The Fabulous History of New York City

The New York we see today didn’t look the same back then. The city has a fabulous history, and it took centuries to get here where it currently stands. From its discovery to this millennium era, we will take you to a wonderful journey of the city of New York, so buckle up and let’s get started with these New York facts.

New York in the 17th Century

Early view of New York City harbor

Europeans began to explore the region of Delaware to Hudson Rivers, and one of those people was an Italian, Giovanni da Verrazano, who eventually discovered New York Harbor in 1524. Later in 1624, the Dutch founded the first permanent trading post. In 1626, Peter Minuit, the first governor, purchased the much larger Manhattan Island from the Native Americans.

1626 letter in Dutch by Pieter Minuit stating the purchase of Manhattan for 60 guilders

The Dutch West India Company sent about 30 families to live in a little town built on the southern tip of the Manhattan Island that was earlier purchased by the settlement’s first governor-general. The town was called New Amsterdam and it was known for selling skins. The settlers sold the skins of beavers, otters, and seals. The town was tiny with only about 1,500 people living in the mid-17th century. Some of those inhabitants were farmers that also cultivated the land Brooklyn and Manhattan.

painting of New Amsterdam in 1664

Alt-text: painting of New Amsterdam in 1664

However, the inhabitants were not all Dutch – some of them also included Walloons (now Belgium), English people, and French people. In 1654, the first Jews arrived in New Amsterdam.

On the other hand, the first black slaves arrived there in 1628 – they played a significant role in building the colony. In the beginning, the houses in New Amsterdam were made of wood but after some time, stones and bricks were used to erect the houses. In 1657, thatched roofs were banned because they could easily catch fire.

To protect the little town of New Amsterdam, a wall was built across the island of Manhattan in 1653. The street next to the wall was called Wall Street.

In 1639, Jonas Bronck of Sweden settled in the Bronx, and this is where the borough got its name.

In 1658, the Dutch farmers built a small village, Nieuw Haarlem (New Harlem) after a town in Holland.  Later in the 18th century, this place became a fashionable land for the merchants to build their beautiful country houses in.

Meanwhile, Peter Stuyvesant, the son of a Calvinist minister, became the governor of New Amsterdam in 1647. He was a strict ruler, and he governed like a strict father looks after his children, and due to this, he soon alienated his people. He ordered that all the taverns shall be closed at sharp 9 pm. However, Stuyvesant established a municipal government for New Amsterdam in 1653, which was based on those of Dutch cities.

Portrait of Peter Stuyvesant

In 1664, a fleet of Englishmen arrived in New Harlem. Peter feared that the English would sack the colony, so the best he could do was to surrender, and he did. However, despite the 1664 surrender, the Dutch recaptured New Amsterdam from the English in 1673. Unfortunately, they lost it to the English again in 1674 – just a year later. But this time, the feat was permanent, and they renamed New Amsterdam to New York; in honor of the Duke of York, who was the brother of King Charles II.

Meanwhile, in 1635, a fort called Fort Amsterdam was built by the Dutch which was later renamed to Fort George in 1693 after the English captured the land of New Amsterdam. Ninety-two cannons were installed in the fort to protect New York from invaders. Today, this area is known as The Battery, formerly known as Battery Park.

Underestimating the power of the English, a man named Jacob Leisler staged a coup-d’etat in New York. He was executed for what he did in 1691.

Trinity church was dedicated in the year 1698.

New York in the 18th Century

When New York entered the 18th century, it had a population of almost 5,000 which continued to increase. By the year 1776, the popular was about 25,000 and then there were about 60,000 inhabitants of New York City in 1800.

In the 18th century, the main industry from where New York generated most of its income was milling. Windmills were used to ground the grain into flour. In this era, the merchants of New York also traded with the West Indies and Britain. The city also had a shipbuilding industry in the 18th century, and the first shipyard was opened in 1720.

There were still many black slaves in this era. Due to the cruelty done on them, they site fire to a building in Maiden Lane in 1712. And while setting the building on fire, they also killed nine white men who tried to stop them. When soldiers arrived to capture them, 6 of them committed suicide while 21 were executed.

A horrific episode of fires broke out in New York in 1741. The fires were not unusual, but people feared that they were the result of arson, a criminal act of deliberately setting fire to property. They feared that the slaves were behind all this conspiracy so the authorities started to investigate.

The authorities questioned Mary Burton, an indentured servant, who exposed the truth that there was a conspiracy of badly treated black slaves and poor whites. The reason behind all this conspiracy that led the slaves to do such unfortunate things was that the indentured servants were ordered to work without wages for several years, in order to pay the cost of their journey across the Atlantic.

Mary Burton, who revealed this conspiracy, was later rewarded and released from her indenture due to the part she played in uncovering the ‘conspiracy’. However, there is still no proof that such a conspiracy existed. Nevertheless, 18 slaves were hanged and 13 were burned at stake as the hysteria spread. Furthermore, four whites, who were believed to be a part of the conspiracy, were also hanged.

During this very century, the amenities in New York were also improved. The first newspaper started publication in the year 1725. The first theatre of New York was opened in 1732. Kings College, now known as Columbia University, was founded in 1754.

Other things that happened during the 18th-century include was the establishment of St Paul’s Chapel in 1766, St Marks Church-in-the-Bowery in 1799, and the Jews’ first synagogue in Mill Street was built in 1730.

In 1776, George Washington left New York, and the British army occupied it. A year later, in 1777, New York saw a great fire that destroyed hundreds of houses. About one-quarter of the city was burned to ashes. Despite everything, the British continued occupying New York until the end of the war.

On November 25, 1783, George Washington entered New York again.

George Washington enters New York in triumph following the British evacuation of America

New York in the 19th Century

New York City quickly recovered from the war, and by 1810, it was one of the country’s most important ports. The city played a significantly important role in the cotton economy. The southern planters delivered the crop to the east river docks, where it was shipped to English industrial cities, including Manchester. Then after processing, the textile manufacturers shipped their finished goods back to New York City.

However, there was no best way to ship goods back and forth from the city to the English industrial cities until 1817, when construction work began on a 363-mile canal from the Hudson River to Lake Erie. The work was completed by 1825.

As the city evolved, it made other infrastructural improvements, including the 1811’s “Commissioner’s Plan” according to which it was instructed to establish an orderly grid of streets and avenues for the undeveloped parts north of Houston Street, Manhattan.  It was a great time for people who had their engineering homework done well and pop their ideas out.  Construction began on the Croton Aqueduct in 1837, which provided clean drinking water for the city’s rapidly growing population. It had 123,000 inhabitants by 1820, 312,000 by 1840, and then 813,000 inhabitants by 1860.

Eight years later, in 1845, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) was established, which was the first municipal agency of the city.

Like many other cities in Europe and North America in the 19th century, New York was also an unhealthy place. As a result, cholera struck the city three different times – in 1832, 1849, and then again in 1866.

Meanwhile, a large number of immigrants that came in the 1840s to 1850s from Germany, Ireland, and southern and eastern Europe, changed the face of the city. They started settling distinct ethnic neighborhoods, began new ventures, built churches and social clubs, and joined trade unions and political organizations.

For instance, Tammany Hall, a predominantly Irish-American Democratic club, became the city’s most powerful political hub by exchanging favors such as jobs, services, and other kinds of aid for votes.

The first telephones were installed in New York City in 1878, and later in the 1880s, the city gained an electricity supply. Brooklyn Bridge was opened in 1883 but the crowd panicked while they were on the bridge as they thought it was going to collapse. Unfortunately, 12 people were trampled to death due to the rush.

picture of Brooklyn Bridge from the East, captured in 1899

The best architectures of New York City were also built in the 19th century, including The Museum of Natural History in New York (1869), The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1870), Metropolitan Opera House on Broadway (1883), Carnegie Hall (1891), and Bronx Zoo (1899).

Broadway at 42nd St. in 1898

In addition to that, the statue of liberty dedicated on 28 October 1886 by President Grover Cleveland.

a comparison chart of all the tallest buildings in New York City

New York in the 20th Century

As New York City entered the era of the 20th century, it started to become the city we know today. In 1895, the inhabitants of all the boroughs, i.e. Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island and Brooklyn, which were all independent cities at that time, voted to “consolidate” with Manhattan in the order form a 5-borough “Greater New York.

When the consolidation took place on January 1, 1898, the New York City’s area increased from 60 square miles to 360 square miles, and the popular instantly increased from a little more than 2 million people to about 3,350,000 people.

However, the 20th century was also an era of struggle for American cities, and hence New York wasn’t an exception. The construction of new highways and suburbs after all the destruction caused by World War II encouraged the wealthy people to leave the city that resulted in deindustrialization and other economic changes. This, in return, led to out-migration and “white flight.”

However, the Hart-Cellar Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was a lifesaver for the country as it allowed immigrants from Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America to settle in the United States. Many of the immigrants settled in New York City, and they helped in revitalizing many neighborhoods of the city.

Many buildings that all the New Yorkers are proud of today were built in the 20th century. Those buildings include The Flatiron Building (1902), New York Public Library (1911), The Woolworth Building (1913), Grand Central Station (1913), The Chrysler Building (1930), The Empire State Building (1931), the General Electric Building (1931), and The Rockefeller Center was built between the period of 1932 and 1940.

In 1990, David Dinkins became the first-ever African American mayor of New York.

New York in the 21st Century (Currently)

The beginning of the 21st century brought the worst nightmare in the history of New York City, in fact, the United States – the 9/11 attacks. New York City suffered deadly terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, when a group of terrorists hijacked two jets and crashed them both into the city’s tallest buildings: the twin towers. The buildings were badly destroyed and nearly 3,000 people were killed.

A fireball rises in the immediate aftermath of United Airlines Flight 175 hitting the South Tower during the September 11 attacks

Despite the horrible disaster, the city remained a major financial capital of the United States and a tourist magnet, attracting more than 40 million tourists each year.

Today, over 8.6 million new Yorkers live in all the five boroughs of New York City – and more than one-third of the inhabitants are born outside the United States. Thanks to the cultural diversity of New York City, it remains the cultural capital of the U.S.