Once upon a time, in the hours before a blizzard that never even flurried, I ran to my local post office to drop off a package and found handwritten notes taped on the doors: CLOSED DUE TO INCLEMENT WEATHER.
First of all, there was no inclement weather.
Secondly, didn't their motto explicitly boast how they were impervious to inclement weather? Especially snow! It's the first one!!
"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."
The truth? There is no official motto for the United States Post Office. What people endlessly recite just happens to be engraved on the entablature of the General Post Office Building in New York which opened on Eighth Avenue across from Pennsylvania Station in 1914. William Mitchell Kendall, who worked for McKim, Mead and White (the firm who also designed Penn Station) chose a quote by Herodotus regarding Persian couriers who faithfully kept the messages moving during an expedition by the Greeks in 500 B.C.
This was the decade of the drag queen. It's a story seemingly confirmed by a painting that hangs at the New York Historical Society, purported to be Lord Cornbury, Queen Anne's governor of New York and New Jersey, but that painting's provenance and subject has long been questioned. Most historians also believe that much of Cornbury's reputation comes from rumors fabricated by rivals during and after his administration.
It may or may or may not be true then that the governor dressed in women's clothing, promenaded along the ramparts, or hid behind trees to pounce on his victims and shriek with laughter. What is certain is that he was despised by most of the population of New York.
Appointed in 1702 by Queen Anne, he resumed the unpopular practice of doling out vast expanses of land to favorites including Trinity Church, to whom Cornbury gave King's Farm, which ran up the west of Manhattan to present-day Christopher Street. (Another fortunate recipient was given acreage half the size of Connecticut.)
A fierce Anglican, Cornbury also tried to impose the Anglican Church on the residents. He gave a raise to the rector of Trinity Church and taxed the population to pay for it. In 1707, he had one of the founders of American Presbyterianism arrested for preaching without a license. More outrageously, after the city's first Presbyterian church was built (in Jamaica, Queens), Cornbury kicked out the minister and appointed an Anglican in his place.
Several influential New Yorkers, in hopes of ousting Cornbury, wrote to allies in England about his outlandish behavior, claiming that he dressed in women's clothing ("I represent a woman [Queen Anne] and ought in all respects to resemble her as faithfully as I can."), rode his horse into taverns and pocketed anything that wasn't bolted down.
In 1708, after Parliament changed hands, Cornbury was recalled and the city rejoiced...particularly the Presbyterians!
ALSO DURING THIS DECADE:
1702: The city's first slave code outlaws the enslavement of Indians and calls white "slavery" indentured servitude. Slavery, therefore, is restricted to those of African descent. The first slave uprising will take place ten years later.
Let's start this series of myths and misnomers with the very first one. Our Origin Myth is set in the 1620's (last week's entry in NYC Decade by Decade) when Peter Minuit purchased the entire island of Manhattan from those silly Injuns for a bunch of beads and trinkets worth only twenty-four dollars.
It makes a nice legend--that New York came into existence with not only a real estate deal but a first-class swindle. Factually speaking, however, what we know--and all we know--is that in November, 1626, a Dutch merchant related that he had heard that the director of New Netherland had "bought the island Manhattes from the wildmen for the value of sixty guilders." The claim can't be verified, because there was no deed or bill of sale, though swapping gifts for land was, of course, not unusual despite the divergent conceptions of land ownership.
It wasn't until 1846 (over two centuries after the alleged trade) that the historian, Edmund O' Callaghan, translated the guilders into dollars--twenty-four dollars for Manhattan. By 1846, New York was the richest and most populous city in the United States and this twenty-four dollar notion was told and retold (but never inflated). Thirty-one years after that, in 1877, someone added the beads and trinkets to the story.
Many reinterpretations of the transaction have since been made--from inflating the purchase price and considering interest rates to pointing out that the Indians who might have made the sale were actually from Brooklyn and had no "rights" over the land they "sold"--but as Burrows and Wallace write in Gotham:
"They twenty-four dollar story is mythically akin to Aztec and Roman fables in bestowing on New York a fundanmental legitimacy. It proclaims a city whose acquisition was based not on conquest but on contract. As another historian put it in 1898: 'It was an honest, honorable transaction worthily inaugurating the trade and traffic of America's mercantile and financial capital; satisfying the instincts of justice and equality in the savage breast.'"