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The small number of settlers, the exigencies and hardships of a planter’s life, the absence of luxuries, as well as the simplicity of social manners among the Dutch, prohibited anything during the rule of the Dutch in New Netherland which might, by a long and liberal stretch of phraseology or idealization of a revered ancestry, be termed fashionable life.
They occasionally had a merry dinner. Captain Beaulieu, a gay Frenchman who brought a prize into port, gave a costly one for fourteen persons; and as he did not pay for it, it has passed into history. Governor Stuyvesant had a fine dinner given to him on the eve of one of his “gallant departures.” De Vries has left us an amusing account of a quarrelsome feast given by the gunner of the Fort. Eating and drinking were ever the Dutchman’s pleasures.
With the establishment of English rule there came to the town of the Governor’s residence, in the Province of New York as in the other provinces, a little stilted attempt at the semblance of a court.
Formal endeavors to have something of the nature of a club were made under the English governors, to promote a social feeling in the town. A letter of the day says, “Good correspondence is kept between the English and Dutch; to keep it closer sixteen families (ten Dutch and six English) have had a constant meetting at each other’s houses in Turnes twice every week in winter and now in summer once. They meet at six at night, and part at about eight or nine.” The exceedingly early hours of these social functions seem to accent the simplicity of the life of the times even more than the absence of any such meetings would have done. The arrival of a new Governor was naturally an important and fashionable event. When the Earl and Countess of Bellomont landed in New York in 1698 they were, of course, greeted first with military salutes; four barrels of gunpowder made sufficient noise of welcome. Then a great dinner to a hundred and fifty people was given. It was presided over by the handsomest man in town, Mayor de Peyster, and the fare consisted of “venison, turkey, chicken, goose, pigeon, duck and other game; mutton, beef, lamb, veal, pork, sausages; with puddings, pastry, cakes and choicest of wines.” It was a fine welcome, but such dinners did not come every day to the Governor; he had other and sorrier gatherings in store.