Others claimed to themselves the appellation of Conquerors, from their gallant achievements in New Sweden and their victory over the Yankees at Oyster Bay. Such was that list of warlike worthies heretofore enumerated, beginning with the Van Wycks, the Van Dycks, and the Ten Eycks, and extending to the Rutgers, the Bensons, the Brinkerhoffs, and the Schermerhorns; a roll equal to the Doomsday Book of William the Conqueror, and establishing the heroic origin of many an ancient aristocratical Dutch family. These, after all, are the only legitimate nobility and lords of the soil; these are the real “beavers of the Manhattoes;” and much does it grieve me in modern days to see them elbowed aside by foreign invaders, and more especially by those ingenious people, “the Sons of the Pilgrims;” who out-bargain them in the market, out-speculate them on the exchange, out-top them in fortune, and run up mushroom palaces so high, that the tallest Dutch family mansion has not wind enough left for its weathercock.
In the proud days of Peter Stuyvesant, however, the good old Dutch aristocracy loomed out in all its grandeur. The burly burgher, in round-crowned flaunderish hat with brim of vast circumference, in portly gaberdine and bulbous multiplicity of breeches, sat on his “stoep” and smoked his pipe in lordly silence; nor did it ever enter his brain that the active, restless Yankee, whom he saw through his half-shut eyes worrying about in dog day heat, ever intent on the main chance, was one day to usurp control over these goodly Dutch domains. Already, however, the races regarded each other with disparaging eyes. The Yankees sneeringly spoke of the round-crowned burghers of the Manhattoes as the “Copper-heads;” while the latter, glorying in their own nether rotundity, and observing the slack galligaskins of their rivals, flapping like an empty sail against the mast, retorted upon them with the opprobrious appellation of “Platter-breeches.”
From what I have recounted in the foregoing chapter, I would not have it imagined that the great Peter was a tyrannical potentate, ruling with a rod of iron. On the contrary, where the dignity of office permitted, he abounded in generosity and condescension. If he refused the brawling multitude the right of misrule, he at least endeavored to rule them in righteousness. To spread abundance in the land, he obliged the bakers to give thirteen loaves to the dozen—a golden rule which remains a monument of his beneficence. So far from indulging in unreasonable austerity, he delighted to see the poor and the laboring man rejoice; and for this purpose he was a great promoter of holidays. Under his reign there was a great cracking of eggs at Paas or Easter; Whitsuntide or Pinxter also flourished in all its bloom; and never were stockings better filled on the eve of the blessed St. Nicholas.
New Year’s Day, however, was his favorite festival, and was ushered in by the ringing of bells and firing of guns. On that genial day the fountains of hospitality were broken up, and the whole community was deluged with cherry-brandy, true hollands, and mulled cider; every house was a temple to the jolly god; and many a provident vagabond got drunk out of pure economy, taking in liquor enough gratis to serve him half a year afterwards.