Date of this Version
Furman’s introduction and notes to Daniel Denton’s A Brief Description of New York (1670) are less an attempt to elucidate that original work than an occasion for disquisitions on a variety of subjects; not, however, without their own charm and intrinsic interest.
Gabriel Furman (1800-1854) was a Brooklyn lawyer, justice, and state senator, as well as an antiquarian, collector, and lecturer. He published Notes, Geographical and Historical Relative to the Town of Brooklyn in 1824, and was a lifelong compiler of research, manuscripts, and documents, many of which were edited for publication after his death as Antiquities of Long Island (1875). Furman is said to have developed an opium habit, and he is known to have died in poverty in the Brooklyn City hospital. Furman’s edition of Denton’s Brief Description of New York was the inaugural book in publisher William Gowans’ Bibliotheca Americana series—“of works, relating to the history, literature, biography, antiquities and curiosities of the Continent of America. … brought out in the best style, both as to the type, press work, and paper, and in such a manner as to make them well worthy a place in any gentleman’s library.”
Furman’s “Introduction” discusses the rarity of Denton’s original work, its impact on other accounts of the region, the sack of Schenectady in 1690, and the reasons for Denton’s predominant focus on the areas of Manhattan and Long Island. He also relates episodes from his own 1842 stagecoach trip across Long Island from Brooklyn to Sag Harbor and gives a sketch of Denton’s background, with a detailed account of his involvement in the General Assembly of Deputies in 1667 that drew up the first code of laws for the English colony and expressed to the Duke of York “our cheerful submission to all such laws, statutes, and ordinances, which are or shall be made by virtue of authority from your royal highness, your heirs and successors forever”—which drew upon them the ire and rebukes of the independent citizenry. Furman’s “Notes” include materials on the Indian names of the islands and aboriginal villages of New York City (by Henry N. Schoolcraft); legends of the Hell-Gate (by Washington Irving); the Old Dutch houses of New York; Ronconcoa Lake on Long Island; the famous Hempstead Plains; the legend of Manetto Hill; the sports and entertainments of occupying British forces; the manufacture of seawant, wampum, or peague, and its use as colonial currency; the first distribution of public money (1655); the fourfold shopkeepers’ system of pay, money, pay as money, and trust; Indian views on the future state and immortality of the soul and on marriage and polygamy; the legal suits of the Montauk Indians; the unique topography of the Hudson River; the disappearance of lobsters from New York harbor during the Revolution; and two episodes of travel from Williams Gowans’ Western Memorabilia.
The text of Denton’s A Brief Description of New York, Formerly Called New Netherlands with the Places Thereunto Adjoining is not reproduced here, but can be found at http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/libraryscience/22/
Grateful acknowledgement is made to the University of Oregon Libraries for their generous loan of their copy of the 1845 edition.