The Europeans

The first European to see what is now New York City was Giovanni da Verrazano, a Florentine who, in 1524, was hired by the French to explore the coast of North America. The English explorer Henry Hudson became the first European to document the topography of the area and its peoples in 1609. Hudson had been hired by the Dutch to find the Northwest Passage, a supposed route to the East Indies via northwestern North America. He anchored his ship the Half Maen (Half Moon) in New York Harbor for ten days before continuing up the river that now bears his name, taking the time to write such things about the region as, ‘It is as beautiful a land as one can hope to tread upon.’

The first Dutch settlers were dispatched in 1625 to establish a trading post. This was eventually called New Amsterdam, and was the seat of a much larger colony called New Netherland. Historians believe that the Dutch purchased the island we now know as Manhattan from the neighbouring tribes for about 600 American dollars, quite a bargain, though not as astonishing as the price of 24 American dollars that has survived as a myth.

Peter Stuyvesant became governor of New Amsterdam in 1647. He considered the Dutch colonists to be unruly, and took it upon himself to impose order upon them. He banned alcohol and curtailed religious freedoms, making him very unpopular with the Dutch colonists.

Meanwhile, the English had claimed New Netherland based on the discoveries made by John Cabot. In 1664, Charles II gave all of the land from Connecticut to Delaware to his brother James, Duke of York, despite the fact that the Dutch already had a colony there. To support the English claim, Richard Nicolls of the Royal Navy set out for New England, where he was joined by several hundred of the English colonial militia of Connecticut and Long Island. Together, they sailed for the mouth of the Hudson. Nicolls demanded that Stuyvesant surrender.

Stuyvesant initially refused. However, the people did not support him, and New Amsterdam was surrendered to the British in 1664 without bloodshed. New Amsterdam was renamed New York, in honour of the Duke of York. The city at first became a proprietary colony. When James became king of England, it became a royal colony, and Nicolls became its first governor.

Even after it fell into the hands of the English, the town of New York retained much of its Dutch character well into the middle of the 18th century, when, like colonists in other parts of America, many New Yorkers began to oppose the excesses of English colonial rule. There were also a great number of influential New Yorkers who did not want independence from England. For most of the Revolutionary War, New York was controlled by British troops. They did not withdraw until 1783, two years after the war ended.