Edited by Matthew A. McIntosh
Journalist and Historian
New York City (NYC), often called simply New York, is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2019 population of 8,336,817 distributed over about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York City is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the U.S. state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass. With almost 20 million people in its metropolitan statistical area and approximately 23 million in its combined statistical area, it is one of the world’s most populous megacities. 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. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.
Situated on one of the world’s largest natural harbors, New York City is composed of five boroughs, each of which is a county of the State of New York. The five boroughs—Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island—were consolidated into a single city in 1898. The city and its metropolitan area constitute the premier gateway for legal immigration to the United States. As many as 800 languages are spoken in New York, making it the most linguistically diverse city in the world. New York is home to more than 3.2 million residents born outside the United States, the largest foreign-born population of any city in the world as of 2016. As of 2019, the New York metropolitan area is estimated to produce a gross metropolitan product (GMP) of $2.0 trillion. If the New York metropolitan area were a sovereign state, it would have the eighth-largest economy in the world. New York is home to the highest number of billionaires of any city in the world.
New York City traces its origins to a trading post founded by colonists from the Dutch Republic in 1624 on Lower Manhattan; the post was named New Amsterdam in 1626. The city and its surroundings came under English control in 1664 and were renamed New York after King Charles II of England granted the lands to his brother, the Duke of York. The city was regained by the Dutch in July 1673 and was subsequently renamed New Orange for one year and three months; the city has been continuously named New York since November 1674. New York City was the capital of the United States from 1785 until 1790, and has been the largest U.S. city since 1790. The Statue of Liberty greeted millions of immigrants as they came to the U.S. by ship in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and is a symbol of the U.S. and its ideals of liberty and peace. In the 21st century, New York has emerged as a global node of creativity, entrepreneurship, and environmental sustainability, and as a symbol of freedom and cultural diversity. In 2019, New York was voted the greatest city in the world per a survey of over 30,000 people from 48 cities worldwide, citing its cultural diversity.
In the precolonial era, the area of present-day New York City was inhabited by Algonquian Native Americans, including the Lenape. Their homeland, known as Lenapehoking, included Staten Island, Manhattan, the Bronx, the western portion of Long Island (including the areas that would later become the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens), and the Lower Hudson Valley.
The first documented visit into New York Harbor by a European was in 1524 by Giovanni da Verrazzano, a Florentine explorer in the service of the French crown. He claimed the area for France and named it Nouvelle Angoulême (New Angoulême). A Spanish expedition, led by the Portuguese captain Estêvão Gomes sailing for Emperor Charles V, arrived in New York Harbor in January 1525 and charted the mouth of the Hudson River, which he named Río de San Antonio (Saint Anthony’s River). The Padrón Real of 1527, the first scientific map to show the East Coast of North America continuously, was informed by Gomes’ expedition and labeled the northeastern United States as Tierra de Esteban Gómez in his honor.
In 1609, the English explorer Henry Hudson rediscovered New York Harbor while searching for the Northwest Passage to the Orient for the Dutch East India Company. He proceeded to sail up what the Dutch would name the North River (now the Hudson River), named first by Hudson as the Mauritius after Maurice, Prince of Orange. Hudson’s first mate described the harbor as “a very good Harbour for all windes” and the river as “a mile broad” and “full of fish”. Hudson sailed roughly 150 miles (240 km) north, past the site of the present-day New York State capital city of Albany, in the belief that it might be an oceanic tributary before the river became too shallow to continue. He made a ten-day exploration of the area and claimed the region for the Dutch East India Company. In 1614, the area between Cape Cod and Delaware Bay was claimed by the Netherlands and called Nieuw-Nederland (New Netherland).
The first non-Native American inhabitant of what would eventually become New York City was Juan Rodriguez (transliterated to Dutch as Jan Rodrigues), a merchant from Santo Domingo. Born in Santo Domingo of Portuguese and African descent, he arrived in Manhattan during the winter of 1613–14, trapping for pelts and trading with the local population as a representative of the Dutch. Broadway, from 159th Street to 218th Street in Upper Manhattan, is named Juan Rodriguez Way in his honor.
A permanent European presence near New York Harbor began in 1624—making New York the 12th oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement in the continental United States—with the founding of a Dutch fur trading settlement on Governors Island. In 1625, construction was started on a citadel and Fort Amsterdam, later called Nieuw Amsterdam (New Amsterdam), on present-day Manhattan Island. The colony of New Amsterdam was centered on what would later be known as Lower Manhattan. It extended from the lower tip of Manhattan to modern day Wall Street, where a 12-foot wooden stockade was built in 1653 to protect against Native American and British raids. In 1626, the Dutch colonial Director-General Peter Minuit, acting as charged by the Dutch West India Company, purchased the island of Manhattan from the Canarsie, a small Lenape band, for “the value of 60 guilders” (about $900 in 2018). A disproved legend claims that Manhattan was purchased for $24 worth of glass beads.
Following the purchase, New Amsterdam grew slowly. To attract settlers, the Dutch instituted the patroon system in 1628, whereby wealthy Dutchmen (patroons, or patrons) who brought 50 colonists to New Netherland would be awarded swaths of land, along with local political autonomy and rights to participate in the lucrative fur trade. This program had little success.
Since 1621, the Dutch West India Company had operated as a monopoly in New Netherland, on authority granted by the Dutch States General. In 1639–1640, in an effort to bolster economic growth, the Dutch West India Company relinquished its monopoly over the fur trade, leading to growth in the production and trade of food, timber, tobacco, and slaves (particularly with the Dutch West Indies).
In 1647, Peter Stuyvesant began his tenure as the last Director-General of New Netherland. During his tenure, the population of New Netherland grew from 2,000 to 8,000. Stuyvesant has been credited with improving law and order in the colony; however, he also earned a reputation as a despotic leader. He instituted regulations on liquor sales, attempted to assert control over the Dutch Reformed Church, and blocked other religious groups (including Quakers, Jews, and Lutherans) from establishing houses of worship. The Dutch West India Company would eventually attempt to ease tensions between Stuyvesant and residents of New Amsterdam.
In 1664, unable to summon any significant resistance, Stuyvesant surrendered New Amsterdam to English troops, led by Colonel Richard Nicolls, without bloodshed. The terms of the surrender permitted Dutch residents to remain in the colony and allowed for religious freedom. The fledgling settlement was promptly renamed “New York” after the Duke of York (the future King James II and IV), who would eventually be deposed in the Glorious Revolution. After the founding, the duke gave part of the colony to proprietors George Carteret and John Berkeley. Fort Orange, 150 miles (240 km) north on the Hudson River, was renamed Albany after James’s Scottish title. The transfer was confirmed in 1667 by the Treaty of Breda, which concluded the Second Anglo-Dutch War.
On August 24, 1673, during the Third Anglo-Dutch War, Dutch captain Anthony Colve seized the colony of New York from the English at the behest of Cornelis Evertsen the Youngest and rechristened it “New Orange” after William III, the Prince of Orange. The Dutch would soon return the island to England under the Treaty of Westminster of November 1674.
Several intertribal wars among the Native Americans and some epidemics brought on by contact with the Europeans caused sizeable population losses for the Lenape between the years 1660 and 1670. By 1700, the Lenape population had diminished to 200. New York experienced several yellow fever epidemics in the 18th century, losing ten percent of its population to the disease in 1702 alone.
Province of New York
New York grew in importance as a trading port while as a part of the colony of New York in the early 1700s. It also became a center of slavery, with 42% of households holding slaves by 1730, the highest percentage outside Charleston, South Carolina. Most slaveholders held a few or several domestic slaves, but others hired them out to work at labor. Slavery became integrally tied to New York’s economy through the labor of slaves throughout the port, and the banks and shipping tied to the American South. Discovery of the African Burying Ground in the 1990s, during construction of a new federal courthouse near Foley Square, revealed that tens of thousands of Africans had been buried in the area in the colonial period.
The 1735 trial and acquittal in Manhattan of John Peter Zenger, who had been accused of seditious libel after criticizing colonial governor William Cosby, helped to establish the freedom of the press in North America. In 1754, Columbia University was founded under charter by King George II as King’s College in Lower Manhattan.
The Stamp Act Congress met in New York in October 1765, as the Sons of Liberty, organized in the city, skirmished over the next ten years with British troops stationed there. The Battle of Long Island, the largest battle of the American Revolutionary War, was fought in August 1776 within the modern-day borough of Brooklyn. After the battle, in which the Americans were defeated, the British made the city their military and political base of operations in North America. The city was a haven for Loyalist refugees and escaped slaves who joined the British lines for freedom newly promised by the Crown for all fighters. As many as 10,000 escaped slaves crowded into the city during the British occupation. When the British forces evacuated at the close of the war in 1783, they transported 3,000 freedmen for resettlement in Nova Scotia. They resettled other freedmen in England and the Caribbean.
The only attempt at a peaceful solution to the war took place at the Conference House on Staten Island between American delegates, including Benjamin Franklin, and British general Lord Howe on September 11, 1776. Shortly after the British occupation began, the Great Fire of New York occurred, a large conflagration on the West Side of Lower Manhattan, which destroyed about a quarter of the buildings in the city, including Trinity Church.
In 1785, the assembly of the Congress of the Confederation made New York City the national capital shortly after the war. New York was the last capital of the U.S. under the Articles of Confederation and the first capital under the Constitution of the United States. New York City as the U.S. capital hosted several events of national scope in 1789—the first President of the United States, George Washington, was inaugurated; the first United States Congress and the Supreme Court of the United States each assembled for the first time; and the United States Bill of Rights was drafted, all at Federal Hall on Wall Street. By 1790, New York had surpassed Philadelphia to become the largest city in the United States, but by the end of that year, pursuant to the Residence Act, the national capital was moved to Philadelphia.
Over the course of the nineteenth century, New York City’s population grew from 60,000 to 3.43 million. Under New York State’s abolition act of 1799, children of slave mothers were to be eventually liberated but to be held in indentured servitude until their mid-to-late twenties. Together with slaves freed by their masters after the Revolutionary War and escaped slaves, a significant free-Black population gradually developed in Manhattan. Under such influential United States founders as Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, the New York Manumission Society worked for abolition and established the African Free School to educate Black children. It was not until 1827 that slavery was completely abolished in the state, and free Blacks struggled afterward with discrimination. New York interracial abolitionist activism continued; among its leaders were graduates of the African Free School. New York city’s population jumped from 123,706 in 1820 to 312,710 by 1840, 16,000 of whom were Black.
In the 19th century, the city was transformed by development relating to its status as a national and international trading center, as well as by European immigration. The city adopted the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, which expanded the city street grid to encompass almost all of Manhattan. The 1825 completion of the Erie Canal through central New York connected the Atlantic port to the agricultural markets and commodities of the North American interior via the Hudson River and the Great Lakes. Local politics became dominated by Tammany Hall, a political machine supported by Irish and German immigrants.
Several prominent American literary figures lived in New York during the 1830s and 1840s, including William Cullen Bryant, Washington Irving, Herman Melville, Rufus Wilmot Griswold, John Keese, Nathaniel Parker Willis, and Edgar Allan Poe. Public-minded members of the contemporaneous business elite lobbied for the establishment of Central Park, which in 1857 became the first landscaped park in an American city.
The Great Irish Famine brought a large influx of Irish immigrants; more than 200,000 were living in New York by 1860, upwards of a quarter of the city’s population. There was also extensive immigration from the German provinces, where revolutions had disrupted societies, and Germans comprised another 25% of New York’s population by 1860.
Democratic Party candidates were consistently elected to local office, increasing the city’s ties to the South and its dominant party. In 1861, Mayor Fernando Wood called upon the aldermen to declare independence from Albany and the United States after the South seceded, but his proposal was not acted on. Anger at new military conscription laws during the American Civil War (1861–1865), which spared wealthier men who could afford to pay a $300 (equivalent to $6,229 in 2019) commutation fee to hire a substitute, led to the Draft Riots of 1863, whose most visible participants were ethnic Irish working class.
The draft riots deteriorated into attacks on New York’s elite, followed by attacks on Black New Yorkers and their property after fierce competition for a decade between Irish immigrants and black people for work. Rioters burned the Colored Orphan Asylum to the ground, with more than 200 children escaping harm due to efforts of the New York Police Department, which was mainly made up of Irish immigrants. At least 120 people were killed. Eleven Black men were lynched over five days, and the riots forced hundreds of blacks to flee the city for Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and New Jersey. The Black population in Manhattan fell below 10,000 by 1865, which it had last been in 1820. The White working class had established dominance. Violence by longshoremen against Black men was especially fierce in the docks area. It was one of the worst incidents of civil unrest in American history.
In 1898, the modern City of New York was formed with the consolidation of Brooklyn (until then a separate city), the County of New York (which then included parts of the Bronx), the County of Richmond, and the western portion of the County of Queens. The opening of the subway in 1904, first built as separate private systems, helped bind the new city together. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the city became a world center for industry, commerce, and communication.
In 1904, the steamship General Slocum caught fire in the East River, killing 1,021 people on board. In 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the city’s worst industrial disaster, took the lives of 146 garment workers and spurred the growth of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and major improvements in factory safety standards.
New York’s non-white population was 36,620 in 1890. New York City was a prime destination in the early twentieth century for African Americans during the Great Migration from the American South, and by 1916, New York City had become home to the largest urban African diaspora in North America. The Harlem Renaissance of literary and cultural life flourished during the era of Prohibition. The larger economic boom generated construction of skyscrapers competing in height and creating an identifiable skyline.
New York became the most populous urbanized area in the world in the early-1920s, overtaking London. The metropolitan area surpassed the 10 million mark in the early-1930s, becoming the first megacity in human history. The difficult years of the Great Depression saw the election of reformer Fiorello La Guardia as mayor and the fall of Tammany Hall after eighty years of political dominance.
Returning World War II veterans created a post-war economic boom and the development of large housing tracts in eastern Queens and Nassau County as well as similar suburban areas in New Jersey. New York emerged from the war unscathed as the leading city of the world, with Wall Street leading America’s place as the world’s dominant economic power. The United Nations Headquarters was completed in 1952, solidifying New York’s global geopolitical influence, and the rise of abstract expressionism in the city precipitated New York’s displacement of Paris as the center of the art world.
The Stonewall riots were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the gay community against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Lower Manhattan. They are widely considered to constitute the single most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights. Wayne R. Dynes, author of the Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, wrote that drag queens were the only “transgender folks around” during the June 1969 Stonewall riots. “None of them in fact made a major contribution to the movement.” Others say the transgender community in New York City played a significant role in fighting for LGBT equality during the period of the Stonewall riots and thereafter.
In the 1970s, job losses due to industrial restructuring caused New York City to suffer from economic problems and rising crime rates. While a resurgence in the financial industry greatly improved the city’s economic health in the 1980s, New York’s crime rate continued to increase through that decade and into the beginning of the 1990s. By the mid 1990s, crime rates started to drop dramatically due to revised police strategies, improving economic opportunities, gentrification, and new residents, both American transplants and new immigrants from Asia and Latin America. Important new sectors, such as Silicon Alley, emerged in the city’s economy. New York’s population reached all-time highs in the 2000 census and then again in the 2010 census.
New York City suffered the bulk of the economic damage and largest loss of human life in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Two of the four airliners highjacked that day were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, destroying them and killing 2,192 civilians, 343 firefighters, and 71 law enforcement officers. The North Tower became the tallest building ever to be destroyed anywhere then or subsequently.
The area was rebuilt with a new One World Trade Center, a 9/11 memorial and museum, and other new buildings and infrastructure. The World Trade Center PATH station, which had opened on July 19, 1909 as the Hudson Terminal, was also destroyed in the attacks. A temporary station was built and opened on November 23, 2003. An 800,000-square-foot (74,000 m2) permanent rail station designed by Santiago Calatrava, the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, the city’s third-largest hub, was completed in 2016. The new One World Trade Center is the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere and the sixth-tallest building in the world by pinnacle height, with its spire reaching a symbolic 1,776 feet (541.3 m) in reference to the year of U.S. independence.
The Occupy Wall Street protests in Zuccotti Park in the Financial District of Lower Manhattan began on September 17, 2011, receiving global attention and popularizing the Occupy movement against social and economic inequality worldwide.
In March 2020, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 for the city was in Manhattan. As of June 2020, New York City had recorded over 20,000 deaths from COVID-19-related complications. The city was the global epicenter of the pandemic during the early phase, before the infection spread worldwide.
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Originally published by Wikipedia, 03.27.2001, under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.