Greenwich Street

Collection: African American Newspapers
Date: February 16, 1855
Title: For Frederick Douglass' Paper
Location: Rochester, New York


MY DEAR COUSIN M---: - Moody, sullen, old zero, as time steals on him fits of most desperate rage anon betake him, and, whitening his venerable locks and form, he grows even stronger than before, and more merciless sin his grip upon the houseless and friendless here and without ceremony or plausible pretence, not infrequently stops their pulse; and it is soon forgotten among men, who are strangers to each other, that these little mounds of cold clay ever had human existence, while want waves her bony had o'er thousands of yet living wretches. The snow-pebbles, yielding to the bitter blast, are trying hard to pelt me; but my ever trusty window interposes and, staying their course, they, with an angry whirl, turn the sharp angle of my cot, and go dashing down the avenue. 'Tis a dreary hour; reflections are too deep for surface use, though street incidents are plenty even now.

I have been again in Gotham. Think not, my dear M., that because of my frequent visits to this place, I am growing loaferish. On the contrary, the unfathomable mysteries of this conglomerated mass, affect me more and more seriously. No one not even a dweller in Gotham, unless a close observer can realize the rapid changes it undergoes in the course of a few brief years. An old Knickerbocker friends of mine a man of letters, and a careful observer, and on the sunny side, or at about the meridian of forty says he is now witnessing the third course of house building in Broadway. He saw the first or original houses put up then razed and the second reared in their stead and now the completion of the third on the site of the second. But these last are palaces indeed. Could you but see them, your eyes would fill with wonder. Other and more curious changes have occurred worthy of note. Passing up Greenwich Street, I was forcibly struck with what it had undergone. When a boy, I was tolerably good at spelling, and lay some claim yet to the art; but from the Battery to Fulton Street, I am not sure that I made out a single sign or name nor do I remember to have heard spoken a single word in English. It was Dutch! Dutch!! Dutch!!! Dutch is written upon the houses; Dutch is written in their faces; Dutch is written upon their garments. Many of the dwellers in this locality were so new in America or it maybe, so few blacks pass this way, that we become, for the time, mutual and wonderful curiosities to each other. They stared at me, and I stared at them; and as I thus gazed, my reflections went back as far as the days of the Rodges, the La Roys, the Auchincloses, the Edgars, the Newbolds, the Whites, the Todds, and others of New York, aristocratic ilk, whose lighter hours on golden wings escape the net of time here in old Greenwich. Their palace homes are now turned into rude Dutchdom. The well stocked counter occupies now the place where one stood the once fashionable royal lion-footed sofa; the lager beer cask has taken the place of the good old brass nobbed secretary ; while that standard beverage sprits up and foams in the center of the gorgeous parlors of olden times. Whiskey and Dutch pipes now perforate where once cologne and bergamot perfumed. It must yet be in the memory of some, when Madrass, turbaned, tidy attired colored women having authority, stalked in and out while white jacketed, white aproned sable men stood guard at the doors of these once lordly mansions. But they, with their proprietors, have nearly all passed away. Things are changed. A new order now reigns in Gotham. The law of primogeniture is eschewed. The Dutch beer-seller of today operates on the very spot where the merchant prince sought rest and quite from his labors twenty years ago; the merchant princes of today are the clerks of twenty years since; the clerks of today will be the Gotham princes twenty years hence.

Truly, this is a great place. Hendrick Hudson in 1613 passed the Battery point. An Indian sat upon its banks in mute astonishment at what was incomprehensible to him a ship and the white man came an drove him and his back, and butchered the resolute. Time has passed since then. An old Indian is now sitting upon a hydrant at the West Side of the Battery. If traditionary memory with him go so far back, doubtless he has sought the same spot his ancestor occupied, when that first ship passed up the Hudson. The thoughts that crowd round me and him are melancholy, though he, in his contemplations, heeds them not. It may be he perceives them not; and it may be, too, that they are the prompting of the disembodied spirits of these same old Indians, and Dutch and English, who are yet hovering over this the spot of their once earthly habitation, misdeeds, and strife's. The last passenger has stepped on board the ferryboat; the gate is being closed; so, farewell to Gotham and you.