New York City History Pre-1900

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Probably the first European to visit the vicinity of New York was Giovanni Verrazano, who came in 1524;  in 1525 the Spanish navigator Gomez sailed into the harbor ;  and by 1600 the French seem to have begun an extensive trade with the Indians along the Hudson.  In September, 1609, Henry Hudson (q.v.) explored the harbor and the river ;  in 1613 four trading houses were built on Manhattan Isleand---"Manhatanis" (meaning "those who dwell upon an island")  being the name applied to the aboriginal Delaware inhabitants;  and in 1614 Adriaen Block, preparatory to exploring the New England coast, built here his little vessel the Onrust, or Restless, probably the second ship to be built in America.  In 1614 the States General of Holland chartered the United New Netherlands Company of Amsterdam, and in 1621 this was succeeded by the West India Company, chartered with power to make treaties, maintain courts, and employ soldiers.  In 1623 permanent colonists, sent out by the Dutch West India Company, arrived under Cornelis May as Director-General or Governor. In 1624 May was superseded by Verhulst, who in turn was replaced in 1626 by Peter Minuit.

Minuit in this year bought the island from the Indians for goods valued at 60 guilders, or $24.00 (about $120.00 in present values), and built near the present Bowling Green a small fort, Fort Amsterdam---the settlement itself, then having a population of 200, being called New Amsterdam.  In 1628 a church was organized and the first clergyman, Rev. Jonas Michaelius, arrived at New Amsterdam. Wouter Van Twiller was Governor of the colony from 1633 to 1638, William Kieft from 1638 to 1647, and Peter Stuyvesant from 1647 to 1664.  In 1643 the Dutch, without provocation, massacred 120 Algonquin Indians, who had come to them for protection, and a bloody Indian war ensued, lasting for two years, and almost depopulating the settlement.  In 1653 New Amsterdam , with a population of about 800, was incorporated as a city, and in the same year a wall 2340 feet long was built along the site of the present Wall Street as a protection against the English and the Indians.

In March, 1664, Charles II, granted New Netherlands to his brother James, Duke of York, and on September 8th Col. Richard Nicolls with an English force took possession of the city and renamed it New York.  Nicolls was Governor until 1668, when he was succeeded by Francis Lovelace.  On August 9, 1673, the Dutch regained possession , and the province became New Netherlands as before, the city becoming New Orange, and Anthony Colve replacing Lovelace as Governor.  On November 10, 1674, the Dutch again gave way to the English, Edmund Andros becoming Governor; in 1686 the first city charter, known as the Dongan Charter, from Thomas Dongan, Governor in 1681-88, was issued (though it was never confirmed by James II.) ; and in 1689, Andros being overthrown, Leisler usurped control and held it until early in 1691, when he was executed for treason. 

In 1690 the first intercolonial Congress (called to consider an attack on Canada) was held in New York---Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut, Maryland, and New York being represented ---and in the same year the only Mayor elected by the people until after 1832 was chosen.  Slavery had been introduced in 1625;  in 1712 a negro insurrection was put down with much cruelty, twenty one negroes being executed (some by burning, others by hanging, and one by breaking on the wheel) ;  and in 1741 the discovery of a supposed plot, "The Great Negro Plot," caused a panic, during which four whites were executed, and 154 negroes were arrested , of whom 13 were burned at the stake, 18 were hanged, and 71 were transported.  In 1693 William Bradford set up the first printing press in New York ;  in 1703 the first free school was opened;  and in 1725 the first newspaper, the New York Gazette, was founded.  A city library was organized in 1729, and a classical academy was opened in 1732.  In 1731 a new charter, known as the "Montgomerie Charter," was granted to the city.  In 1732 a monthly stage was established between New York and Boston, the trip taking two weeks each way, and in 1756 a Philadelphia stage, taking "three days through only," began running.

John Peter Zenger, who had founded the New York Weekly Journal in 1733, was arrested and prosecuted for libel by the authorities in 1734, but he was acquitted in the following year after a famous trial---his acquittal being regarded as the greatest vindication in the colonial period of the freedom of the press. In 1765 the Stamp Act Congress (see Stamp Act) met in New York, and on January 18, 1770, nearly seven weeks before the Boston Massacre, British soldiers killed one citizen and wounded three in a riot caused by the destruction by the soldiers of a liberty pole set up by the "Sons of Liberty." This riot, called the "Battle of Golden Hill," is ranked by some writers as "the first conflict of the War of the American Revolution." 

In 1774, during the excitement over the tea tax, a ship loaded with tea was sent back to England, and the cargo of another was thrown overboard.  When news of the battle of Lexington reached New York, a 'Committee of Safety' assumed control of the City and Governor Tryon took refuge on a British man-of-war.  In the early summer of 1776 a large part of the American troops were quartered in New York.  On July 8th, in the presence of Washington, the Declaration of Independence was for the first time publicly read to them, and on the 9th the equestrian statue of George III., erected on Bowling Green in 1770, was torn down. 

On September 14, 1776, a short time after the battle of Long Island (q.v.), the city was evacuated by the Americans and was occupied on the following day by the British, who held it until November 25, 1783---' Evacuation Day.  On September 15, 1776, a large portion of the city was destroyed by fire.  During the British occupation the city was the refuge of Loyalists, who came from all quarters to take advantage of British protection, many of the more wealthy and influencial residents joining their ranks.  From 1785 to 1790 Congress met in New York in the old city Hall, at the corner of Wall and Nassau streets, and here Washington was inaugurated, April 30, 1789.

In 1785 a manumission society was formed and the Bank of New York was organized.  In 1789 the Tammany Society (q.v.) or Columbian Order was organized.  During an epidemic of yellow fever, from October, 1794, to July, 1795, more than 600 persons, and during another in 1798 more than 2000 persons died.  In 1790 the population numbered 33,131, and the city limits were extended to the lower line of the present City Hall Park.  In 1805 the population was 78,770, and since then, especially after the War of 1812, when immigration greatly increased, the growth has been very rapid.  In 1807 Fulton's steamboat, the Clermont, began running regularly between New York and Albany.  In 1812 a steam ferry to Long Island was opened, and a line of Sound steamers was established in 1818, while in 1819 the Savannah, built in New York, successfully crossed the Atlantic. 

The Erie Canal, begun in 1817, was completed in 1825---the first boat, Seneca Chief, reaching New York on November 4th---and gave an extraordinary impetus to the growth of the city.  In 1832 an epidemic of cholera caused the death of 4000 persons, and another two years later caused the death of nearly 1000. In 1835, December 16-19, occurred the most disastrous fire in the history of the city, the entire east side below Wall Street, including about 650 stores, the Merchants' Exchange, and the South Dutch Church, being destroyed, with a loss of almost $10,000,000.  The financial panic of 1837 caused many failures, and the great destitution and suffering in the city led to the Bread Riots of that year.

From 1820 to 1870 riots were frequent, one of the most serious being the Astor Place Riot (q.v.) of May 10, 1849, in which 141 soldiers were wounded, while 34 rioters were killed and many more wounded. In the same year more than 5000 persons died of the cholera. Another riot occurred in 1857, growing out of a conflict between two police organizations, when the Seventh Regiment of militia was called out to preserve the peace. The Croton acqueduct was completed in 1842 ; and on July 14, 1853, the Crystal Palace Industrial Exhibition was opened on what is now Bryant Square. Another severe financial panic occurred in 1857, followed by suspension of banks and business failures.

On the approach of the Civil War many in the city seemed to favor the South, and in January, 1861, The Mayor, Fernando Wood (q.v.), proclaimed secession to be "a fixed fact," and proposed that an independent commonwealth, to be called "Tri-Insula," be formed out of Manhattan, Long, and Staten Islands.  The city, however, loyally supported the Union during the war, sending to the front 116,382 soldiers at a cost of about $14,500,000.  In July, 1863, occurred the Draft Riots (q.v.), lasting three days, during which business was suspended, property worth more than $1,500,000 was destroyed, and more than 1000 lives were lost. The city suffered for several years from frauds, perpetrated by the "Tweed Ring", which controlled municipal affairs, but in 1871 the "Ring" was convicted of having robbed the city of more than $20,000,000, and was effectually broken up. (See TWEED, WILLIAM M.). 

In 1869 a financial panic of 1873 caused the greatest suffering in New York City, although its growth continued unabated. On May 24, 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was formally opened, and in 1886 the Bartholdi Statue of Liberty was unveiled.  New York has been the scene of many imposing processions and celebrations: On the occasion of Lafayette's visit in 1824;  the celebration of the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825;  the funeral processions of Lincoln, April 25, 1865, and of General Grant, August 8, 1885; the laying of the Atlantic cable, 1858;  the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge;  the centennial celebration of Washington's inauguration as President of the United States, in 1889 (from April 29th to May 1st) ;  the Columbian celebrations of October, 1892, and April, 1893 ;  the reception to the Santiago fleet in 1898; and the Dewey reception in 1899.


Website: The History
Article Name: New York City History Pre-1900
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY......Lamb, History of the City of New York (New York, 1880) ;  Lossing, History of New York City (ib.,1885) ; Roosevelt, History of New York (ib.,1891) ;  Wilson, Memorial History of the City of New York (ib.,1891-93) ;  Janvier, In Old new York (ib., 1894) ; Goodwin, Royce, and Putnam, Historic New York (ib.,1898) ;  Leslin, History of Greater New York (ib., 1899) ; Wilson, New York, Old and New (Philadelphia, 1903). Special periods are treated in Guernsey, New York City and Vicinity During the War of 1812-15, Vol. i. (New York, 1890) Phistere, New York in the War of the Rebellion (Albany, 1890); Colton, Annals of Old Manhattan, 1609-64 (ib., 1902) ; Inness, New Amsterdam and Its People (ib., 1903).  Consult:, also, for a popular treatment of the city government, Coler, Municipal Government (New York, 1900) ;  for the financial history, Durand, The Finances of New
York City (ib., 1898) ;  and for the economic improvement, Riis, How the Other Half Lives (ib., 1890); id., The Battle with the Slum (ib., 1902). NOTE: A copy of this article from my collection of books was contributed to the Brooklyn Information Page.
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