History of New York City

The history of New York, New York begins with the first European documentation of the area by Giovanni da Verrazzano, in command of the French ship, La Dauphine, when he visited the region in 1524. It is believed he sailed in Upper New York Bay where he encountered native Lenape, returned through The Narrows where he anchored the night of April 17, and then left to continue his voyage. He named the area of present-day New York City Nouvelle-Angoulême (New Angoulême) in honor of Francis I of France, King of France and Count of Angoulême.[1]

European settlement began on September 3, 1609 when Englishman Henry Hudson in the employ of the Dutch East India Company sailed the Half Moon through The Narrows into Upper New York Bay. Like Christopher Columbus, Hudson was looking for a westerly passage to Asia. He never found one, but he did make note of the abundant beaver population. Beaver pelts were in fashion in Europe, fueling a lucrative business. Hudson's report on the beaver population of the New York area served as the impetus for the founding of Dutch trading colonies in the New World, among them New Amsterdam, which would become New York City. The beaver's importance in New York City history is reflected by its use on the city's official seal.

The area around New York City was the location for multiple battles of the American Revolutionary War, including the largest battle of the war: the Battle of Brooklyn. The British won and went on to occupy the city from September 1776 to late 1783. George Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States on April 30, 1789 in front of Federal Hall and the city served as the capital of the United States until 1790.

Modern New York City traces its development to the consolidation of the five boroughs in 1898 and an economic and building boom following the Great Depression and World War II. Throughout its history, New York City has served as a main port of entry for many immigrants, and its cultural and economic influences have made it one of the most important urban areas in the United States, and the world.

History of New York City

Lenape and New Netherland
New Amsterdam
British and Revolution
Federal and early American
Tammany and Consolidation
Early 20th century
Post–World War II
Modern and post-9/11


Lenape and New Netherland: prehistory – 1664

Peter Stuyvesant

The area that would eventually encompass modern day New York City was inhabited by the Lenape people. These groups of culturally and linguistically identical Native Americans traditionally spoke an Algonquian language now referred to as Unami. Early European settlers would refer to bands of Lenape by the Unami place name for where they lived, such as: "Raritan" in what is now called Staten Island and New Jersey, "Canarsee" in what is now known as Brooklyn, and "Hackensack" in modern New Jersey across the Hudson River from current-day Lower Manhattan. Eastern Long Island neighbors were culturally and linguistically more closely related to the Mohegan-Pequot peoples of what is now known as New England who spoke the Mohegan-Montauk-Narragansett language.

These peoples all made use of the abundant waterways in the New York City region for fishing, hunting trips, trade amongst themselves, and occasionally war. A reminder of their presence in the New York City region is evidenced by various place names such as Raritan Bay and Canarsie, Brooklyn. Many former paths created by indigenes are today main thouroughfares such as Broadway in Manhattan.[5] The Lenape developed sophisticated techniques of hunting and managing their resources. By the time of the arrival of Europeans, they were cultivating fields of vegetation through the slash and burn technique, which extended the productive life of planted fields. They also harvested vast quantities of fish and shellfish from the bay.[6] It has been estimated that at the time of European settlement there were approximately 15,000 Lenape total in approximately 80 settlement sites around the region.[7] European settlement began with the founding of a Dutch fur trading settlement in Lower Manhattan in 1613 later called New Amsterdam (Nieuw Amsterdam) in the southern tip of Manhattan in 1625.[8] Soon thereafter, most likely in 1626, construction of Fort Amsterdam began.[8]

Willem Kieft became director general in 1638, but five years later was embroiled in Kieft's War against the Native Americans. The Pavonia Massacre, across the Hudson River in present day Jersey City resulted in the death of eighty natives in February 1643. Following the massacre, eleven Algonquian tribes joined forces[clarification needed] and nearly defeated the Dutch. Holland sent additional forces to the aid of Kieft, leading to the overwhelming defeat of the Native Americans, and a peace treaty on August 29, 1645.[9]

On May 27, 1647, Peter Stuyvesant was inaugurated as director general upon his arrival, and ruled as a member of the Dutch Reformed Church. The colony was granted self-government in 1652 and New Amsterdam was formally incorporated as a city February 2, 1653.[10]

British and revolution: 1664–1783

In 1664, the English conquered the area and renamed it "New York" after the Duke of York and Albany.[11] The Dutch briefly regained it in 1673, renaming the city "New Orange", before permanently ceding the colony of New Netherland to the English for what is now Suriname in November 1674. Some area names are still reminiscent of the Dutch period, most notably Flushing (Dutch town of Vlissingen), Harlem (Dutch town of Haarlem) and Brooklyn (Dutch town of Breukelen).

By 1700, the Lenape population of New York had diminished to 200.[12]

The new English rulers of the formerly Dutch New Amsterdam and New Netherland renamed the settlement New York. As the colony grew and prospered, sentiment also grew for greater autonomy. In the context of the Glorious Revolution in England, Jacob Leisler led Leisler's Rebellion and effectively controlled the city and surrounding areas from 1689–1691, before being arrested and executed.

The 1735 libel trial of John Peter Zenger in the city was a seminal influence on freedom of the press in North America.

New Amsterdam in 1664
View of New York harbor, ca. 1770

After a series of fires in 1741, the city became panicked about an African-American plot to burn the city, conspiring with some whites. This was mostly a fabrication. Nevertheless, 31 blacks and 4 whites were convicted of arson; 13 blacks were burned alive, 4 whites and 18 blacks were hanged.[13]

In 1754, Columbia University was founded under charter by George II of Great Britain as King's College in Lower Manhattan.[14]

The Stamp Act and other British measures fomented dissent, particularly among Sons of Liberty who maintained a long-running skirmish with locally stationed British troops over Liberty Poles from 1766 to 1776. The Stamp Act Congress met in New York City in 1765 in the first organized resistance to British authority across the colonies. After the major defeat of the Continental Army in the Battle of Long Island, General George Washington withdrew to Manhattan Island, but with the subsequent defeat at the Battle of Fort Washington the island was effectively left to the British. New York City was greatly damaged twice by fires of suspicious origin during British military rule. The city became the political and military center of operations in North America for the remainder of the war, and a haven for Loyalist refugees. Continental Army officer Nathan Hale was hanged in Manhattan for espionage. In addition, the British began to hold the majority of captured American prisoners of war aboard prison ships in Wallabout Bay, across the East River in Brooklyn. More Americans lost their lives from neglect aboard these ships than died in all the battles of the war. British occupation lasted until November 25, 1783. George Washington triumphantly returned to the city that day, as the last British forces left the city.

Federal and early America: 1784–1854

In 1785 the Congress met in New York City under the Articles of Confederation. Later, New York City was made the first national capital of the United States under the United States Constitution. The United States Constitution also created the current Congress of the United States and the first sitting at Federal Hall on Wall Street. The first steps to expanding the United States: the first United States Supreme Court sat there, the United States Bill of Rights was drafted and ratified there, and the Northwest Ordinance all took place there.

New York City became the first capital of the newly formed United States on September 13, 1788 under the U.S. Constitutional Convention. On April 30, 1789 the first President of the United States, George Washington, was inaugurated at Federal Hall on Wall Street.[15] New York City remained the capital of the U.S. until 1790, when the honor was transferred to Philadelphia.

New York grew as an economic center, first as a result of Alexander Hamilton's policies and practices as the first Secretary of the Treasury and, later, with the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, which connected the Atlantic port to the vast agricultural markets of the North American interior.[16][17] Immigration resumed after being slowed by wars in Europe, and a new street grid system expanded to encompass all of Manhattan.

The Great Irish Famine brought a large influx of Irish immigrants, and by 1850, the Irish comprised one quarter of the city's population.[18] Government institutions, including the New York City Police Department and the public schools, were established in the 1840s and 1850s to respond to growing demands of residents.[19]

Tammany and consolidation: 1855–1897

Broadway at 42nd St. in 1880.

This period started with the 1855 inauguration of Fernando Wood as the first mayor from Tammany Hall, an Irish immigrant-supported Democratic Party political machine that would dominate local politics throughout this period.[20] During the 19th century, the city was transformed by immigration, a visionary development proposal called the Commissioners' Plan of 1811, which expanded the city street grid to encompass all of Manhattan, and the opening of the Erie Canal, which connected the Atlantic port to the vast agricultural markets of the Midwestern United States and Canada in 1825. By 1835, New York City had surpassed Philadelphia as the largest city in the United States. Public-minded members of the old merchant aristocracy pressed for a Central Park, which was opened to a design competition in 1857; it would become the first landscape park in an American city.

During the American Civil War (1861–1865), the city's strong commercial ties to the South, its growing immigrant population, and anger about conscription led to divided sympathy for both the Union and Confederacy, culminating in the Draft Riots of 1863.[21] After the Civil War, the rate of immigration from Europe grew steeply, and New York became the first stop for millions seeking a new and better life in the United States, a role acknowledged by the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1886.

Early 20th century: 1898–1945

Mulberry Street, on the Lower East Side, circa 1900.

In 1898, the modern City of New York was formed with the consolidation of Brooklyn (until then an independent city), Manhattan and outlying areas.[22] Manhattan and the Bronx, though still one county, were established as two separate boroughs and joined together with three other boroughs created from parts of adjacent counties to form the new municipal government originally called "Greater New York". The Borough of Brooklyn incorporated the independent City of Brooklyn, recently joined to Manhattan by the Brooklyn Bridge, and several municipalities in eastern Kings County, New York; the Borough of Queens was created from western Queens County (with the remnant established as Nassau County in 1899); and The Borough of Staten Island contained all of Richmond County. All municipal (county, town and city) governments contained within the boroughs were abolished. In 1914, the New York State Legislature created Bronx county, making five counties coterminous with the five boroughs.

On June 15, 1904 over 1,000 people, mostly German Immigrants, were killed when the steamship General Slocum caught fire and burned on North Brother Island, in the East River; and on March 25, 1911 the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in Greenwich Village took the lives of 146 garment workers, which would eventually lead to great advancements in the city's fire department, building codes, and workplace regulations.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the city became a world center for industry, commerce, and communication. Interborough Rapid Transit (the first New York City Subway company) began operating in 1904, and the railroads operating out of Grand Central Terminal and Pennsylvania Station thrived.

New York City's ever accelerating changes and rising crime and poverty rates ended when World War I disrupted trade routes, the Immigration Restriction Acts limited additional immigration after the war, and the Great Depression ended the need for new labor. The combination ended the rule of the Gilded Age barons. As the city's demographics stabilized, labor unionization brought new protections and affluence to the working class, the city's government and infrastructure underwent a dramatic overhaul under Fiorello La Guardia, and his controversial parks commissioner, Robert Moses, ended the blight of many tenement areas, expanded new parks, remade streets, and restricted and reorganized zoning controls.

The skyscraper epitomized New York's success of the early 20th century; it was home to the tallest building between 1908 and 1974.[23]

In the 1920s, New York City was a major destination for African Americans during the Great Migration from the American South. The Harlem Renaissance flourished during the era of Prohibition, coincident with a larger economic boom that saw the skyline develop with the construction of competing skyscrapers. For a while, New York City became the most populous city in the world, starting in 1925 and overtaking London, which had reigned for a century.[24] The difficult years of the Great Depression saw the election of reformer Fiorello La Guardia as mayor and the fall of Tammany Hall after eighty years of political dominance.[25]

Despite the effects of the Great Depression, the 1930s saw the building of some of the world's tallest skyscrapers, including numerous Art-Deco masterpieces that are still part of the city's skyline today. Both before and after World War II, vast areas of the city were also reshaped by the rise of the bridges, parks and parkways coordinated by Moses, the greatest proponent of automobile-centered modernist urbanism in America.

In 1938 the political designation "ward" was abolished.

Post-World War II: 1946–1977

RMS Queen Mary arriving in New York Harbor with thousands of U.S. troops.

Returning World War II veterans and immigrants from Europe created a postwar economic boom and led to the development of huge housing tracts in eastern Queens. The city was extensively photographed during the post–war years by photographer Todd Webb using a heavy camera and tripod.[26]

New York emerged from the war as the leading city of the world, with Wall Street leading America's ascendancy and, in 1951, the United Nations relocated from its first headquarters in Flushing Meadows Park, Queens, to the East Side of Manhattan.[27] During the 1960s, the views of real estate developer and city leader Robert Moses began to fall out of favor as the anti-Urban Renewal views of Jane Jacobs gained popularity. Citizen rebellion killed a plan to construct an expressway through lower Manhattan.

The transition away from the industrial base toward a service economy picked up speed while the large shipbuilding and garment industries declined sharply. The ports converted to container ships, costing many traditional jobs among longshoremen. Many large corporations moved their headquarters to the suburbs, or to distant cities. However there was enormous growth in services especially finance, education, medicine, tourism, communications and law. New York remained the largest city, and largest metropolitan area, in the United States, and continued as its largest financial, commercial, information, and cultural Center.

Like many major U.S. cities, New York suffered race riots, gang wars and some population decline in the 1960s. Street activists and minority groups like the Black Panthers and Young Lords took matters into their own hands and organized rent strikes and garbage offensives, demanding city services for poor areas. They also set up free health clinics and other programs, as a guide for organizing and gaining "Power to the People." By the 1970s the city had also gained a reputation as a crime-ridden relic of history. In 1975, the city government avoided bankruptcy only through a federal loan and debt restructuring by the Municipal Assistance Corporation, headed by Felix Rohatyn. The city was also forced to accept increased financial scrutiny by an agency of New York State. In 1977, the city was struck by the twin catastrophes of the New York City blackout of 1977 and the Son of Sam serial murderer's continued slayings.

Modern period: 1978–present

The 1980s saw a rebirth of Wall Street, and the city reclaimed its role at the center of the worldwide financial industry. Unemployment and crime remained high, the latter reaching peak levels in some categories around the close of the decade and the beginning of the 1990s. The city later resumed its social and economic recovery, bolstered by the influx of Asians, Latin Americans, and U.S. citizens, and by new crimefighting techniques on the part of the NYPD. In the late 1990s, the city benefited from the success of the financial sectors, such as Silicon Alley, during the dot com boom, one of the factors in a decade of booming real estate values. New York's population reached an all-time high in the 2000 census; according to census estimates since 2000, the city has continued to grow, including rapid growth in the most urbanized borough, Manhattan. During this period, New York City was also a site of the September 11 attacks; nearly 3,000 people were killed by a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, an event considered highly traumatic for the city but which did not stop the city's rapid regrowth.

See also


Streets & Thoroughfares

Small Islands



  1. ^ Samuel Eliot Morison, The European Discovery of America: The Northern Voyages (1971). p. 490.
  2. ^ "U.S. Bureau of the Census(1900–present)". Census.gov. http://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps0027/twps0027.html. Retrieved 2010-10-04. 
  3. ^ Rosenwaike, Ira (1972). Population history of New York City By Ira Rosenwaike (p.3 1656, through 1990). ISBN 9780815621553. http://books.google.com/books?id=2OR2yeASrfIC&printsec=frontcover&dq=population+history+of+new+york+city#v=onepage&q=1656&f=false. Retrieved 2010-10-04. 
  4. ^ "City of New York: Population History- Highly Urbanized Boroughs(1790–2000)". Demographia.com. http://www.demographia.com/db-nyc4.htm. Retrieved 2010-10-04. 
  5. ^ 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 0195165373. http://books.google.com/?id=4GJqzKNXxDMC&pg=PA146&dq=0195165373#PPA25,M1. 
  6. ^ Mark Kurlansky, The Big Oyster : History on the Half Shell, New York: Ballantine Books, 2006.
  7. ^ Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham : A History of New York City to 1898, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  8. ^ a b ""Battery Park". New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. Retrieved on September 13, 2008". Nycgovparks.org. http://www.nycgovparks.org/sub_your_park/historical_signs/hs_historical_sign.php?id=7712. Retrieved 2010-10-04. 
  9. ^ Ellis, Edward Robb (1966). The Epic of New York City. Old Town Books. pp. 37–40. 
  10. ^ Ellis, Edward Robb (1966). The Epic of New York City. Old Town Books. p. 57. 
  11. ^ 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 0805078428. 
  12. ^ "Gotham Center for New York City History" Timeline 1700–1800
  13. ^ Morison, Samuel Eliot (1972). The Oxford History of the American People. New York City: Mentor. p. 207. ISBN 0-451-62600-1. 
  14. ^ Moore, Nathaniel Fish (1876). An Historical Sketch of Columbia College, in the City of New York, 1754–1876. Columbia College. p. 8. 
  15. ^ "The People's Vote: President George Washington's First Inaugural Speech (1789)". U.S. News and World Report. http://www.usnews.com/usnews/documents/docpages/document_page11.htm. Retrieved 2007-05-28. 
  16. ^ Bridges, William (1811). Map Of The City Of New York And Island Of Manhattan With Explanatory Remarks And References. 
  17. ^ Lankevich (1998), pp. 67–68.
  18. ^ Bayor, Ronald H. (1997). The New York Irish. Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 91. ISBN 0801857643. 
  19. ^ Lankevich (1998), pp. 84–85.
  20. ^ Mushkat, Jerome Mushkat (1990). Fernando Wood: A Political Biography. Kent State University Press. p. 36. ISBN 087338413X. 
  21. ^ Cook, Adrian (1974). The Armies of the Streets: The New York City Draft Riots of 1863. pp. 193–195. 
  22. ^ The 100 Year Anniversary of the Consolidation of the 5 Boroughs into New York City, New York City. Retrieved June 29, 2007.
  23. ^ Gerometta, Marshall (2010). "Height: The History of Measuring Tall Buildings". Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. http://www.ctbuh.org/AboutCTBUH/History/HistoryMeasuringTallBuildings/tabid/1320/language/en-GB/Default.aspx. Retrieved 2010-12-20. 
  24. ^ City Mayors (2007-06-28). "The World's Largest Cities". http://www.citymayors.com/features/largest_cities1.html. Retrieved 2007-11-29. 
  25. ^ Allen, Oliver E. (1993). "Chapter 9: The Decline". The Tiger – The Rise and Fall of Tammany Hall. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company. 
  26. ^ CHARLES HAGEN (September 22, 1995). "Art in Review". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/1995/09/22/arts/art-in-review-761095.html. Retrieved 2010-10-10. "In 1945... Todd Webb moved to New York City and began a remarkable project. For the next year Mr. Webb walked the streets of the city with a heavy camera and tripod, photographing the buildings and people he encountered...." 
  27. ^ Burns, Ric (2003-08-22). "The Center of the World – New York: A Documentary Film (Transcript)". PBS. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/newyork/filmmore/pt.html. Retrieved 2006-07-20. 

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