Native People

America’s native people were living where New York City is now for more than 11,000 years before the Europeans arrived; they spoke a language called Munsee, which was in common use in the area all the way down to Delaware, and were known to themselves as the ‘Lenape’, or ‘People’ of the region.

The Munsee language had several names for the area, including ‘Manahatouh’ which means ‘place of gathering bow wood’; ‘Manahactanienk’ which means ‘place of general inebriation’ and ‘Menatay’, which means ‘the island’. The current name of ‘Manhattan’ can be traced to any one of these words. Archaeologists have found numerous settlement remains in today’s New York, and from the accounts of the early 16th century European explorers, historians have pieced together a picture of how the native Lenape lived.

They were a transient people who lived off the land, dwelling along the banks of the local rivers during the summer months, and then moving inland to live in the woods during the colder months. They hunted the plentiful small native turkeys, rabbits and deer and dined pleasantly on oysters, berries and corn. They utilized bow and arrow to hunt their food and thought little of the heavier planting and cooking equipment that the Europeans offered them in trade.

New York still has some roadways that follow the old Lenape paths; it is for this reason that Broadway cuts diagonally across the island and continues all the way to Albany, in one form or another.