H105, American History I

William Otter (1787-1856), autobiography (1807).

New York City

One evening, a parcel of us lads went to the house of a certain John M’Dermot, keeper of a victual and oyster shop, in George’s street, New-York, with a view to set things to rights in his establishment, as he deserved it, being of an overbearing turn of mind, and saucy as mischief itself; and we came to the conclusion to put him where he ought to be.  After we had got our gang together, and thought ourselves strong enough, we began to play, what was termed “patent billiards,” for drink and oysters.  We played about one hour.  We began to quarrel amongst ourselves, as he thought, to lead the lad on the ice, and as we became too loud for Mr. M’Dermot, he appeared amongst us, and told us, that if we did not keep less noise, that he would put the whole of us out.  To this menace of his, we just told him, that he could not do that.  No sooner than he had heard our answer, than he laid to grabbing at some of us, and we took the hint, and let him have it.  The first thing that he was conscious of, was, he found himself sprawling on the floor, received the hearty kicks of every one who could get foot on him.  Some of the spare hands fell upon the negroes who were employed by him to shock oysters, and drove them into the cooking room, and beat them, poor d---ls, into a jelly; being in a cellar, this whole performance was conducted in silence, unknown to the watchmen.  After we had laid it Mr. M’Dermot and his hands speechless, the way his geese, chickens, oysters, hams, &c. were slashed about, was nobody’s business.


We met our comrades one night to have the farewell spree at Mr. Drakes, and according to appointment, about fifty of our gang met, and made a contract for our admittance fee.  We agreed to go and make an appearance, ten in number, and the rest of the gang were to rush in, when the ten who had paid went in.  We called Mr. Drake out, and asked him, if he would let ten of us in for a dollar.  He said he would, if we would not be civil, and make no disturbance in the house.  We made a promise we would not make any noise; that we would behave ourselves quiet and orderly.  We went and gave notice of our proceedings with Drake to our comrades, that the bargain was struck and that we would go up to the door-keeper, and that they should lay shoulders to, and begin the push forward, to force the door open, and some should lay hands on the door-keeper, and pull him away from his station, with a view to prevent him of knowing who was who; and the door was cleared of its keeper, and the portals were soon forced as wide open as the hinges of the door would allow, and in we all went.  Mr. Drake allowed, that we were a very long ten and confessed that we caught him napping that time, and gave us assurances that we would never catch him again.  The door-keeper called for the watchman, two of them came in and asked what was the matter.  He told them, that a parcel of boys came in, and kicked him out of doors.  The watchmen asked him which were the boys that had kicked him.  The door-keeper picked me and four others as the offenders.  We called on our comrades to prove our innocence, and that we had paid our entrance fee, as we had contracted for with Mr. Drake.  This information, and verification of our comrades for us, completely unhinged the door-keeper’s accusation against us, which fell to the ground in the estimation of the watchmen; and they told the door-keeper, that he must make the best of a bad bargain he could; and as long as they (meaning us boys,) behaved ourselves, that they, the watchmen had nothing to do with us.  The boys began to dance, and danced for about an hour, and then we began to set things to rights; we broke every glass in the whole house, and cleared it of men, women, and children; and after that performance, we cleared ourselves from the premises.  We scampered off to a grog-shop, and there we took our farewell drink together; and the shaking of hands in the last farewell being over, Dick Turner was to take us over the North river in a pleasure boat, together with about a half dozen of choice spirits, to accompany us by way of escort.


....Having always a propensity for fun, an opportunity presented itself to give loose to, and gratify it, and as all things have beginnings, the following scrape in which I participated, had its origin in the following manner:  A number of Friends [Quakers] purchased a suitable lot of ground in Cambden, on which they erected a house of worship for Africans, who, after some time, became so numerous as well as clamorous in their worship, that they were estimated (at a fair calculation) by the neighborhood as a nuisance, and to rid themselves of their noisy blackies, they fell upon the plan to get the boys and let them make a set upon them.  The boys were as ready as willing, as they had assurances from the neighbors to see them safe through.  A conspiracy was formed, and my friend, John Lane, gave me notice; so one Sunday night, the evening in which the darkies had worship, we repaired to the theatre of action, when we were about fifty or sixty strong, we had formed a plan, moving systematically, and the watchword was “Glory.”  We consisted of butchers, ropemakers, carpenters, plasterers, and bakers.  The ropemakers were armed with weapons called colts, which is a short rope with a heavy knot at the end; the rest were armed by the butchers, they had calves’ tails with bullets twisted in the hair.  The first thing we done, we got an old he-goat, put a dog-chain round his neck, and had him chained ready for action; he was prepared by some of our hands in the most ludicrous manner imaginable; he was blind-folded, and had a part of an old sheet stripped over him, and goats are not the most pleasing smelling animal at best in a natural way, and his smell was exceedingly heightened, insomuch so, that he outstunk the devil himself, being daubbed all over.  All things being now in readiness, we got the door-keepers away, by telling them that some boys intended to disturb their meeting, and if they would come to one side, we would help to catch them; while we decoyed the door-keepers, the rest of the gang brought up the goat to the door, and as the words fell from the mouth of the venerable preacher, “Don’t you see the devil a coming,” into the meetinghouse they popped the blind-folded goat, and he seen the light at the altar more distinctly than any thing else, he made for the altar moving along the aisle, straight-way, and as soon as he was safely moored in church, they fastened the door on the outside; and all the screaming and hallooing that fell, these exceeded all things I ever heard.  A rush was made for the door, and it was fast; the blackies forced the windows, and as sure as any set foot on the outside of the church — bip, a calf tail or a colt would take him, and down he’d go; and they kept on until nearly the whole of the darkies were stretched out.  No particular regard was paid to sex, they levelled them indiscriminately.