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History of New York

History of New York

New York City

New York formerly belonged to the Dutch. In 1614 a Dutch ship arrived from the West India Company on the island of Manhattan in New York. The crew wanted to protect the fur trade of the company in the Hudson Valley. It was named New Amsterdam in 1625. In 1628 Peter Minuit bought Manhattan from the Indians for trinkets worth 60 guilders. In 1664 New Amsterdam fell into the hands of the English, who called it New York after the Duke of York. In 1673 the Netherlands were once again in possession but soon after they changed the name to “New Orange” it was definitively transferred to the British, with the Peace of Westminster in 1674.

Indian prehistory and New Netherlands: 1613-1664

The Algonkian speaking Lenni-Lenape Indians are the original inhabitants of the island of Manhattan. They met the Italian Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524, in canoes, the very first European explorer to discover New York Harbour. Giovanni da Verrazzano called the place “Nouveau Angoulême” (New Angoulême), in honor of the French king Francis I in whose service he sailed. Although Verrazano explored New York Harbour, it is assumed that he went no further than the bridge that now bears his name, but sailed back towards the Atlantic instead. The area was only fully chartered with the voyage of Henry Hudson, an Englishman employed by the Dutch East India Company. Hudson discovered Manhattan on September 11, 1609 and proceeded to travel up the river that now bears his name, the Hudson, until he arrived at the site of the present-day capital of the State of New York, Albany.

In 1614 a Dutch ship from the West India Company arrived on the island of Manhattan in New York. The crew wanted to protect the fur trade of the company in the Hudson Valley. It was named New Amsterdam in 1625. In 1628 Peter Minuit bought Manhattan from the Indians for trinkets worth 60 guilders. In 1653 a wall was built as protection against the Indians. The adjacent street was called “Walstraat” (Wall Street).

The British and the American Revolution: 1665-1783

This period began with the British takeover of the Dutch New Amsterdam and New Netherlands in 1664. In 1673 the Netherlands once again had possession, with the last Governor being Peter Stuyvesant. Soon after they changed the name to “New Orange” it was definitively transferred to the British, with the Peace of Westminster in 1674, in exchange for the current Suriname. In 1720 the first shipyard was built. Shipbuilding was once an important source of income.

As the renamed city of New York and the surrounding areas developed, strong feelings of independence grew among some, although the area was strongly divided by loyalists. The area of modern New York was the scene of the New York Campaign (1776), a series of battles in the early American War of Independence. After the early success of the campaign, the city became the political and military centre of British operations in North America. Nathan Hale, a soldier from the Continental Army, was hanged in Manhattan after the Battle of Long Island. The British began accommodating the majority of American war prisoners aboard prison ships in Wall About Bay in Brooklyn. In these prison ships more Americans lost their lives through neglect than those that died during all the battles in this war. New York was damaged severely twice by fires with a suspicious origin during the British occupation that followed the Battle of Brooklyn at the beginning of the American War of Independence. This occupation lasted until November 25th, 1783. George Washington returned to the city on the 25th of November while the last British troops left the United States. For about a century this day was widely celebrated locally as “Evacuation Day”. The Continental Congress met in New York City together under the Articles of Confederation.

Independence and the arrival of the Irish: 1784-1854

New York City was the first capital of the newly formed United States on September 13th, 1788 under the Constitutional Convention of the United States. On 30th April 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 young republic until 1790 when this honor befell to Philadelphia.

New York grew as an economic centre, first as the result of the policies and actions of Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, and later due to the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. After the American War of Independence thousands settled in the city, these were mostly New England Yankees. There were so many that by 1820 the city’s prewar population had been far surpassed. The residents belonged largely to the middle class, with a growing upper class, and were for 95% of American descent. New York developed economically as a powerful centre for artisan and craft activity, while its banking and commercial sector soon became dominant in the United States and remained so for a while. During the period 1800-1840 the city grew in wealth and power and the city would never again have such a society fundamental comprised of American Born citizens.

New York was a stable Protestant middle-class American society consisting of brokers, guild members, bankers, artisans, craftsmen, traders, shippers, retailers and well-paid workers who all worked in the early republican environment of voluntary firemen, militiamen and other civil organizations. Suddenly in the 1840’s, this society was swamped by thousands of mostly illiterate, unskilled Catholic Irish that escaped the agricultural crisis in their homeland (the Great Irish Famine). The social change shook New York to its very foundations. Because the bureaucratic civil structures of today were missing, the infrastructure of the city collapsed as it relied on a volunteer network of like-minded individuals. The original networks now devoted themselves to protecting the neighbourhoods of the American citizens against the Irish Americans. The Irish in turn formed gangs to protect themselves. The crime rate rose when volunteers of competitive ethnic groups fought for control of the municipal support and its fire, hygiene, waste and police facilities.

The political organization Tammany Hall began to gain influence with the support of the Irish immigrants, which resulted in the election of the first Tammany mayor, Fernando Wood in 1854.

Tammany and Consolidation: 1855-1897

This period began with the inauguration of Fernando Wood as the first mayor from Tammany Hall, who would rule over the city (first term 1855–1857). Tammany Hall was a patronage network of the local Democratic Party that was dominated by the Roman Catholic Irish. During the first half of the 19th century the city underwent a huge transformation due to Irish immigration. Due to a visionary urban planning proposal, the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, that proposed a street grid over the entire island of Manhattan and foresaw the opening of the Erie Canal (which connected the Atlantic port with the extensive agriculture markets in the Midwest of the United States and Canada), New York City surpassed Philadelphia as the largest city in the United States in 1835. Members of the old merchant aristocracy, who wished to meet the growing need for open space in the city, lobbied for a Central Park. In 1857 a design competition was organised. Central Park was the first landscaped park in an American city.

During the American Civil War (1861-1865), strong commercial ties with the South, with its growing immigrant population and discontent about the enlistment, led to divided sympathy for both the northern Union and southern Confederacy, which resulted in the enlistment riots or Draft Riots of 1863, one of the largest civilian uprisings in U.S. history.

After the Civil War, the number of immigrants coming from Europe increased rapidly. New York was the first stop for millions of people seeking a new and better life in the United States. The Statue of Liberty, erected in 1886 is a symbol for these immigrants as well as for democracy. These European and Asian immigrants often grouped together in their own ethnic areas which led to the creation of neighbourhoods like Chinatown, Little Italy and Little Germany. The new immigrants brought alongside further social withdrawal, criminal organizations from the old world that quickly infiltrated the already corrupt local political machine of Tammany Hall. Even so, the U.S. industry was exploiting the immigrant masses further with ever lower wages and cramped living conditions. A city of rental houses filled with cheap foreign workers from dozens of nations, was soon a centre of revolution, syndicalism, racketeering and trade unions. In response the upper classes employed (organised crime) gangs, excessive controls and strict political repression in order to undermine the groups who refused to conform to them. Groups such as the anti-capitalist trade union Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), American organizations like the American Protestant Association, and reformers of all colors were violently suppressed, while crime lords who were too independent simply disappeared.

The early 20thcentury: 1898-1945

This period began with the merger of the five boroughs in 1898. Manhattan and the Bronx were one county but two separate boroughs which were merged with the three boroughs, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island. These were ripped from the adjacent counties to form a new municipal government originally called “Greater New York”. The Borough of Brooklyn became the independent city of Brooklyn, along with several municipalities in eastern Kings County that had merged with Manhattan. This area was connected by the Brooklyn Bridge with Manhattan; The Queens Borough was formed by west of Queens County (with some overlap of the Nassau County, founded in 1899) and the Staten Island Borough was formed by the entire Richmond County. All governments (municipalities, cities and counties) in these boroughs were abolished. In 1914 the Legislature of the State of New York made The Bronx one county, that way the five counties coincided with the five boroughs.

On the 15th of June, 1904, more than 1,000 people, mostly women and children from the district of Little Germany, perished on the General Slocum steamer in the East River when it caught fire and burned down on North Brother Island. The following year Little Germany was abandoned. On March 25th, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in Greenwich Village claimed 146 lives. Both disasters would each in turn lead to major improvements in safety on ships and in buildings. The city was unified with the development of new transportation infrastructure, including the subway in 1904. The increase of new European immigration brought more social change. Later on, in the 1920s, the city received a flood of African Americans as part of the Great Migration from the Southern States. In addition, the Harlem Renaissance took place as part of the economic boom during Prohibition in which the skyscraper battle took place that would define the skyline of New York.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century the city became a world centre for industry, commerce and communications. The New York Subway was developed and the railway lines of the Grand Central Station flourished. In 1925, New York City was the city with the largest population in the world thereby knocking London from the first place.

The spiral of accelerating successive changes, giving rise to crime and poverty, was broken by the outbreak of World War I that disrupted the trade routes. The “Immigration Restriction Acts” that limited post-war immigration, together with the Great Depression that reduced the demand for new labor, led to the end of the reign of the barons of the “Gilded Age”.

Between wars, the election of reformist mayor Fiorello LaGuardia lead to the fall of Tammany Hall after eighty years of urban politics domination. The city demographics stabilized and union associations succeeded in obtaining new protection and prosperity for the working class. The municipal administration underwent a strong overhaul under LaGuardia. Both before and after the Second World War the controversial park commissioner Robert Moses redeveloped large areas of the city with the construction of bridges, parks and parkways. Moses was the greatest American proponent of modern urbanism in which the car stood central.

Despite the effects of the Great Depression after the stock market crash of 1929 on the New York Stock Exchange, many skyscrapers were built during the 1930s, including many Art Deco masterpieces which still form part of the skyline.

Post-World War II: 1946-1977

Returning World War II veterans and immigrants from Europe created a postwar economic boom and led to the development of large areas in eastern Queens. In 1951 the United Nations moved from its first headquarters in Flushing Meadows Park, Queens, to the eastern side of Manhattan.

During the ‘60s the ideas of the developer and city leader Robert Moses lost in popularity in favor of the anti-Urban Renewal views of Jane Jacobs. After civil protests, the plans to develop an expressway through lower Manhattan were thrown out. Like many other large cities in the United States, New York City was also overwhelmed by race riots, urban migration and industrial decay in the ‘60s. At the end of June 1969 the Stonewall riots took place in the district of Greenwich Village. An uprising of gay men, primarily transvestites, were tired of the harassment of the New York police. This rebellion is a demarcation line in the history of the gay movement. Late July the Gay Liberation Front was formed in New York as well as in other cities and universities that same year. Exactly one year later the first Gay Pride parade in the world took place between Greenwich Village and Central Park.

By the ‘70s, New York had the bad reputation of a once great city since fallen to crime. In 1975, the city could only avoid bankruptcy by a federal loan and debt rescheduling by the Municipal Assistance Corporation, headed by Felix Rohatyn. The city was also forced to undergo rigorous financial reviews by an agency of the State of New York. In 1977 the city was hit by two disasters. The city was plagued by serial killer David Berkowitz, aka Son of Sam. Also the blackout that same year caused a massive wave of looting and vandalism (1616 shops were damaged, 1,037 fires extinguished and 3776 people were arrested). These events were probably the driving force for the election of Mayor Ed Koch, who promised to revive the city.

Modern period: 1978-2001

In the ’80s Wall Street experienced a strong revival and the city regained its role as the centre of the global financial industry. The Theater District around Broadway (which had evolved into a red light district in the year ‘60s and ‘70s) was revived thanks to the growing tourism industry. The ‘90s were characterized by a drastic drop in crime rates (especially under Mayor Rudy Giuliani) and people returning to the city. The city was not only the destination of immigrants from around the world but also those of many American citizens who sought out the cosmopolitan life that New York could provide. In the late ‘90s the city disproportionately enjoyed the success of the financial services industry during the dot com boom. This was one of the factors during this decade that caused a sharp increase the value of residential and commercial buildings.

Post 9/11: 2001-today

New York City was rocked on September 11th 2001 by a terrorist attack, that killed nearly 3,000 people when two planes hit the World Trade Center. The entire world watched how the 400-meter-high twin towers collapsed into a wall of dust and debris on the nearby streets. This collapse took the lives of a lot of the gathered volunteers and especially the firemen who tried to reach the fires via the stairs. Lower Manhattan was primarily affected economically due to sudden loss of the thousands of people employed at the WTC making use of the surrounding shops and cafes. The building of Freedom Tower was finished in May 2015 and the observation deck of One World Observatory opened. The building is right next to Ground Zero.

On August the 14, 2003, New York City, along with eight other U.S. States and parts of Canada, was hit by the largest power outage in the history of North America: the Northeast Blackout of 2003. The consequences of the failure of lifts, the New York subway system, lights and traffic lights, air conditioning (temperature that day: 33 ° C), and others problems created a huge mess that highlighted the vulnerability of these cities.

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