At length tidings came that the patroon of Rensellaerwick had extended his usurpations along the river, beyond the limits granted him by their High Mightinesses, and that he had even seized upon a rocky island in the Hudson, commonly known by the name of Beern or Bear’s Island, where he was erecting a fortress, to be called by the lordly name of Rensellaersteen.
Wouter Van Twiller was roused by this intelligence. After consulting with his burgomasters, he dispatched a letter to the patroon of Rensellaerwick, demanding by what right he had seized upon this island, which lay beyond the bounds of his patroonship. The answer of Killian Van Rensellaer was in his own lordly style, “By wapen recht!” that is to say, by the right of arms, or in common parlance, by club-law. This answer plunged the worthy Wouter in one of the deepest doubts he had in the whole course of his administration. In the meantime, while Wouter doubted, the lordly Killian went on to finish his fortress of Rensellaersteen, about which I foresee I shall have something to record in a future chapter of this most eventful history.
In the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and four, on a fine afternoon in the glowing month of September, I took my customary walk upon the battery, which is at once the pride and bulwark of this ancient and impregnable city of New York. The ground on which is I trod was hallowed by recollections of the past, and as I slowly wandered through the long alley of poplars, which, like so many birch-brooms standing on end, diffused a melancholy and lugubrious shade, my imagination drew a contrast between the surrounding scenery, and what it was in the classic days of our forefathers. Where the government house by name, but the customhouse by occupation, proudly reared its brick walls and wooden pillars, there whilom stood the low, but substantial red-tiled mansion of the renowned Wouter Van Twiller. Around it the mighty bulwarks of Fort Amsterdam frowned defiance to every absent foe; but, like many a whiskered warrior and gallant militia captain, confined their martial deeds to frowns alone. The mud breastworks had long been leveled with the earth, and their site converted into the green lawns and leafy alleys of the battery, where the gay apprentice sported his Sunday coat, and the laborious mechanic, relieved from the dirt and drudgery of the week, poured his weekly tale of love into the half averted ear of the sentimental chambermaid. The capacious bay still presented the same expansive sheet of water, studded with islands, sprinkled with fishing boats, and bounded by shores of picturesque beauty. But the dark forests which once clothed those shores had been violated by the savage hand of cultivation, and their tangled mazes and impenetrable thickets had degenerated into teeming orchards, and waving fields of grain. Even Governor’s Island, once a smiling garden appertaining to the sovereigns of the province, was now covered with fortifications, inclosing a tremendous block house; so that this once peaceful island resembled a fierce little warrior in a big cocked hat, breathing gunpowder and defiance to the world!