New York City History in 1787

The city received a sudden, strong, healthful, forward impetus in the spring of 1787, through large accessions of its population. Every dwelling-house was occupied. Rents went up, doubling in some instances, fresh paint and new shutters and wings transformed old tenements, and carpenters and masons found ready employment in erecting new structures. The streets were cleaned and pavements mended. New business firms were organized and old warehouses remodeled; the markets were extended and bountifully supplied, and stores blossomed with fashionable goods. Wall street, the great center of interest and of fashion, presented a brilliant scene every bright afternoon. Ladies in showy costumes, and gentlemen in silks, satins, and velvet, of many colors, promenaded in front of the City Hall – where congress was holding its sessions. At the same time Broadway, from St. Paul’s Chapel to the Battery, was animated with stylish equipages, filled with pleasure-seekers who never tired of the life-giving, invigorating, perennial seabreeze, or the unparalleled beauty of the view, stretching off across the varied waters of New York Bay.

The social world was kept in perpetual agitation through distinguished arrivals from various parts of the United States, and from Europe. Dinners and balls were daily occurences. Secretary and Mrs. Jay entertained with graceful ease, gathering about them all that was ost illustrious in statesmanship and letters; they usually gave one ceremonious dinner every week, sometimes two. Their drawing-rooms were also thronged on Thursdays, Mrs. Jay’s day “at home”; and evening parties were given at frequent intervals. The manners of Secretary Jay were described by Europeans as affable and unassuming; and his purity and nobility of character impressed the whole world in his favor. He dressed in simple black, wearing his hair slightly powdered and tied in the back. His complexion was without color. His eyes were dark and penetrating, as if the play of thought never ceased, but the general expression of his face was singularly amiable and tranquil. Mrs. Jay was admirably fitted, through her long residence in the Spanish and French capitals, and her own
personal and intellectual accomplishments, for the distinguished position of leader of society in the American Capital. She dressed richly, and in good taste, and observed the most rigid formalities in her intercourse with the representatives of foriegn nations.

Nothing better illustrates the spirit and character of this formative period than the movements in its polite and every-day life. But a mere glimpse must suffice. The infant republic was interesting, and vastly promising, while it had not yet learned to walk. Its capital was the sea of a floating community composed of the most diverse elements. Curiosity, critism, and cavil were in the air. The importance attached to the doing of national hospitalities in the Old World, could not be ignored in the New. Entertainments were something more than mere profitless amusements; then, as before and since, there were strong links in the chain which binds nations together.

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