Crimes and Punishments,
page 3 of 17
It would certainly seem a rather disproportionate amount of trouble to bring a lawsuit simply because you were called a “black pudding,” or a verklickker, or tale-bearer, or even a “Turk;” though, of course, no one would stand being called a “horned beast” or a “hay thief.” Nor was “Thou swine” an offensive term too petty to be passed over in silence. The terrible epithets, spitter-baard and “Dutch dough-face,” seem to make a climax of opprobriousness; but the word moff was worse, for it was the despised term applied in Holland to the Germans, and it led to a quarrel with knives.
I wish to note in passing that though the Dutch called each other these disagreeable and even degrading names, they did not swear at each other. Profanity was seldom punished in New Amsterdam, for practically it did not exist, as was remarked by travellers. Chaplain Wolley told of “the usual oath” of one Dutch colonist, — the word “sacrament.”
The colonists were impatient of insulting actions as well as words. Sampson said in “Romeo and Juliet,” “I will bite my thumb at them, which is a disgrace to them if they bear it;” so “finger-sticking” was a disgrace in colonial times if unresented, and it was actionable in the courts. The man or woman who pointed the finger of scorn at a neighbor was pretty sure to have the finger of the law pointed at him.
The curious practice of the Dutch settlers alluded to — the giving of nicknames — may be partly explained by the fact that in some cases the persons named had no surname, and the nickname was really a distinguishing name. These nicknames appear not only in the records of criminal cases, but in official documents such as the patents for towns, transfers of estates, civil contracts, etc. In Albany, in 1655 and 1657, we find Jan the Jester, Huybert the Rogue, Jacobus or Cobus the Looper, squint-eyed Harmen, the wicked Domine. On Long Island were John the Swede, Hans the Boor, Tunis the Fisher. In Harlem was Jan Archer the Koop-all (or buy-all). In New York, in English days, in 1691, we find Long Mary, Old Bush, Topknot Betty, Scarebouch. These names conveyed no offence, and seem to have been universally adopted and responded to.