NEW YORK HISTORY. THE OLD CITY.
When the present-day New Yorker regards the seething bustle of people and traffic with City Hall Park as a center, and the diminutive cupola of City Hall completely overshadowed by the towering Woolworth Building and the other neighboring skyscrapers, it is somewhat difficult to realize that our city was for over a hundred years a little less than a rude hamlet on the outskirts of a howling wilderness.
Pigs were the main reliance for keeping the streets clean, and as a result yellow fever devastated the village at regular intervals. In 1723, almost a century after its settlement, the white population was only 5,886, with about 1,500 slaves--considerably less than is housed in our Municipal Building of today. Pumps were in the middle of the street. The Fire Department consisted of a number of leather buckets kept by each citizen in the front hall.
To the Inhabitants of this City:
Whereas come unhappy Differences have lately happened between the Inhabitants and the Soldiers : I am authorized to inform the Public, That to avoid the like for the future, Orders are iffued by the GENERAL, That no Soldiers arc to go out of their Barracks, off Duty, unlcfs under the Command of a Non-commiffoned officer, who is to be anfwerable for the orderly Behaviour of the Soldiers, and take Care that they offer no Infult to the Inhabitants ; and this Order will he ftriftly obferved till the Amity and Friendfhip that fhould fubfift among the King's Subjects, is reftored ; and in Cafe the Citizens abufe them, they are to endeavour to difcover the Offenders, and report them to a Magiftrate, that they may be proceeded againft ac-cording to Law : Therefore when Soldiers are f ccn marching a-bout in Numbers, the Inhabitants are not to be alarmed, as it will be in Confequence of the above-mentioned Orders. Tilts Precaution it is hoped, will prevent further 1. vila, reffore Peace, and quiet the Minds of the People; and it is expected,, that the Inhabitants, on their Parts, will promote every good Intention to preferve Peace and good Order.
W. HICKS, Mayor. 1770.
While the "palisade" stretched across the city through what is now Wall Street, the settlers used to drive their cattle through the Land Gate just above Trinity Church up Broadway to City Hall Park, then called the Common Lands, or public pasture. The city owned the land and any one could use it who wished. After a while, the jail was built upon it and the poor house and what there was of a hospital.
Other city buildings like those on Randall's Island were added later.
There were no newspapers, and current events traveled by word of mouth or by "Broadsides" pasted up in taverns or on the trees of the "Common" or "Fields." It was exactly a whole century after the settlement be-fore the first weekly paper was started—the Gazette, in 1725, by William Bradford. It was subsidized by the Crown and not till the appearance of John Peter Zenger's Journal, some years later, was there a real "people's" paper.
The Journal had the assurance, several times, to criticize what the authorities did and was promptly suppressed for its temerity. Finally its editor was thrown into jail. This caused great excitement through all the Colonies, and Andrew Hamilton, the greatest lawyer of his day, came from Philadelphia to defend the Journal. He succeeded in clearing Zenger, and thus was won a tremendous victory for liberty, as it established the Freedom of the Press.
In the meantime, the City Hall Park became by common consent, the rallying place for all public meetings. The passage of the Stamp Act in 1765 caused intense anger from one end of the Colonies to the other, and the repeal of this obnoxious measure was everywhere demanded. Public indignation found expression in numerous meetings in the "Fields."
During the course of the debate in Parliament, a friendly member used the term "Sons of Liberty" in referring to the American Colonists. This name was immediately adopted by numerous secret organizations which sprang at once into existence while the fate of the repeal was in doubt.
When the King finally surrendered and a peaceful settlement ensued, the grateful people of New York held a huge Thanksgiving meeting on the Commons and, amid great enthusiasm, erected a high pole bearing the inscription, "The King, Pitt and Liberty"—the first Liberty Pole, around which for some time to come the people rallied at the first sign of any attempt to again impose Taxation without Representation.
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