An Albany Girlhood

page 4 of 10

In New York by the middle of the eighteenth century Shrove Tuesday was firmly assigned to cocking-mains. The De Lanceys were patrons of this choice old English sport. Cock-gaffs of silver and steel were freely offered for sale in New York and Maryland newspapers, and on Shrove Tuesday in 1770 Jacob Hiltzeheimer attended a famous cockfight on the Germantown road. We cannot blame honest New Yorkers if they did not rise above such rude sports, when cock-fighting and cock-throwing and cocksquoiling and cock-steling obtained everywhere in Old England at Shrovetide; when school-boys had cock-fights in their schoolrooms; and in earlier days good and learned old Roger Ascham ruined himself by betting on cock-fights, and Sir Thomas More boasted proudly of his skill in “casting a cock-stele.”

Mr. Gabriel Furman, writing in 1846, told of an extraordinary observance of Saint Valentine’s Day by the Dutch — one I think unknown in folk-lore — which obtained on Long Island among the early settlers. It was called Vrouwen dagh, or Women’s day, and was thus celebrated: Every young girl sallied forth in the morning armed with a heavy cord with knotted end. She gave to every young man whom she met several smart lashes with the knotted cord. Perhaps these were “love-taps,” and were given with no intent of stinging. Judge Egbert Benson wrote, in 1816, that in New York this custom dwindled to a similar Valentine observance by New York children, when the girls chased the boys with many blows. In one school the boys asked for a Mannen dagh in which to repay the girls’stinging lashes. I hazard a “wide solution,” as Sir Thomas Browne says, that this custom is a commemorative survival of an event in the life of Saint Valentine, one of the two traditions which are all we know of his life, that about the year 270 he was “first beaten with heavy clubs and then beheaded.”

The English brought a political holiday to New York. In the code of laws given to the province in 1665, and known as “The Duke’s Laws,” each minister throughout the province was ordered to preach a sermon on November 5, to commemorate the English deliverance from Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot in 1605.


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