City Shots

City Shots

Written documentation of the history of New York City began with the first European visit to 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 into 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, King of France and Count of Angoulême.[1]

European settlement began on September 3, 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, among them New Amsterdam, which would become New York City. The beaver’s importance in New York City’s history is reflected by its use on the city’s official seal.

The Dutch West Indies Company transported African slaves to the post as trading laborers. By the late 17th century, 40% of the settlers were African slaves. They helped build the fort and stockade, and some gained freedom under the Dutch. After the English took over the colony and city they called New York 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. By the 1770s slaves made up less than 25% of the city’s population. A center of revolutionary activity, the Sons of Liberty harassed British authority in the 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 that replaced it. 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-19th 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.