While life in New York City today is not a cakewalk, it certainly was less so when it was still the 17th-century Dutch settlement known as New Amsterdam. It was a time when the Dutch and English colonizers mixed in iniquitous and rowdy affairs, governed by nothing short of what would be considered pure lawlessness today. As an example, a 17th century ordinance prohibited "the firing of guns … [and] the planting of Maypoles," on New Years Day and Mayday, when debaucherous revelry often led to "insolent practices with sad accidents of bodily injury." The revelation is thanks to the the new collection of digitalized ordinances from 1647 to 1674 from the Department of Records in an effort to attract "scholars from around the world [who] will be able to use the documents for original research into the origins of New York and its unique history as a city that tolerated people of all religions and races in the name of creating a favorable economic climate," CityLab reports.
While informative, the ordinances are also incredibly amusing. From CityLab,
The papers reveal a city that was full of violence and random peril, in which the native people were often exploited and abused by European colonizers. Many of the laws have to do with dishonest business practices, such as the selling of short-weighted or adulterated loaves of bread and the circulation of 'bad wampum' that proved worthless for trade. Similarly cringeworthy, the records' description of the city's streets, "It has been found, that within this City of Amsterdam ... many burghers and inhabitants throw their rubbish, filth, ashes, dead animals and suchlike things into the public streets to the great inconvenience of the community." Ah, "great inconvenience," what a gentle way to encapsulate the origins of disease and poor health that would ravage the city in these early years. Considering this, maybe our streets aren't too, too bad today.
· Life Inside the Drunk, Rowdy World of New Amsterdam [CityLab]
· New Amsterdam Collections 1647-1674 [Department of Records]
· See 11 Centuries-Old Remnants of New Amsterdam in NYC [Curbed]