17th Century New York

By Tim Lambert

An Italian, Giovanni da Verrazano discovered New York Harbor in 1524. In 1609 an Englishman, Henry Hudson, sailed up the Hudson River. Then in 1624, the Dutch founded the first permanent trading post. In 1626 the first governor, Peter Minuit, bought the island of Manhattan from the Native Americans.

The Dutch built a little town on the southern tip of Manhattan Island. It was called New Amsterdam and it flourished by selling skins. The settlers sold otter, beaver, mink, and seal skins. However, New Amsterdam was a tiny town with only about 1,500 inhabitants in the mid-17th century. However, some farmers cultivated the land in Manhattan and in Brooklyn. (The Bowery takes its name from Bouwerie the Dutch word for farm).

Furthermore, by no means all the early settlers were Dutch. They included Walloons (from what is now Belgium), French people, and English people. The first Jews arrived in New Amsterdam in 1654.

Meanwhile, the first black slaves arrived in 1628. Slaves played a major role in building the colony.

In New Amsterdam buildings were, at first, made of wood but in time houses of stone or brick were erected. Thatched roofs were banned in 1657 (because of the risk of fire).

In 1653 a wall was built across Manhattan Island to protect the little town of New Amsterdam. The street next to it was called Wall Street.

In 1639 a Swede called Jonas Bronck settled in the Bronx, which is named after him. A settlement was founded at Flushing in 1645.

In 1658 Dutch farmers built a village they called Nieuw Haarlem (New Harlem) after a town in Holland. In the 18th century, it became a fashionable place for merchants to build country houses. The first settlement on Staten Island was made in 1661.

Meanwhile in 1647 Peter Stuyvesant (c. 1592-1672) became governor of New Amsterdam. Stuyvesant was the son of a Calvinist minister. He had a wooden leg. In 1647 Stuyvesant wrote ‘I shall govern you as a father his children’. (Remember that fathers were much stricter in the 17th century than they are today). He was as good as his word. Stuyvesant ruled very high-handedly and he soon alienated the people. Stuyvesant ordered all taverns to close at 9pm.

Nevertheless in 1653 Stuyvesant established a municipal government for New Amsterdam based on those of Dutch cities.

However in 1664 an English fleet arrived. Fearing the English would sack the colony Stuyvesant surrendered. The Dutch briefly recaptured New Amsterdam in 1673 but they lost it to the English again in 1674. This time it was renamed New York in honor of the Duke of York, brother of King Charles II. Meanwhile Stuyvesant retired to a farm.

In 1689 a man named Jacob Leisler (1640-1691) staged a coup-d’etat in New York. For his pains he was executed in 1691.

Trinity Church was dedicated in 1698.

Meanwhile, in 1635 the Dutch built a fort called Fort Amsterdam. The British later renamed it, Fort George. In 1693 92 cannons were installed to protect New York. The area became known as the Battery. By 1700 New York had a population of almost 5,000. It was a thriving town.