Henry Livingston, Jr.
Henry Livingston's Prose



For the New-York Magazine.

I arose from the cone of my parent pine on the 23d day of May, 1452, and found myself on the island Manhaddan, which is laved on one side by the majestic Hudson, and on the other by the rapid stream of the Haspedoc: before it lay an extensive bay, variegated with islands, and bounded by a coast waving in verdure, and gently undulated, excepting where the irresistible Hudson had forced itself a passage, through which old ocean gleamed.

Here, nature alone gave her law. The hills were clothed with loftiest oaks, and the vales were embrowned with thickeets, from which even the fearless panther turned aside. Whales gambol'd in my sight, and the playful porpoise lashed the pebbles.

Men too were here; but they seemed to be the sons of the soil, for their manners and their habits perfectly coincided with every thing around them. They were not numerous, for there was not subsistence for a multitude. They were seldom engaged in wars, for there were few incentives. They were not avaricious, for there was no fictitious want.

Constant exercises, not labour, kept them healthy: and their understandings, replete with ideas original and all their own, were strong and energetic.

Their religion must have been simple, and unclogged with rites or ceremonies; for from my loftiest leaf I never saw temple, altar, or sacrifice.

I would not, however, insinuate, that because these people were savage they were free from vice. Revenge appeared in its most odious forms: and I have witnessed scenes of domestic retaliation, which I beheld with horror, and which three hundred years have not worn from my mind. The exposing infirm infants, and leaving their decrepid parents to famish in the solitary hut, were outrages against nature, which the plea of necessity could by no means palliate.

I have so long and frequently seen the enormities of uncivilization, and the sensualities of refinement -- the errors of pagans, and the vices of christians -- the former, coming short of that law within them, a radiance from heaven, of which all men partake -- and the latter, spurning the institutions of the most excellent religion of which any record remains: -- that upon the whole, I believe the scale of perfection waves pretty even between them.

After I had risen to some magnitude, my branches became the shelter of many successive habitations: and to this day, whenever a forlorn remnant of the once renowned Mohecon tribe wanders in my neighborhood, he looks up to me with the same kind of veneration a form christian gazed upon a relic, or a mussulman on the city which gave birth to his prophet.

When I reflect upon the scenes I witnessed between two and three centuries ago, and those I behold at this time, I can scarcely credit my own identity, or that nature itself is not entirely changed. Formerly, not an hour elapsed, but the moose, the elk, the caribou, or the deer, stalked in my view, or thundered through the forest, pursued by the wooleneg, the panther, or the wolf: and I once, when very young, saw that terror of ancient, and wonder of modern time, the monstrous mammoth. His height was two score feet, and his whole form indicated strength and ferocity. He ravaged midway the tallest elms, or tasted their topmost foliage at his pleasure. When he thirsted for blood, which happened periodically, neither the buffaloe, the moose, or the tyger could escape; and not infrequently, the screaming tenants of a whole village completed the repast. The individual I saw, perished, by plunging into the river to attack a whale that arose near the shore.

The last important conflict of the natives happened about one hundred and thirty years ago, on the very spot where the city of New York now uplifts its elegant domes. The Mohecons, who covered the whole southern part of the country, had long felt the effects of the prowess of the Mohawks, and seldom retired with laurels. On this occasion, uncommon preparations were made by the Mohawks to attack, and by the Mohecons to resist. The latter began to skirmish on the banks of the Croton, and continued a retrograde opposition, till they crossed the current which forms the island of Manhaddan. Here the conflict became ferocious; and many warriors fell by the missive arrow, or flinty tomahawk: but the ardor and impetuosity of the northern bands bore down every barrier, and this important pass was carried. The poor discomfited Mohecons fled in terror to the extreme part of the island, with their enemies and destruction close behind them. Despair now assumed the appearance of intrepidity, and once more was the work of carnage resumed: but the evil genius of the [y]outh prevailed, and a grave was all that remained of the best and bravest train the Mohecons ever armed for the field.

It was on the 14th day of August, 1658, that every attention was arrested by an object new as it was wonderful. A monster, greater than the largest whale, with enormous wings, whiter than snow, and breathing at intervals fire and smoke, appeared moving on the ocean. It approached by a gentle motion, and was thought to be the genius of the sea. It still came forward, till very near the banks I shaded, when it suddenly flopped and closed its stupendous pinions. It now was observed to be crowded with people, and to be neither a spirit nor an animal.

The strangers hurried on shore, and taking possession of the western part of the island, covered it with houses and defences. They supplied the unsuspecting natives with a number of superfluities, and which they falsely called necessities; but at the same time introduced a train of inervating luxuries before unknown, and a poison more fatal than the marshy sumach, or the crimson tendrils of the baleful moloquindos: it exterminated reason, introduced disease, and ended in miserable expiration.

These first adventurers were succeeded by others, and all multiplied rapidly -- the aboriginals receded -- till at length the sons of Europe covered the face of this western world with a splendor and magnificence, not yet proved to be more intrinsically beautiful than the virgin apparatus of nature, or more conducive to the real felicity of man.

New-York Magazine; or, Literary Repository
Memoirs of a Pine Tree
Vol. III No. III; Mar 1792; pp.177-179; by R


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