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History of NYC - 1600s

While it is difficult to imagine New York by any other name, during the greater part of the 17th century the city was known as New Amsterdam, due to colonization by the Dutch in the 1620s. While few remnants of these early settlerment endure, there is little question that the city owes a great deal of its shape, philosophy and commerce to the efforts of these pioneers. Long before the Dutch arrived this place was “Island of Many Hills”, or “Manahatta” to local Lenape tribes – a lush paradise teeming with life.

“If Mannahatta existed today as it did then, it would be a national park – it would be the crowning glory of American national parks.”
— Dr. Eric Sanderson, Mannahatta: The Natural History of New York

While this world is far more buried by time, asphalt and skyscrapers, many of the city’s most important routes and streets were derived from paths carved over millennia, and many key streets and meeting places still bear their names. We invite you to explore what is probably the most exciting and action packed chapter in the city’s history. Two Empires. Five major wars. Not to mention the re-engineering of one of nature’s greatest marvels into the bustling Wonder Metropolis we know today.

1626: Purchase of the Island of Mannahatta

A letter written by merchant Peter Schaghen to directors of the Dutch East India Company stated that Manhattan was purchased for 60 guilders worth of trade.

1630: Coat of Arms of New Netherland

Much of the symbolism of New York's Official seal is derived from its Dutch roots in the form of New Amsterdam's Official Coat of Arms.

1650: Fort Amsterdam

Fort Amsterdam circa 1650. Taken from "De Nieuwe en Onbekende Weireld," by Arnoldus Monatanus, Amsterdam

1660: Residence of Jacob Leisler

Illustration of the home of German-born colonist and entrepreneur Jacob Leisler located on "the Strand", or what we know today as Whitehall Street.

1660: Map of New Amsterdam, Manhattan Island

An illustrated map displaying early settlements and boundaries of New Amsterdam - a fledgling town occupied by an increasing amount of Dutch settlers.

1664: Earliest View of New Amsterdam

Earliest known image of New Amsterdam from a copperplate made by Augustyn Heermanns.

1624: The Commercial Beginning of New York

Illustration of merchants trading and felling trees along the New York Harbor.

1643: Massacre of Hoboken Natives

Illustration showing Dutch Colonists attacking indigenous camps on February 25, 1643, killing 120 people, including women and children.

1644: A Treaty With Native Americans

Illustration of Dutch settlers striking up a peace treaty with indigenous communities in order to reduce violence and open up trade.

1644: Posting The Notice of Wall Street

Illustration of a man posting a notice regarding the building of Wall Street on March 31, 1644, rallying local colonists to join together to build a wall to fend off attacks by natives.

1653: Wall Street Palisade

A wall constructed along the city's northernmost boundary, erected back in 1653 between the Hudson and East River to protect the town from marauding tribes.

1647: Arrival of Peter Stuyvesant in New Amsterdam

Illustration of Peter Stuyvesant reaching New Amsterdam after the failure of his predecessor Willem Kieft to build a lasting peace with native communities.

1659: Broad Street Canal

Illustration depicting views of the "Graft", or canal in Broad Street, and the Fish Bridge which once spanned it.

1664: Peter Stuyvesant vs the British

Print shows Peter Stuyvesant with local settlers pleading with him not to open fire on the British who have arrived in warships to claim New Amsterdam for England.

1664: Peter Stuyvesant Surrenders New Amsterdam

Printed illustration shows Dutch soldiers, lead by Director General Peter Stuyvesant, leaving New Amsterdam after ceding it to the English.

Timeline of Events for This Chapter

1609: On September 2, English explorer Henry Hudson sails into what is now known as New York Harbor. His journey is financed by the Dutch East India Company - merchants who are also searching for a trade route to Asia. Hudson then turns north, following the coastline up to what is now New York City. He sails up the river that later bears his name, exploring as far as present-day Albany and encountering numerous Native American tribes who have been living in the area for thousands of years.

1610: The Dutch establish a trading post on the southern tip of Manhattan Island. The post is named New Amsterdam and is intended to serve as a base for Dutch trade in the area. The company has been granted a charter to explore and trade in the Americas, and they see New Amsterdam as a key location for their operations. The natural harbor at the southern tip of Manhattan Island is ideal for ships to anchor and unload their cargo.

1613: Dutch explorer Adriaen Block sails up the Hudson River and through the East River, further exploring the waterways that would later become New York City. Block is also searching for a passage to Asia, but like Henry Hudson before him, he finds that the rivers are too shallow and winding to be a viable route. Block goes on to explore other areas of the Northeast, including what is now known as Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island.

1619: The first Africans are brought to New Netherland as indentured servants. They have been recruited by the Dutch East India Company for their expertise in building roads and houses for a new colony. However, as time goes on, the English enforce the system of slavery that replaces what the Dutch called half-freedom, where Africans can own land in the new colony and attain other benefits, like passing that land on to the next generation.

1624: The first Dutch colonists arrive in New Amsterdam, led by Cornelius Jacobsen Mey, which will later become the city of New York. Mey and his fellow colonists quickly set to work building a fort and trading post, as well as establishing relationships with the local Lenape tribe. Under Dutch rule, New Amsterdam is a diverse and bustling city, with people from all over Europe coming to trade and settle, and the city is beginning to develop its own distinct culture and identity.

1625: The Dutch West India Company begins construction on Fort Amsterdam in what is now known as Battery Park in New York City. The fort is built to protect the fledgling colony of New Amsterdam from potential attacks by the English and Native American tribes in the area. Fort Amsterdam is a strategic location for the Dutch, as it provides a natural harbor and easy access to the Hudson River. It becomes a symbol of Dutch power and influence in North America, as well as a key location for trade and commerce.

1626: On May 4, Dutch colonist Peter Minuit arrives in New Amsterdam as the new director from the Dutch West India Company. He is famous for purchasing Manhattan Island for 60 guilders, which is estimated to be the equivalent of about $1,000 in today's currency from the Canarsee, a Native American tribe who are a band of Munsee-speaking Lenape who inhabited the westernmost end of Long Island at the time the Dutch colonized New Amsterdam in the 1620s and 1630s.

1638: The first printing press in the American colonies is established in New Amsterdam (later to become New York) by the Dutch printer Hendrick van den Keere and the first book printed there is a collection of Dutch psalms. The establishment of the printing press in New Amsterdam is a significant development in American history and is used to produce books, pamphlets, and other printed materials, which are distributed throughout the colonies.

1643: A group of Native Americans led by Wappinger chief, Tookersey, attacks the Dutch settlement of Pavonia on the west bank of the Hudson River. They kill over 100 Dutch colonists, including women and children, and take 30 prisoners. In retaliation, Director-General of New Netherland Willem Kieft, who had ordered an attack without the approval of his advisory council and against the wishes of the colonists. which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Native Americans. This conflict is known as "Kieft's War" and would endure until 1945.

1647: New Amsterdam's first public school is established, which is taught by Adam Roelantsen, a former soldier in the Dutch West India Company. The school, located on what is now Pearl Street, teaches reading, writing, and arithmetic to both boys and girls, making New Amsterdam one of the first places in the Americas to offer education to both genders. The establishment of a public school system served as a model for other colonies and cities, laying the foundation for the development of an educated and literate society in New York City.

1653: The Dutch build a wall around New Amsterdam in response to growing tensions with the English. Despite its defensive purpose, the wall also became a social hub for the growing population of New Amsterdam, with vendors, shops, and businesses setting up near the gates. The wall was gradually dismantled in the late 17th century as the city continued to expand beyond its original boundaries, but its impact on the development and identity of New York City as "Wall Street", has persisted for centuries.

1656: The city's first fire department is formed, consisting of eight men with buckets and barrels, in response to a series of devastating fires that have swept through the city. The firefighters are paid by the city government, and they patrol the streets at night looking for fires. As the city grew, the fire department expanded as well, with the addition of volunteer firefighters and specialized equipment such as hand-drawn pumpers and horse-drawn steam engines, reducing the frequency and severity of fires in the city, while making it a safer place to live and work.

1647: Peter Stuyvesant, a former military officer who had served in the Dutch West India Company, is appointed as the director-general of New Netherland, which now includes settlements in present-day New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and parts of Connecticut and Pennsylvania. During this time, Stuyvesant makes significant changes to the governance and infrastructure. One of his most controversial policies was to impose religious conformity, particularly by limiting the religious freedom of Quakers, Jews, and other non-Protestant groups, leading to protests and clashes with colonists.

1653: New Amsterdam receives self-governance under a municipal charter, giving the city more autonomy from the Dutch West India Company. The charter establishes a system of local government, with an elected city council and mayor who are responsible for the administration of the city. The charter also helps to establish a tradition of democratic governance in the colonies, which is later enshrined in the United States Constitution.

1664: New Amsterdam is captured by the English, and the city is officially renamed New York on September 8, 1664, in honor of the English Duke of York (who would later become King James II). The Dutch surrender without a fight, as they are vastly outnumbered and outgunned. However, the transition of power was not peaceful as the Dutch and English engaged in several armed conflicts, and the English imposed their own laws and customs on the inhabitants of the colony, leading to tensions and resistance from the Dutch and other groups.

1673: The Dutch briefly recapture NYC from the English during the Third Anglo-Dutch War. Governor Anthony Colve takes control of the city, ruling for one year before the English regained control under the terms of the Treaty of Westminster. During their brief rule, the Dutch make significant improvements to the infrastructure of the city, including repairing the fortifications and building new structures such as a city hall and a church. The Dutch also make efforts to improve relations with the Native Americans in the area, establishing trading relationships and negotiating peace treaties.

1674: The Dutch West India Company declares bankruptcy. The Company played a significant role in the colonization of the Americas and was established in 1621 to oversee Dutch operations in the Atlantic, including trade, colonization, and military activities. With the collapse of the company, the Dutch government is forced to take a more active role in the administration of the colonies. As a result, the government takes a more lenient approach towards local economic and religious practices, leading to greater prosperity and diversity in the colonies.

1682: The first City Hall is built on Wall Street, at the site of the old Stadt Huys, which had served as the city's town square since the Dutch era. Made of red brick and a Dutch-style stepped gable, the new building is designed as an aesthetic nod to Manhattan's colonial roots. The City Hall becomes a hub for local government, housing the mayor's office, city council chambers, and courtrooms. The building underwent several renovations and expansions over the centuries, but it still stands today as a historic landmark and a symbol of the city's Dutch heritage.

1689: Jacob Leisler, a German-born merchant and militia captain, leads a rebellion against the colonial government in New York. Claiming to act in the name of the Protestant cause and "true liberties" of the people. His actions are widely viewed as divisive and anarchic. Leisler is sentenced and hanged for treason in 1691. The event highlights political and religious divisions within the colony, and contributes to the English government's decision to consolidate control over all of its North American colonies.

1693: The first American newspaper is published in New York City called "Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick". However, it was quickly shut down after its first issue due to its critical content, which was seen as a threat to the British colonial government. The newspaper's publisher, Benjamin Harris, was arrested and deported to London. This event helped establish the importance of free speech and the press in American society, and it ultimately led to the development of a robust and diverse media industry in New York City that continues to thrive today.

1697: The Treaty of Ryswick is signed, ending the Nine Years' War between France and the Grand Alliance. The war had been fought over the succession to the throne of Spain, involving the major powers of Europe, including England and the Netherlands. France agreed to recognize William III as King of England, Scotland, and Ireland, which helped to solidify the position of the Dutch-born monarch in the English court. The treaty also resulted in increased cooperation between England and the Dutch Republic, laying the foundation for future diplomatic and military alliances.

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Welcome to the History of New York City - A Unique Online Gallery of NYC's Origins, Curated and Digitally Restored by Fine Print New York.

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NYC in the 1600s

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