By Nicholas Klacsanzky
New York City is one of the most famous metropolises in the world. It is not only a huge business hub, but also an American cultural symbol for opportunity, hard work, energy, and eclecticism. But have you ever wondered about the history of this great city? If you have, you will enjoy the following paragraphs on New York City’s prehistory, European settlement, and modern development.
Native Americans were the first inhabitants of the area of New York City. The Lenape people were the main residents in this land, and they spoke the Algonquian language (Kraft, Herbert). These people used the waterways in their surroundings for fishing, hunting trips, trade, and even war. In fact, many of the main trails of the Lenape are now major thoroughfares in New York, such as Broadway (Foote, Thelma Wills). Before European settlers came, the Lenape had agriculture, developed hunting techniques, and were managing their resources with ease. They even were harvesting large amounts of fish and shellfish (Kurlansky, Mark). According to estimates, there were around 80 settlements of the Lenape with a population of approximately 5,000 when European settlers came (Stanford Web Archive Timeline).
Italian voyager Giovanni da Verrazzano was the first European to visit the area, which was in 1524 (Morison, Samuel Eliot). But he did not stay for long, and it was not until 1609 when English employee of the Dutch East India Company, Henry Hudson, was looking for a westerly passage to Asia and instead found a fine spot for beaver pelts. Hudson’s report about the beaver population of the New York City area prompted the Dutch to create trading colonies there (Sandler, Corey). Through 1624-1625, the founding of the first Dutch fur trading post was where what is now Lower Manhattan (New York City Department of Parks & Recreation). In 1626, the creation of Fort Amsterdam was initiated. Through the bringing of African slaves to the settlement, construction improved and blossomed, but there was animosity between the Native Americans and the settlers. In February of 1643, there was the Pavonia Massacre in the area known as present-day Jersey City, but a peace treaty was eventually made on August 29th of 1645 (Ellis, Edward Robb). Shorty after, in 1652, the colony was granted self-governance.
However, Dutch rule was short lived. The English took over the colony, renaming it “New York” in honor of the Duke of York in 1664 (Homberger, Eric). It became a colony of the Kingdom of England and subsequently of Great Britain. In the hands of the British, New York burgeoned into a full-scale city. From 1678 to 1694, 384 houses grew to 983, with a mix of African (slaves and free), Dutch, English, Welsh, Scottish, and Irish people (Harris, Leslie M). Unfortunately, through war and massacre, the population of the Lenape shrunk to about 200. On the other hand, the slave trade under British rule continued to boost manpower and also Africans and Caribbeans acted as servants within homes.
With the introduction of the Stamp Act and other taxation measures created by the British government, the colonists became agitated under oppression. Official resistance to British authority began in 1765 with The Stamp Act Congress, and it eventually resulted in the American Revolution starting in the same year. The Revolution lasted until 1783 under the leadership of General George Washington with the aid of France and other countries. The 13 colonies built the Continental Army, and through much tribulation, were able to drive out the British Army from New York and the other colonies. Serving as the first constitution of America, the Articles of Confederation was made in 1785 by Congress in New York City, and by 1798, New York City became the national capital of the United States according to the new United States Constitution. You can say this was the true start of the modern New York City.
From a relatively peaceful Native American settlement of the Lenape people to American rule, New York City has had a bloody, tumultuous history of banner-changing, massacres, mass fires, slavery, and revolt. Now the focal point of American urban culture and business, one can easily forget what it came from.
Kraft, Herbert. The Lenape: Archaeology, history, and ethnography (New Jersey Historical Society v 21, 1986).
Foote, Thelma Wills (2004). Black and White Manhattan: The History of Racial Formation in Colonial New York. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 25. ISBN 0-19-516537-3.
Kurlansky, Mark. The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell, New York: Ballantine Books, 2006.
“Gotham Center for New York City History.” Archived 2008-12-29 at the Stanford Web Archive Timeline 1700–1800.
Morison, Samuel Eliot (1971). The European Discovery of America. Volume 1: The Northern Voyages. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press. p. 490. ISBN 978-0195082715.
Sandler, Corey (2007). Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession. Citadel Press. ISBN 978-0-8065-2739-0.
“Battery Park.” New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. Retrieved on September 13, 2008.” Nycgovparks.org. Retrieved 2010-10-04.
Ellis, Edward Robb (1966). The Epic of New York City. Old Town Books. pp. 37–40.
Homberger, Eric (2005). The Historical Atlas of New York City: A Visual Celebration of 400 Years of New York City’s History. Owl Books. p. 34. ISBN 0-8050-7842-8.
Harris, Leslie M. (2003). In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863. The University of Chicago Press. p. 14. ISBN 978-0226317731.