The following text is from the 1819 letters to his father by Henry Meigs (1782-1861), who served as Congressman from New York from 1819 to 1821, describing his life in then rural Greenwich Village. It was transcribed by Hudson River Maritime Museum volunteer George A. Thompson and lightly edited for clarity and annotated by John Warren.
1819: New York, February 6th, 1819
Dear father. Since I last wrote you, Julia and I have decided on placing our tent in the Country [at what is now Greenwich Village] as we call it for the ensuing summer. Where we can live much more economically and deliciously.
It is a decent, convenient house immediately on the North River Margin, with the beach where we can bathe, at our door. Green slopes covered with thrifty Apple trees from the road to the Hudson River, a garden large enough to exercise Henry and I. We have all this for less than I have been used to pay these 10 years, and the distance from my office is only 13000 feet!
I shall bring my dinner in my Pocket in the morning and retreat at night from our noisy, noisy town and when the apple trees are dipped in flowers, I shall be able to relish Homer. [passage in Greek] (I met Burr [Aaron Burr] day before yesterday, and his appearance, so sprightly, induced me to remark to him that he had lost nothing of the appearance of health in the last 10 years. He replied smilingly “I presume, — I have no doubt that I shall live all the days of my life! that is my philosophy!”)
New York, March 14, 1819.
My dear brother. You know when one owns an apple tree, what pains one must be at to keep the young rascals from stealing all the fruits. All one has of it is to consider that apple tree owning is a troublesome business
New York, April 18, 1819.
Dear father. Yesterday we had a very interesting display of Electricity [a thunderstorm] between two and three of P. M.
My country house is so situated as to receive the full force of blowing weather. So that in the stormy nights Julia and I have been delightfully lulled to sleep by the roar of wind and rain attended with that still more pleasant music [passage in Greek]. I assure you that [illegible] waves three feet height roll on our sand beach most agreeably.
The weather has been damp but we are all free from colds. Julia thinks the bank of the river is drier than our City brick vaults.
The passing of the river boats of all sorts is a constant amusement and interest. When the wind blows heavy you watch as far as you can see, some bumpkin schooner or sloop whose press of sail threatens him every moment with a keel up and you admire some clean painted vessel with close reefs reaching hand over hand in the wind’s eye towards the Metropolis and mark at every half minute the spray fly from stem to stern thus and when she comes about we have all the noise of the sails [illegible] shivering in the blast.
Between two and three o’clock on Saturday last, the city was visited by a storm of rain and hail, accompanied with considerable thunder and lightning. The schooner Thames, lying at Coffee house slip, was struck by the lightning, and was on fire for a considerable time, and much damaged; three men on board were hurt by the lightning, and sent to the hospital.
This has been as usual (Sunday) a great River sloop day. They fill up cargo by Saturday all along the Hudson and improve Sunday to reach our market, — baaing, cackling + horse blowing it — along with calves, sheep, fowl, fresh butter et omnia cetera farmalia. I have to day counted 8 to 10 frequently in sight, in 15 minutes.
New York, April 25, 1819.
Dear father. I am at work in my Garden at about sunrise + continue for two hours. Yesterday and the day before I dug up and raked over neatly, each morning about 800 superficial feet: about as much as a common labourer would do in a whole day. It is after such labour that I take pleasure in a good shave, wash, clean shirt, &c. breakfast, 2 mile walk and then sitting at my desk with pen.
One of the greatest evils of our London is, the vile quality of the water, which is obviously produced by the 1000s of Cloacinious [sp?] structures on the surface. I moved one mile from the Coffee house 8 years ago, principally, to obtain better water, for it may be observed at every street as you remove from the South end of our City, that the water becomes better.
In the City, our tea kettle became encrusted with stony matter to the thickness of nearly 1/4 Inch in some months.
New York, June 6, 1819
I am sitting in my largest room looking thro the west windows on the opposite shore. Staten Island, the river, the sloops, the boys swimming.
Illustrations, from above: Detail from a pastoral scene painted by Alexei Savrasov (the scene is not Greenwich Village, but it resembles the landscape there at this period); and the Coffee House Slip in New York City in the 1850s.