Indian Affairs in Colonial New York

The Dutch Larder,
page 12 of 13

For though the details of public and official life and characters in that day have been wilfully distorted by Irving’s keen humor, still the atmosphere of his picture is undeniably correct, and the domestic life he has shown us was the life of that colony. I find nothing, after much illumination through careful examination of old records and the contemporary accounts given by early travellers, to change in any considerable degree the estimate of every-day life in New Netherland which I gained from Irving, save in one respect, — the account of Dutch table manners, and the attributing to the Dutch burghers of lax hospitality at dinner-time, which I cannot believe. Madam Knight wrote of her New York hosts in 1704:—

“They are sociable to one another, and Curteos and Civill to Strangers, and fare well in their houses. . . . They are sociable to a degree, their tables being as free to their Naybours as themselves.”

Mrs. Grant, writing of Albanians half a century later, gives a detailed description of their manners as hosts, which might serve as an explanation of apparent inhospitality in the time of Walter the Doubter:—

“They were exceedingly social, and visited each other very frequently, beside the regular assembling together in porches every fine evening. Of the more substantial luxuries of the table they knew little, and of the formal and ceremonious parts of good breeding still less.
“If you went to spend a day anywhere, you were received in a manner we should think very cold. No one rose to welcome you; no one wondered you had not come sooner, or apologized for any deficiency in your entertainment. Dinner, which was very early, was served exactly in the same manner as if there were only the family. The house, indeed, was so exquisitely neat and well regulated, that you could not surprise them; and they saw each other so often and so easily that intimates made no difference. Of strangers they were shy; not by any means from want of hospitality, but from a consciousness that people who had little to value themselves on but their knowledge of the modes and ceremonies of polished life disliked their sincerity and despised their simplicity. If you showed no insolent wonder, but easily and quietly adopted their manners, you would receive from them not only very great civility, but much essential kindness. . . . After sharing this plain and unceremonious dinner, which might, by the bye, chance to be a very good one, but was invariably that which was meant for the family, tea was served in at a very early hour.


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