Possessing Albany, 1630-1710

“The End of His Days”,
page 4 of 10

When Madam Livingstone died, we find her son writing to New York from the Manor for a piece of black Strouds to cover the four hearse-horses; for a “Barrell of Cutt Tobacco and Long Pipes of which I am out;” for six silver tankards and cinnamon for the burnt wine; he said he had bottles, decanters, and glasses enough. The expense of these funerals may have been the inspiration for William Livingstone’s paper on extravagance in funerals.

A monkey-spoon was a handsome piece of silver bearing the figure or head of an ape on the handle. Mannetiens spoons, also used in New Netherland, were similar in design. At the funeral of Henry De Forest, an early resident of New Harlem in 1637, his bearers were given spoons.

A familiar and extreme example of excess at funerals as told by Judge Egbert Benson was at the obsequies of Lucas Wyngaard, an old bachelor who died in Albany in 1756. The attendance was very large, and after the burial a large number of the friends of the dead man returned to the house, and literally made a night of it. These sober Albany citizens drank up a pipe of wine, and smoked many pounds of tobacco. They broke hundreds of pipes and all the decanters and glasses in the house, and wound up by burning all their funeral scarfs in a heap in the fireplace.

In Albany the expense, as well as the rioting, of funerals seems to have reached a climax. It is said that the obsequies of the first wife of Hon. Stephen Van Rensselaer cost twenty thousand dollars. Two thousand linen scarfs were given, and all the tenants were entertained for several days.

On Long Island every young man of good family began in his youth to lay aside money in gold coin to pay for his funeral; and a superior stock of wine was also saved for the same occasion. In Albany the cask of choice Madeira which was bought for a wedding and used in part, was saved in remainder for the funeral of the bridegroom.

The honor of a lavish funeral was not given to the wealthy and great and distinguished only. The close of every life, no matter how humble, how unsuccessful, was through the dignity conferred by death afforded a triumphal exit by the medium of “a fine burying.”


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