A Brief History of New York City

Planning on moving to New York City? You wouldn’t be alone. Millions of people have had the same idea. New York City has had one of the largest population growths of any city in history. It all started as a settlement planted by the Dutch West India Company on what is now lower Manhattan in July of 1625. They named it New Amsterdam. The limits of the settlement were what are now Whitehall and Pearl streets and Beaver and Broad streets. By 1628 the population was 270 men, women, and children, most of whom lived in primitive bark huts. Diverse from inception, Father Jogues reported that 18 different languages were spoken there in 1644.

In 1652 the city had grown large enough to require a burgher government, consisting of a schout (administrator, law enforcer, and prosecutor), five schepens (civic officials or alderman), and two burghomasters (magistrates or mayors). These officials constituted a court which met weekly to consider both civil and criminal matters until they merged with the supreme court of the state of New York in 1895. The census of 1656 counted 120 houses and 1000 inhabitants of New Amsterdam.

England conquered New Amsterdam and renamed it New York City in 1664. The Dutch reclaimed it in 1673, calling it New Orange, until it was restored to England in 1674. It was given the name of New York City in honor of the Duke of York, who later became King James II.

In 1670 Governor Lovelace bought Staten Island from the Indians for a bag of baubles. It became a borough of NYC 200 years later. Monthly mail service was established in 1673. The Leisler rebellion occurred in 1689, which resulted in the first mayor elected by popular vote, Peter Delanoy, who served until 1691. The next general election did not occur until 1834.

Meanwhile, the city grew. The streets were lighted in 1697. The New York Gazette, the city’s first newspaper, went to press in 1725. A stage line to Philadelphia was established in 1730, and a much needed fire department was organized in 1731. Harlem was annexed to the city in 1731.

By 1765 the Sons of Liberty had organized, starting a plethora of activity in New York City in regards to the American Revolution. The British formally left the city on November 25, 1783 and Evacuation Day was celebrated by residents until well into the 19th century.

New York was the capitol of New York State from 1784 to 1797, the capital of the confederated nation in 1785, and George Washington was sworn in as president of the new republic there in 1789. People were moving to NYC as well. The census of 1790 lists the population as 33,131. Fifty years later it was listed as 312,710, almost 100 times greater! In 1874 what is now the Bronx was annexed to the city, and the population reached over a million in the 1880s. The Legislative Act of 1896 declared all 359 square miles of “Greater New York” to be divided into the boroughs of Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Richmond (Staten Island). The 1900 census lists a whopping 3,437,202 people living in New York City!

People came to New York to find work and better lives. The subway was established to connect the city in 1904, and Grand Central Station was built in 1913 adding access to the railroads. The building of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883, the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903, the Queensborough Bridge in 1909 and the George Washington Bridge in 1931 provided access to NYC from the surrounding areas. The industrial revolution provided jobs, and immigration and the Great Migration from the American South of the 1920s provided workers. NYC became a major international port, establishing the Port Authority in 1921. Skyscrapers were built to house the many businesses and people. More people flooded the city during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Things picked up in the 1940s during and after World War II, when New York became known as the best city in the world. Entire sections of the borough of Queens were built into housing developments.

Due in part to the industrial decline in the 1960s and 1970s, New York City again became notorious – for crime. Street riots, gang violence, and serial killers became everyday news. This prompted the “Power to the People” campaign, which established health care clinics and many other improvements. Wall Street rallied in the 1980s, which further improved the social and economic structure of the city. Silicon Alley was born from the dot-com boom of the 1990s, which sent real estate values soaring. The 2000 census listed 18,976,811 people.

On September 11, 2001 there was a tragedy felt around the world. The terrorist attack on the Twin Towers killed thousands. The residents of New York rallied to save those they could and help the families of those they couldn’t. Comprised of millions, New York takes care of its own.

New York City today is rich in cultural heritage and has many employment and housing opportunities. The trials and tribulations of its past only add to it character. Looking at a brief history of New York City, there is a place for everyone there.


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