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

Midtown Manhattan, New York City, from Rockefeller Center, 1932.

The iconic view of New York City showing many of its major landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Empire State Building, and World Trade Center, July 2001.

The history of New York City begins with the Wappinger, a subdivision of the Algonquian speaking Lenape, who inhabited Manhattan prior to the arrival of Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524, and continues with its founding as "New Amsterdam" by the Dutch in 1624 and the period of English rule and its renaming as "New York City" in 1664. The city was the location for multiple battles of the American Revolutionary War, and 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.

Lenape and New Netherland: prehistory – 1664[edit | edit source]

Prehistory in the area began with the geological formation of the peculiar territory of what is today New York City. The area was long inhabited by the Wappinger; they roamed the surrounding river valley and assembled seasonal summer campsites on Manhattan, where they grew maize on communal land and fished the abundant waters. They also maintained their ancestral burial grounds there.[1] They developed sophisticated techniques of hunting and managing their resources. By the time of the arrival of Europeans, the Lenape 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.[2] 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.[3] Lenape in canoes met Giovanni da Verrazzano, the first European explorer to enter New York Harbor, in 1524. Giovanni da Verrazzano named this place New Angoulême in the honour of the French king Francis I.[4] Although Verrazano sailed into the New York City Harbor, he is not thought to have traveled farther than the present site of the bridge that bears his name, and instead sailed back into the Atlantic. It was not until the voyage of Henry Hudson, an Englishman who worked for the Dutch East India Company, that the area was mapped.[5] He discovered Manhattan Island on September 12, 1609, and continued up the river that bears his name, the Hudson River, until he arrived at the site where New York State's capital city, Albany, now stands.

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.[6] Soon thereafter, most likely in 1626, construction of Fort Amsterdam began.[6] Later in 1626, Peter Minuit purchased Manhattan Island and Staten Island from native people in exchange for trade goods.

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 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.[7]

On May 27, 1647, Peter Stuyvesant was inaugurated as director general upon his arrival, and ruled as a member of the Dutch Reformed Church. He curtailed the city's religious freedoms and closed all of the city's taverns. The colony was granted self-government in 1652 and New Amsterdam was formally incorporated as a city February 2, 1653.[8] In 1664, the English conquered the area and renamed it "New York" after the Duke of York and Albany.[9] The Dutch briefly regained it in 1673, renaming the city "New Orange", before permanently ceding the colony of New Netherland to the British for what is now Suriname in November 1674.

By 1700, the Lenape population of New York had diminished to 200.[10]

British and revolution: 1665–1783[edit | edit source]

The new English rulers of the formerly Dutch New Amsterdam and New Netherland renamed the settlement the City of 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 rebellion laid bare class differences and some see it as a sort of precursor of the American Revolution.

The 1735 libel trial of John Peter Zenger in the city was a seminal influence on freedom of the press in North America. In 1754, Columbia University was founded under charter by King George II as King's College in Lower Manhattan.[11]

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. 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.

City of New York
Population by year [1]
1656 1,000
1690 6,000
1790 33,131
1800 60,515
1810 96,373
1820 123,706
1830 202,589
1840 312,710
1850 515,547
1860 813,669
1870 942,292
1880 1,206,299
1890 1,515,301
1900 3,437,202
1910 4,766,883
1920 5,620,048
1930 6,930,446
1940 7,454,995
1950 7,891,957
1960 7,781,984
1970 7,894,862
1980 7,071,639
1990 7,322,564
2000 8,008,278
Including the "outer
boroughs" before the
1898 consolidation
1790 49,000
1800 79,200
1830 242,300
1850 696,100
1880 1,912,000

Federal and early America: 1784–1854[edit | edit source]

In 1785 the Congress met in New York City under the Articles of Confederation, making it the first national capital of the United States, and the United States Constitution created the current Congress of the United States, first sitting at Federal Hall on Wall Street. The first United States Supreme Court sat, the United States Bill of Rights was drafted and ratified, and with the Northwest Ordinance the first steps to expanding the United States 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.[12] 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.[13][14] Immigration continued, and a new street grid system expanded to encompass all of Manhattan. After the Revolutionary War thousands of mostly New England Yankees moved into the city. Their numbers were such that by 1820, the city had far outstripped its pre-War population, was largely middle class with a growing upper-class, and was fully 95% of American born heritage. Its vigorous artisan and craftsman economy was second to none in the United States while its banking and commercial sectors were fast becoming dominant in the country as a whole. From 1800-1840 the city grew in wealth and power and never again would the city have such a substantially stable society of American born citizens.

It was into this stable Protestant middle class American society of stockbrokers, guildsmen, bankers, artisans, craftsmen, merchants, shippers, porters, and shopkeepers, and well paid laborers, all operating in an early republican environment of volunteer firefighters, watchmen, and other civic organization that thousands of mostly illiterate unskilled Catholic Irish fleeing the rural depression of their homeland disembarked onto New York City in the 1840s. The Irish Potato Famine brought a large influx of Irish immigrants, and by 1850, the Irish comprised one quarter of the city's population.[15] 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.[16]

The social change was an earthquake. Lacking the bureaucratic civic structure of today, the city's infrastructure as a volunteer network of similar minded individuals could not cope. Crime rose as competing ethnic volunteer groups vied for control of the municipal patronage and its utility networks of fire, sanitation and police.

Tammany and consolidation: 1855–1897[edit | edit source]

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.[17] 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.


Broadway at 42nd St. in 1880.

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.[18] 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.

The new European immigration brought further social upheaval, and old world criminal societies rapidly exploited the already corrupt municipal machine politics of Tammany Hall, while local American barons of industry further exploited the immigrant masses with ever lower wages and crowded living conditions. In a city of tenements packed with cheap foreign labor from dozens of nations, the city was a hotbed of revolution, syndicalism, racketeering, and unionization. In response, the upper classes used partisan hand-outs, organized crime groups, heavy handed policing and political oppression to undermine groups which refused to be coopted. Groups such as anticapitalist labor unions, native American patriot organizations such as the American Protective Association, and reformers of all stripes were fiercely repressed, while crime lords that became too independent disappeared.

In 1898, the modern City of New York was formed with the consolidation of Brooklyn (until then an independent city), Manhattan and outlying areas.[19] 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.

Early 20th century: 1898–1945[edit | edit source]

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

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.

A series of new transportation links, most notably the New York City Subway, first opened in 1904, helped bind the new city together. The height of European immigration brought social upheaval. Later, in the 1920s, the city saw the influx of African Americans as part of the Great Migration from the American South, and the Harlem Renaissance, part of a larger boom time in the Prohibition era that saw dueling skyscrapers in the skyline.

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 subway company) began operating in 1904, and the railroads operating out of Grand Central Terminal and Pennsylvania Station thrived.

Crime rates also increased as the city grew in size. Newspapers made household names of sensational criminals, such as Harry Thaw, Peter Hains and Josephine Terranova.

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 Guilded 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 LaGuardia, 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.

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[20]. 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.[21]

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[edit | edit source]

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.

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.[22] 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.

Like many major U.S. cities, New York suffered race riots, gang wars and population and industrial 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. These events were perhaps the impetus to the election of Mayor Ed Koch, who promised to revive the city.

Modern period: 1978–2001[edit | edit source]

The 1980s saw a rebirth of Wall Street, and the city reclaimed its role at the center of the worldwide financial industry. In the 1990s, racial tensions had calmed, crime rates dropped drastically and, bolstered by waves of new immigrants arriving from Asia and Latin America, the outflow of population turned around, as the city once again became the destination not only of immigrants from around the world, but of many U.S. citizens seeking to live a cosmopolitan lifestyle that only places like New York City can offer. 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.

Post 9/11: 2001–present[edit | edit source]

New York City was a site of the September 11, 2001 attacks , when nearly 3,000 people were killed by a terrorist strike on the World Trade Center, including those employed in the buildings, passengers and crew on two commercial jetliners, and hundreds of firemen, policemen, and rescue workers who came to the aid of the disaster. Thick, acrid smoke continued to pour out of its ruins for months following the Twin Towers' fiery collapse. The city has since rebounded and the physical cleanup of the World Trade Center site was completed ahead of schedule. The Freedom Tower, intended to be exactly 1,776 feet tall (a number symbolic of the year the Declaration of Independence was written), is to be built on the site and is slated for construction by 2010.

See also[edit | edit source]


Streets & Thoroughfares

Small Islands


Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. ^ Foote, Thelma Wills (2004), Black and white Manhattan: The history of racial formation in colonial New York, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 25, ISBN 0195165373, http://books.google.com/books?id=4GJqzKNXxDMC&pg=PA146&dq=0195165373#PPA25,M1 
  2. ^ Mark Kurlansky, The Big Oyster : History on the Half Shell, New York: Ballantine Books, 2006.
  3. ^ Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham : A History of New York City to 1898, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  4. ^ Rankin, Rebecca B., Cleveland Rodgers (1948). New York: the World's Capital City, Its Development and Contributions to Progress. Harper. 
  5. ^ Rankin, Rebecca B., Cleveland Rodgers (1948). New York: the World's Capital City, Its Development and Contributions to Progress. Harper. 
  6. ^ a b "Battery Park". New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. Retrieved on September 13, 2008.
  7. ^ Ellis, Edward Robb (1966). The Epic of New York City. Old Town Books. pp. 37–40. 
  8. ^ Ellis, Edward Robb (1966). The Epic of New York City. Old Town Books. pp. 57. 
  9. ^ Homberger, Eric (2005). The Historical Atlas of New York City: A Visual Celebration of 400 Years of New York City's History. Owl Books. pp. 34. ISBN 0805078428. 
  10. ^ "Gotham Center for New York City History" Timeline 1700-1800
  11. ^ Moore, Nathaniel Fish (1876). An Historical Sketch of Columbia College, in the City of New York, 1754-1876. Columbia College. pp. 8. 
  12. ^ "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. 
  13. ^ Bridges, William (1811). Map Of The City Of New York And Island Of Manhattan With Explanatory Remarks And References. 
  14. ^ Lankevich (1998), pp. 67–68.
  15. ^ Bayor, Ronald H. (1997). The New York Irish. Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 91. ISBN 0801857643. 
  16. ^ Lankevich (1998), pp. 84–85.
  17. ^ Mushkat, Jerome Mushkat (1990). Fernando Wood: A Political Biography. Kent State University Press. pp. 36. ISBN 087338413X. 
  18. ^ Cook, Adrian (1974). The Armies of the Streets: The New York City Draft Riots of 1863. pp. 193–195. 
  19. ^ The 100 Year Anniversary of the Consolidation of the 5 Boroughs into New York City, New York City. Accessed June 29, 2007.
  20. ^ City Mayors (2007-06-28). "The World's Largest Cities". http://www.citymayors.com/features/largest_cities1.html. Retrieved 2007-11-29. 
  21. ^ Allen, Oliver E. (1993). "Chapter 9: The Decline". The Tiger – The Rise and Fall of Tammany Hall. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company. 
  22. ^ 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. 

References[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

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