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NYC Department of Records posts the first city ordinances from 367 years ago

Howard Halle

If you think that complaints about too many bars and too much rowdiness in New York City are anything new, consider that when Peter Stuyvesant was appointed Director-General of New Netherland (as New York was then called) in 1647, he inveighed against "unreasonable and intemperate drinking at night and on the Sabbath of the Lord, to the shame and derision of ourselves and our nation." He also noted that “one full fourth of the City of New Amsterdam has been turned into taverns.” Some things never change. But these and other tidbits can now be found online, where the NYC Dept. of Records & Information Services has posted images and translations of the original documents representing the first laws past in our fair city back in the 17th century. They make for fascinating reading.

For example, Stuyvesant's solution to the aforementioned grievances were laws banning the sale of alcohol on Sunday before 2 p.m. and every day after 8 p.m., while also requiring tavern owners to “engage in some other honest business” in addition to selling booze. And you thought former Mayor Michael Bloomberg was big on quality of life issues.

Stuyvesant didn't stop there; according to NYC Dept. of Records & Information Services' website, peg-leg Pete issued decrees enforcing strict penalties for drawing a knife or sword in anger, banning the erection of May Poles, shooting guns on New Year’s Eve, and prohibiting pigs and goats from climbing on Fort Amsterdam’s mud walls. (Presumably, they could go anywhere else, making today's problems with pooper-scooper scofflaws seem pale in comparison.) Animals behaving badly extended to cattle, who were required to be fenced in to prevent them from wandering, and to humans themselves, who were ordered to stop deceiving Native Americans. The enforcement of the last was probably made easier by prohibiting the sale of alcohol to local tribes as well. 


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