The New-York Historical Society holds a wonderful manuscript by Gabriel Furman (1800-1854) titled “The Customs, Amusements, Style of Living and Manners of the people of the United States from the First Settlement to the Present Time.” Furman, a Brooklyn lawyer and historian, was an observant chronicler of life in the city, and the Brooklyn Historical Society holds the lion’s share of his papers. While much of his work has been published, this particular MS unfortunately still awaits (and deserves) full publication. In it, Furman offers an overview of the sports and amusements enjoyed by early New Yorkers, and he has some interesting comments on the city’s long history of vigorous New Year’s celebrations. An excerpt:
The New Year’s Eve of 1828 will long be remembered as the most noisy in the City of New York. The mob assembled was much greater than usual, and very great excesses were committed. The crowd began to assemble in the Bowery between 8 and 9 o’clock in the evening, and commenced their orgies to the music of cracked kettles, drums, rattles, horns, &c. After pelting some houses in the vicinity they got possession of a large Pennsylvania waggon, to which they harnessed themselves, and dragged it down a cross street to Broadway. In Hester Street they had an affray with the Watch, whom they put to a rout….These disgraceful saturnalia are of course accompanied with much mischief and wanton destruction, but to their credit, it must be said that they have never been known to interfere with females…
[In 1829] The streets of the City that night were absolutely thronged with watchmen so that it was impossible for the Callithumpians to effect any meeting, although some of them attempted it in the early part of the evening, and were arrested, and had their instruments of music taken from them. This New Year’s Even was in consequence of these wise precautions celebrated by convivial parties, Balls, &c. without any uproar in the streets, for the fist time in many years.
Despite Furman’s ostensible happiness with order prevailing, the overall manuscript, which was written in the late 1840s, is tinged with nostalgia for the rough and tumble days of yore.
For more on Gabriel Furman, see this interesting project undertaken by the Brooklyn Historical Society over last summer here.