A Brief History of a Dutch Island - Manhattan
Today, Manhattan is one of the iconic locations of the United States of America. It is also the place where New York was born. However, the origins of Manhattan are often forgotten these days. Modern Manhattan's history is related to people who conquered many colonies – the Dutch.
Nowadays, the island has a population of 1,626 million people (2013). It is the heart of New York City, and a symbol of the USA. Its name comes from the Algonquian language, which was spoken by the earliest inhabitants of the area. The name means ''hilly island'' or ''place of intoxication''.
The Land of Lenape
The area of Manhattan first belonged to the Native American tribe Lenape. This tribe is known also as the Delaware Indians, and they created the First Nations band government. Their territory included the area of New Jersey, the Lower Hudson Valley, the Delaware River, and western Long Island. Europeans pushed them out of their land during the 18th century.
Lapowinsa, Chief of the Lenape, Lappawinsoe painted by Gustavus Hesselius in 1735. (Public Domain)
Map showing the territory of the Native American tribe Lenape. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The first European who landed on the island of Manhattan was the Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano. He was sailing in the service of the king of France and arrived to the current location of New York in 1524. He came on his ship La Dauphine and named the land around the modern Upper New York Harbor ''New Angouleme''.
This was a way to honor the King Francis I, because the name referred to his family name. Verrazano also named the Upper New York Bay as Marguerite de Navarre – the name of the elder sister of the king. A few months later, a Portuguese explorer, Estevan Gomez (who also “discovered” the Hudson River) arrived to the same place.
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Verrazzano’s voyage in 1524. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
A Dutch Englishman
In 1609, an Englishman who worked for the Dutch East India Company, Henry Hudson, reached Manhattan Island. Before his feet touched this area, he traveled through many lands and oceans. He wanted to find a prospective North-West Passage to Cathay, in modern China, and traveled to the Arctic Circle.
This speculative portrait from Cyclopedia of Universal History is one of several used to represent Henry Hudson. (Public Domain)
Hudson found the area of modern New York while looking for a western route to Asia. He was hired by a company, which was a chartered company that existed from 1602 to 1799 and is considered as the first multinational corporation of the world. They possessed quasi-governmental powers like the ability to wage war, negotiate treaties, establish colonies, imprison and execute people, and strike their own coins. The power of the company grew on the decision of the Dutch government, which granted it a 21-year monopoly on the spice trade. The Dutch East India Company was looking for new routes to make travel time shorter and their business more effective. The first Dutch settlements were just small camps, based on very primitive buildings.
Henry Hudson explored the Hudson River, which was named after him. He started the great history of the Dutch colony in New York. When he died, perhaps in 1611, he was already considered a hero by many people. He was a founder of the Dutch colonization of the region, but he also researched the Northwest Passage. He disappeared with his crew during while exploring.
Map of Hudson's voyages to North America. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
When the Dutch Bought Manhattan
Manhattan became a part of the land known as the New Netherlands - a colonial province located on the East Coast of North America which covered the territory from the Delmarca Peninsula to Cape Cod, and included the territory of modern New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, parts of Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.
In 1625, the Dutch began construction on the citadel of Fort Amsterdam on Manhattan Island, which was called New Amsterdam at the time. During this period a mysterious story appeared. According to a letter signed by Pieter Janszoon Schagen, the Dutch colonists acquired Manhattan officially on May 24, 1626. They bought it from the Native American Lenape tribe for trade goods worth 60 guilders, said to be worth 24 dollars. In 2014, that was about 1,050 USD. In the 1630s, a Dutch expedition went from New Amsterdam up the Connecticut River. That started a conflict between the Dutch and the English, who were already in Connecticut Valley.
The Castello Plan showing the Dutch colonial city of New Amsterdam in 1660 – then confined to the southern tip of Manhattan Island. (Public Domain)
Dutch rule was in place until 1664, when the last Dutch Director General of the colony, Peter Stuyvesant lost the final battle with the English. Before it happened, on February 2, 1653, he incorporated New Amsterdam as a city. The Dutch republic tried to get their former land back in 1673, but finally permanently ceded to the English in November 1674.
The city was renamed New York County in honor of the Duke of York. It became the original county of New York State, created in 1683. As time passed, the area became more important for trade, so the city grew very fast. Decade after decade, the footsteps of the Dutch in Manhattan became less visible.
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The Heritage of Manhattan
Nowadays, the history of the first people in Manhattan is covered by monumental buildings. Nobody there speaks in the native language of the Lenape and relatively few in Dutch. In July 2010, a group of construction workers who worked on the site of the World Trade Center discovered one of the oldest and the most precious artifacts connected with the early history of the island.
It was a ship, which was probably built in 1773, that was buried 6.7 meters (22 feet) below street level. This find suggests that the artifacts connected with the Dutch history of Manhattan may lie even deeper. The boat’s wooden hull may have been made from the same kind of white oak trees as the ones used to build parts of Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of USA were signed.
View of Lower Manhattan at sunset, from Jersey City, New Jersey. One World Trade Center, at center, is the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere. (November 2014) (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Manhattan is one of the national treasures of the USA, and since 2001 a symbol of American patriotism as well. It connects the history of the Native Americans, Dutch, and English, but currently is a home for people who have their origins in many different nations.
Featured image: Bird's eye panorama of Manhattan in 1873. The Brooklyn Bridge was under construction from 1870 until 1883. Source: Public Domain
Sandler, C., Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession, 2007.
Butts, E., Henry Hudson: New World Voyager, 2009.