How Old Seven Got His Name
(Henry Hudson lands in NYC, 1609 – steel engraving of painting by Robert Walter Weir)
We had a picnic the other day in Battery Park City and enjoyed a great view of NY Harbor. Joining us was Benny “the cigar Store Indian.” He told stories about Henry Hudson’s arrival in NYC. This is the third part in that series. See the bottom of this post for the others.
I was still waiting for some friends to join us. It was just my lady friend(LF) and I, along with the pizza and Chinese delivery guys(aka num and nuts), and of course–Benny.
“ . . . as Henry Hudson and his men came ashore we all made signs of welcome,” said Benny, turning away from the water to smile at us. He’s the cutest old man you’ve ever seen. If he was your grandfather, you would bring him around and show him to your friends just like he was your baby brother. Otherwise, he’s whacked. I can’t tell you how many times he thinks he’s been reincarnated.
“Like my Indian brethren, I stared in wonder,” he said, and spoke slowly while squinting. “I carefully examined their faces, each article of clothing–their hats!” He chuckled and opened his hand to the harbor. The blue water was dappled with small boats, except for the rotund Staten Island Ferry, which looked like a blob of orange out by the Statue of Liberty.
(Replica of Henry Hudson’s Half Moon/Halve Maen)
“I kept looking to the Half Moon, anchored just off shore,” Benny said. “Even the smaller boat Hudson and his men had rowed over on was new to us. I had heard of such crafts, but it was breath-taking to see the real McCoy.”
“What was Henry Hudson like?” my LF asked, shielding her eyes from the glare of the setting sun.
Benny shrugged, his eyes the shape of half-moons. “There wasn’t much distinction between any of the men. Their bearded faces were either sunburned or heavily tanned. It would be some time before we started using the term ‘white men’ for them.
“I clearly remember how very serious and bone-tired all of them seemed. I thought their clothes made them weary. What did I know.
“Two men did all the talking, and I guess one of them must have been Hudson. His clothes were the most colorful, and he wore the nicest hat! It had a wide, sturdy brim. They pointed to various items, and wanted us to say the names. They were most interested in our furs and skins. We gladly obliged, and laughed over and over at their strange tongue and odd clothing. They made us repeat the names until they were sure of them. We all kept looking in wonder at the Half Moon.”
“They had their eyes on your island,” my LF said, whose long black hair glinted in the evening sun.
“It wasn’t twenty four dollars that you sold it for,” I injected rather smartly. “It was really six hundred and something bucks. I learned that from Kelly Choi in a Secrets of NY episode.”
Benny’s brow wrinkled. My LF looked at me like I should shut up, but it was true. Num and nuts raised their heads and squinted at me with looks of suspicion. Both had their arms folded, while wriggling on the bench. (I really should appreciate the fact that they don’t talk, and just make noises like squawking birds.)
“We never sold it,” Benny said with a sigh. “We gave them use of our island. We didn’t understand that something like that could be traded away.” He smiled and tried to make it seem like it was all in the past.
“I think at first Hudson, and his men were as intrigued by us as we were them,” he said wistfully. “We saw strange looking men with beards, odd clothing, and a fantastical ship. They saw . . .” He shrugged and was hesitant to continue. In the past, he has made crude references to what the Dutch sailors smelled like.
(Photo by Bald Punk – Click to see cement Indian detail on Dakota apartment, NYC)
Benny gathered his knees in his hands and leaned forward. “I think the appreciation of meeting a new race–the innocence of letting excitement be the guiding course of action–was dismissed rather quickly by the white men. Their instincts kicked in, which were a product of what their world had taught them. They soon saw us as half-naked people, with tools, furs, and skins they could sell. I don’t think human bondage was on their mind, but they did bring Old Seven here–”
“–in such close quarters as a ship we would have noticed a demon amongst us. He knew enough to hide from the Lenape. It was only afterwards that I remembered how he had hung back in the rear and never looked at us.
“I was answering nature’s call when I got my first and only-look-since at Old Seven. I had been holding it in from before the sailors came ashore. Over my shoulder and through bushes, I noticed one of the strangers edging away from the group. He mustn’t have seen me. It was why I got a clear look at his face. From what I’ve heard, no one lives to tell of seeing Old Seven’s face. His real face that is, and not whatever visage he presented on the journey over on the Half Moon, or to those he passes on the streets of NYC.
“Old Seven had heavy eyebrows that were as thick as his mustache. He had a prominent nose. Strands of his shoulder length hair swept across his eyes, and his cheeks were blotched with sun poisoning. There were creases in the corners of his eyes and mouth that seemed to be outlined in black ink.
“On his forehead was a mark, seared into the skin. It was more like plunged into his skull. It wasn’t until long after I learned to read and write in English that it hit me. The mark was the number ‘7.’ The style was florid and ornate. Years ago when I was rummaging through books outside Strand Book store, I saw hand-copied pages from the Book of the Dead. I thought the script was a very close–if not an exact match.
(Photo by Bald Punk – Spooky Dakota apartment fence)
“Legend has it that the mark was put there by demon hunters, so he could be more easily identified. You see, a demon can’t really extinguish or killed. His power and influence can only be diminished.”
“How did the demon hunters hold Old Seven long enough to sear the mark on his forehead?” I asked. “Maybe they used a magic spell?”
“I don’t know.”
“Who would?” my LF asked.
I tensed, suddenly realizing the brevity of what we were learning. I didn’t want to be dragged deeper into “Knowing.”
“There’s an old negro slave named Hardy.”
“Where would we find him?” My LF asked.
“Ah-ha!” I cried, and stood, hoping to put an end to the conversation. “Is that Edgar?” I said, searching along the promenade for my friend who was on the way to meet us along with his wife and bambino.
(Photo by Bald Punk – Battery Park City)
“I’ve heard Hardy can be found near a place called Sandy Ground,” Benny said.
“Oh! Come on!” I cried, a little flustered. “Negro slave??? Slavery ended almost 150 years ago! This guy’s dead, ‘doncha think.”
Everyone looked at me like I should know better.
Here are all the posts in this series: Episode Eighteen – October 2009