NEW YORK – the Big Apple

New York is New York! There is no place on earth that is like it, with New York City almost like a magnet attracting people from all over the world to work, live, visit, tour, sing, see shows, shop, study and simply enjoy the City. The City’s slogan “I love New York” was first used in 1977 and continues to be used today, encapsulating the ‘feel good’ atmosphere of the City.

In some ways New York feels like the center of the Universe because New York City pulsates 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. They call it “the city that never sleeps” – and it is true, particularly in Manhattan with the noise of people and traffic, trains, buses and police car sirens. There is always something happening.

New York is also an historic city and full of culture and style too with countless museums, and when you come to New York you almost feel like you have been here before – with familiar names like 5th Avenue, Central Park, Broadway, Wall Street, the Statue of Liberty, Madison Square Garden, Times Square, Brooklyn Bridge and other streets, buildings and place names already there in your memory. You may well come here planning a day visit and end up spending a week – it’s that sort of place.

On these pages we have set out to provide you with an introduction to New York that we hope will help you add value to the time you spend in New York City.

To give you a feel for New York we have written this short history of New York –

When you look into history, you get the impression that it runs like the alphabet in a straight sequential line of actions, reactions and activities, but history never does. There are always crossovers, sidesteps, backflips, things you see and things you don’t, things that happen fast and others slowly, people whose actions become famous and other people, stories and activities that are never seen. Nonetheless, we try to make sense of history, because it helps us understand what we see and understand in the world we live in.

The New York area had been occupied by Native Indian tribes, mostly Algonquian Indians – being Mohican, Mohawk and Iroquois tribes for thousands of years prior to the first European Explorer, Giovanni da Verrazzano (1485-1528) sailing into what was to become New York Harbor in 1524.
Italian by birth, but sailing under the French flag and support of the King of France Francis 1 (1494-1547), Giovanni da Verrazzano made 3 voyages along the east coast of what was called at the time, ‘The New World’, charting the coastline from the Carolinas in the south to Newfoundland in the North. He named New York Harbor ‘Nouvelle Angoulême’ in honor his King and country, but on his last voyage in 1528 in the Caribbean he was killed by natives on Guadeloupe.

‘The New World’ had first been discovered by Europeans in 1492 by another Italian, Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) who sailed under the Spanish flag. He was also to die in the Bahamas under attack from the natives on that island. Being an explorer was full of adventure but also danger.

The Portuguese Explorer, Ferdinand Magellan (1480-1521) also sailing under the Spanish flag, had proved that the world was round, his ship managing to circumnavigate the world in 1522, even though he himself had been killed on the voyage by natives in the Philippines with his ship then sailing westward and back to Spain. As a result of these discoveries, and mostly on the sense that there was gold and other wealth to be found, the Spanish set up forts and settlements during the 1500’s across most of the Caribbean, in Mexico, Central and South America, the main, but not only exception being Brazil which came under the control of the Portuguese.

It was an English seaman, Henry Hudson (1565 – 1611), but sailing on a Dutch VOC Company ship, the ‘Halve Maen’ (Half Moon) who explored and gave his name to the Hudson River in 1609, and if you look at the dates, you will see that this is 85 years after Verrazzano’s voyage. What Hudson had been looking for and hoping to find on this voyage was a Northwest Passage from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and Asia – a passage that he and the VOC Company (United Dutch East India Company) hoped would shorten the trade distance from Europe to Asia. His hopes that the Hudson River would lead him to the west coast of the land were dashed, but he did see the potential of establishing a fur trade in Beaver Pelts and Otter pelts.

With the Spanish having control over most of the Caribbean and South America, journeys south were long and full of danger. Hudson also sailed north finding and naming the Hudson Straight and Hudson Bay, but no passage in the north could be found. With the freezing cold in the north, his crew mutinied, and he and his son and some loyal crew were cast adrift in a small boat in 1611, never to be seen again.

During the 1500’s a small number of attempts were made to establish settlements in North America, by Spanish, French, Dutch, English and even religious groups such as the Huguenots. Most failed to become established due to the hardships involved, the most successful being in 1565 when the Spanish built a fort at St Augustine in Florida.

In 1607 an English settlement was made at Jamestown, Virginia and then in Hampton Virginia in 1610 and then in 1620 one hundred Puritans left England on ‘The Mayflower’ headed to the New World to establish a colony, becoming known as the “Pilgrim Fathers” and establishing a settlement at New Plymouth near today’s Boston, and north of New York.

In 1614 the Dutch ‘New Netherland Company’ built ‘Fort Nassau’ and later ‘Fort Orange’ on the Hudson River (where today’s city of Albany is located) and began trading for furs with the Indians there. This was followed in 1624 by the Dutch West India Company ‘Nieu Nederlandt’ ship bringing 30 Flemish Walloon families to the Hudson River to establish settlements, which they named in honor of the ship that had brought them. For the next forty years the Dutch and Flemish immigrants developed the small New Netherland settlement farming, fishing and trading furs under the control or a number of Company Director Generals. New Amsterdam became the main settlement until the British Army seized control of New Netherland from the Dutch in 1664 renaming the New Amsterdam settlement New York, in honor the English Duke of York and the settlement up-river at Fort Nassau renamed Albany, in honor of the Duke of Albany.

It was in 1626 that the Dutch Company’s Director General, Pieter Minuit (1580-1638) purchased Manhattan Island from the Indians for 60 guilders worth of glass beads. Whether the Indians knew that this was to purchase the island, or was simply a gift, peace offering or to encourage trade is subject to debate. Another purchase of Straten Island was made in 1630 from the Indians, with the deed of purchase written in Flemish. Much the same debate arises as to the morality, validity and legality of such a purchase and the issue of Land Rights continues in many situations of a similar nature across America, as well as wherever colonialism took place.

Another settlement to the north was also made by Swedish settlers and called New Sweden, and this also became part of the New Netherland settlement.

In 1664 the British lay claim to New Netherlands on the basis that an Italian Explorer, Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot) had in 1498 sailed on the ‘Matthew’ and landed in America ( at Cape Bonavista in New Found Land – today’s Newfoundland), claiming the land on behalf of King Henry VII of England. This English claim therefore pre-dated the Dutch claim to the land found on Henry Hudson’s Voyage, and King Henry VII took it as his right to annex the land of New Netherland that year. An Anglo-Dutch war followed lasting 2 years (1665-1667) which resulted in the Treaty of Breda and the Dutch losing New Nederland in exchange for the South American country of Suriname (located between Guyana and French Guinea, with Brazil to the south). Their official language in Suriname is still Dutch.

In 1673 the Dutch again attempted to take back New Netherland, but by 1674 it was again back under British control until the Revolutionary wars that began in 1775 and lasted until 1783.

The British had ruled over New York and the 13 British American Colonies for close to 100 years, but as the city and country prospered, so too did the desire for Independence grow and resistance build against paying taxes to England and being forced to use English ships and buy goods from England.

Two sides emerged during this period – the English ‘Loyalists’ and the ‘Sons of Liberty’, and battles, skirmishes and debate waged on for eight years, with petitions put forward to King George III in Britain with a list of grievances left unanswered, and the British viewing the call for independence as a rebellion that needed to be put down by force.

The British Army and the English Loyalists were however eventually defeated, and the United States Declaration of Independence initial draft, first drawn up and written by Thomas Jefferson in 1776, that resolved “That the United Colonies are, and have a right to be, free and independent states” came into force.

New York became the capital of the United States in 1789 and the inauguration of George Washington as the first President took place in New York that year. The Capital was then moved in 1790 to Philadelphia, and in July 1790 it was resolved that a new Capital City be built on the Potomac River. In 1800 the new Capital was established as Washington, named in honor of the first President.

When the Dutch West India Company had first established their settlements on the Hudson River in 1624, they were faced with the difficulties of clearing the land, establishing farms, creating a livelihood and protecting themselves from Indian attacks. It would be just 2 years later that the Company would bring African Slaves to the new settlement to undertake work in the fields and homes of the Dutch immigrants. The use of slaves continued under English rule, and in New York it would continue until 1827 – some 201 years.

The issue of slavery was highly contentious, and in 1785 a Manumission Society was formed in New York pushing for the abolition of slavery. The word ‘Manumit’ dates back to Roman days, with the word meaning to “release from slavery” – and a ‘release’ could be made on the basis of good will, but equally could be made on the basis of the slave having ill health or being too old to work. Some of the more affluent slave owners could even substitute a slave for themselves to take up armed service, with a promise to a manumit release if they survived their war service.

The American Civil War (1861-65) was fought over the issue of slavery, the Union States in the north pushing for abolition, and the breakaway Confederate ‘Cotton and tobacco’ States pushing for their rights to continue to have slaves and therefore break away from the Union.

With the push of population westwards, new states were being formed, and the issue and debate became even more passionate and intense, as each state had to decide whether they would join the Union or break away from it. Much has been written about the American Civil War, and it is worth finding out more as it was a pivotal moment in American history.

Some 620,000 men and more civilians would die in this war, but in 1865 slavery was finally abolished in the United States under “The 13th Amendment” to the constitution, that states that “Neither Slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist in the United States, or any place subject to its jurisdiction”.

In 1792 the New York Stock Exchange had been formed, and for almost the next century the United States became the destination for many Europeans who believed that “the roads paved in gold”, where freedom, wealth and a fortune could be made. Irishmen, Germans, English and others headed for America with New York becoming their entry main point.

In 1817 construction of the Erie Canal began to link Albany on the Hudson River to Buffalo and the Great Lakes, and the canal was opened in 1825 making New York and its harbor one of the busiest and wealthiest ports in the world. Barges were pulled along the canal by mules on towpaths that ran beside the canal and the Erie Canal became a highway for commerce. Central Park in Manhattan opened in 1857 and in 1886 the Statue of Liberty was built and located on Liberty Island at the entrance to the Harbor, becoming the best known, most recognized symbol of New York, and the first view of new immigrants arriving in their new country.

The Statue of Liberty was designed and constructed in France, and funded by both French and New Yorkers to symbolize the close relationship between France and the United States.

An inscription on the Statue comes from a poem written by the poet, Emma Lazarus (1849-1887), part of which reads – “With silent lips – “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these the homeless, tempest tost to me, I lift the lamp beside the Golden Door”!

Carnegie Hall opened in 1891 and New York’s subway first opened in 1904. Grand Central Station which was first established at Grand Central Depot in 1871 was developed into Grand Central Station in 1901, becoming the busiest and best known station in the world, with great engineering, architecture and artistry making it not only functional but also beautiful to see.

Ellis Island was opened in 1892 in the Harbor and all new immigrants were processed here in the years from 1892 right up to 1952. New immigrants arrived from all parts of the world based on their desire to seek a better life. There were Jews, Poles, Russians, Hungarians, Serbs, Slovaks, Syrians, Turks, Irish, English, Indians, Chinese and many other nationalities – many staying on in New York, and others moving to other parts of the country.

New York was and still is a melting pot of cultures, and like all big cities it has experienced its good times and bad – from times of war and depression to recent events such as the September 11th 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. New York has weathered them all, and the New York City remains arguably the world’s greatest city with its skyscrapers, financial and political power exerting its influence across the globe.

Happy Travelling!
Geoff Stuart

Happy Traveller

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