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Why Spuyten Duyvil Is So Named


Source: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land

The tide-water creek that forms the upper boundary of Manhattan Island is
known to dwellers in tenements round about as Spittin' Divvle. The
proper name of it is Spuyten Duyvil, and this, in turn, is the
compression of a celebrated boast by Anthony Van Corlaer. This
redoubtable gentleman, famous for fat, long wind, and long whiskers, was
trumpeter for the garrison at New Amsterdam, which his countrymen had
just bought for twenty-four dollars, and he sounded the brass so sturdily
that in the fight between the Dutch and Indians at the Dey Street peach
orchard his blasts struck more terror into the red men's hearts than did
the matchlocks of his comrades. William the Testy vowed that Anthony and
his trumpet were garrison enough for all Manhattan Island, for he argued
that no regiment of Yankees would approach near enough to be struck with
lasting deafness, as must have happened if they came when Anthony was

Peter Stuyvesant-Peter the Headstrong--showed his appreciation of
Anthony's worth by making him his esquire, and when he got news of an
English expedition on its way to seize his unoffending colony, he at once
ordered Anthony to rouse the villages along the Hudson with a trumpet
call to war. The esquire took a hurried leave of six or eight ladies,
each of whom delighted to believe that his affections were lavished on
her alone, and bravely started northward, his trumpet hanging on one
side, a stone bottle, much heavier, depending from the other. It was a
stormy evening when he arrived at the upper end of the island, and there
was no ferryman in sight, so, after fuming up and down the shore, he
swallowed a mighty draught of Dutch courage,--for he was as accomplished
a performer on the horn as on the trumpet,--and swore with ornate and
voluminous oaths that he would swim the stream in spite of the devil
[En spuyt den Duyvil].

He plunged in, and had gone half-way across when the Evil One, not to be
spited, appeared as a huge moss-bunker, vomiting boiling water and
lashing a fiery tail. This dreadful fish seized Anthony by the leg; but
the trumpeter was game, for, raising his instrument to his lips, he
exhaled his last breath through it in a defiant blast that rang through
the woods for miles and made the devil himself let go for a moment. Then
he was dragged below, his nose shining through the water more and more
faintly, until, at last, all sight of him was lost. The failure of his
mission resulted in the downfall of the Dutch in America, for, soon
after, the English won a bloodless victory, and St. George's cross
flaunted from the ramparts where Anthony had so often saluted the setting
sun. But it was years, even then, before he was hushed, for in stormy
weather it was claimed that the shrill of his trumpet could be heard near
the creek that he had named, sounding above the deeper roar of the blast.

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