Conditions in Colony

Population and Importance

The number of people then in the city was from 20,000 - 25,000, being a 7th or an 8th of the population of the entire province; where as in later years the population of the city has been to that of the State as one to four or five. The New York county had but half the number of people of Albany county and no more than Westchester county. Yet the city, compared with the rest of the colonial times, the centre of all trade, except the Indian traffic of Albany, and it was the social metropolis. the brilliant events of society were not excelled by those of London, testifies a royal governor; while a local writer says that people aped all the absurd customs of the English capital about the time they had died out in that city. Dutch manners, however, largely prevailed and a knowledge of that language as well as of the English was necessary for doing business.


Dutch Church, New YorkThe Dutch ministries still preached in their language to diminishing congregations, who were beginning to prefer the English preachers. Yet the descendants of the old settlers clung to the mother tongue and in one of the Dutch Reformed churches the services were in Dutch until the year 1803. This denomination, since English occupation, had given way to Episcopalian as the favored church of the royal officers; and the Presbyterians had grown strong from New England recruits. these denominations had two or three churches each. The Baptists and the Methodists, who had been worshiping in upper rooms in William Street, built their first churches soon after the French war. A Quaker and a Lutheran meeting house and a Jew's synagogue went to make up the eighteen places of worship in the city which now contains nearly 500 church buildings.

There was no Catholic church; in fact at one time in English rule it was a crime of death for a Catholic priest to be found in the province. For a while Quakers and Jews were not allowed to vote; McKemie, a minister, was unsuccessfully prosecuted for using other services than those of the prayer book. The early English governors had as a rule been more intolerant in religious matters than the Dutch rulers; but the spirit of religious freedom was growing and was soon to be fully recognized in the State constitution.

Public Buildings and Schools

King's College, New YorkBesides the churches, New York had few public buildings. There was an alms-house, a city hall two stories high, an exchange and a hospital, just begun and completed in time to be used as a barracks for the English soldiers. These were the beginning of the vast array of public and charitable buildings which now abound in the great city. One other notable building there was, however, King's College, now Columbia College. This institution was organized in 1754, at which time there were said to be but about fifteen college graduates among the hundred thousand people of the province. Princeton and Yale on each side had long prompted the colony to fund a school for higher education. As the complaint was made that New York boys returning from Yale were filled with advanced notions on political subjects, the friends of the king took care that King's College should teach a sentiment of submission to England. So the college officers were from the aristocracy; but among their first pupils were such boys as Gouverneur Morris and Alexander Hamilton.

In educating the mass of people the colony under English rule made no progress compared with its material growth. In 1702, the assembly awoke to the end of a grammar school and sent to England for a "native born English teacher, of good learning, pious life and conversation and good temper." Another step was taken in 1732, when a free school was established in which Latin, Greek and mathematics was taught.

Distance, Traveling and Letters

From this end to the other extreme of the colony was then as far , counting the time taken for a letter or a traveler, as it is now to cross the continent. If one did not care to trust the uncertain winds and unfavorable tides, he could count on getting from New York to Boston by land in a week. Letters for a long time were carried no farther south than Philadelphia; but later the mail service was extended through forest paths to Charleston. Then a weekly mail to Philadelphia was started; and finally a wonder appeared in the shape of a stage running between the cities in two or three days, advertising itself as a "flying machine," with all the comforts of a canvas cover but with no suggestions of springs. In wet weather the cramped and jolted passenger would find exercise by helping to lift the wheels from the mud holes.

Customs and dress

More often the citizen of New York traveled on horse back. On horse back he went to church, with his wife perhaps riding behind him. In church they sat without any heat in winter except that of a foot warmer. Indeed, what a stove is, few in those days knew. Many other household articles now found in the poorest home were then known only to the rich. The workingman had no carpets, no pictures, no books and papers, except the bible and an almanac, which in those days was sold and not given away and which might serve his children for a reading book; he had no glass or earthenware, simple pewter plates. He received for a day's work less money than 50 cents now amounts to; and if with these wages he could not pay for his coarse food and leathern breeches, he stood in fear of being thrown into prison for debt.

The clothes of the common people were largely homespun, cotton cloth being an expensive luxury. the elaborate style of dress shown by the portraits of the day was worn by the few rich. The huge wigs hanging down upon the shoulders were worn by men and sometimes even boys; but they went out of fashion about the close of the French War. The men rivaled the women in bright colors. The following description is given of a runaway slave, dressed probably in the cast off clothes of his master: "Wore a light wig, a gray kersey jacket lined with blue, a light pair of drugget breeches with glass buttons, black roll up stockings, square toed shoes, a whole vest with yellow buttons and red linings."