and Goliath, been considered
as outlaws, and have received no quarter in either history, chivalry, or
song. Indeed, even the philosophic Bacon declared the Americans to be
people proscribed by the laws of nature, inasmuch as they had a barbarous
custom of sacrificing men, and feeding upon man's flesh.

Nor are these all the proofs of their utter barbarism; among many other
writers of discernment, Ulla tells us, "their imbecility is so visible
that one can hardly form an idea of them different from what one has of
the brutes. Nothing disturbs the tranquillity of their souls, equally
insensible to disasters and to prosperity. Though half naked, they are as
contented as a monarch in his most splendid array. Fear makes no
impression on them, and respect as little." All this is furthermore
supported by the authority of M. Boggier. "It is not easy," says he, "to
describe the degree of their indifference for wealth and all its
advantages. One does not well know what motives to propose to them when
one would persuade them to any service. It is vain to offer them money;
they answer they are not hungry." And Vane gas confirms the whole,
assuring us that "ambition they have none, and are more desirous of being
thought strong than valiant. The objects of ambition with us--honor, fame,
reputation, riches, posts, and distinctions--are unknown among them. So
that this powerful spring of action, the cause of so much seeming good and
real evil in the world, has no power over them. In a word, these unhappy
mortals may be compared to children, in whom the development of reason is
not completed."

Now all these peculiarities, although in the unenlightened states of
Greece they would have entitled their possessors to immortal honor, as
having reduced to practice those rigid and abstemious maxims, the mere
talking about which acquired certain old Greeks the reputation of sages
and philosophers; yet were they clearly proved in the present instance to
betoken a most abject and brutified nature, totally beneath the human
character. But the benevolent fathers, who had undertaken to turn these
unhappy savages into dumb beasts by dint of argument, advanced still
stronger proofs; for as certain divines of the sixteenth century, and
among the rest Lullus, affirm, the Americans go naked, and have no beards!
"They have nothing," says Lullus, "of the reasonable animal, except the
mask." And even that mask was allowed to avail them but little, for it was
soon found that they were of a hideous copper complexion--and being of a
copper complexion, it was all the same as if they were negroes--and
negroes are black, "and black," said the pious fathers, devoutly crossing
themselves, "is the color of the devil!" Therefore, so far from being able
to own property, they had no right even to personal freedom--for liberty
is too radiant a deity to inhabit such gloomy temples. All which
circumstances plainly convinced the righteous followers of Cortes and
Pizarro that these miscreants had no title to the soil that they
infested--that they were a perverse, illiterate, dumb, beardless,
black-seed--mere wild beasts of the forests and, like them, should either
be subdued or exterminated.

From the foregoing arguments, therefore, and a variety of others equally
conclusive, which I forbear to enumerate, it is clearly evident that this
fair quarter of the globe, when first visited by Europeans, was a howling
wilderness, inhabited by nothing but wild beasts; and that the
transatlantic visitors acquired an incontrovertible property therein, by
the right of discovery.

This right being fully established, we now come to the next, which is the
right acquired by cultivation. "The cultivation of the soil," we are told,
"is an obligation imposed by nature on mankind. The whole world is
appointed for the nourishment of its inhabitants; but it would be
incapable of doing it, was it uncultivated. Every nation is then obliged
by the law of nature to cultivate the ground that has fallen to its share.
Those people, like the ancient Germans and modern Tartars, who, having
fertile countries, disdain to cultivate the earth, and choose to live by
rapine, are wanting to themselves, and deserve to be exterminated as
savage and pernicious beasts."[20]

Now it is notorious that the savages knew nothing of agriculture when
first discovered by the Europeans, but lived a most vagabond, disorderly,
unrighteous life, rambling from place to place, and prodigally rioting
upon the spontaneous luxuries of nature, without tasking her generosity to
yield them anything more; whereas it has been most unquestionably shown
that Heaven intended the earth should be ploughed, and sown, and manured,
and laid out into cities, and towns, and farms, and country seats, and
pleasure grounds, and public gardens, all which the Indians knew nothing
about--therefore, they did not improve the talents Providence had
bestowed on them--therefore they were careless stewards--therefore, they
had no right to the soil--therefore, they deserved to be exterminated.

It is true the savages might plead that they drew all the benefits from
the land which their simple wants required--they found plenty of game to
hunt, which, together with the roots and uncultivated fruits of the earth,
furnished a sufficient variety for their frugal repasts; and that as
Heaven merely designed the earth to form the abode and satisfy the wants
of man, so long as those purposes were answered the will of Heaven was
accomplished. But this only proves how undeserving they were of the
blessings around them--they were so much the more savages for not having
more wants; for knowledge is in some degree an increase of desires, and it
is this superiority both in the number and magnitude of his desires that
distinguishes the man from the beast. Therefore the Indians, in not having
more wants, were very unreasonable animals; and it was but just that they
should make way for the Europeans, who had a thousand wants to their one,
and, therefore, would turn the earth to more account, and by cultivating
it more truly fulfil the will of Heaven. Besides--Grotius and Lauterbach,
and Puffendorf, and Titius, and many wise men beside, who have considered
the matter properly, have determined that the property of a country cannot
be acquired by hunting, cutting wood, or drawing water in it--nothing but
precise demarcation of limits, and the intention of cultivation, can
establish the possession. Now as the savages (probably from never having
read the authors above quoted) had never complied with any of these
necessary forms, it plainly follows that they had no right to the soil,
but that it was completely at the disposal of the first comers, who had
more knowledge, more wants, and more elegant, that is to say artificial,
desires than themselves.

In entering upon a newly discovered, uncultivated country, therefore, the
new comers were but taking possession of what, according to the aforesaid
doctrine, was their own property--therefore in opposing them, the savages
were invading their just rights, infringing the immutable laws of nature,
and counteracting the will of Heaven--therefore, they were guilty of
impiety, burglary, and trespass on the case--therefore, they were hardened
offenders against God and man--therefore, they ought to be exterminated.

But a more irresistible right than either that I have mentioned, and one
which will be the most readily admitted by my reader, provided he be
blessed with bowels of charity and philanthropy, is the right acquired by
civilization. All the world knows the lamentable state in which these poor
savages were found. Not only deficient in the comforts of life, but, what
is still worse, most piteously and unfortunately blind to the miseries of
their situation. But no sooner did the benevolent inhabitants of Europe
behold their sad condition than they immediately went to work to
ameliorate and improve it. They introduced among them rum, gin, brandy,
and the other comforts of life--and it is astonishing to read how soon the
poor savages learn to estimate those blessings--they likewise made known
to them a thousand remedies, by which the most inveterate diseases are
alleviated and healed; and that they might comprehend the benefits and
enjoy the comforts of these medicines, they previously introduced among
them the diseases which they were calculated to cure. By these and a
variety of other methods was the condition of these poor savages
wonderfully improved; they acquired a thousand wants of which they had
before been ignorant, and as he has most sources of happiness who has most
wants to be gratified, they were doubtlessly rendered a much happier race
of beings.

But the most important branch of civilization, and which has most
strenuously been extolled by the zealous and pious fathers of the Roman
Church, is the introduction of the Christian faith. It was truly a sight
that might well inspire horror, to behold these savages tumbling among the
dark mountains of paganism, and guilty of the most horrible ignorance of
religion. It is true, they neither stole nor defrauded; they were sober,
frugal, continent, and faithful to their word; but though they acted right
habitually, it was all in vain, unless they acted so from precept. The new
comers, therefore, used every method to induce them to embrace and
practice the true religion--except, indeed, that of setting them the

But not withstanding all these complicated labors for their good, such was
the unparalleled obstinacy of these stubborn wretches, that they
ungratefully refused to acknowledge the strangers as their benefactors,
and persisted in disbelieving the doctrines they endeavored to inculcate;
most insolently alleging that, from their conduct, the advocates of
Christianity did not seem to believe in it themselves. Was not this too
much for human patience? Would not one suppose that the benign visitants
from Europe, provoked at their incredulity and discouraged by their
stiff-necked obstinacy, would for ever have abandoned their shores, and
consigned them to their original ignorance and misery? But no: so zealous
were they to effect the temporal comfort and eternal salvation of these
pagan infidels that they even proceeded from the milder means of
persuasion to the more painful and troublesome one of persecution--let
loose among them whole troops of fiery monks and furious
bloodhounds--purified them by fire and sword, by stake and faggot; in
consequence of which indefatigable measures the cause of Christian love
and charity was so rapidly advanced that in a few years not one fifth of
the number of unbelievers existed in South America that were found there
at the time of its discovery.

What stronger right need the European settlers advance to the country than
this? Have not whole nations of uninformed savages been made acquainted
with a thousand imperious wants and indispensable comforts of which they
were before wholly ignorant? Have they not been literally hunted and
smoked out of the dens and lurking places of ignorance and infidelity, and
absolutely scourged into the right path? Have not the temporal things, the
vain baubles and filthy lucre of this world, which were too apt to engage
their worldly and selfish thoughts, been benevolently taken from them; and
have they not, instead thereof, been taught to set their affections on
things above? And finally, to use the words of a reverend Spanish father,
in a letter to his superior in Spain: "Can any one have the presumption to
say that these savage pagans have yielded anything more than an
inconsiderable recompense to their benefactors, in surrendering to them a
little pitiful tract of this dirty sublunary planet, in exchange for a
glorious inheritance in the kingdom of heaven."

Here then are three complete and undeniable sources of right established,
any one of which was more than ample to establish a property in the
newly-discovered regions of America. Now, so it has happened in certain
parts of this delightful quarter of the globe that the right of discovery
has been so strenuously asserted--the influence of cultivation so
industriously extended, and the progress of salvation and civilization so
zealously persecuted; that, what with their attendant wars, persecutions,
oppressions, diseases, and other partial evils that often hang on the
skirts of great benefits--the savage aborigines have, somehow or other,
been utterly annihilated--and this all at once brings me to a fourth
right, which is worth all the others put together. For the original
claimants to the soil being all dead and buried, and no one remaining to
inherit or dispute the soil, the Spaniards, as the next immediate
occupants, entered upon the possession as clearly as the hangman succeeds
to the clothes of the malefactor--and as they have Blackstone[21] and all
the learned expounders of the law on their side, they may set all actions
of ejectment at defiance--and this last right may be entitled the right by
extermination, or in other words, the right by gunpowder.

But lest any scruples of conscience should remain on this head, and to
settle the question of right for ever, his holiness Pope Alexander VI.
issued a mighty Bull, by which he generously granted the newly-discovered
quarter of the globe to the Spaniards and Portuguese; who, thus having law
and gospel on their side, and being inflamed with great spiritual zeal,
showed the pagan savages neither favor nor affection, but persecuted the
work of discovery, colonization, civilization, and extermination with ten
times more fury than ever.

Thus were the European worthies who first discovered America clearly
entitled to the soil, and not only entitled to the soil, but likewise to
the eternal thanks of these infidel savages, for having come so far,
endured so many perils by sea and land, and taken such unwearied pains,
for no other purpose but to improve their forlorn, uncivilized, and
heathenish condition; for having made them acquainted with the comforts of
life; for having introduced among them the light of religion; and,
finally, for having hurried them out of the world to enjoy its reward!

But as argument is never so well understood by us selfish mortals as when
it comes home to ourselves, and as I am particularly anxious that this
question should be put to rest for ever, I will suppose a parallel case,
by way of arousing the candid attention of my readers.

Let us suppose, then, that the inhabitants of the moon, by astonishing
advancement in science, and by profound insight into that ineffable lunar
philosophy, the mere flickerings of which have of late years dazzled the
feebled optics, and addled the shallow brains of the good people of our
globe--let us suppose, I say, that the inhabitants of the moon, by these
means, had arrived at such a command of their energies, such an enviable
state of perfectibility, as to control the elements, and navigate the
boundless regions of space. Let us suppose a roving crew of these soaring
philosophers, in the course of an aerial voyage of discovery among the
stars, should chance to alight upon this outlandish planet. And here I beg
my readers will not have the uncharitableness to smile, as is too
frequently the fault of volatile readers, when perusing the grave
speculations of philosophers. I am far from indulging in any sportive vein
at present; nor is the supposition I have been making so wild as many may
deem it. It has long been a very serious and anxious question with me, and
many a time and oft, in the course of my overwhelming cares and
contrivances for the welfare and protection of this my native planet, have
I lain awake whole nights debating in my mind whether it were most
probable we should first discover and civilize the moon, or the moon
discover and civilize our globe. Neither would the prodigy of sailing in
the air or cruising among the stars be a whit more astonishing and
incomprehensible to us than was the European mystery of navigating
floating castles through the world of waters to the simple savages. We
have already discovered the art of coasting along the aerial shores of our
planet by means of balloons, as the savages had of venturing along their
sea-coasts in canoes; and the disparity between the former and the aerial
vehicles of the philosophers from the moon might not be greater than that
between the bark canoes of the savages and the mighty ships of their
discoverers. I might here pursue an endless chain of similar speculations;
but as they would be unimportant to my subject, I abandon them to my
reader, particularly if he be a philosopher, as matters well worthy of his
attentive consideration.

To return, then, to my supposition--let us suppose that the aerial
visitants I have mentioned, possessed of vastly superior knowledge to
ourselves--that is to say, possessed of superior knowledge in the art of
extermination--riding on hippogriffs--defended with impenetrable
armor--armed with concentrated sunbeams, and provided with vast engines,
to hurl enormous moonstones; in short, let us suppose them, if our vanity
will permit the supposition, as superior to us in knowledge, and
consequently in power, as the Europeans were to the Indians when they
first discovered them. All this is very possible, it is only our
self-sufficiency that makes us think otherwise; and I warrant the poor
savages, before they had any knowledge of the white men, armed in all the
terrors of glittering steel and tremendous gunpowder, were as perfectly
convinced that they themselves were the wisest, the most virtuous,
powerful, and perfect of created beings, as are at this present moment the
lordly inhabitants of old England, the volatile populace of France, or
even the self-satisfied citizens of this most enlightened republic.

Let us suppose, moreover, that the aerial voyagers, finding this planet to
be nothing but a howling wilderness, inhabited by us poor savages and wild
beasts, shall take formal possession of it, in the name of his most
gracious and philosophic excellency, the Man in the Moon. Finding however
that their numbers are incompetent to hold it in complete subjection, on
account of the ferocious barbarity of its inhabitants, they shall take our
worthy President, the King of England, the Emperor of Hayti, the mighty
Bonaparte, and the great King of Bantam, and, returning to their native
planet, shall carry them to court, as were the Indian chiefs led about as
spectacles in the courts of Europe.

Then making such obeisance as the etiquette of the court requires, they
shall address the puissant Man in the Moon in, as near as I can
conjecture, the following terms:----

"Most serene and mighty Potentate, whose dominions extend as far as eye
can reach, who rideth on the Great Bear, useth the sun as a looking glass,
and maintaineth unrivaled control over tides, madmen, and sea-crabs. We,
thy liege subjects, have just returned from a voyage of discovery, in the
course of which we have landed and taken possession of that obscure little
dirty planet, which thou beholdest rolling at a distance. The five uncouth
monsters which we have brought into this august present were once very
important chiefs among their fellow-savages, who are a race of beings
totally destitute of the common attributes of humanity, and differing in
everything from the inhabitants of the moon, inasmuch as they carry their
heads upon their shoulders, instead of under their arms--have two eyes
instead of one--are utterly destitute of tails, and of a variety of
unseemly complexions, particularly of horrible whiteness, instead of

"We have moreover found these miserable savages sunk into a state of the
utmost ignorance and depravity, every man shamelessly living with his own
wife, and rearing his own children, instead of indulging in that community
of wives enjoined by the law of nature, as expounded by the philosophers
of the moon. In a word, they have scarcely a gleam of true philosophy
among them, but are, in fact, utter heretics, ignoramuses, and barbarians.
Taking compassion, therefore, on the sad condition of these sublunary
wretches, we have endeavored, while we remained on their planet, to
introduce among them the light of reason and the comforts of the moon. We
have treated them to mouthfuls of moonshine, and draughts of nitrous
oxide, which they swallowed with incredible voracity, particularly the
females; and we have likewise endeavored to instil into them the precepts
of lunar philosophy. We have insisted upon their renouncing the
contemptible shackles of religion and common sense, and adoring the

Book of the day: