How Albany used to celebrate New Year’s Day

The manner in which the inhabitants of the town [of Albany] celebrate New Year’s Day:

I had travelled far enough in the day to hope for a quiet sleep, but, at four in the morning, I was awakened by a musquet fired close to my windows: I listened, but heard not the smallest noise, or motion in the street, which made me imagine it was some musquet discharged of itself without causing any accident. I again attempted to go to sleep, but a quarter of an hour after a fresh musquet or pistol shot interrupted my repose; this was followed by several others; so that I had no longer any doubt that it was some rejoicing, or feast, like our village christenings. The hour indeed struck me as unusual, but at length a number of voices mingled with musquetry, crying out, new year, reminded me that we were at the first of January, and I concluded that it was thus the Americans celebrate that event.

Though this manner of proclaiming it was not, I must own, very pleasing to me, there was nothing for it but patience; but at the end of half an hour, I heard a confused noise of upwards of a hundred persons, chiefly children, or young people, assembled under my windows, and I very soon had farther indiction of their proximity, for they fired several musquet shot, knocked rudely at the door, and threw stones against my windows. Cold and indolence still kept me in bed, but Mr. Lynch got up, and came into my chamber to tell me that these people certainly meant to do me honour, and get some money from me. I desired him to step down, and give them two Louis; he found them already masters of the house, and drinking my landlord’s rum.

In a quarter of an hour, they went off to visit other streets, and continued their noise till day-light. On rising, I learnt from my landlord, that it was the custom of the country for the young folks, the servants, and even the negroes, to go from tavern to tavern, and to other houses, to wish a good new year, and ask for drink, so that there was no particular compliment to me in this affair . . . .

In the morning . . . I met nothing but drunken people in the streets, but what astonished me the most was to see them not only walk, but run upon the ice without falling, or making a false step, whilst it was with the utmost difficulty I kept upon my legs.

Travels in North-America in the Years 1780, 1781 and 1782, by the Marquis de Chastellux

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