And we thought it was Babylon!
New York City has been characterized in many different ways over the years– Sodom, Gomorrah and Gotham to name a few. But, according to a Wall Street Journal article, its very first published characterization came from, “Daniel Denton, the son of a Long Island preacher who published the first English-language book about New York in 1670″
According to the Journal, “On Oct. 27, Christie‘s in London will try to auction off a first edition of Mr. Denton’s booklet hailing the region as a ‘terrestrial Canaan…”
The 21-page book was published in Britain, and will be auctioned for a starting price of $47,550. Part travelogue and part propaganda, A Brief Description of New-York: Formerly Called New-Netherlands. With the Places thereunto Adjoyning. Together with the Manner of its Scituation, Fertility of the Soyle, Healthfulness of the Climate, and the Commodities thence produced. Likewise A Brief Relation of the Customs of the Indians there does not sound terribly brief!
But it does sound fascinating, for those of us who live there now. According to the Journal, Denton published the book to try and appeal to the budding entrepreneurs who were angling to compete with Dutch and French traders:
As a result, Mr. Denton devotes much of his book to describing the topographical environs of New York and listing its marketable bounty, from fish to fowl to trendy local foods like cranberries.
He writes that local Indian tribes call the main, thin island “Manahatan,” and adds that the sole town in nearby Staten Island “is capable of entertaining more inhabitants.”
Margaret Ford, the head of Christie’s book department, told the Journal that “Mr. Denton succeeded in writing accurately about the local geography but flubbed in other areas like the weather. ‘The climate, he writes, ‘has such an affinity with England.’ Ms. Ford, speaking from London, added, ‘Of course, that’s not true at all.’”
Well, twisting the truth a little is something New Yorkers are not unfamiliar with….
Valerie Merians is the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.