New York Conspiracy Trials of 1741

Town Life,
page 3 of 14

The carters were forced to dismount and walk at their horses’heads. All moved slowly in the town streets. Living in a fortified town, they still were not annoyed by discharge of guns, for the idle “fyring of pistells and gunns” was prohibited on account of “illconveniants.”

The first houses were framed and clap-boarded; the roofs were thatched with reeds; the chimneys were catted, made of logs of wood filled and covered with clay; sometimes even of reeds and mortar, —for there were, of course, at first no bricks. Hayricks stood in the public streets. Hence fires were frequent in the town, breaking out in the wooden catted chimneys; and the destruction of the inflammable chimneys was decreed by the magistrates. In 1648 it was ordered in New Amsterdam that no “wooden or platted chimney” should be built south of the Freshwater Pond. Fire-wardens — brandt-meesters — were appointed, who searched constantly and pryingly for “foul chimney-harts,” and fined careless housekeepers therefor when they found them.

It is really surprising as well as amusing to see how the citizens resented this effort for their safety, this espionage over their hearthstones; and especially the wives resented the snooping in their kitchens. They abused the poor schout who inspected the chimney-hearths, calling him “a little cock, booted and spurred,” and other demeaning names. In 1658 Maddaleen Dirck, as she passed the door of the fire-warden, called out tantalizingly to him, “There is the chimney-sweep at his door,— his chimney is always well-swept.” She must have been well scared and truly repentant at the enormity of her offence when she was brought up before the magistrates and accused of having “insulted the worshipful fire-warden on the highway, and incited a riot.”

In spite of vigilance and in spite of laws, foul chimneys were constantly found. We hear of the town authorities “reciting that they have long since condemned flag-roofs, and wooden and platted chimneys, but their orders have been neglected, and several fires have occurred; therefore they amplify their former orders as follows: All flag-roofs, wooden chimneys, hay-barracks, and haystacks shall be taken down within four months, in the penalty of twenty-five guilders.”


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