Thursday, November 10, 2005

A smatter of history !

Thought today that I'd do some research on the history of New York.

Before the arrival of European settlers, New York was primarily inhabited by the Lenape tribes (later called the Delaware Indians by the Europeans). Italian explorer Giovanni de Verrazano is the first recorded European to reach the shores of New York. In April 1524, sailing for the king of France, his ship, the Dauphine, viewed New York from the Narrows where the Lower Bay and Upper Bay meet (between the present-day Brooklyn and Staten Island). The present-day Verrazano Narrows Bridge connecting these two burroughs is named in his honor. Incidentally, this bridge happens to be the longest suspension bridge in the United States!

Verrazano was the first to discover the island of Manhattan (then called Manahatta - meaning hilly island by the natives). An year later, Esteban Gomez, a Portuguese sailor employed by Spain, sailed into New York Harbor in search of gold.

The first European settlement though, happened only after Henry Hudson's voyage of 1609, when he sailed along the Hudson river (named after him) all the way till present-day Albany. His report that it was “as beautiful a land as one can hope to tread on” spurred his Dutch employers to colonize the land from New York City to Albany thoroughout.

The early colonists recognized Manhattan's value as a watering station on the way north. In 1625 six farms called "boweries" were started, and a handful of streets - Pearl, Broad, Beaver and Whitehall - were laid out. Broadway already existed, as a trading path, before the arrival of the Europeans. The Dutch influence lingers today in the city’s oldest places that still retain these names (such as Breukelen and Haarlem).

Around 1620, the Dutch established a fur-trading settlement in Lower Manhattan, later called New Amsterdam (Nieuw Amsterdam). Later in 1626, Peter Minuit, the director of the Dutch West India Company, arrived and purchased Manhattan Island and Staten Island from Algonquin tribesmen in exchange for trade goods which contemporary historians value at $600, but which popular history records as $24. Either way, it was quite a bargain.

The Native American sellers too, were happy with the price, as they didn't live there. In fact, no Native Americans lived on Manhattan, though tribes from neighboring lands used Manhattan as a hunting ground and a place to meet for trade.

In 1640, the predominately Dutch New Amsterdam, as it was then named, was teeming with the diversity of the New World. Travelers could hear eighteen European languages spoken in the city. At this early date, Manhattan boasted its first tavern (now paved under for parking at City Hall) and its first recorded lady of the night (Griet Reyniers). Dutch colonists would settle the surrounding lands that would make up New York's boroughs, parts of Long Island and much of New York State. In 1647, the Dutch appointed the stern Peter Stuyvesant as Director General in an effort to bring order to the city's chaos.

Peg-legged and tyrannical, Stuyvesant was one of the first of a stream of colorful characters to people the city’s colorful history. It was he who built the protective wall (which no longer exists) on Wall Street, the canal (also no longer in existence) that later became Canal Street, and who, in 1664, relinquished the thriving colony to British rule (in a trade for Surinam), at which point it was renamed New York.

More history on the morrow...


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