In An Old Tavern
( Originally Published 1893 )
A CIVIC PANTHEON-FIRST BLOOD OF THE REVOLUTION-MERCHANTS WHO WERE STATESMEN-THE DISINHERITED DAUGHTER-IN AN OLD TAVERN
IT has always appeared strange to me that New York merchants seem to know or care so little about the great names that have adorned the commerce of this city. There is no harm in erecting statues to Lafayette, Seward, and Franklin, or in placing Washington on his feet in Wall Street, and on horseback in Union Square; but it would look better for the local pride of the great metropolis if her citizens reared on the old historic Commons on which the Declaration of Independence was read to the troops in the presence of Washington-the present City Hall Park-heroic statues to the two great merchants of this city, Francis Lewis and Philip Livingston, who signed the Declaration. It would tell the story of the time when there was a political genius as well as a commercial power among the merchants of our city, and the aristocracy of business was as much recognized as that of birth, and far more highly honored. If the Chamber of Commerce magnified its office as the old-time merchants magnified their position, the monuments to the commercial giants of the past would almost rear themselves.
As I look back to the days of Lewis and Livingston and their compeers, I am surprised at the part they played in public. New York was a little city, but it felt its importance and exacted its full meed of respect. A century and a half ago it struck its first decisive blow for the liberty of the Press. It sent a committee on board the ship London, and they threw the cargo of tea overboard in the bay, on April 22, 1774, in broad daylight and without any attempt at disguise. Before this it had organized the Sons of Liberty, "to transmit to our posterity the blessings of freedom which our ancestors have handed down to us," and they met the British soldiery in open battle on Golden Hill two months before the Boston massacre and five years before the fight at Lexington. Indeed, New York has every right to claim that the blood of her citizens was the first that was shed in the cause for free-dom. It was her merchants that seized the battery and the fort, and turned the guns on his Majesty's frigate Asia; that captured PLAN OF FORT GEORGE, the wagons loaded with arms un- BATTERY der escort of the Royal Iris Regiment; that carried off all the type from the office of the Royal Gazetteer and melted it into bullets; that pulled down the equestrian statue of King George on the Bowling Green, and had it speedily transmuted into cartridges, fulfilling the threat of one of their number that the British troops should have "melted majesty fired at them." That was a magnificent roster of patriotism which included the names. of Peter and Philip Livingston, John Alsop, Isaac Low, John Wiley, Isaac Sears, Marinus Willett, Alexander McDougall, John Broome, Leonard Lispenard, Henry Rutgers, Isaac Roosevelt, Duane, Jay, Cruger, Bayard, Clinton, etc. The list is too long to print even as a roll of honor, and the grand little city was as proud of her sons as they were jealous of her honor.
But I must try to come to the present century, even if I have to run back and make a fresh start. When Francis Lewis, son of the Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, a sturdy, brainy young Welshman, landed in this city, with a cargo of which he was part owner, in 1735, he found it alive with excitement. Peter Zenger, publisher of the New York Gazette, was on trial for seditious libel. It had been ordered that his paper should be burned on the Commons " by the pillory," at the hands of the common hangman, in the presence of the Mayor and Recorder, and he had been cast into prison and denied pen, ink, and paper. The liberty of the Press was endangered, and New York burned to vindicate the majesty of the fourth estate. The services 'of Andrew Hamilton, the silver-tongued leader of the bar in Philadelphia, then the largest city in the colonies, were secretly engaged in behalf of Zenger. It was a trial that shook the New World. Hamilton's eloquence swept everything before it, and the jury promptly returned a verdict of not guilty. A public dinner was tendered the great barrister by the corporation, and on this occasion the Mayor presented him with the freedom of the city in a magnificent gold snuffbox purchased by private subscription. The whole city escorted him to the barge that was to convey him to Philadelphia, amid the booming of can-non and the waving of banners.
Into this seething little volcano of popular struggles after the rights of citizenship young Lewis was precipitated. It was the moulding of his manhood. Never hesitating for an instant, he ranged himself on the side of the people as against the Crown, and when the time came for this grand old merchant of New York to prove his sincerity by sacrifice, he laid all that he had upon the altar of his country. It was but the embryo of a city to which the youth of twenty-one came in 1735. Its population was then less than nine thousand, and it lay entirely below the Commons. Young Lewis went at once into partnership with Mr. Edward Annesley in the foreign trade ; their store was in Dock Street, near the Merchants' Exchange, that then stood in Broad Street, between what are now Pearl and Water streets. And here comes in a sweet touch of romance, in the story of how the young stranger wooed and won for his wife fair Mary Annesley, sister of his partner, and the acknowledged belle of the city. A man of wonderful enterprise, Mr. Lewis visited Russia to make business connections, was ship-wrecked off the coast of Ireland, traversed the West Indies, and was the sole survivor of the massacre of Oswego when Montcalm and his Indian allies captured that city. The red men spared his life because of their superstition. Owing to the resemblance between the Welsh language and the Indian dialects, Mr. Lewis was able to converse with them and make himself understood, and their traditions of the Messiah from beyond the great seas led them to look upon the speaker of this strange tongue-the ghost of the tongue they spoke among themselves-with an awe that stayed their hands from slaughter.
So the years went by, filled with commercial triumphs, and when the battle of Lexington was fought the news that upheaved the continent found Francis Lewis retired from business and enjoying the vacation of life in his pleasant country-seat at Whitestone. Then his country called him, and he obeyed. As early as 1765 he had been a member of the Provisional Congress that opposed the Stamp Act, and in 1775 he was elected to the Continental Congress at Philadelphia, where he achieved immortality as quietly as he had won the business triumphs of his life by affixing his signature to the Declaration of Independence. Later in the same year his Long Island dwelling was plundered by British soldiers, his valuable library was destroyed, and his wife made prisoner and retained for several months in confinement, under such circumstances of cruelty as broke down her health and brought her quickly to the grave. Yet the old merchant kept right onward. One of the wealthiest men of the city and the time, he perilled everything for the good cause, and he lost everything. It was enough for him that the cause of justice and a people's liberties won. Yet it came to pass that the sunset of his life was peace and pleasantness. In his home on Cortlandt Street he saw the century close. At seventy he was chosen vestryman of Trinity Church. Twenty years later, on December 30, 1803, he died, when his years had reached fourscore and ten, and was reverently interred in Trinity church-yard.
Francis Lewis, eldest son of the old signer, was a man of influence in his day, marrying Elizabeth; daughter of Daniel Ludlow, an eminent merchant, and leaving many descendants. One of his daughters married Samuel G. Ogden, who was a distinguished merchant of New York at the opening of the present century. The second son, Morgan Lewis, was a much more famous man. Taking up arms at the beginning of the Revolutionary struggle, he distinguished him-self at Stillwater, where he was the officer who received the surrender of Burgoyne's troops, and rose to the command of a regiment. In the war of 1812 he was a major-general, did good service at the Niagara frontier, and had charge of the defences of New York. In looking up his military record I was surprised to find that in November, 1775, Morgan Lewis was appointed first major of the Second Regiment, of which John Jay was colonel. I had never heard of the distinguished jurist as a soldier, and I find that other important du-ties intervened, and that he did not accept the command. Equally competent in the forum and the field, Morgan Lewis served as Attorney-general and Chief-justice of the Supreme Court of this State, and was elected Governor and afterwards United States Sena-tor. In 1779 he married Gertrude, daughter of Chancellor Livingston. Their only child, a daughter, be-came the wife of Maturin Livingston. For forty years or more the Governor occupied a spacious double mansion at the corner of Church and Leonard streets, where he dispensed a patriarchal hospitality. From this house he was buried on April 11, 1844. I recall the occasion. As Governor Lewis was President-general of the Society of the Cincinnati and Grand Master of Masons, there was to be a great display, and every school-boy in town-of whom I was one-was anxious to see it, and I think we were all there. The military, the veterans of the Cincinnati, the martial musk, and the paraphernalia of the Freemasons made an imposing and stately procession. The streets were thronged with people on the whole line of march, from the house on Leonard Street to St. Paul's Church, where the funeral services were held-Trinity Church being then in process of rebuilding. I remember that I had eyes only for one man, the venerable Major Popham, last survivor of the original members of the Cincinnati, whom George Washington had commissioned, who was hale and hearty at ninety-two, and looked as if he might round the century. There had been talk of this veteran at my home, and with the old Revolutionary colonel lying in his coffin, the major who survived him became to my eyes almost coeval with the Pharaohs, and I watched him and wondered what thoughts were throbbing under his white hairs, and what memories of other days were tugging at his heart.
But there was a daughter whom old Francis Lewis dearly loved, and she nearly broke his heart by marrying a British officer, Captain Robertson. Her father threatened to disinherit her; but when did love ever pay heed to either threats or bribes ? The lovers sought the aid of Dr. Inglis, rector of Trinity Church, and afterwards Bishop of Nova Scotia, a devoted loyalist, and he secretly married them. Then they sailed for England, and the old man forbade mention of his daughter Ann in his presence, and crossed her name out of his will. Captain Robertson and his wife had six children, and two of their daughters married English bishops. The second daughter became the wife of the Rt. Rev. Dr. John Bird Sumner, Bishop of Chester, and afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury. Another wedded Bishop Wilson, of Calcutta.
Philip Livingston, born in the days when it was quaintly provided that "upon the Feast Day of St. Michael the Archangel yearly" the Lieutenant-governor and council should appoint the mayor, became a graduate of Yale College, but turned his attention to business at once, and was elected alderman before he was thirty. Possessed of the mercantile instinct, he made money. It could not be otherwise, for he knew the value of advertising, and whatever he had for sale will be found in the newspaper columns of his day. Here, for instance, is a notice that there is " to be sold by Philip Livingston, at his store in the New Dock, near the Ferry stairs," Irish linens, black and blue peelong, needles and teakettles, breeches and spermaceti candles, pork and knee-buckles, combs and Bohea tea, brass thimbles and a cargo of choice Teneriffe wine just imported ! Fancy a signer of the Declaration of Independence dealing out tape and snuff, ivory combs, and split-horn knives and forks ; and yet this was what Philip Livingston was doing when, in 1774, he was sent to the first colonial Congress at Philadelphia. Elected to each successive Congress, he died in the harness, at York, Pa., in the darkest hour of the country's need, but with a sublime faith in her future. Like Francis Lewis, he proved his faith by his works. As soon as his signature had been affixed to his country's magna charta, he sold a large part of his property to sustain the public credit. That was the way in which a New York merchant did business a century ago.
There was a noted place of resort for the patriots and politicians in those days. It was the King's Arms' Tavern, on the west side of Broadway, between what were then Crown Street and Little Prince, or Cedar and Liberty streets of the present day. Old Johnny Battin has often told me of its glories and pointed out its locality, for he, like the rest of the British officers of his day, knew all about the mysteries of its tap-room, and was full of traditions that connected Howe and Clinton and Cornwallis with its junketings. An antiquated gray-stone building whose lower windows reached down to the broad piazza in front, it had no buildings intervening between it and the Hudson, which then came nearly up to Greenwich Street. Flower-gardens filled the rear, while the front was shaded by a row of magnificent catalpas. On top was a spacious cupola, which gave a fine view from Lady Warren's country-seat at Greenwich to Staten Island, and from Paulus Hook to the Breuckelen Heights. It was up the spacious entrance to the King's Arms that Lord Cornbury rode upon his well-trained horse, and astonished the landlord by demanding a stirrup-cup in the saddle. A spacious bar-room furnished with little boxes screened by silken curtains, a still more spacious dining-room furnished with that greater rarity of a century ago, a carpet, a spacious piazza on which the beaux of the period lounged and ogled the pretty women that passed-this was the spot that cradled early meetings of the Committee of Fifty, which set the ball of the Revolution rolling in New York and began the successful rebellion against crown and king.
These pictures of the past came back to me one afternoon as the cars of the elevated railway whirled me past our one statue of a modern merchant of New York, and set me thinking of King George's broken crown, and two staid old business men of Gotham who had so far forgotten dollars and cents as to place their necks voluntarily in a halter, risking the forfeiture of all that they had of worldly goods in addition to their lives. What manner of men were they, I wondered, who could do and dare so much, and what manner of men were they, their successors, who could forget. it? How many business men-how many of New York's rich men-know where sleep the ashes of Francis Lewis and Philip Livingston ? Happily they made not their sacrifices to be seen of men or re-warded by them. Sweet is their sleep beneath the grasses wet by God's dews as if a nation had reared a marble pile above to pierce the skies and commemorate their patriotism. The sunshine falls upon the trees in the church-yard and dances over their resting-places, and the rain visits them with gentle touch, and they shall break from the loving arms of dear Mother Earth just as gladly, when the trump of the last Easter sends forth its call, as though their graves had been made a point of pilgrimage for a thousand centuries. And yet-and yet-it would not be a bad thing for New York to remember the children of whom she has all reason to be proud, and whose honor is her glory.