Sunday, March 1, 2009

Old Times Are Now Forgiven

Saying good–bye to 1830's New York City

As John Fowler strolls around at the very southern tip of Manhattan in 1830, he remarks on the Battery, “. . . thronged as it is with much of the youth and gaiety of the city, attracted there for the twofold purpose of inhaling the refreshing breezes, and surveying the interesting and ever-varying scene around.”

Sixteen years earlier his countrymen had bombarded Fort McHenry at Baltimore, the same year they’d put Washington to the torch. In New York, it had been this same battery that had helped prevent such occurrences here. A short while before then, as tensions with Great Britain had begun escalating, 22 defensive works had been erected, dotting the various water approaches from the Narrows to the Upper Bay, along the west side of Manhattan, in Brooklyn’s Gravesend Bay and on the Queens side of Hellgate, where James Stuart and his wife have been summering.

Most of the weaponry at the various sites is mounted atop raised works made from dirt, combined with wood and stone. Blockhouses are mounted on hilltops. Any invasion force would meet a vigorous and lethal defense. Even now in 1830 construction is nearing completion on Fort Hamilton (for Alexander Hamilton), located atop the former Fort Lewis on lower New York Bay. It will be the harbor’s first granite fort and is one of four that still survive in our own time. (The others are Fort Jay, Fort Williams, and Castle Clinton). Eleven years after Fowler’s visit further work on Fort Hamilton will be supervised by a young first lieutenant of engineers from Virginia. Robert E. Lee and his family will spend five years at the post.

Fowler leaves us with a few further observations.

The fire department seeks to enroll many young men, who are thus legally excused from militia duty.

Their fire engines combine the, “useful and ornamental in a far greater degree than I ever witnessed elsewhere.”

The city’s hackney coaches are far superior to those back home, most of which are suitable only for transporting felons to
prison or deceased subjects to dissecting rooms.

He mentions in passing the local jails, charitable institutions as well as, “. . . two Museums, Marine Baths, Botanic Garden, Reading and News-rooms, Private Schools and Academies, Free Schools, a Philological Society, Printing Establishments from which issue periodically several talented and scientific publications; and newspapers without end.” Finally he prepares to take his leave.

As we saw earlier, Fowler spent five weeks mid-way through his time here in New York on a tour to Buffalo and back, taking a slightly different route than Stuart did two years earlier. We’ll make that trip with him at a future date.

© 2006 David Minor / Eagles Byte

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