How It All Began
Cities owe their place and fortune to geographical luck. They spring up around harbors, crossroads, rest stops, and trade routes. New York is no exception. From day one, it was the first place many travelers encountered as they headed west from Europe.
The first people to lay eyes on what would become New York were Native Americans. It was the Lenape who greeted Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano, the first European to enter New York's harbor. The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge bears his name. He stayed long enough to name the place New Angoulême, then turned around and sailed back to Europe. The year was 1524.
English explorer Henry Hudson kick-started the city's development when he arrived on a commercial mission for the Dutch East India Company in 1609. Hudson sailed up the mighty river to the west of Manhattan and through the glorious valley; both the Hudson River and Hudson Valley are named for him.
The Dutch were the first Europeans to settle what they called Nieuw Amsterdam, but don't believe the colorful story that Peter Minuit pulled a fast one and bought the island from a local tribe for $24 worth of beads. File that away with fictitious tall tales like Washington and the cherry tree. The city flip-flopped between English and Dutch control in the 1660s and 1670s before the English claimed it for good (or at least until the Revolutionary War) in 1674.
The Dutch colony had lots of problems with the Native Americans who lived in the area and the British who coveted their colonial territory. In 1653, the governor, Peter Stuyvesant, ordered the construction of a wall in lower Manhattan to guard against a possible attack. By 1700, the wall had been torn down, but Wall Street keeps its place today.
New York was an important center during the American Revolution, and battles were fought all over the city. You can still find colonial bullet casings in parts of lower Manhattan, Queens, and Long Island. The first declarations calling for independence and the first intercolonial congress were drawn up in New York.
In 1789, George Washington was inaugurated president in Federal Hall, the nation's first Capitol, on Wall and Nassau streets. New York City was the nation's capital before giving way to Philadelphia and eventually to Washington, D.C.