Lost Knickerbocker

Knickerbocker's History of New York
Book V, Chapter X, of the original manuscript received by Washington Irving – excluded from all published editions.

Trust me, gentlefolk, in the days of Governor Peter Stuyvesant there was no end to the stream of strange peripatetics who saw fit to set their boots about the dusty streets of Nieuw Amsterdam. The Sons of Holland may have claimed the territory, but the true rank of Manhattoes ever showed transient countenances with the traits of the Yankee, Frank, unhappy Swede, Negro, or any number of savage Native tribes. The visitors were not all workingmen of the breed that presently is taken to landing in number upon our docks, but were from all backgrounds and situations, and their arrivals and tales were ever the source of conversation.

One most uncommon peregrine was recorded by an unnamed someone in the cohort of Stuyvesant, leaving a document as difficult to credit as it is perplexing. The archives bequeath us no other record of this stranger's brief visit, and thus offer no aid in fleshing out the being presented in the document. I can only repeat the few words of the writer in describing the visitor as a "very small dragon," with hide of green and man-like upright locomotion. The reader may expect such a bestial creature, if it ever existed, to be driven out of the town or subjected to the cleansing fire of exorcism, but the men of Nieuw Amsterdam were evidently won over by the cultured mannerisms and jocular grasp of conversation displayed by the reptile.

The stranger's name comes down to us as Tay Rex, and he spoke not of his origins, except to claim to have visited many lands and presently be on his second tour of the New World. He took a liking to the island but found the fledgling city too small, recommending that its standing would be well served by joining with the village of Breuckelen, a marriage to be accomplished by the simple construction of a bridge across the vast neck of the East River. At this advice the Nederlanders took heartily to the creature's sense of humor and sat him down at the table of the City Fathers with a long tobacco-pipe.

Tay Rex was not so prodigious a pipe-smoker as his hosts, but apparently cleared the table of roast meat with no more exertion than an ox at pasture. Delighted, the Governor himself undertook to ply further details about the stranger's origins and business in exchange for the fruits of the island's pasture and fowl-yard. The dragon's control of European tongues sufficed to convince his dining companions that this was no beast of the deep woods or spirit of Savage conjuration. He spoke no more of the road from whence he had come, and as to his intentions in Nieuw Amsterdam expressed only a desire to observe the most interesting sights on the island.

There were those at the table who denied the existence of any worthy sights that could not be seen from the window of the dining-room, but Peter the Headstrong would not let his island down so easily, and appointed several of his staff to draw up a list of the most notable wonders. The forthwith provided him a guide to the island's far-flung locales, leading him up through the Bouweries to the bay named for the brave Hendrick Kip, shore of the Nederlanders' first landing; and, with a stop among the Waldron taverns of Haerlem village, right to the edge of the treacherous cliffs later known as Spyt den Duyvel; and also to see the Hell-gate where the ship of Oloffe the Dreamer was driven ashore.

The mysterious Tay Rex set out on the journey the following morning, accompanied by a pair of Dutchmen of no great rank. Upon arriving at Kip's Bay the consorts observed the dragon produce a blade and mark the stones around with letters and crude glyphs of himself. Recognizing these motions as sorcery of the most theatrical and incautious sort, one of the men left them there and returned to the garrison of Nieuw Amsterdam on pretext of needing to replenish his tobacco-pouch. The now worrisome creature had made it as far as a tavern in Haerlem, where he was later found to have made further markings within the lavatory, when the outbuilding was surrounded by armed Nederlanders who demanded the dragon take his ungodly pastimes off their island and return to whichever New England coven had dispatched him there. Upon his protests the lavatory was dismantled by force and the interloper driven off by arms towards the far north of the island.

The small dragon was never reported to show his unwelcome visage after this, and the Governor became somewhat more cautious about visitors of extraction other than Nederlander. This may have added pressure to the ever-straining relations with the Swedes and Yankees, though it is not the place of this historian to conjecture so on a single scrap of a document. It may be that the spurned visitor himself foresaw the stoking of future conflicts, however, if one last bit of information is to be interpreted thus.

Many days after the beast's flight, a patrol sent to the top of the island discovered a remarkable image had appeared upon the cliffs of the Haerlem river around the spot soon to be known by the name of the duyvel. It was a painting of many pigments, spread along the bluff like a rude fresco, reaching the height of a man, and picturing caricatures of many men of all nations living as one people on the island of Manhattan. Nederlander stood shoulder by shoulder with Yankee and Savage, Swede by Negro, participating in such industry as the harvesting of fruit and building of roads. In the midst, statesmen of differing uniform shared a tobacco-pipe on the Bowling Green; among their number, a small green dragon of familiar shape enjoyed a joint of roast meat. The artistry of the composition left no great impression on Dutch eyes, but the message of the diverse assembly touched their sense of brotherhood enough for the event to be recorded for the betterment of future generations of Nieuw Amsterdammers. Governor Stuyvesant himself did not however make the long journey to see the apparition at the top of the island-- a lamentable decision, if such a pilgrimage might have softened the edge of the conflicts to come.

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