The Fabulous History of New York City | New York Spaces (2023)

The New York we see today didn’t look the same back then. The city has a fabulous history, and it took centuries to get here where it currently stands. It’s also part of the amazing state of New York as well. From its discovery to this millennium era, we will take you to a wonderful journey of the city of New York, so buckle up and let’s get started with these New York facts.

New York in the 17th Century

The Fabulous History of New York City | New York Spaces (1)

Europeans began to explore the region of Delaware to Hudson Rivers, and one of those people was an Italian, Giovanni da Verrazano, who eventually discovered New York Harbor in 1524. Later in 1624, the Dutch founded the first permanent trading post. In 1626, Peter Minuit, the first governor, purchased the much larger Manhattan Island from the Native Americans.

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The Dutch West India Company sent about 30 families to live in a little town built on the southern tip of the Manhattan Island that was earlier purchased by the settlement’s first governor-general. The town was called New Amsterdam and it was known for selling skins. The settlers sold the skins of beavers, otters, and seals. The town was tiny with only about 1,500 people living in the mid-17th century. Some of those inhabitants were farmers that also cultivated the land Brooklyn and Manhattan.

The Fabulous History of New York City | New York Spaces (3)

Alt-text: painting of New Amsterdam in 1664

However, the inhabitants were not all Dutch – some of them also included Walloons (now Belgium), English people, and French people. In 1654, the first Jews arrived in New Amsterdam.

On the other hand, the first black slaves arrived there in 1628 – they played a significant role in building the colony. In the beginning, the houses in New Amsterdam were made of wood but after some time, stones and bricks were used to erect the houses. In 1657, thatched roofs were banned because they could easily catch fire.

To protect the little town of New Amsterdam, a wall was built across the island of Manhattan in 1653. The street next to the wall was called Wall Street.

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In 1639, Jonas Bronck of Sweden settled in the Bronx, and this is where the borough got its name.

In 1658, the Dutch farmers built a small village, Nieuw Haarlem (New Harlem) after a town in Holland. Later in the 18th century, this place became a fashionable land for the merchants to build their beautiful country houses in.

Meanwhile, Peter Stuyvesant, the son of a Calvinist minister, became the governor of New Amsterdam in 1647. He was a strict ruler, and he governed like a strict father looks after his children, and due to this, he soon alienated his people. He ordered that all the taverns shall be closed at sharp 9 pm. However, Stuyvesant established a municipal government for New Amsterdam in 1653, which was based on those of Dutch cities.

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In 1664, a fleet of Englishmen arrived in New Harlem. Peter feared that the English would sack the colony, so the best he could do was to surrender, and he did. However, despite the 1664 surrender, the Dutch recaptured New Amsterdam from the English in 1673. Unfortunately, they lost it to the English again in 1674 – just a year later. But this time, the feat was permanent, and they renamed New Amsterdam to New York; in honor of the Duke of York, who was the brother of King Charles II.

Meanwhile, in 1635, a fort called Fort Amsterdam was built by the Dutch which was later renamed to Fort George in 1693 after the English captured the land of New Amsterdam. Ninety-two cannons were installed in the fort to protect New York from invaders. Today, this area is known as The Battery, formerly known as Battery Park.

Underestimating the power of the English, a man named Jacob Leisler staged a coup-d’etat in New York. He was executed for what he did in 1691.

Trinity church was dedicated in the year 1698.

New York in the 18th Century

When New York entered the 18th century, it had a population of almost 5,000 which continued to increase. By the year 1776, the popular was about 25,000 and then there were about 60,000 inhabitants of New York City in 1800.

In the 18th century, the main industry from where New York generated most of its income was milling. Windmills were used to ground the grain into flour. In this era, the merchants of New York also traded with the West Indies and Britain. The city also had a shipbuilding industry in the 18th century, and the first shipyard was opened in 1720.

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There were still many black slaves in this era. Due to the cruelty done on them, they site fire to a building in Maiden Lane in 1712. And while setting the building on fire, they also killed nine white men who tried to stop them. When soldiers arrived to capture them, 6 of them committed suicide while 21 were executed.

A horrific episode of fires broke out in New York in 1741. The fires were not unusual, but people feared that they were the result of arson, a criminal act of deliberately setting fire to property. They feared that the slaves were behind all this conspiracy so the authorities started to investigate.

The authorities questioned Mary Burton, an indentured servant, who exposed the truth that there was a conspiracy of badly treated black slaves and poor whites. The reason behind all this conspiracy that led the slaves to do such unfortunate things was that the indentured servants were ordered to work without wages for several years, in order to pay the cost of their journey across the Atlantic.

Mary Burton, who revealed this conspiracy, was later rewarded and released from her indenture due to the part she played in uncovering the ‘conspiracy’. However, there is still no proof that such a conspiracy existed. Nevertheless, 18 slaves were hanged and 13 were burned at stake as the hysteria spread. Furthermore, four whites, who were believed to be a part of the conspiracy, were also hanged.

During this very century, the amenities in New York were also improved. The first newspaper started publication in the year 1725. The first theatre of New York was opened in 1732. Kings College, now known as Columbia University, was founded in 1754.

Other things that happened during the 18th-century include was the establishment of St Paul’s Chapel in 1766, St Marks Church-in-the-Bowery in 1799, and the Jews’ first synagogue in Mill Street was built in 1730.

In 1776, George Washington left New York, and the British army occupied it. A year later, in 1777, New York saw a great fire that destroyed hundreds of houses. About one-quarter of the city was burned to ashes. Despite everything, the British continued occupying New York until the end of the war.

On November 25, 1783, George Washington entered New York again.

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New York in the 19th Century

New York City quickly recovered from the war, and by 1810, it was one of the country’s most important ports. The city played a significantly important role in the cotton economy. The southern planters delivered the crop to the east river docks, where it was shipped to English industrial cities, including Manchester. Then after processing, the textile manufacturers shipped their finished goods back to New York City.

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However, there was no best way to ship goods back and forth from the city to the English industrial cities until 1817, when construction work began on a 363-mile canal from the Hudson River to Lake Erie. The work was completed by 1825.

As the city evolved, it made other infrastructural improvements, including the 1811’s “Commissioner’s Plan” according to which it was instructed to establish an orderly grid of streets and avenues for the undeveloped parts north of Houston Street, Manhattan. It was a great time for people who had their engineering homework done well and pop their ideas out. Construction began on the Croton Aqueduct in 1837, which provided clean drinking water for the city’s rapidly growing population. It had 123,000 inhabitants by 1820, 312,000 by 1840, and then 813,000 inhabitants by 1860.

Eight years later, in 1845, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) was established, which was the first municipal agency of the city.

Like many other cities in Europe and North America in the 19th century, New York was also an unhealthy place. As a result, cholera struck the city three different times – in 1832, 1849, and then again in 1866.

Meanwhile, a large number of immigrants that came in the 1840s to 1850s from Germany, Ireland, and southern and eastern Europe, changed the face of the city. They started settling distinct ethnic neighborhoods, began new ventures, built churches and social clubs, and joined trade unions and political organizations.

For instance, Tammany Hall, a predominantly Irish-American Democratic club, became the city’s most powerful political hub by exchanging favors such as jobs, services, and other kinds of aid for votes.

The first telephones were installed in New York City in 1878, and later in the 1880s, the city gained an electricity supply. Brooklyn Bridge was opened in 1883 but the crowd panicked while they were on the bridge as they thought it was going to collapse. Unfortunately, 12 people were trampled to death due to the rush.

The Fabulous History of New York City | New York Spaces (6)

The best architectures of New York City were also built in the 19th century, including The Museum of Natural History in New York (1869), The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1870), Metropolitan Opera House on Broadway (1883), Carnegie Hall (1891), and Bronx Zoo (1899).

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In addition to that, the statue of liberty dedicated on 28 October 1886 by President Grover Cleveland.

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New York in the 20th Century

As New York City entered the era of the 20th century, it started to become the city we know today. In 1895, the inhabitants of all the boroughs, i.e. Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island and Brooklyn, which were all independent cities at that time, voted to “consolidate” with Manhattan in the order form a 5-borough “Greater New York.

When the consolidation took place on January 1, 1898, the New York City’s area increased from 60 square miles to 360 square miles, and the popular instantly increased from a little more than 2 million people to about 3,350,000 people.

However, the 20th century was also an era of struggle for American cities, and hence New York wasn’t an exception. The construction of new highways and suburbs after all the destruction caused by World War II encouraged the wealthy people to leave the city that resulted in deindustrialization and other economic changes. This, in return, led to out-migration and “white flight.”

However, the Hart-Cellar Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was a lifesaver for the country as it allowed immigrants from Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America to settle in the United States. Many of the immigrants settled in New York City, and they helped in revitalizing many neighborhoods of the city.

Many buildings that all the New Yorkers are proud of today were built in the 20th century. Those buildings include The Flatiron Building (1902), New York Public Library (1911), The Woolworth Building (1913), Grand Central Station (1913), The Chrysler Building (1930), The Empire State Building (1931), the General Electric Building (1931), and The Rockefeller Center was built between the period of 1932 and 1940.

In 1990, David Dinkins became the first-ever African American mayor of New York.

New York in the 21st Century (Currently)

The beginning of the 21st century brought the worst nightmare in the history of New York City, in fact, the United States – the 9/11 attacks. New York City suffered deadly terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, when a group of terrorists hijacked two jets and crashed them both into the city’s tallest buildings: the twin towers. The buildings were badly destroyed and nearly 3,000 people were killed.

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Despite the horrible disaster, the city remained a major financial capital of the United States and a tourist magnet, attracting more than 40 million tourists each year.

Today, over 8.6 million new Yorkers live in all the five boroughs of New York City – and more than one-third of the inhabitants are born outside the United States. Thanks to the cultural diversity of New York City, it remains the cultural capital of the U.S.

The Fabulous History of New York City | New York Spaces (10)


What was NYC called before? ›

Following its capture, New Amsterdam's name was changed to New York, in honor of the Duke of York, who organized the mission. The colony of New Netherland was established by the Dutch West India Company in 1624 and grew to encompass all of present-day New York City and parts of Long Island, Connecticut and New Jersey.

Who were the first families to settle in New York? ›

The Dutch first settled along the Hudson River in 1624 and established the colony of New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island. In 1664, the English took control of the area and renamed it New York. One of the original 13 colonies, New York played a crucial political and strategic role during the American Revolution.

Why did NYC become so big? ›

New York's growth in the early nineteenth century was driven by the rise of manufacturing in the city, which itself depended on New York's primacy as a port. New York's growth in the late nineteenth century owed at least as much to its role as the entryway for immigrants into the United States.

Who named New York? ›

The settlement was named New Amsterdam (Dutch: Nieuw Amsterdam) in 1626 and was chartered as a city in 1653. The city came under English control in 1664 and was renamed New York after King Charles II of England granted the lands to his brother, the Duke of York.

What do New Yorkers call themselves? ›

People who live in New York are called New Yorkers and Empire Staters.

What is the most common name in New York? ›

The Health Department's birth certificate records show 442 Emmas and 682 Liams were born in New York City in 2020. "2020 was a challenging year, but these babies were bright spots,” said Health Commissioner Dr.
Most Popular Baby Names in New York City, 2020
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23 Dec 2021

Who lived in New York before the Dutch? ›

The area was long inhabited by the Lenape; after initial European colonization in the 16th century, the Dutch established New Amsterdam in 1626. In 1664, the British conquered the area and renamed it New York.

What is the oldest settlement in New York? ›

In 1614, the Dutch under the command of Hendrick Christiaensen, built Fort Nassau (now Albany) the first Dutch settlement in North America and the first European settlement in what would become New York.

What's the oldest city in America? ›

St. Augustine, founded in September 1565 by Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles of Spain, is the longest continually inhabited European-founded city in the United States – more commonly called the "Nation's Oldest City."

Why are people in NYC so short? ›

There's one possible explanation for the disparity: immigration and New York's greater ethnic diversity. More than one-third of New York City residents are foreign-born, many from countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia where the average heights are shorter because of greater poverty and worse nutrition.

Why is New York called Manhattan? ›

The name Manhattan derives from the Munsee Lenape language term manaháhtaan (where manah- means "gather", -aht- means "bow", and -aan is an abstract element used to form verb stems). The Lenape word has been translated as "the place where we get bows" or "place for gathering the (wood to make) bows".

Why is NYC the greatest city in the world? ›

New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, significantly influencing commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports.

Why is it called the Bronx? ›

People often wonder why the Bronx, alone of all New York's boroughs, has “the” as part of its name. It's because the borough is named after the Bronx River and the river was named for a man born in far-off Sweden.

Where is the oldest restaurant in NYC? ›

Located at 54 Pearl Street on the corner of Broad Street, Fraunces Tavern now stands as an iconic institution in one of New York's most historic locations, near the Wall Street financial district.

Why is Brooklyn called Brooklyn? ›

The name Brooklyn is derived from the original Dutch town of Breukelen. The oldest mention of the settlement in the Netherlands, is in a charter of 953 of Holy Roman Emperor Otto I, namely Broecklede.

How do New Yorkers say thanks? ›

Instead of saying thanks, man, you might hear New Yorkers say, thanks, Boss, or you got it, Boss!

What do New Yorkers say weird? ›

  • New Yorkers use "cray-ahns" to color. ...
  • It's pronounced "sear-up" ...
  • If you pronounce the words "merry," "marry," and "Mary" in three different ways, you're likely from New York. ...
  • New Yorkers will have "caw-fee" in the morning. ...
  • Water is pronounced "waw-tuh" ...
  • New Yorkers will ask for a piece of "chaw-clet"
27 May 2022

What do New Yorkers say when hot? ›


It usually means to sweat. “I was schvitzing on the train to the city yesterday. These New York summers are so hot!”

What is the most common male name in New York? ›

Most popular baby names for boys in New York
  • Liam.
  • Noah.
  • Lucas.
  • Jacob.
  • Ethan.
  • Joseph.
  • Michael.
  • Benjamin.
27 Feb 2022

What do New Yorkers call New York? ›

New York City is known by many nicknames—such as “the City that Never Sleeps” or “Gotham”—but the most popular one is probably “the Big Apple.” How did this nickname come about? Although uses of the phrase are documented in the early 1900s, the term first became popular in the 1920s when John J.

Did the Dutch have slaves in New York? ›

Dutch slavery in New York began not long after the first Africans were brought to Virginia in 1619. As early as 1628, the Dutch West India Company put enslaved Africans to work in its colony of New Netherland, some of them laboring in chain gangs.

What did Native Americans call New York? ›

The Lenape, Manhattan's original inhabitants, called the island Manahatta, which means “hilly island.” Rich with natural resources, Manahatta had an abundance of fruits, nuts, birds, and animals. Fish and shellfish were plentiful and the ocean was full of seals, whales, and dolphins.

Did New York have slaves? ›

And there is ample evidence that slavery within New York itself was far from easy. Although New York had no sugar or rice plantations, there was plenty of backbreaking work for slaves throughout the state. Many households held only one or two slaves, which often meant arduous, lonely labor.

Where is the oldest house in New York City? ›

The Lent-Riker-Smith Homestead — 78-03 19th Rd, Flushing, NY 11370. The Lent-Riker-Smith Homestead is the oldest house in NYC. The homestead, which is located in Queens, is still used as a private dwelling. It was initially built as a one-room farmhouse by Abraham Riker in 1654.

Who were the first people to live in New York? ›

The first native New Yorkers were the Lenape, an Algonquin people who hunted, fished and farmed in the area between the Delaware and Hudson rivers.

Who was the first person to live in NYC? ›

Juan Rodriguez (Dutch: Jan Rodrigues, Portuguese: João Rodrigues) was one of the first documented non-indigenous inhabitants to live on Manhattan Island. As such, he is considered the first non-native resident of what would eventually become New York City.

What city is the oldest on earth? ›

Jericho, Palestine

A small city with a population of 20,000 people, Jericho, which is located in Palestine, is believed to be the oldest city in the world. Indeed, some of the earliest archeological evidence from the area dates back 11,000 years.

Who were the 1st settlers in America? ›

It's widely accepted that the first settlers were hunter-gatherers that came to North America from the North Asia Mammoth steppe via the Bering land bridge.

What was the first town in New York? ›

NEW YORK: Albany, est.

The capital of New York is also its oldest city. Originally founded as Fort Orange by Dutch settlers in 1624, the city was officially chartered by the British government as Albany in 1686.

Where do most Italian live in New York? ›

New York City has the largest population of Italian Americans in the United States of America as well as North America, many of whom inhabit ethnic enclaves in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island.

What do New Yorkers call the train? ›

The subway system is usually just referred to as the "trains." Locals say "I can take the train to your place" to generally mean that they take the subway. The subway is never referred to as the metro, underground, or tube.

Why is NYC called Gotham? ›

Etymology. When originally used in England, the meaning of the place name Gotham was literally “homestead where goats are kept”, from Old English gāt (“goat”) +‎ hām (“home”). As nickname for New York City, first used 1807 by Washington Irving in his Salmagundi Papers.

How did Hell's Kitchen get named? ›

The block of West 39th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues saw so much fighting it was nicknamed Battle Row. In 1881 an article in The New York Times referred to a particularly scurrilous tenement on the block as Hell's Kitchen, its first known use in print.

What is the number 1 best city in the world? ›

New York City. Why it's Great: “NYC tops three categories in this year's judging criteria; it's the city most Time Out readers want to visit in 2022, the place they dream the most of moving to and is also the world's most resilient city.

Is New York the smartest city? ›

Based on numerous scales, for the Smart Cities Index published yearly by The IMD Business School, New York is the smartest city in the United States, occupying the 12^th^ position out of 118.

Why is NYC so famous? ›

Often defined as the cultural, financial, media, and entertainment capital of the world, it is one of the most expensive real estate in the world. Manhattan hosts the United Nations Headquarters, Wall Street, several media conglomerates, Central Park, Broadway, and many famous buildings.

Why is it called Harlem? ›

Originally a Dutch village, formally organized in 1658, it is named after the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands. Harlem's history has been defined by a series of economic boom-and-bust cycles, with significant population shifts accompanying each cycle.

Is the Bronx rich or poor? ›

The median household income in Manhattan, the richest borough, declined between 2019 and 2020 as wealthier residents fled, even as a torrent of federal assistance dramatically reduced the child poverty rate in The Bronx, the poorest county in New York State.

What do you call a Bronx resident? ›

There are well-known names for inhabitants of four boroughs: Manhattanites, Brooklynites, Bronxites and Staten Islanders.

What is the most famous deli in New York City? ›

Katz's Delicatessen

No list of delis in NYC or beyond would be complete without Katz's, the absolute most iconic deli in NYC, perhaps even in the world.

What is the oldest bar in NYC? ›

The Ear Inn is New York City's oldest bar — and it hasn't changed much since the first drinks were poured.

What is the oldest deli in NYC? ›

Katz's Delicatessen Katz's Delicatessen - NYC's oldest deli.

What does the word Bronx mean? ›

Bronx in American English

(brɑŋks ) northernmost borough of New York City, between the Harlem River & Long Island Sound: pop.

What do you call someone born in Brooklyn? ›

People from the New York City borough of Brooklyn, also known as Brooklynites.

Why do people in Brooklyn have an accent? ›

The variations of New York City English are a result of the waves of immigrants that settled in the city, from the earliest settlement by the Dutch and English, followed in the 19th century by the Irish and western Europeans (typically of French, German, and Scandinavian descent).

What was NYC called before 1664? ›

By 1664, however, the English were back in control, and it has been New York ever since. New York City was called New Amsterdam before it was called New York. Early Dutch settlers became involved with the fur trade in the New York area.

What was Manhattan called before 1664? ›

The area was long inhabited by the Lenape; after initial European colonization in the 16th century, the Dutch established New Amsterdam in 1626. In 1664, the British conquered the area and renamed it New York.

What was New York called in 1776? ›

The Province of New York (1664–1776) was a British proprietary colony and later royal colony on the northeast coast of North America.

What did the natives call New York? ›

The Lenape, Manhattan's original inhabitants, called the island Manahatta, which means “hilly island.” Rich with natural resources, Manahatta had an abundance of fruits, nuts, birds, and animals.

What did the Dutch call NYC? ›

What did the Dutch name New York? To establish the Dutch footprint in the New World, they planted a trading post on the southern tip of the island and called it New Amsterdam, after their capital city in the Netherlands. New Amsterdam was established in 1625.

What is the oldest part of Manhattan? ›

Stone Street is one of New York's oldest streets, incorporating two 17th-century roads in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. In 1658 it became the first cobbled street in New Amsterdam.
Stone Street (Manhattan)
Significant dates
Added to NRHPNovember 12, 1999
Designated NYCLJune 25, 1996
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Who were the first people in New York? ›

The first native New Yorkers were the Lenape, an Algonquin people who hunted, fished and farmed in the area between the Delaware and Hudson rivers.


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