History of New York City, New York

Possibly the first Europeans to visit New York Harbor were Vikings under Leif Ericson around A.D. 1000, but if they arrived, they left no trace. Giovanni da Verrazano, an explorer from Florence, Italy, (sailing for France) explored the harbor. In 1607, Henry Hudson sighted Manhattan Island before sailing up the Hudson River. He was followed in 1613 by Adriaen Block, a Dutch explorer whose expedition erected the first buildings by Europeans on Manhattan Island.

The first attempt to settle came in 1624, when a group of settlers were sent by the Dutch West India Company. Most of them proceeded upriver to the present site of Albany, but eight men remained on Manhattan and were joined the following year by 45 more settlers. Fort Amsterdam was built to protect the little colony.

In 1626, Peter Minuit, the third governor, was instructed to settle the ownership of Manhattan with the Indians. He negotiated a purchase price that has been valued at about 60 guilders, or $24. He also named the town New Amsterdam. Under the later administration of Peter Stuyvesant, the colony prospered, and by the 1650s, about 1,000 were living in New Amsterdam. In 1653, the year that New Amsterdam was incorporated as a city, Stuyvesant built a wooden palisade where Wall Street is today, to mark the northern city limits.

On September 8, 1664, New Amsterdam was forced to surrender to Colonel Richard Nicolls as a result of the ongoing struggle between the British and the Dutch. The fort was renamed Fort James and the city, New York. The British were ousted by the Dutch for a short period (1673-1674), but otherwise the city was a British possession until the American Revolution.

New York continued to grow and had about 7,000 inhabitants by 1700. The first newspaper was published in 1725. The trial and acquittal of John Peter Zenger, publisher of the New York Journal, marked an important step in the establishment of freedom of the press. King`s College, now Columbia University, was founded in 1754.

New Yorkers contributed to the rise of patriotism in the years leading to the American Revolution. In 1765, a congress was held in New York with representatives from other colonies to consider a response to the hated Stamp Act. Meeting in the Fraunces Tavern Restaurant, the Sons of Liberty were organized to resist it and effectively rendered the act useless. It was repealed in 1766.

In 1770, a battle between Patriots and British soldiers on Golden Hill, now John Street, resulted in the first death of the American Revolution. When a ship laden with tea arrived in 1774, the Sons of Liberty again took action and prevented its unloading. A small amount of tea was thrown into the harbor, and the ship was forced to return to England.

In 1775, a public safety committee took over the governance of New York, but the British regained control after their defeat of Washington`s army in the Battle of Long Island. New York remained under British rule until after the defeat of Cornwallis at Yorktown. New York was the national capital under the Articles of Confederation, and it was in New York that George Washington was inaugurated the first president under the new Constitution. However, in 1790, the capital was moved to Philadelphia.

After John Fitch conducted the first test of a steamboat on Collect Pond in New York in 1796, 11 years passed before the first commercial steamboat, Robert Fulton`s Clermont, to enter service between New York City and Albany. In 1812, the first steam ferry to Long Island began service. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 also contributed greatly to New York`s growth as a port city.

By the 1850 census, New York City had the largest population of any city in America at 515,394. Of these, more than half were foreign-born. New York was the chief port of entry for immigrants into the country, with 370,000 arriving in 1850 alone. Many of these moved farther west but many others stayed.

Housing was inadequate. Alongside the fine mansions of the rich, New York had squalid tenements. Transportation had become chaotic, with the streets choked with wagons and carriages. There were proposals for pedestrian bridges and elevated trains. Some pedestrian bridges were in fact built in the 1850`s, but the elevated railway was delayed.

Just before the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the mayor of New York, Fernando Wood, proposed that New York City should break away from New York State and become a "free port," which would have many commercial advantages to its businesses. He calculated that the revenues of the port would allow New York City citizens to live tax free and enjoy cheap goods. His suggestions were not followed.

New Yorkers have always comprised an amalgam of many cultures, and tensions between its various components have manifested themselves at various times through its history. The most significant example was the draft riots of 1863. The draft was unpopular among Democrats in general and Irish immigrants in particular. Rioting broke out in New York after the names of the first conscripts were published, and continued until the Army of the Potomac was deployed to restore order.

The Society of St. Tammany was founded in 1789 as a benevolent organization, but it quickly assumed a political character and, as Tammany Hall, dominated New York City politics. The best known politician associated with Tammany Hall was "Boss" Tweed, who was removed from power in 1873 with little long-term effect. Corruption continued to characterize city government until 1933, when Fiorello La Guardia was elected on a reform slate. Re-elected in 1937 and 1941, La Guardia brought about great improvements in city services.

Most large American cities in the North have experienced declines in population, but New York has been an exception. After peaking at 7,895,563 in the census of 1970, the city lost a reported 823,924 residents in the next ten years. The city then began a recovery, with a quarter million more people in 1990 and a record, for New York or any other American city, of 8,008,278 in the 2000 census.

Among New York`s architectural wonders is the Riverside Church, completed in 1830 and modeled after the great Chartres Cathedral in France. The Riverside Church consists of 22 floors, which house everything from the narthex, Christ Chapel, and belfry; to offices and meeting rooms. Madison Square Garden, located in New York City, is the world`s most famous arena.

Numerous other landmarks dot the city, but two of her most famous buildings collapsed after being hit by hijacked airliners on September 9, 2001. The fall of the Twin Towers marked the beginning of America`s worldwide war on terror.


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