The history of New York. New York begins with the first European documentation of the area by Giovanni da Verrazzano, in command of the French ship, La Dauphine, when he visited the region in 1524. It is believed he sailed in Upper New York Bay where he encountered native Lenape, returned through The Narrows where he anchored the night of April 17, and then left to continue his voyage. He named the area of present-day New York City Nouvelle-Angoulême (New Angoulême) in honor of Francis I of France, King of France and Count of Angoulême.
European settlement began on September 3, 1609 when Englishman Henry Hudson in the employ of the Dutch East India Company sailed the Half Moon through The Narrows into Upper New York Bay. Like Christopher Columbus, Hudson was looking for a westerly passage to Asia. He never found one, but he did make note of the abundant beaver population. Beaver pelts were in fashion in Europe, fueling a lucrative business. Hudson’s report on the beaver population of the New York area served as the impetus for the founding of Dutch trading colonies in the New World, among them New Amsterdam, which would become New York City. The beaver’s importance in New York City history is reflected by its use on the city’s official seal.
The area around New York City was the location for multiple battles of the American Revolutionary War, including the largest battle of the war: the Battle of Brooklyn. The British won and went on to occupy the city from September 1776 to late 1783. George Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States on April 30, 1789 in front of Federal Hall and the city served as the capital of the United States until 1790.
Modern New York City traces its development to the consolidation of the five boroughs in 1898 and an economic and building boom following the Great Depression and World War II. Throughout its history, New York City has served as a main port of entry for many immigrants, and its cultural and economic influences have made it one of the most important urban areas in the United States, and the world.
The area that would eventually encompass modern day New York City was inhabited by the Lenape people. These groups of culturally and linguistically identical Native Americans traditionally spoke an Algonquian language now referred to as Unami. Early European settlers would refer to bands of Lenape by the Unami place name for where they lived, such as: “Raritan” in what is now called Staten Island and New Jersey, “Canarsee” in what is now known as Brooklyn, and “Hackensack” in modern New Jersey across the Hudson River from current-day Lower Manhattan. Eastern Long Island neighbors were culturally and linguistically more closely related to the Mohegan-Pequot peoples of what is now known as New England who spoke the Mohegan-Montauk-Narragansett language. These peoples all made use of the abundant waterways in the New York City region for fishing, hunting trips, trade amongst themselves, and occasionally war. A reminder of their presence in the New York City region is evidenced by various place names such as Raritan Bay and Canarsie, Brooklyn. Many former paths created by indigenes are today main thouroughfares such as Broadway in Manhattan. The Lenape developed sophisticated techniques of hunting and managing their resources. By the time of the arrival of Europeans, they were cultivating fields of vegetation through the slash and burn technique, which extended the productive life of planted fields. They also harvested vast quantities of fish and shellfish from the bay. It has been estimated that at the time of European settlement there were approximately 15,000 Lenape total in approximately 80 settlement sites around the region. European settlement began with the founding of a Dutch fur trading settlement in Lower Manhattan in 1613 later called New Amsterdam (Nieuw Amsterdam) in the southern tip of Manhattan in 1625. Soon thereafter, most likely in 1626, construction of Fort Amsterdam began.
Willem Kieft became director general in 1638, but five years later was embroiled in Kieft’s War against the Native Americans. The Pavonia Massacre, across the Hudson River in present day Jersey City resulted in the death of eighty natives in February 1643. Following the massacre, eleven Algonquian tribes joined forces and nearly defeated the Dutch. Holland sent additional forces to the aid of Kieft, leading to the overwhelming defeat of the Native Americans, and a peace treaty on August 29, 1645. On May 27, 1647, Peter Stuyvesant was inaugurated as director general upon his arrival, and ruled as a member of the Dutch Reformed Church. The colony was granted self-government in 1652 and New Amsterdam was formally incorporated as a city February 2, 1653.
In 1664, the English conquered the area and renamed it “New York” after the Duke of York and Albany. The Dutch briefly regained it in 1673, renaming the city “New Orange”, before permanently ceding the colony of New Netherland to the British for what is now Suriname in November 1674. Some area names are still reminiscent of the Dutch period, most notably Flushing (Dutch town of Vlissingen), Harlem (Dutch town of Haarlem) and Brooklyn (Dutch town of Breukelen). By 1700, the Lenape population of New York had diminished to 200. The new English rulers of the formerly Dutch New Amsterdam and New Netherland renamed the settlement New York. As the colony grew and prospered, sentiment also grew for greater autonomy. In the context of the Glorious Revolution in England, Jacob Leisler led Leisler’s Rebellion and effectively controlled the city and surrounding areas from 1689–1691, before being arrested and executed. The 1735 libel trial of John Peter Zenger in the city was a seminal influence on freedom of the press in North America. After a series of fires in 1741, the city became panicked about an African-American plot to burn the city, conspiring with some whites. This was mostly a fabrication. Nevertheless, 31 blacks and 4 whites were convicted of arson; 13 blacks were burned alive, 4 whites and 18 blacks were hanged. In 1754, Columbia University was founded under charter by George II of Great Britain as King’s College in Lower Manhattan.
The Stamp Act and other British measures fomented dissent, particularly among Sons of Liberty who maintained a long-running skirmish with locally stationed British troops over Liberty Poles from 1766 to 1776. The Stamp Act Congress met in New York City in 1765 in the first organized resistance to British authority across the colonies. After the major defeat of the Continental Army in the Battle of Long Island, General George Washington withdrew to Manhattan Island, but with the subsequent defeat at the Battle of Fort Washington the island was effectively left to the British. New York City was greatly damaged twice by fires of suspicious origin during British military rule. The city became the political and military center of operations in North America for the remainder of the war, and a haven for Loyalist refugees. Continental Army officer Nathan Hale was hanged in Manhattan for espionage. In addition, the British began to hold the majority of captured American prisoners of war aboard prison ships in Wallabout Bay, across the East River in Brooklyn. More Americans lost their lives from neglect aboard these ships than died in all the battles of the war. British occupation lasted until November 25, 1783. George Washington triumphantly returned to the city that day, as the last British forces left the city.
In 1785 the Congress met in New York City under the Articles of Confederation. Later, New York City was made the first national capital of the United States under the United States Constitution. The United States Constitution also created the current Congress of the United States and the first sitting at Federal Hall on Wall Street. The first steps to expanding the United States: the first United States Supreme Court sat there, the United States Bill of Rights was drafted and ratified there, and the Northwest Ordinance all took place there. New York City became the first capital of the newly formed United States on September 13, 1788 under the U.S. Constitutional Convention. On April 30, 1789 the first President of the United States, George Washington, was inaugurated at Federal Hall on Wall Street. New York City remained the capital of the U.S. until 1790, when the honor was transferred to Philadelphia. New York grew as an economic centre, first as a result of Alexander Hamilton’s policies and practices as the first Secretary of the Treasury and, later, with the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, which connected the Atlantic port to the vast agricultural markets of the North American interior. Immigration resumed after being slowed by wars in Europe, and a new street grid system expanded to encompass all of Manhattan. The Great Irish Famine brought a large influx of Irish immigrants, and by 1850, the Irish comprised one quarter of the city’s population. Government institutions, including the New York City Police Department and the public schools, were established in the 1840s and 1850s to respond to growing demands of residents.
This period started with the 1855 inauguration of Fernando Wood as the first mayor from Tammany Hall, an Irish immigrant-supported Democratic Party political machine that would dominate local politics throughout this period. During the 19th century, the city was transformed by immigration, a visionary development proposal called the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, which expanded the city street grid to encompass all of Manhattan, and the opening of the Erie Canal, which connected the Atlantic port to the vast agricultural markets of the Midwestern United States and Canada in 1825. By 1835, New York City had surpassed Philadelphia as the largest city in the United States. Public-minded members of the old merchant aristocracy pressed for a Central Park, which was opened to a design competition in 1857; it would become the first landscape park in an American city.
During the American Civil War (1861–1865), the city’s strong commercial ties to the South, its growing immigrant population, and anger about conscription led to divided sympathy for both the Union and Confederacy, culminating in the Draft Riots of 1863. After the Civil War, the rate of immigration from Europe grew steeply, and New York became the first stop for millions seeking a new and better life in the United States, a role acknowledged by the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1886.
In 1898, the modern City of New York was formed with the consolidation of Brooklyn (until then an independent city), Manhattan and outlying areas. Manhattan and the Bronx, though still one county, were established as two separate boroughs and joined together with three other boroughs created from parts of adjacent counties to form the new municipal government originally called “Greater New York”. The Borough of Brooklyn incorporated the independent City of Brooklyn, recently joined to Manhattan by the Brooklyn Bridge, and several municipalities in eastern Kings County, New York; the Borough of Queens was created from western Queens County (with the remnant established as Nassau County in 1899); and The Borough of Staten Island contained all of Richmond County. All municipal (county, town and city) governments contained within the boroughs were abolished. In 1914, the New York State Legislature created Bronx county, making five counties coterminous with the five boroughs. On June 15, 1904 over 1,000 people, mostly German Immigrants, were killed when the steamship General Slocum caught fire and burned on North Brother Island, in the East River; and on March 25, 1911 the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in Greenwich Village took the lives of 146 garment workers, which would eventually lead to great advancements in the city’s fire department, building codes, and workplace regulations.
Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the city became a world center for industry, commerce, and communication. Interborough Rapid Transit (the first New York City Subway company) began operating in 1904, and the railroads operating out of Grand Central Terminal and Pennsylvania Station thrived. New York City’s ever accelerating changes and rising crime and poverty rates ended when World War I disrupted trade routes, the Immigration Restriction Acts limited additional immigration after the war, and the Great Depression ended the need for new labor. The combination ended the rule of the Gilded Age barons. As the city’s demographics stabilized, labor unionization brought new protections and affluence to the working class, the city’s government and infrastructure underwent a dramatic overhaul under Fiorello La Guardia, and his controversial parks commissioner, Robert Moses, ended the blight of many tenement areas, expanded new parks, remade streets, and restricted and reorganized zoning controls.
In the 1920s, New York City was a major destination for African Americans during the Great Migration from the American South. The Harlem Renaissance flourished during the era of Prohibition, coincident with a larger economic boom that saw the skyline develop with the construction of competing skyscrapers. For a while, New York City became the most populous city in the world, starting in 1925 and overtaking London, which had reigned for a century. The difficult years of the Great Depression saw the election of reformer Fiorello La Guardia as mayor and the fall of Tammany Hall after eighty years of political dominance. Despite the effects of the Great Depression, the 1930s saw the building of some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers, including numerous Art-Deco masterpieces that are still part of the city’s skyline today. Both before and after World War II, vast areas of the city were also reshaped by the rise of the bridges, parks and parkways coordinated by Moses, the greatest proponent of automobile-centered modernist urbanism in America. In 1938 the political designation “ward” was abolished.
Returning World War II veterans and immigrants from Europe created a postwar economic boom and led to the development of huge housing tracts in eastern Queens. The city was extensively photographed during the post–war years by photographer Todd Webb using a heavy camera and tripod. New York emerged from the war as the leading city of the world, with Wall Street leading America’s ascendancy and, in 1951, the United Nations relocated from its first headquarters in Flushing Meadows Park, Queens, to the East Side of Manhattan.During the 1960s, the views of real estate developer and city leader Robert Moses began to fall out of favour as the anti-Urban Renewal views of Jane Jacobs gained popularity. Citizen rebellion killed a plan to construct an expressway through lower Manhattan.
The transition away from the industrial base toward a service economy picked up speed while the large shipbuilding and garment industries declined sharply. The ports converted to container ships, costing many traditional jobs among longshoremen. Many large corporations moved their headquarters to the suburbs, or to distant cities. However there was enormous growth in services especially finance, education, medicine, tourism, communications and law. New York remained the largest city, and largest metropolitan area, in the United States, and continued as its largest financial, commercial, information, and cultural Center.
Like many major U.S. cities, New York suffered race riots, gang wars and some population decline in the 1960s. Street activists and minority groups like the Black Panthers and Young Lords took matters into their own hands and organized rent strikes and garbage offensives, demanding city services for poor areas. They also set up free health clinics and other programs, as a guide for organizing and gaining “Power to the People.” By the 1970s the city had also gained a reputation as a crime-ridden relic of history. In 1975, the city government avoided bankruptcy only through a federal loan and debt restructuring by the Municipal Assistance Corporation, headed by Felix Rohatyn. The city was also forced to accept increased financial scrutiny by an agency of New York State. In 1977, the city was struck by the twin catastrophes of the New York City blackout of 1977 and the Son of Sam serial murderer’s continued slayings.
The history of New York City (1978–present) has seen a modest boom and a bust in the 1980s, followed by a major boom in the 1990s, with mixed prospects since then. This period has seen serious racial tension with more calm in very recent years, the dramatic rise and fall of crime rates and a major reinvigoration of immigration and growth taking the city population for the first time past the eight million mark. The September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center had a huge impact on the city.
Compared to the 1970s, the 1980s were a time of restrained optimism in New York. The boom on Wall Street was fueling the speculative real estate market, and unemployment numbers dropped noticeably, however, the city’s reputation for crime and disorder was still very much a part of New Yorkers’ daily lives.
The 1980s was a time of much racial tension in the city, including the highly-publicized murders of three African Americans in “white” neighborhoods in separate incidents: Willie Turks in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn in 1982; Michael Griffith in Howard Beach,Queens in 1986; and Yusef Hawkins in Brooklyn’s Bensonhurst neighborhood in 1989, in addition to the much-publicized “subway vigilante” shootings by Bernhard Goetz in 1984. On April 19, 1989, a woman known as the Central Park Jogger was badly beaten and raped, and a gang of African American youths were charged for the “wilding” incident; the case was touted in the media as an example of how rampant crime had become in the city by the late 1980s. Homelessness became a serious problem during the 1980s, specifically in the last two of Edward Koch’s three terms as mayor (1978–1990). The city outlawed discrimination against gay and lesbian people in such matters as employment and housing in 1986. In 1989, Koch was defeated by David Dinkins in the Democratic Party primary in his bid for a fourth term, and then Dinkins narrowly defeated Republican Rudolph Giuliani in the general election to become the city’s first-ever black mayor. Crime began a 15-year decline in 1990 during Dinkins’s administration, but a combination of continued racial strife (such as that in the Crown Heights Riot in 1991), and an extremely weak economy (in January 1993 the city’s unemployment rate reached 13.4 percent, the highest level of joblessness seen there since the Great Depression) caused Dinkins’ popularity to seriously decline (including a threat by residents of Staten Island to secede from the city). On February 26, 1993, six people were killed, and thousands of others injured, in the World Trade Center bombing when a truck bomb was detonated in a basement garage of Tower One.
In late 1993, David Dinkins was defeated by Rudolph Giuliani in his bid for reelection.
The city rebounded in the mid- and late 1990s due to the steady expansion of the national economy and the Wall Street stock market boom that took place concomitantly, as well as the precipitous drop in crime, although stubbornly high unemployment remained a local problem. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor, is credited by many for revitalizing Times Square and making the city more “liveable” by cracking down on crime. Changes in the worldwide economy during this time proved to be especially favorable to New York because of its highly developed transportation and communications infrastructure, as well as its massive population base. Over the course of the decade, the city’s image transformed from being one of a bygone, decaying metropolis to one of the world’s preeminent “global cities.” Critics argue, however, that the drop in crime came at the price of greater friction between police and some of the city’s ethnic groups, and less concern for civil liberties, citing the Abner Louima and Amadou Diallo incidents. Some point out that other cities also saw major drops in crime, although during Giuliani’s term crime in the city fell more rapidly than in most other major U.S. cities, such as Detroit or Los Angeles.
As for sports, 1994 saw a great chapter in the city’s sports history, with the New York Rangers finally winning their first Stanley Cup since 1940 and the New York Knicks making it to the NBA Finals, where they lost in seven games to the Houston Rockets, at the same time. The Knicks made it to the NBA Finals again in 1999, where they lost in five games to the San Antonio Spurs. The New York Yankees began a dynasty led by manager (and New Yorker) Joe Torre winning the World Series in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000.
New Yorkers lived through the city’s bloodiest and perhaps most tragic day on September 11, 2001, when hijackers linked to the jihadist organization Al-Qaeda piloted two airliners into each of the World Trade Center towers. The airplanes, designated for transcontinental flights and therefore fully loaded with jet fuel, crashed into the towers in the early morning hours of September 11. The crashes ripped gaping holes into the buildings, and ignited fires that caused the towers to collapse. Nearly 2,900 people, including both New Yorkers and visitors to the city, perished in the attack, as well as several hundred police officers, firefighters and EMTs. The 9/11 attacks led to a temporary exodus of business from Lower Manhattan to places such as Midtown Manhattan, Jersey City, and Brooklyn, as well as elsewhere, along with the need to reposition the broadcasting antennas of several television channels. The attacks also drew attention to the works of mayor Giuliani and led to efforts to enhance security in the city itself. On November 12, 2001, American Airlines Flight 587 crashed into the Belle Harbor neighborhood of Queens, killing all 260 people on board and five others on the ground. Although initially feared to be another act of terrorism, the crash was eventually found to have been caused by pilot error.
On February 27, 2003, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), after receiving input from thousands of people all over the world, revealed a design for the World Trade Center site. Designed primarily by renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, the plans envision a 1,776-foot-tall tower named the Freedom Tower to help restore the Manhattan skyline to its former grandeur. The site pays homage to the events by leaving intact the slurry wall (which withstood the force of the destruction and held the waters of the Hudson River back), and by keeping the footprints of the towers available as a memorial site.
New York City was affected by the 2003 North America blackout on August 14, 2003, at 4:11 PM, leaving the city without electricity for over a day. Unlike in the New York City blackout of 1977, there was no major looting.
Over the next ten years, the city expects a wave of public and private-sector building projects to reshape large sections of the city, and a residential construction boom has resulted in permits being issued for over 25,000 new residential units every year. While the 2012 Summer Olympics ultimately went to London, New York was among the finalists and the campaign resulted in a plan to replace Shea Stadium with a new stadium.
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