Manhattan Island – Historic Landmarks

THE first discovery has been generally ascribed to Henry Hudson, an Englishman by birth, who, in the year 1690, being then in the service of the Dutch, sailed westward from the shores of Europe, in search of a northwest passage to the East Indies. The vessel commanded by Hudson was a small yacht, called the Half Moon, manned by from sixteen to twenty men, partly of Dutch and partly of English birth. This vessel was not over eighty tons burden, being designed for coasting. After traversing the American coasts, between Newfoundland and the Chesapeake Bay, he turned his course northward again, designing to explore, leisurely, the extent of the country thus passed by. On the 1st of September, 1609, he discovered the Highlands of Neversink, described by him as a ” very good land to fall in with and a pleasant land to see.” The next day he rounded Sandy Hook, and the second day following he anchored under the Jersey shore in the south bay.

The Indians, flocking to the shore in great numbers, appear at once to have understood the designs of their visitors, for, whether by tradition or rumour from other lands, they seem to have been acquainted with the articles of trade most in use between the whites and the Indians, and were apt at driving a bargain. They offered tobacco and other products in exchange for knives and beads. Their disposition seemed friendly, and the women presented such articles of food as they had prepared in that season.

On the 6th of September, a boat’s crew, despatched by Hudson to explore the coast further inland, entered the Narrows and came in sight of Manhattan Island. They described the land encircling the bay as covered with trees, grass and flowers, and the air as filled with delightful fragrance. The return of this small party was unfortunate, as, for some unexplained reason, the boat was attacked by two canoes filled with Indians, and one of the crew, named John Coleman, was killed by an arrow piercing his throat. It seems probable from the course taken by Hudson, after this disaster, that the assault by the natives was not without provocation, as friendly intercourse was still kept up between the parties.

On the 11th of September, Hudson weighed and sailed up through the Narrows. Having anchored in New York harbour, he was visited by the neighbouring Indians, who made great show of love, giving presents of tobacco and Indian corn: He remained at anchor but one day, and, on the 12th of September, took his course up the river, which has since borne his name. In his exploration to the head of navigation, near the present site of Albany, he was engaged about three weeks, and finally put to sea on the 4th of October, making directly for Holland with news of his discovery of this fine river and its adjacent country, which he described as offering every inducement for settlers or traders that could be desired.

Besides the fertility of the soil, which was satisfactorily shown by the great abundance of grain and vegetables found in the possession of the Indians, a still more enticing prospect was held out to the view of the merchant, in the abundance of valuable furs observed in the country, which were to be had at a very little cost. Hudson had, therefore, scarcely made publicly known the character of the country visited by him, when several merchants of Amsterdam fitted out trading vessels and despatched them to this river. Their returns were highly satisfactory, and arrangements were immediately made to establish a settled agency here to super-intend the collection of the furs and the trade with the Indians while the ships should be on their long journey between the two hemispheres. The agents thus employed pitched their cabins on the south point of Manhattan Island, the head man being Hendrick Corstiaensen, who was still the chief of the settlement in 1613, at which period an English ship, sailing along the coast from Virginia, entered the harbour on a visit of observation. Finding Corstiaensen here, with his company of traders, the English captain summoned him to acknowledge the jurisdiction of Virginia over the country, or else to depart. The former alternative was chosen by the trader, and he agreed to pay a small tribute to the Governor of Virginia in token of his right of dominion. The Dutch were thereupon left to prosecute their trade without further molestation.

The Government of Holland did not, however, recognize the claims of England to jurisdiction over the whole American coast, and took measures to encourage the discovery and appropriation of additional territory by a decree giving to any discoverers of new countries the exclusive privilege of trading thither for four successive voyages to the exclusion of all other persons. This enactment induced several merchants to fit out five small ships for coasting along the American shores in this vicinity. One of these vessels, commanded by Captain Block, soon after its arrival on the coast was accidentally destroyed by fire. Block immediately began the construction of another, of thirty-eight feet keel, forty-four and a half feet on deck, and eleven and a half foot beam, which was the first vessel launched in the waters of New York. She was called the Unrest or Restless, and plowed her keel through the waters of Hell Gate and the Sound, the pioneer of all other vessels, except the bark canoes of the aboriginal inhabitants.

The several ships despatched on this exploring expedition having returned to Holland, from their journals and surveys a map of a large extent of country was made, over which the Dutch claimed jurisdiction, and to which they gave the name of New Netherland. The owners of these vessels, as the reward of their enterprise, were granted the promised monopoly of trade thither for four voyages to be completed within three years, commencing on the first of January, 1615.

These merchants seem to have been composed in part of those who had established the first trading-post here, but having increased their numbers and capital, and enlarged their former designs of trade, formed themselves into a company under the name of the ” United New Netherland Company.” Corstiaensen was continued the principal agent here, and they likewise established a post at the head of the river on an island opposite the present site of Albany. Forts of a rude description (being merely inclosures of high palisades) were erected at both places.

The privileges granted to the ” United New Netherland Company ” being, however, limited in respect to time, their establishment on this island can hardly be considered as a permanent settlement; the cabins of the settlers were nearly of equal rudeness with those of their Indian neighbours; and but few of the luxuries of civilization found their way into their habitations. The great object of the settlement was, however, successfully carried on, and stores of furs were in readiness to freight the ships on their periodical visits from the Fatherland. No interruption of the friendly intercourse carried on with the Indians took place, but, on the contrary, the whites were abundantly supplied by the natives with food and most other necessities of life, without personal labour and at trifling cost.

The Indian tribes in the neighbourhood of this trading-post were the Manhattans, occupying this island; the Pachamies, the Tankiteks and the Wickqueskeeks, occupying the country on the east sides of the Hudson River, south of the Highlands; the Hackingsacks and the Raritans, on the west side of the river and the Jersey shore; the Canarsees, the Rockways, the Merrikokes, the Marsapeagues, the Mattinecocks, the Nissaquages, the Corchaugs, the Secataugs and the Shinecocks, on Long Island.

The trade of this colony of settlers was sufficiently profitable to render its permanency desirable to the United New Netherland Company, as it is found that at the termination of their grant, in the year 1618, they endeavoured to pro-cure from the Government in Holland an extension of their term, but did not succeed in obtaining more than a special licence, expiring yearly, which they held for two or three subsequent years.

In the meantime, a more extensive association had been formed among the merchants and capitalists of Holland, which in the year 1621, having matured its plans and projects, received a charter under the title of the ” West India Company.” Their charter gave them the exclusive privilege of trade on the whole American coast, both of the northern and southern continents, so far as the jurisdiction of Holland extended. This great company was invested with most of the functions of a distinct and separate government. They were allowed to appoint governors and other officers; to settle the forms of administering justice; to make Indian treaties, and to enact laws.

Having completed their arrangements for the organization of their government in New Netherland, the West India Company despatched their pioneer vessel hither in the year 1623. This was the ship New Netherland, a staunch vessel, which continued her voyages to this port, as a regular packet for more than thirty years subsequently. On board the New Netherland were thirty families to begin the colony —this colony being designed for a settlement at the head of the river, the vessel landed her passengers and freight near the present site of Albany, where a settlement was established. The return cargo of the New Netherland was five hundred otter skins, one thousand five hundred beavers, and other freight, valued at about twelve thousand dollars.

It having been determined that the headquarters of the company’s establishment in New Netherland should be fixed on Manhattan Island, preparations for a more extensive colony to be planted here were made, and, in 1625, two ships cleared from Holland for this place. On board these vessels were shipped one hundred and three head of cattle, together with stallions, mares, hogs and sheep in a proportionate number. Accompanying these were a considerable number of settlers, with their families, supplied with agricultural implements and seed for planting; household furniture, and the other necessaries for establishing the colony. Other ships followed with similar freight, and the number of emigrants amounted to about two hundred souls.

On the arrival of the ships in the harbour, the cattle were landed, in the first instance on the island now called Governor’s Island, where they were left on pasturage until convenient arrangements could be made on the mainland to prevent their straying in the woods. The want of water, however, compelled their speedy transfer to Manhattan Island, where, being put on the fresh grass, they generally throve well, although about twenty died in the course of the season, from eating some poisonous vegetable.

The settlers commenced their town by staking out a fort on the south point of the island, under the direction of one Kryn Frederick, an engineer sent along with them for that purpose; and a horse-mill having been erected, the second story of that building was so constructed as to afford accommodation for the congregation for religious purposes. The habitations of the settlers were of the simplest construction, little better, indeed, than those of their predecessors. A director-general had been sent to superintend the interests of the company, in the person of Peter Minuit, who, in the year 1626, purchased Manhattan Island from the Indian proprietors for the sum of sixty guilders, or twenty four dollars, by which the title to the whole island, containing about twenty-two thousand acres, became vested in the West India Company.

The success of the company proved itself, for a short period, by the rise in the value in their stock, which soon stood at a high premium in Holland. Various interests, however, were at work in the company to turn its advantages to individual account, and, in 1628, an act was passed under the title of ” Freedoms and Exemptions granted to all such as shall plant Colonies in New Netherlands.” This edict gave to such persons as should send over a colony of fifty souls above fifteen years old, the title of ” patroons,” and the privilege of selecting any land (except on the island of Manhattan), for a distance of eight miles on each side of any river, and so far inland as should be thought convenient, the company stipulating, however, that all the products of the plantation thus established should be first brought to the Manhattans, before being sent elsewhere for trade. They also reserved to themselves the sole trade with the Indians for peltries in all places where they had an agency established.

With respect to such private persons as should emigrate at their own expense, they were allowed as much land as they could properly improve, upon satisfying the Indians therefor.

These privileges gave an impetus to emigration, and assisted, in a great degree, in permanently establishing the settlement of the country.