History of New York City: Part I
I’d like to start at the beginning, with the indigenous Lenape people, and their first contact with European seafarers. Please be sure to look at the illustrations below and their captions.
The native Lenape people inhabited Manhattan, western Long Island, the lower Hudson Valley, all of New Jersey, and the Delaware River Valley in PA. Their two languages were part of the Algonquian Family of languages.
The Lenape hunted small game, fished, farmed, and harvested shellfish from the many bays and estuaries in the region. They lived in matrilineal, matrilocal groups (men went to another clan to find a wife and stayed with them). They developed extensive trade networks over land and water.
After two-hundred years of contact with Europeans, characterized by disease and warfare, the surviving Lenape were forced to migrate westwards in the early 19th century to Ohio and to Indian Territory (Oklahoma). They left only their place names: Raritan, Tappan, and Manhattan (“hilly island”).
The first European to arrive in New York Harbor was Giovanni Verrazzano in 1523 (there are variant spellings of his surname), an Italian sailing for the French king. Why an Italian? Well, this was the heyday of Italian seafaring, when Italians performed the carrying trade between Europe and the Middle East; Venice was the “Queen of the Seas”, & Italian\Venetian naval power culminated in the defeat of the Turkish navy at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 (but I digress, as students will attest).
Verrazzano immediately realized that he had entered one of the finest natural harbors in the world: Lower New York Bay, located south of the (Verrazzano) Narrows, and Upper New York Bay, to the north of the Narrows. The 315-mile Hudson river discharges into Upper N.Y. Bay; it is actually a tidal estuary as far north as Troy (the Mahican natives called it “the river that flows both ways”). The Hudson discharges 160, 083 gallons of water PER SECOND into the Atlantic Ocean from Lower N.Y. Bay.
Next time: Hendrick Hudson and the arrival of the Dutch.