Title: Brooklyniana, No. 35.—Continued.
Creator: Walt Whitman
Date: September 6, 1862
Publication information: Brooklyn Standard 6 September 1862: [unknown].
Source: Our transcription is based on Emory Holloway, ed. The Uncollected Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman, 2 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1921. pp. 304-306. The date of the article is from Joel Myerson, Walt Whitman: A Descriptive Bibliography, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1993.
Whitman Archive ID: per.00240
Contributors to digital file: Brett Barney, Janel Cayer, Ashley Lawson, and Sarah Walker
A Series of Local Articles, on Past and Present.
Scarcity of time pieces.—Tea Parties and Women's Visits.—Dress and Ornament.—Spinning Wheels.—Wealth and Intelligence of the Brooklyn Dutch.
"SO REGULAR were [was] their lives that the lack of time-pieces made little difference. The model citizens rose at cock-crowing,—breakfasted with the dawn, and went about their usual avocations. When the sun reached the 'noon-mark,' dinner was on the table. This was a strictly family meal; dinner parties were unheard of, and the neighbor who should have dropped in without ceremony would have been likely to have met with an indifferent welcome. But this apparent want of sociality was amply atoned for by the numerous tea-parties. After dinner the worthy Dutch matrons would array themselves in their best lindsey-jackets [linsey-jackets] and petticoats, of their own spinning, and, putting a half-finished worsted stocking into the capacious pocket which hung down from their girdles [girdle] with their scissors, pin-cushion and keys, outside their dress, sallied [sally] forth to a neighbor's house to 'take tea.' Here they plied their knitting needles and their tongues at the same time, discussed the village gossip, settled their neighbors' affairs to their own satisfaction, and finished their stockenings in time for tea, which was on the table at six o'clock precisely. This was the occasion for the display of family plate and the Lilliputian cups of rare old china, out of which the guests sipped the fragrant bohea, sweetening it by an occasional bite from the large lump of loaf sugar, which was laid invariably by the side of each plate, while they discussed the hostess' apple-pies, doughnuts, and waffles. Tea over, the party donned their cloaks and hoods, for bonnets were not, and set out straightway for home, in order to be in time to superintend the milking and look after their household affairs before bedtime.
"As we have already said, the Dutch ladies wore no bonnets, but brushed their hair back from their foreheads and covered it with a close-fitting cap of muslin or calico; over this they wore, in the open air, hoods of silk or taffeta, elaborately quilted. Their dress consisted of a jacket of cloth or silk, and a number of short petticoats of every conceivable hue and material, quilted in fanciful figures. If the pride of the Dutch matrons lay in their beds and linen, the pride of the Dutch maidens lay equally in their elaborately wrought petticoats, which were their own handiwork, and usually constituted their only dowry. The wardrobe of a fashionable lady usually contrived [contained] from ten to twenty of these, of silk, camlet, cloth, drugget, India stuff, and a variety of other materials, all closely quilted, and usually costing from five to thirty dollars each. They wore blue, red, and green worsted stockings of their own knitting, with parti-colored clocks,2 together with high-heeled leather shoes. No finer material was used until after the Revolution. Considerable jewelry was in use among them in the shape of rings and brooches. Gold neck and fob chains were unknown; the few who owned watches attached them to chains of silver or steel; though girdle-chains of gold and silver were much in vogue among the most fashionable belles. These were attached to the richly bound Bibles and Hymn-books and suspended from the belt inside the dress, thus forming an ostentatious Sunday decoration. For necklaces they wore numerous strings of gold beads; the poorer classes, in humble imitation, encircled their throats with steel and glass beads, and strings of Job's tears,3 fruit of a plant which was famed to possess some medicinal virtues. . . .
". . . . Every household had from two to six spinning[-]wheels, for wool and flax, whereon the women of the family expended every leisure moment. Looms, too, were in common use, and piles of home-spun cloth and snow-white linen attested the industry of the active Dutch maidens. Hoards of homemade stuffs were thus accumulated in the settlement, to last till a distant generation."
Such were some of the peculiarities of domestic life in the Dutch settlement here on both sides of the river during the latter years of the 17th, and the whole of the 18th century.
The houses of the inhabitants of Brooklyn, Wallabout, Bedford, Gowanus, &c., and all through the line of what is now Fulton Street and Avenue, gradually assumed better and better proportions, and about a hundred years ago were of a character which would have been creditable to an old European rural town of the first class. There was a good deal of wealth and intelligence here, and the necessities of their occupations did not prevent them from devoting a part of their time to mental, social and religious matters.
If there be any who, in looking back to the periods and persons we are sketching, feel a sort of compassion for their supposed inferior chances and lower development, we advise them to spare their benevolence, and apply it where it would be more truly needed. For the comparison of merit between the inhabitants here during the last century, or of the years previous, with the present time, and all its vaunted educational and fashionable advantages, is not a whit in favor of our own day in all the important respects that make manly and womanly excellence.
1. The material for this article is largely taken from Mary Louise Booth's History of the City of New York (1860). An explanation of our handling of the quoted material is given in No. 35, note #5. [back]
2. These were ornamental designs woven or stitched onto stockings at the ankle. [back]
3. Job's tears (Coix lacryma-jobi) is a tropical grass, the edible seed of which has a hole running through it. [back]