History of New York City
|History of New York City|
Lenape and New Netherland, to 1664
British and Revolution, 1665–1783
Federal and early American, 1784–1854
Tammany and Consolidation, 1855–1897
(Civil War, 1861–1865)
Early 20th century, 1898–1945
Post–World War II, 1946–1977
Modern and post-9/11, 1978–
Timelines: NYC • Bronx • Brooklyn • Queens • Staten Island
|City of New York |
Population by year
|Including the "outer|
boroughs" before the
The written history of New York City began with the first European explorer the Italian Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524. European settlement began with the Dutch in 1609.
The "Sons of Liberty" destroyed British authority in New York City, and the Stamp Act Congress of representatives from throughout the Thirteen Colonies met in the city in 1765 to organize resistance to British policies. The city's strategic location and status as a major seaport made it the prime target for British seizure in 1776. General George Washington lost a series of battles from which he narrowly escaped (with the notable exception of the Battle of Harlem Heights, his first victory of the war), and the British Army controlled New York City and made it their base on the continent until late 1783, attracting Loyalist refugees. The city served as the national capital under the Articles of Confederation from 1785-1789, and briefly served as the new nation's capital in 1789–90 under the United States Constitution. Under the new government the city hosted the inauguration of George Washington as the first President of the United States, the drafting of the United States Bill of Rights, and the first Supreme Court of the United States. The opening of the Erie Canal gave excellent steamboat connections with upstate New York and the Great Lakes, along with coastal traffic to lower New England, making the city the preeminent port on the Atlantic Ocean. The arrival of rail connections to the north and west in the 1840s and 1850s strengthened its central role.
Beginning in the mid-18th century, waves of new immigrants arrived from Europe dramatically changing the composition of the city and serving as workers in the expanding industries. 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 influence has made it one of the most important urban areas in the United States and the world.
- 1 Native American settlement
- 2 European exploration and settlement
- 3 Modern history
- 4 See also
- 5 Notes
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
Native American settlement
The area that eventually encompassed modern day New York City was inhabited by the Lenape people. These groups of culturally and linguistically related Native Americans traditionally spoke an Algonquian language now referred to as Unami. Early European settlers called bands of Lenape by the Unami place name for where they lived, such as "Raritan" in Staten Island and New Jersey, "Canarsee" in Brooklyn, and "Hackensack" in New Jersey across the Hudson River from Lower Manhattan. Some modern place names such as Raritan Bay and Canarsie are derived from Lenape names. Eastern Long Island neighbors were culturally and linguistically more closely related to the Mohegan-Pequot peoples of 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, and occasionally war. Many paths created by the indigenous peoples are now main thoroughfares, such as Broadway in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Westchester. 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. Historians estimate that at the time of European settlement, approximately 5,000 Lenape lived in 80 settlements around the region.
European exploration and settlement
Giovanni da Verrazzano, in command of the French ship La Dauphine in 1524. It is believed he sailed into Upper New York Bay, where he encountered native Lenape, returned through the Narrows, where he anchored the night of April 17, and left to continue his voyage. He named the area Nouvelle-Angoulême (New Angoulême) in honor of Francis I, King of France of the royal house of Valois-Angoulême.
European exploration continued on September 2, 1609, when the 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 take note of the abundant beaver population. Beaver pelts were in fashion in Europe, fueling a lucrative business. Hudson's report on the regional beaver population served as the impetus for the founding of Dutch trading colonies in the New World. The beaver's importance in New York City's history is reflected by its use on the city's official seal.
The first Dutch fur trading posts and settlements were in 1614 near present day Albany, New York, the same year that New Netherland first appeared on maps. Only in May 1624, the Dutch West India Company landed a number of families at Noten Eylant (today's Governors Island) off the southern tip of Manhattan at the mouth of the North River (today's Hudson River). Soon thereafter, most likely in 1626, construction of Fort Amsterdam began. Later, the Dutch West Indies Company imported African slaves to serve as laborers; they helped to build the wall that defended the town against English and Indian attacks. Early directors included Willem Verhulst and Peter Minuit. Willem Kieft became director 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 80 natives in February 1643. Following the massacre, Algonquian tribes joined forces 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.
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 incorporated as a city on February 2, 1653. The first mayors (burgemeesters) of New Amsterdam, Arent van Hattem and Martin Cregier, were appointed in that year. By the early 1660s, the population existed of approximately 1500 Europeans, only about half of whom were Dutch, and 375 Africans, 300 of whom were slaves.[a]
A few of the original Dutch place names have been retained, most notably Flushing (after the Dutch town of Vlissingen), Harlem (after Haarlem), and Brooklyn (after Breukelen). Few buildings, however, remain from the 17th century. The oldest recorded house still in existence in New York City, the Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House in Brooklyn, dates from 1652.
British Rule and revolution: 1664–1783
On August 27, 1664, four English frigates sailed into New Amsterdam's harbor and demanded New Netherland's surrender, as part of an effort by king Charles' brother James, Duke of York, the Lord High Admiral to provoke the Second Anglo-Dutch War. Two weeks later, Stuyvesant officially capitulated and in June 1665, the town was reincorporated under English law and renamed "New York" after the Duke, ending the 50-year history of the Dutch colony. The war ended in a Dutch victory in 1667, but the colony remained under English rule. During the Third Anglo-Dutch War, the Dutch briefly regained the city 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.
The colony benefited within the burgeoning global British Empire and its population grew faster. The Bolting Act of 1678, whereby no mill outside the city was permitted to grind wheat or corn, boosted growth until its repeal in 1694, increasing the number of houses over the period from 384 to 983.
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.
In New York City at first, legal practitioners were full-time businessmen and merchants, with no legal training, who had watched a few court proceedings, and mostly use their own common sense together with snippets they had picked up about English law. Court proceedings were quite informal, for the judges had no more training than the attorneys. By the 1760s, the situation had dramatically changed. Lawyers were essential to the rapidly growing international trade, dealing with questions of partnerships, contracts, and insurance. The sums of money involved were large, and hiring an incompetent lawyer was a very expensive proposition. Lawyers were now professionally trained, and conversant in a extremely complex language that combine highly specific legal terms and motions with a dose of Latin. Court proceedings became a baffling mystery to the ordinary layman. Lawyers became more specialized and built their reputation, and their fee schedule, on the basis of their reputation for success. But as their status, wealth and power rose, animosity grew even faster. By the 1750s and 1760s, there was a widespread attack ridiculing and demeaning the lawyers as pettifoggers. Their image and influence declined. The lawyers organized a bar association, but it fell apart in 1768 during the bitter political dispute between the factions based in the Delancey and Livingston families. For the next century, various attempts were made, and failed, to build an effective organization of lawyers. Finally a Bar Association emerged in 1869 that proved successful and continues to operate. A large fraction of the prominent lawyers were Loyalists; their clientele was often tied to royal authority or British merchants and financiers. They were not allowed to practice law unless they took a loyalty oath to the new United States of America. Many went to Britain or Canada after losing the war..
Indians and slaves
By 1700, the Lenape population of New York had diminished to 200. The Dutch West Indies Company transported African slaves to the post as trading laborers used to build the fort and stockade, and some gained freedom under the Dutch. After the British took over the colony and city in 1664, they continued to import slaves from Africa and the Caribbean. In 1703, 42% of the New York households had slaves; they served as domestic servants and laborers but also became involved in skilled trades, shipping and other fields. Yet following reform in ethics according to British Enlightenment thought this had diminished to less than 25% by the 1770s slaves made up less than 25% of the population 
After a series of fires in 1741, the city became panicked that blacks planned to burn the city in conspiracy with some poor whites. Historians believe their alarm was mostly fabrication and fear, but officials rounded up 31 blacks and 4 whites, who over a period of months were convicted of arson. Of these, the city executed 13 blacks by burning them alive and hanged 4 whites and 18 blacks.
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 in late 1776, 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. The city became a haven for loyalist refugees, becoming a British stronghold for the entire war. Consequently, the area also became the focal point for Washington's espionage and intelligence-gathering throughout the war.
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 for the British 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
Starting in 1785 the Congress met in New York City under the Articles of Confederation. In 1789, New York City became the first national capital of the United States under the new United States Constitution. The Constitution also created the current Congress of the United States, and its first sitting was at Federal Hall on Wall Street. The first United States Supreme Court sat there. The United States Bill of Rights was drafted and ratified there. George Washington was inaugurated at Federal Hall. New York City remained the capital of the U.S. until 1790, when the role was transferred to Philadelphia.
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 in 1825, which connected the Atlantic port to the vast agricultural markets of the Midwestern United States and Canada. By 1835, New York City had surpassed Philadelphia as the largest city in the United States. 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.
In 1842, water was piped from a reservoir to supply the city for the first time.
The Great Irish Famine (1845–1850) brought a large influx of Irish immigrants, and by 1850 the Irish comprised one quarter of the city's population. 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.
Tammany and consolidation: 1855–1897
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 dominated local politics throughout this period and into the 1930s. Public-minded members of the old merchant aristocracy pressed for a Central Park, which was opened to a design competition in 1857; it became the first landscape park in an American city.
During the American Civil War (1861–1865), the city was affected by its history of strong commercial ties to the South; before the war, half of its exports were related to cotton, including textiles from upstate mills. Together with its growing immigrant population, which was angry about conscription, sympathies among residents were divided for both the Union and Confederacy at the outbreak of war. Tensions related to the war culminated in the Draft Riots of 1863 by ethnic white immigrants, who attacked black neighborhood and abolitionist homes. Many blacks left the city and moved to Brooklyn. 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
From 1890 to 1930, the larger cities were the focus of national attention. The skyscrapers and tourist attractions were widely publicized. Suburbs existed, but they were largely bedroom communities for commuters to the central city. San Francisco dominated the West, Atlanta dominated the South, Boston dominated New England; Chicago, the nation's railroad hub, dominated the Midwest United States; however, New York City dominated the entire nation in terms of communications, trade, finance, popular culture, and high culture. More than a fourth of the 300 largest corporations in 1920 were headquartered in New York City.
In 1898, the modern City of New York was formed with the consolidation of Brooklyn (until then an independent city), Manhattan, and outlying areas. Manhattan and the Bronx 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; the Borough of Queens was created from western Queens County (with the remnant established as Nassau County in 1899); and the Borough of Richmond contained all of Richmond County. Municipal governments contained within the boroughs were abolished, and the county governmental functions were absorbed by the city or each borough. In 1914, the New York State Legislature created Bronx County, making five counties coterminous with the five boroughs.
The Bronx had a steady boom period during 1898–1929, with a population growth by a factor of six from 200,000 in 1900 to 1.3 million in 1930. The Great Depression created a surge of unemployment, especially among the working class, and a slow-down of growth.
On June 15, 1904, over 1,000 people, mostly German immigrant women and children, were killed when the excursion steamship General Slocum caught fire and sank. It is the city's worst maritime disaster. On March 25, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in Greenwich Village took the lives of 146 garment workers. In response, the city made great advancements in the 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, marking its rising influence with such events as the Hudson-Fulton Celebration of 1909. 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.
The city was a destination for internal migrants as well as immigrants. Through 1940, New York City was a major destination for African Americans during the Great Migration from the rural American South. The Harlem Renaissance flourished during the 1920s and the era of Prohibition. New York City's ever accelerating changes and rising crime and poverty rates were reduced after World War I disrupted trade routes, the Immigration Restriction Acts limited additional immigration after the war, and the Great Depression reduced the need for new labor. The combination ended the rule of the Gilded Age barons. As the city's demographics temporarily stabilized, labor unionization helped the working class gain new protections and middle-class affluence, 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.
For a while, New York City ranked as the most populous city in the world, overtaking London in 1925, which had reigned for a century. During the difficult years of the Great Depression, the reformer Fiorello La Guardia was elected as mayor, and Tammany Hall fell after eighty years of political dominance.
Despite the effects of the Great Depression, some of the world's tallest skyscrapers were built during the 1930s. These included Art Deco masterpieces that are still part of the city's skyline today, such as the iconic Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, and 30 Rockefeller Plaza. The construction of the Rockefeller Center occurred in the 1930s and was the largest-ever private development project at the time. Both before and especially after World War II, vast areas of the city were also reshaped by the construction of bridges, parks and parkways coordinated by Robert Moses, the greatest proponent of automobile-centered modernist urbanism in America.
Post–World War II: 1946–1977
Returning World War II veterans and immigrants from Europe created a postwar economic boom. Demands for new housing were aided by the G.I. Bill for veterans, stimulating the development of huge suburban tracts in eastern Queens and Nassau County. The city was extensively photographed during the post–war years by photographer Todd Webb.
New York emerged from the war as the leading city of the world, with Wall Street leading the United States ascendancy. In 1951, the United Nations relocated from its first headquarters in Flushing Meadows Park, Queens, to the East Side of Manhattan. During the late 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 stopped a plan to construct an expressway through Lower Manhattan.
After a short war boom, The Bronx declined from 1950 to 1985, going from predominantly moderate-income to mostly lower-income, with high rates of violent crime and poverty. The Bronx has experienced an economic and developmental resurgence starting in the late 1980s that continues into today.
The transition away from the industrial base toward a service economy picked up speed, while the jobs in 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. At the same time, 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 late 1960s. Street activists and minority groups such as the Black Panthers and Young Lords organized rent strikes and garbage offensives, demanding improved 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 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 crises of the New York City blackout of 1977 and serial slayings by the Son of Sam.
The 1980s began 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. Neighborhood restoration projects funded by the city and state had very good effects for New York, especially Bedford-Stuyvesant, Harlem, and The Bronx. The city later resumed its social and economic recovery, bolstered by the influx of Asians, Latin Americans, and U.S. citizens, and by new crime-fighting techniques on the part of the New York Police Department.
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 was also able to attract more business and convert abandoned industrialized neighborhoods into arts or attractive residential neighborhoods; examples include the Meatpacking District and Chelsea (in Manhattan) and Williamsburg (in Brooklyn).
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 a site of the September 11 attacks of 2001; 2,606 people who were in the towers and in the surrounding area 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. On November 3, 2014, One World Trade Center opened on the site of the attack. Hurricane Sandy brought a destructive storm surge to New York City in the evening of October 29, 2012, flooding numerous streets, tunnels, and subway lines in Lower Manhattan. It flooded low-lying areas of Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. Electrical power was lost in many parts of the city and its suburbs.
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- I.N. Phelps Stokes; The Iconography of Manhattan Island Vol 1. 1915 v. 1. The period of discovery (1524-1609); the Dutch period (1609-1664). The English period (1664-1763). The Revolutionary period (1763-1783). Period of adjustment and reconstruction; New York as the state and federal capital (1783-1811)
- I.N. Phelps Stokes; The Iconography of Manhattan Island Vol 2. 1916 v. 2. Cartography: an essay on the development of knowledge regarding the geography of the east coast of North America; Manhattan Island and its environs on early maps and charts / by F.C. Wieder and I.N. Phelps Stokes. The Manatus maps. The Castello plan. The Dutch grants. Early New York newspapers (1725-1811). Plan of Manhattan Island in 1908
- I.N. Phelps Stokes; The Iconography of Manhattan Island Vol 3. 1918 v. 3. The War of 1812 (1812-1815). Period of invention, prosperity, and progress (1815-1841). Period of industrial and educational development (1842-1860). The Civil War (1861-1865); period of political and social development (1865-1876). The modern city and island (1876-1909)
- I.N. Phelps Stokes; The Iconography of Manhattan Island Vol 4. 1922; v. 4. The period of discovery (565-1626); the Dutch period (1626-1664). The English period (1664-1763). The Revolutionary period, part I (1763-1776)
- I.N. Phelps Stokes; The Iconography of Manhattan Island Vol 5. 1926; v. 5. The Revolutionary period, part II (1776-1783). Period of adjustment and reconstruction New York as the state and federal capital (1783-1811). The War of 1812 (1812-1815) ; period of invention, prosperity, and progress (1815-1841). Period of industrial and educational development (1842-1860). The Civil War (1861-1865) ; Period of political and social development (1865-1876). The modern city and island (1876-1909)
- I.N. Phelps Stokes; The Iconography of Manhattan Island Vol 6. 1928; v. 6. Chronology: addenda. Original grants and farms. Bibliography. Index.
- New York: A Documentary Film: an eight part, 171/ hour documentary film directed by Ric Burns for PBS. It originally aired in 1999 with additional episodes airing in 2001 and 2003.
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History of New York City
- Columbia University Libraries. "New York City History". Research Guides. New York: Columbia University. Archived from the original on 2014-02-23. Retrieved 2014-02-06.
- New York University Libraries. "New York City". Research Guides. New York University.
- Gotham Center for New York City History
- Museum of the City of New York
- New-York Historical Society
- Boston Public Library, Map Center. Maps of NYC, various dates
- "Urban Affairs". Research Guides. New York Public Library.
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica. 19 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 610–624. .
- Select "New York City" value to browse NYC Maps (satyrical, political, pictorial) from 1883-1984 at the Persuasive Cartography, The PJ Mode Collection, Cornell University Library.