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New York City History for Kids

In this lively 400-year history, kids will read about Peter Stuyvesant and the enterprising Dutch colonists, follow the spirited patriots as they rebel against the British during the American Revolution, learn about the crimes of the infamous Tweed Ring, journey through the notorious Five Points slum with its tenements and street vendors, and soar to new heights with the Empire State Building and New York City’s other amazing skyscrapers. Along the way, they’ll stop at Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, and many other prominent New York landmarks. With informative and fun activities, such as painting a Dutch fireplace tile or playing a game of stickball, this valuable resource includes a time line of significant events, a list of historic sites to visit or explore online, and web resources for further study, helping young learners gain a better understanding of the Big Apple’s culture, politics, and geography.

Below is an adapted version of the play Waterloo, by Arthur Conan Doyle, which is referenced on page 94 of New York City History for Kids. Feel free to further adapt this play to suit your needs, add or subtract props and set pieces as you see fit!

SCENE.—A front room in a small house in Woolwich, England. Cooking range at fire. Above the fire a painting of a military man in a red coat with a bearskin. On one side a cutting from a newspaper framed. On the other a medal, also within a frame. Bright fire-irons, centre table, armchair with cushion, rack holding plates, etc.
June, 1881.
(Curtain rises on empty room; door opens, and enter NORAH BREWSTER, a country girl, with a bundle of her personal items. She looks timidly around, and then closes the door. Basket on bandbox. During dialogue takes hat and cloak off and puts them on table, takes apron out of basket, and puts it on).

NORAH. And this is Uncle Gregory's (crosses to fireplace). Why there's his portrait just above the fireplace, the very same as we have it at home—and there is his medal by his portrait. Oh, how strange that I should have a house all to myself. I suppose uncle isn't up yet, they said that he was never up before ten. Well thank goodness that housekeeper has lit the fire before she went away. She seems to have been a nice sort, she does. Poor old uncle, he does seem to have been neglected. Never mind ! I've come to look after him now. Let me see if everything is ready for uncle when he does come. Won't he be surprised to see me? Of course he would have had mother's letter to say I was coming, but he wouldn't think I'd be here so early. (At table R. C.) I wonder what makes the milk look so blue. (At drawer at back R. c.) Oh my! what nasty butter. I'm so glad I brought some other butter with me. ( Takes pat of butter off plate puts it in basket, Takes pat out of basket, and puts it on plate). Now for the bacon. Oh, my! Why, our Essex pigs would blush at bacon like that! (Puts rasher in frying-pan and puts pan on stove.) Now I'll make the tea if the kettle boils. Kettle doesn't boil. Never mind, I'll warm the pot. (Puts water out of kettle on fire in pot and pot on table). Dear old uncle (looking at portrait), don't he look grand! They must have been awful brave folk to dare to fight against him. I do hope I'll be able to make him happy. (Knock at door). Oh, dear! A knock! I wonder who it is! (Knock again). I suppose I must see who it is. (Up to door and opens it).
SERGEANT. (saluting). Beg your pardon, Miss, but does Corporal Gregory Brewster live here ?
NORAH. (timidly). Yes, sir.
SERGEANT. The same who was in the Scots Guards?
NORAH. Yes, sir.
SERGEANT. And fought in the battle of Waterloo?
NORAH. Yes, the same, sir.
SERGEANT. Could I have a word with him, Miss?
NORAH. He's not down yet.
SERGEANT. Ah, then, maybe I'd best look in on my way back. I will pass again in an hour or two.
NORAH. Very well, sir. (Going out). Who shall I say came for him? (SERGEANT returns and places gun L. of sideboard L.)
SERGEANT. McDonald's my name—Sergeant McDonald of the Artillery. But you'll excuse my mentioning it, Miss, there was some talk down at the Gunners' barracks that the old gentleman was not looked after quite as well as he might be. But I can see now that it's only foolish talk, for what more could he want than this?
NORAH. Oh, I've only just come. We heard that his housekeeper was not very good to him, and that was why my father wished me to go and do what I could.
SERGEANT. Ah! he'll find the difference now.
NORAH (bustling about putting tea in pot). Two for uncle and one for the pot. We were all very proud of Uncle Gregory back home. (Takes teapot to fire and fills it from kettle).
SERGEANT. Aye, he's been a fine man in his day. There's not many living now who can say that they fought against Napoleon Boneypart.
NORAH. Ah, see, there's his medal hung up by his portrait.
SERGEANT (after her). But what's that beside the medal.
NORAH (standing on tiptoe, and craning her neck). Oh, it is a piece of print, and all about uncle. (Brings frame).
SERGEANT. Aye, it’s a slip of an old paper. There's the date, August, 1815, written in yellow ink on the corner.
NORAH (takes down medal). It's such small print.
SERGEANT (front of table). I'll read it to you.
NORAH. Thank ye, sir!
SERGEANT (clears his throat impressively). "A heroic deed." That's what's on the top. "On Tuesday an interesting ceremony was performed at the barracks of the third regiment of guards, when in the presence of the Prince Regent, a special medal was presented to Corporal Gregory Brewster.
NORAH (R. of SERGEANT.) That's him! That's uncle!
SERGEANT. "To Corporal Gregory Brewster of Captain Haldane's flank company, in recognition of his valor in the recent great battle. It appears that on the ever memorable 18th of June, four companies of the third Guards held the important farmhouse of Hugymount at the right of the British position. At a critical period of the action these troops found themselves short of powder, and Corporal Brewster was dispatched to the rear to hasten up the reserve ammunition. The corporal returned with two tumbrils of the Nassau division, but he found that in his absence the howitzer fire of the French had ignited the hedge around the farm, and that the passage of the carts filled with powder had become almost an impossibility. The first tumbril exploded, blowing the driver to pieces, and his comrade, daunted by the sight, turned his horses; but Corporal Brewster, springing into his seat, hurled the man down, and urging the cart through the flames, succeeded in rejoining his comrades. Long may the heroic Brewster…
NORAH. Think of that, the heroic Brewster !
SERG. "live to treasure the medal which he has so bravely won, and to look back with pride to the day when, in the presence of his comrades, he received this tribute to his valor from the hands of the first gentleman of the realm." (Replaces the paper.) Well, that is worth being proud of. (Hands back frame, she puts it on mantel).
NORAH. And we are proud of it, too.
SERG. Well, Miss, must go, or I would (taking gun) stay to see the old gentleman now. (Up to door.)
NORAH (following). I don't think he can be long.
SERG. Well, he'll have turned out before I pass this way again, good day, Miss, and my respects to you, Miss.
NORAH. (looking through door after him). Oh, isn't he a fine man! I never saw such a man as that back home. And how kind he was! Think of him reading all that to me about uncle. (Coming L.) It was as much as to say that uncle won that battle. Well, I think the tea is made (over to fire) now, and—
CORPORAL (without entering). Mary, Mary,—I wants my rations.
NORAH (aside). Oh my goodness!
(Enter CORPORAL GREGORY BREWSTER, tottering in, gaunt, bent, and doddering, with white hair and wizened face. He taps his way across the room, while NORAH, with her hands clasped, stares aghast first at the man, and then at his picture on the wall.)
CORPORAL (querulously). I wants my rations! The cold nips me without 'em. See my hands. (Holds out his gnarled knuckles).
NORAH (gets round behind table). Don't you know me, grand-uncle ? I'm Norah Brewster, from Essex.
CORPORAL. Rum is warm, and schnapps is warm, and there's 'eat in soup, but gimme a dish of tea for chice. Eh? (Peers at the girl) What did you say your name was, young woman? (Sits R. of table.)
NORAH (L. of table). Norah Brewster.
CORPORAL. You can speak out, lass. Seems to me folks' voices ain't as strong as they was.
NORAH (back of chair). I'm Norah Brewster, uncle. I'm your (takes up bacon) grand-niece, come from Essex way to live with you. (Takes bacon out of pan on fire, puts on plate).
CORPORAL (chuckling). You're Norah, hey? Then you'll be brother George's gal, likely ? To think o' little George havin' a gal !
NORAH (putting bacon on table). Nay, uncle. My father was the son of your brother George. (Pouring out tea).
CORPORAL (mumbles and chuckles, picking at his sleeves with his trembling hands). Lor, but little George was a rare one! (Draws up to the table while NORAH pours out the tea). He's got a bull-pup o' mine that I lent him. Likely it's dead now. He didn't give it ye to bring, may-be ?
NORAH (R. of table, and glancing ever wonderingly at her companion). Why, grandpa George has been dead for twenty years.
CORPORAL (mumbling). Eh, but it were a bootiful pup—bootiful! (Drinks his tea with a loud sipping, NORAH pours out second cup), I am cold for the lack o' my rations. Ah, tea!
NORAH. I've brought you some butter and some eggs in the basket. Mother said as I was to give you her respects and love, and that she'd have sent a tin o' cream, but it mighthave gone sour on the way. (R. Sets chair L. of fireplace,)
CORPORAL (still eating voraciously). Likely the stage left yesterday.
NORAH. The what, uncle ?
CORPORAL. The coach that brought ye.
NORAH. Nay, I came by the mornin' train.
CORPORAL. Think o' that. The railway train, heh? You ain't afraid o' them new-fangled things? By Jimini! To think of your comin' by railway like that. Why, it's more than twenty miles. (Chuckling), What's the world a comin' to? (Puffs out his chest and tries to square his shoulders). Eh, but I get me strength from my rations.
NORAH. Indeed, uncle, you seem a deal stronger. (Up to table and begins to clear things away)
CORPORAL. Aye, the food is like coals to that fire. But I'm nearly burned out, lass, I'm nearly burned out.
NORAH (clearing the table). You must have seen a lot of life, uncle. It must seem a long, long time to you.
CORPORAL. Not so very long, neither. I'm almost ninety, but it might have been yesterday, that battle. And that battle, why, by Jimini, I've not got the smell of the burned powder out o' my nose yet. Have you read that? (Nodding to the cutting).
NORAH. Yes, uncle, and I'm sure that you must be very proud of it.
CORPORAL (stands looking at him). Ah, it was a great day for me—a great day! The Regent he was there, and a fine body of a man too. He comes up to me and he says, "The regiment is proud of ye," says he. "And I'm proud o' the regiment," says I. “And a good answer, too," says he to Lord Hill, and they both bust out a laughin'. (Coughs and chuckles, and points up at the mantelpiece).
NORAH. What can I hand you, uncle? (Gets bottle and spoon from mantelpiece.)
CORPORAL. A spoonful from that bottle by the brass candlestick, my girl! (Drinks it.) It's medicine (music) to cut the phlegm. (NORAH looks out of the window.) But what be you a peepin' out o' the window for ? (NORAH pushes window up, music louder.)
NORAH (excitedly). Oh, uncle, here's a regiment o' soldiers comin' down the street.
CORPORAL (rising and clawing his way towards the window). A regiment! Heh! Where be my glasses? I can hear the band as plain as plain. Bands don't seem to play as loud now-a-days though as they used. (Gets to the window.) Here they come, pioneers, drum-major, band! What be their number, lass? (His eyes shine, and his feet and stick tap to the music.)
NORAH. They don't seem to have no number, uncle. They've something written on their shoulders. Oxfordshire, I think.
CORPORAL. Ah, yes. I heard as they had dropped the numbers, and given them new-fangled names. (shakes his head). There they go, by Jimini! They're young, but they hain't forgot how to march. (band dims). Well, they've got the swing, aye, they have the swing (gazes after them until the last have disappeared).
NORAH (helping him). Come back to your chair, uncle.
CORPORAL. Where is that bottle again? It cuts the phlegm. It's the tubes that's wrong with me. Joyce says so, and he is a clever man. I'm in his club. There's the card, paid up, under yon flat iron. (band stops) (suddenly slapping his thigh). Why, darn my skin, I knew as something was amiss.
NORAH. Where, uncle.
CORPORAL. In them soldiers. I've got' it now. Their uniforms are wrong! (Door opens and SERGEANT appears beckoning comrade.)
NORAH (peeping towards the door). Why, uncle, this is the soldier who came this morning—one of them with the blue coats and gold braid.
CORPORAL. Eh, and what do he want ? Don't stand and stare, lass, but go to the door and ask him what he wants.
(She approaches the door, which is half open. SERGEANT MCDONALD of Artillery, his gun in his hand, steps over the threshold and salutes.)
SERGEANT. Good day again to you, miss. Is the old gentleman to be seen now?
NORAH. Yes, sir. That's him. I'm sure he'll be very glad to see you. Uncle, here is a gentleman who wants to speak with you.
SERGEANT. Proud to see you, sir—proud and glad, sir.
(Steps forward and salutes—NORAH, half frightened, half attracted, keeps her eyes on the visitor.)
CORPORAL (blinking at the SERGEANT). Sit ye down, sergeant, sit ye down ! (Shakes his head). You are young for the stripes. It's easier to get three now, than one in my day, Gunners were old soldiers then, and the grey hairs came quicker than the three stripes.
(SERGEANT puts carbine by window, NORAH takes off apron, folds it up, puts it in basket.)
SERGEANT. I am eight years in the service, sir. McDonald is my name, Sergeant McDonald of H. Battery, Southern Artillery Division. I am here as the spokesman of my mates to say that we are proud to have you in the town, sir.
(NORAH finishes clearing table, table cloth folded in drawer of dresser.)
CORPORAL (chuckling and rubbing his hands). That was what the Regent said. "The regiment is proud of you," says he. "And I am proud of the regiment," says I. "A good answer, too," says he.
SERGEANT. The soldiers would be proud and honored to see you, sir. If you could pay a visit, you’d get a warm welcome.
CORPORAL. (laughing until he coughs). Like to see me, would they, the dogs! Well, well, if this warm weather holds I'll drop in—it's likely that I'll drop in. My throat is bad to-day, and I feel strange here (slapping his chest). But you will see me one of these days at the barracks.
SERGEANT (respectfully). You was in the Guards, sir, wasn't you ?
CORPORAL. Yes, I am a guardsman, I am. Served in the 3rd Guards, the same they call now the Scots Guards. But they have all marched away, from Colonel Byng right down to the drummer boys, and here am I, a straggler—that's what I call myself, a straggler. But it ain't my fault neither, for I've never had my call, and I can't leave my post without it.
SERGEANT (shaking his head). Ah, well, we all have to muster up there.
CORPORAL. You've got your firelock there, sergeant.
SERGEANT. Yes, sir, I was on my way back from the butts when I looked in.
CORPORAL. Let me have the feel of it!
SERGEANT. Certainly, (gives carb.) Lordy, but it seems like old times to have one's hand on a musket. What's the manual, sergeant? Eh? Cock your firelock! Present your firelock. I Look to your priming! Heh, sergeant! (The breech on being pressed flies open. NORAH is now top of table looking on). Oh, Jimini! I've broke your musket in halves.
SERGEANT (laughing). That's all right, sir! You pressed on the lever and opened the breech-piece. That's where we load 'em, you know.
CORPORAL. Load 'em at the wrong end! Well, well, to think of it I and no ramrod neither. I've heard tell of it, but I never believed it afore. Ah ! it won't come up to Brown Bess. When there's work to be done you mark my words, and see if they don't come back to Brown Bess.
SERGEANT (rising). But I've wearied you enough for one sitting. I'll look in again, and I'll bring a comrade or two with me, if I may, for there isn't one but would be proud to have speech with you. (Salutes. Exit.) My very best respects to you, Miss.
NORAH. Oh, Uncle, isn't he noble and fine? (Up to door, looks after him.)
CORPORAL (mumbling). Too young for the stripes, gal. A sergeant of gunners should be a grown man. I don't know what we are comin' to in these days. (Chuckling.)
NORAH (aside nodding towards the door). To think that he will be like Uncle in sixty years, and that Uncle was once like him. (Forward to window L.) He seems a very kind young man, I think. He calls me " Miss " and Uncle " sir," so polite and proper. I never saw as nice a man down Essex way.
CORPORAL. What are you moonin' about, gal? I want you to help me move my chair to the door, or maybe yon fancy chair will do. It's warm, and the air would hearten me if I can keep back the flies. They get owdacious in this weather and they plague . me cruel.
NORAH. The flies, Uncle.
(He moves feebly across to where the sunshine comes in at the door, and he sits in it NORAH helps him.)
CORPORAL. Eh, but it's fine! It always makes me think of the glory to come. Was it to-day that parson was here?
NORAH. NO, Uncle. (Kneels on his L.)
CORPORAL. Then it was yesterday. I get the days kind o' mixed. He reads to me, the parson does.
NORAH. But I could do that, Uncle.
CORPORAL. YOU can read too, can you? By Jimini, I never seed such a gal. You can travel by railroad and you can read. Whatever is the world comin' to?
NORAH. What is it, Uncle ? You look tired.
CORPORAL (faintly). Maybe I have had air enough. And I ain't strong enough to fight agin the flies.
NORAH. Oh, but I will keep them off, Uncle.
CORPORAL. They get owdacious in this weather. I'll get back to the corner. But you'll need to help me with the chair. (Knock.) Chairs are made heavier than they used to be.
(Is in the act of rising when there comes a tap at the door, and COLONEL MIDWINTER (civilian costume) puts in his head.)
COLONEL. Is this Gregory Brewster's?
CORPORAL. Yes, sir. That's my name.
COLONEL. Then you are the man I came to see.
CORPORAL. Who was that, sir?
COLONEL. Gregory Brewster was his name.
CORPORAL. I am the man, sir.
COLONEL. And you are the same Brewster, as I understand, whose name is on the roll of the Scots Guards as having been present at the battle of Waterloo ?
CORPORAL. The same Brewster, sir, though they used to call it the 3rd Guards in my day. It was a fine regiment, sir, and they only want me now to make up a full muster.
COLONEL (cheerily). Tut ! tut ! they'll have to wait years for that. But I thought I should like to have a word with you, for I am the Colonel of the Scots Guards.
(CORPORAL springing to his feet and saluting, staggers about to fall. The COLONEL and NORAH prevent it. NORAH on his L.)
COLONEL. Steady, steady, (leads BREWSTER to other chair.) Easy and steady . . .
CORPORAL (sitting down and panting). Thank ye, sir. I was near gone that time. But, Lordy, why I can scarce believe it. To think of me a corporal of the flank company, and you the colonel of the battalion. Lordy, how things do come round to be sure.
(NORAH helps him into chair R. of table. COLONEL gets by fireplace).
CORPORAL. That's what the Regent said. "The regiment is proud of ye," says he. "And I'm proud of the regiment," says I.
COLONEL. And so you are actually he.
CORPORAL. "And a darn good answer, too," says he.
COLONEL. Why, we are very proud of you in London. And so you are actually one of the men who held Hougoumont. (Looks round him at the medicine bottles, etc.)
(NORAH sits L. of table with needlework, taken from her basket.)
CORPORAL. Yes, colonel, I was at Hougoumont.
COLONEL. Well, I hope that you are pretty comfortable and happy.
CORPORAL. Thank ye, sir, I am pretty bobbish when the weather holds, and the flies are not too audacious. I have a good deal of trouble with my tubes. You wouldn't think the job it is to cut the phlegm. And I need my rations, I get cold without 'em. And my joints, they are not what they used to be.
COLONEL. HOW'S the memory ?
CORPORAL. Oh, there ain't anything amiss there. Why, sir, I could give you the name of every man in Captain Haldane's flank company.
COLONEL. And the battle—you remember that ?
CORPORAL. Why I sees it afore me. Every time I shuts my eyes. Lordy, sir, you wouldn't hardly believe how clear it is to me. There's our line right along from the bottle to the inhaler, d'ye see! Well then, the pill box is for Hougoumont on the right, where we was, and the thimble for Le Hay Saint. That's all right, sir. (Cocks his head and looks at it with satisfaction.) And here are the reserves, and here were our guns and our Belgians, then here's the French, where I put my new pipe, and over here, where the cough drops are, was the Prussians a comin' up on our left flank, Jimini, but it was a glad sight to see the smoke of their guns. (NORAH helps him into chair.)
COLONEL. And what was it that struck you most, now, in connection with the whole affair?
CORPORAL. I lost three half-crowns over it, I did. I shouldn't wonder if I were never to get the money now. I lent them to Jabez Smith, my rear rank man at Brussels. "Greg!" says he, "I'll pay you true, only wait till pay-day." By Jimini, he was struck by a lancer at Quarter Brass, and me without a line to prove the debt. Them three half-crowns is as good as lost to me.
COLONEL (laughing). The officers—of the Guards— want you to buy—yourself—some little trifle, some little present which may add to your comfort. It is not from me, so you need not thank me. (Slips a note into the old man's pocket. Crosses to leave.)
CORPORAL. Thank you kindly, sir. But there's one favor I'd ask you, Colonel.
COLONEL. Yes, corporal, what is it ?
CORPORAL. If I'm called, Colonel, you won't grudge me a flag and a firing party. I'm not a civilian, I'm a Guardsman, and I should like to think as two lines of the bear-skins would be walkin' after my coffin.
COLONEL. All right, corpora! I'll see to it. (CORPORAL sinks back in his chair.) I fear that I have tired him. He is asleep, I think. Good-bye, my girl; and I hope that we may have nothing but good news from you. (Exit COLONEL. )
NORAH. Thank you, sir, I'm sure I hope so too. Uncle, uncle ! Yes, I suppose he is asleep. But he is so grey and thin, that he frightens me. Oh, I wish I had someone to advise me, for I don't know when he is ill and when he is not.
(Enter SERGEANT MCDONALD abruptly.)
SERGEANT. Good day, Miss. How is the old gentleman?
NORAH. Shh! He's asleep, I think. But I feel quite frightened about him.
SERGEANT (going over to him). Yes, he don't look as if he were long for this life, does he? Maybe a sleep like this brings strength to him.
NORAH. Oh, I do hope so.
SERGEANT. Do you always live with him?
NORAH. NO, I only came this morning.
SERGEANT. Well, you haven't taken long to get straight.
NORAH. Oh, but I found everything in such a mess. When I have time to myself I'll soon get it nice.
SERGEANT. That sounds like marching orders to me.
NORAH. Oh, how could you think so I
SERGEANT. Tell me, Miss, have you ever been to a barrack ?
NORAH. NO, I've been on a farm all my life.
SERGEANT. Well, maybe, when he comes up you would come with him? I'd like to show you over.
NORAH. I'm sure I'd like to come.
SERGEANT. Well, will you promise to come ?
NORAH (laughing). You seem quite earnest about it.
SERGEANT. Well, maybe I am.
NORAH. Very well, I'll promise to come.
SERGEANT. You'll find us rough and ready.
NORAH. I'm sure it will be very nice.
SERGEANT. Not quite what young ladies are accustomed to.
NORAH. But I am no young lady. I've worked with my hands every day that I can remember.
CORPORAL (in a loud voice). The Guards need powder. (Louder.) The Guards need powder. (Struggles to rise.)
NORAH. Oh, I am so frightened.
CORPORAL (staggering to his feet, and suddenly flashing out into his old soldiery figure.) The Guards need powder, and, by God, they shall have it ! (Falls back into chair. NORAH and the SERGEANT rush towards him.)
NORAH (sobbing). Oh, tell me, sir, tell me, what do you think?
SERGEANT (gravely). I think that the 3rd Guards have a full muster now.