The Origin of The Name Manhattan


This is historical reference material from the public domain book “The Origin of the Name Manhattan” by Tooker Wallace. In this post we have included the beginnings of this book”. We will be subsequently posting more information chronologically as it pertain to information on this topic. If you wish though to read or download the complete book, you can do so absolutely for FREE by going down to the bottom of this post.


It seems quite appropriate at the present time now, that the great New York City area has become recognized with the term Manhattan and has been designated thus as the principal borough of this great civic consolidation, that a full connotation of the name should be presented, especially as it has been occasionally applied to the lesser New York, and is now the title of many of its corporations; and, furthermore, at an early period was by the
Dutch claimed to describe the whole province. In proof of this last assumption, the following appears in Heermann’s Journal of the Dutch Embassy to Maryland in the year 1659. “And hereabouts we gave him to understand that Manhattans, signified the whole country, having preserved the ancient name of the Indian nations among whom the Dutch first settled.” This quotation bears witness that the Dutch made use of the term identically the same as the English did the names Massachusetts and Connecticut, without any consideration whatsoever for its limited topographical application as understood by those who bestowed it, and thus by adoption it became-in the words of eminent ethnologist-a mere distinguishing mark, destitute of its original self-interpreting faculty which it possessed in its own language.

So many problems-geographical, historical, and anthropological-enter into the discussion as to its origin and meaning that a complete collation of contributing data bearing upon these points would necessarily carry the subject to a much greater length than the limits of the present paper would warrant, or its title might seem to indicate.

Moreover, the fact appears, whether designating an island, people, or province, the name so interwoven into the history of the Dutch settlement of New York, that it is impossible
to consider the derivation of the first without advertising in a greater degree to the latter.

Again, as some of the questions involved require careful examination of the early maps and accurate study of their relation to the date of settlement, also a critical scrutiny of
those which may be cartographical perversions, and therefore untrustworthy as an authority, it behooves us to be very cautious in accepting conclusions based upon a source that more than possibly had a motive for distorting facts.

Not only is the origin of the name so encompassed, but the derivations offered for it in later times are so numerous and so doubtful that it would seem almost superfluous to add another to the already long list unless something convincing can be offered in its favor, for I know of no name of aboriginal bestowal that has had more conjectural siginifacations and derivations assigned to it than this same simple name, Manhattan.

Many prominent ethnologists and historians have had a part in suggesting these derivations, and their opinions will be carefully noted and considered, as far as possible in their chronological order. Therefore, it is not only the derivation and etymology of the name that is to be considered, but also so much of its subsequent history as is necessary to trace its evolution from its primitive tongue into the alien Dutch and English, where it has been a part for the greater portion of three centuries. The early documents or records, so far as my research has extended, fail to give a clue to a possible meaning, but, with the
maps, render considerable aid to the investigator, by means of which a correct insight may be acquired as to the first application of the name.

Rev. John Heckewelder, the well known Moravian missionary, who devoted the greater part of his life to Christianizing the Delaware Indians in Pennsylvania and Ohio, was the first to offer an etymology for the name. In his history, manners, and customs of the Indian nations etc, 1817 he speaks of “The current account given by the Delawares and Mohegans of the scenes which took place when they were first made to taste spirituous liquors by the Dutch who landed on New York Island…They called it Manahachtanienk, which in the Delaware language means ‘the island where we all became intoxicated.’ We have corrupted this name into Manhattan, but not so as to destroy its meaning or conceal its origin. The last syllable which we have left out is only a termination implying locality, and in this word signifies as much as ‘where we.’ There are few Indian traditions so well supported as this.” Heckewelder qualifies this later, as quoted by George Folsom in the Collections of the New York Historical Society by saying “The Delawares call this place (New York Island) Mannahattanink, or Mannahachtanink, to this day. They have frequently told me that it derived its name from this general intoxication, and that the word comprehended the same as to say ‘The island or place of general intoxication.’ The mahicanni (otherwise called Mohigans by the English, and Mahicanders by the low Dutch) call this place by the same name as Delawares do : yet think it is owing or given in consequence of a kind of wood which grew there, and of which the Indians used to make their bows and arrows. This word the latter (Mohicanni) call ‘gawaak’.

Rev. A. S. Anthony, a native Delaware Indian, residing in Canada, a few years since gave the Mohegan derivation to the late Dr. D.G. Brinton who says “The name for the compound instrument, ‘bow and arrow,’ is Manhtaht, the first ‘a’ being nasal, and from this word, Mr. Anthony states, is derived the name Manhattan, properly Manahahtank, ‘the place where they gather wood to make bows.'”

The fact that individuals of two cognate tribes, using precisely the same pronunciation, derive the word differently is enough in itself to throw decided doubt on both derivations. The Delaware etymology proves that different tribal groups of native Americans
have similar sounding words that can ultimately express different meanings. Both the tradition and interpretation in this instance is entirely suppositious, for the reason that the name designated the locality long before the Dutch had begun a settlement or had even landed upon the island; and, so far as drunkenness is concerned, Vander Donck wrote in 1656 “In the Indian languages, which are rich and expressive, they have no word to express drunkenness. Drunken men they call fools.” Therefore all aboriginal words indicating this fault of the human family are necessarily in their application subsequent to the settlement of the country, and had such been the origin of Manhattan, Van der Donck would surely have mentioned it.

It must be recollected, when considering both etymologies, that neither the Delawares no Mohegans gave the name to the island, and when explained to Heckewelder, the term had been in use for nearly two centuries, and was, therefore, archaic and beyond their time. The Mohegan etymology must also be regarded, when compared with the early forms, as being for many reasons fully as faulty and unacceptable as the Delawares, and the fact that Mr. Anthony believed in it, to the exclusion of the “drunk” derivation of his ancestors, shows that he had either seen Heckewelder’s two etymologies in print previously, or else had learned it from some Mohegan.

To read or download the Ebook “The Origin of the Name Manhattan” by Tooker Wallace, click or right-click the link below:

“The Origin of The Name Manhattan” by Tooker Wallace PDF Ebook

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