The Dutchman's Dilemma

Town Life,
page 4 of 14

The magistrates further equipped the town against conflagration by demanding payment of a beaver skin from each house, to purchase with the collected sum two hundred and fifty leather fire-buckets from the Fatherland. But delays were frequent in ocean transportation, and the shoemakers in town finally made the fire-buckets. They were placed in ten groups in various houses throughout the town. For their good order and renewal, each chimney was thereafter taxed a guilder a year. By 1738, two engines with small, solid wooden wheels or rollers were imported from England, and cared for with much pride.

In Albany similar wooden chimneys at first were built; we find contractors delivering reeds for roofs and chimneys. “Fireleathes” and buckets were ordered. Buckets were owned by individuals and the town; were marked with initials for identification. Many stood a century of use, and still exist as cherished relics. The manner of bucket-service was this: As soon as an alarm of fire was given by shouts or bell-ringing, all citizens of all classes at once ran to the scene of the conflagration. All who owned buckets carried them, and from open windows other fire-buckets were flung out on the streets by persons who were delayed for a few moments by any cause. The running crowd seized the buckets, and on reaching the fire a double line was made from the fire to the river. The buckets filled with water were passed up the line to the fire, the empty buckets down. Any one who attempted to break the line was promptly soused with a bucket of water. When all was over, the fire-warden took charge of the buckets, and as soon as possible the owners appeared, and each claimed and carried home his own buckets.

There was a police department in New Amsterdam as well as a fire department. In 1658 the burgomasters and schepens appointed a ratel-wacht, or rattle-watch, of ten watchmen, of whom Lodewyck Pos was Captain. Their wages were high,—twenty-four stuyvers (about fifty cents) each a night, and plenty of firewood. The Captain collected fifty stuyvers a month from each house, — not as has since been collected in like manner for the private bribing of the police, but as a legalized method of paying expenses. The rules for the watch are amusing, but cannot be given in full.


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