Discovering New Amsterdam – 1600’s Cartography

One of the earliest maps of New Amsterdam is displayed right below this paragraph. The map displays a very basic illustration of lower Manhattan and was originally produced in 1664. The map was produced for James the Duke of York in order to lay down the first plans for the construction of a new Colony. Below the map we will examine and explore various cartographic attributes that make this map absolutely stunning. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave them below!

Quite an interesting early map of New Amsterdam we have displayed above! There is no doubt in my mind that this map was originally produced in 1664 as you can see a developmental and early illustration of lower Manhattan. The other aspects that overwhelmingly confirm the publication date is the spelling as well as the labellings throughout this map. Longe Isleland is obviously spelled quite different then it is today and to the left of the map you can clearly see the labeling “The Dukes Plan” “A Description of the Towne of Mannados-(Manhattan) or New Amsterdam”. Also if we look at the river on the opposite side of long island we see “Hudfrons River”, an old spelling of the Hudson River no doubt.

This map presents many clues to us about what New York City was like back in 1664. For example look at the plentiful amount of ships over in the East River. What this tells me is that many ships back in the mid 1600’s were landing and porting their ships along this area and were provided with easier access to the Atlantic ocean from side of New Amsterdam. Its even true today that more ships are in port along the East River, look at where the U.S. Naval Shipyard is… located on the East River for easy access to the Atlantic.

We can obviously see that lower Manhattan in this map is somewhat underdeveloped. From the looks of it, it seems there were only 3 avenues and mini neighborhoods scattered throughout Manhattan’s lower quarter. Beyond these locations we see sporadic illustrations possibly detailing the planning of new neighborhoods and or developing and clearing the land on the island. The lower quarter of New Amsterdam is drawn with a vertical line with 5 pointed dividers. This line on the map represents the fortifications built on the upper section of this colony. I have evidence to support this finding that this is a fortification by cross-referencing it with another map of New Amsterdam below:

Fortifactions new amsterdam numbered

Notice the 5 points in the image above, well there are also 5 points in the same location on the map above this one. So without a doubt I can tell you that they fortified this section of New Amsterdam.

Another aspect that stands out to me that are on both of these maps is the fortification located at the southern tip of lower Manhattan. This fort has been called so many different names throughout time. It has been called Fort Amsterdam, Fort George, Fort William Henry and much more. But as you can see on both maps It gave the dutch a strategic advantage to defending lower Manhattan. Not only did it provide an advantage with line of site scouting for invaders coming from the Atlantic or the Hudson, but it also contributed and gave the Dutch a strategic vantage point for their cannons to fire upon incoming ships as well a fall back location for the island as a whole. The 1st map displayed does not display the cannons in the 4 quadrants of the fort. The 2nd map displayed though overwhelmingly does.

fort amsterdam cannonsThese are just a few of the various historical aspects that we’ve explored and uncovered on these old vintage maps of New Amsterdam. Please feel free to subscribe to our blog on the right hand side! We will be continuing this exploration of History of New York City and we blog constantly. If you have any questions or comments about this post please feel free to comment below!


The Story of Manhattan Audiobook – The Dutch Traders

This is an audio recording of a vintage book titled “The Story of Manhattan”. The recording displayed on this page covers the historical events involving the dutch traders on Manhattan Island. Take a listen to this audiobook chapter and tell us what you think by commenting below!

Discovering and Inhabiting Manhattan Island

After the discovery of the Western Continent, by Christopher Columbus, the attention of Europe seemed to be turned toward the southern part of the new world, where the gold was found emblazoning the garments of the aboriginal inhabitants, holding a glittering temptation to the enterprise of adventurous spirits. Thus the cold regions of the north lay unvisited for more than a hundred years by any other than passing vessels, sailing along the coast, and making formal discoveries of its shores, to be mapped as the property of their royal employers.

One of these vessels of discovery, commanded by Verrezano, in the service of the French, is believed to have entered the south bay of New York, in the year 1525, and thus may have had a distant glimpse of the island which is the subject of our history; but by some it is doubted if his description of the harbor, which is not very explicit, is applicable to the bay of New York.

The first discovery has been generally ascribed to Henry Hudson, an Englishman by birth, who, in the year 1609, being then in the service of the Dutch, sailed westward from the shores of Europe, in search of a north-west passage to the East Indies. The vessel, commanded by Hudson, was a small yacht, called the ” Half Moon,” manned by Hudson’s discovery of this island.

From sixteen to twenty men, partly of Dutch and partly of English birth. This vessel was not over eighty tons burthen, being designed for coasting. After traversing the American coasts, between Newfoundland and the Chesapeake bay, he turned his course northward again, designing to explore, leisurely, the extent of country thus passed by. On the 1st of September, 1609, he discovered the Highlands of Never sink, described by him as a ” very good land to fall in with, and a pleasant land to see.” The next day he rounded Sandy Hook, and the second day following he anchored under the Jersey shore, in the south bay.

The Indians flocking to the shore in great numbers, appear at once to have understood the designs of their visitors, for, whether by tradition or rumor from other lands, they seem to have been acquainted with the articles of trade, most in use, between the whites and the Indians, and were apt at driving a bargain. They offered tobacco and other products, in exchange for knives and beads. Their disposition seemed friendly, and the women presented such articles of food as they had prepared in that season.

On the 6th of September, a boat’s crew, dispatched by Hudson, to explore the coast further inland, entered the Narrows, and came in sight of Manhattan Island. They described the land, encircling the bay, as covered with trees, grass and flowers, and the air as filled with delightful fragrance. The return of this small party was unfortunate, as, from some unexplained reason, the boat was attacked by two canoes filled with Indians, and one of the crew, named John Coleman, was killed by an arrow piercing his throat. It seems probable, from the course taken by Hudson, after this disaster, that the assault by the natives was not without provocation, as friendly intercourse was still kept up between the parties.

On the 11th of September, Hudson weighed, and sailed up through the Narrows. Having anchored in New York harbor, he was visited by the neighboring Indians, who made great show of love, giving presents of tobacco and Indian corn. He remained at anchor but one day, and on the 12th of September, took his course up the river, which has since borne his name. In his exploration to the head of navigation, near the present site of Albany, he was engaged about three weeks, and finally put to sea on the 4th of October, making directly for Holland, with news of his discovery of this fine river and its adjacent country, which he described as offering every inducement for settlers or traders that could be desired.

Beside the fertility of the soil, which was satisfactorily shown by the great abundance of grain and vegetables found in the possession of the Indians, a still more enticing prospect was held out to the view of the merchant, in the abundance of valuable furs observed in the country, which were to be had at a very little cost. Hudson had, therefore, scarcely made publicly known the character of the country visited by him, when several merchants of Amsterdam fitted out trading vessels and dispatched them to this river. Their returns were highly satisfactory, and arrangements were immediately made to establish a settled agency here to superintend the collection of the furs and the trade with the Indians, while the ships should be on their long journey between the two hemispheres. The agents thus employed, pitched their cabins on the south point of Manhattan Island. The head man being Hendrick Corstiaensen, who was still the chief of the settlement.

In 1613, at which period, an English ship, sailing along the coast from Virginia, entered the harbor on a visit of observation. Finding Corstiaensen here, with his company of traders, the English captain summoned him to acknowledge the jurisdiction of Virginia over the country or else to depart. The former alternative was chosen by the trader, and he agreed to pay a small tribute to the Governor of Virginia, in token of his right of dominion. The Dutch were thereupon left to prosecute their trade without further molestation.

The government of Holland did not, however, recognize the claims of England to jurisdiction over the whole American coast, and took measures to encourage the discovery and appropriation of additional territory, by a decree, giving to any discoverers of new countries the exclusive privilege of trading thither for four successive voyages, to the exclusion of all other persons. This enactment induced several merchants to fit out five small ships, for coasting along the American shores in this vicinity. One of these vessels, commanded by Captain Block, soon after its arrival on the coast, was accidentally destroyed by fire. Block immediately began the construction of another, of thirty-eight feet keel, forty-four and a half feet on deck, and eleven and a half feet beam, which was the first vessel launched in the waters of New York, She was called the ” Unrest,” or Restless, and ploughed her keel through the waters of Hell Gate and the Sound, the pioneer of all other vessels, except the bark canoes of the aboriginal inhabitants.

The several ships dispatched on this exploring expedition, having returned to Holland, from their journals and surveys a map of a large extent of country was made, over which the Dutch claimed jurisdiction, and to which they gave the name of “New Netherland.” The owners of these vessels, as the reward of their enterprise, were granted the promised monopoly of trade hither for four voyages, to be completed within three years, commencing on the 1st of January, 1615.

These merchants seemed to have been composed in part of those who had established the first trading post here, but having increased their number and capital, and enlarged their former designs of trade, formed themselves into a company under the name of the ” United New Netherland Company.” Corstiaensen was continued the principal agent here, and they likewise established a post at the head of the river, on an island opposite the present site of Albany. Forts, of a rude description, (being merely inclosures of high palisades,) were erected at both places.

The privileges granted to the ” United New Netherland Company,” being, however, limited in respect to time, their establishment on this island, can hardly be considered as a permanent settlement; the cabins of the settlers were nearly of equal rudeness with those of their Indian neighbors; and but few of the luxuries of civilization found their way into their habitations. The great object of the settlement was, however, successfully carried on, and stores of furs were in readiness to freight the ships on their periodical visits from the fatherland. No interruption of the friendly intercourse carried on with the Indians took place, but on the contrary, the whites were abundantly supplied by the natives with food and most other necessaries of life, without personal labor and at trifling cost.

The Indian tribes in the neighborhood of this trading post, were the “Manhattans,” occupying this island;

The trade of this colony of settlers was sufficiently profitable to render its permanency desirable to the ” United New Netherland Company,” as it is found that at the termination of their grant, in the year 1618, they endeavored to procure from the government, in Holland, an extension of their term, but did not succeed in obtaining more than a special license, expiring yearly, which they held for two or three subsequent years.

In the mean time, a more extensive association had been formed among the merchants and capitalists in Holland, which in the year 1621, having matured its plans and projects, received a charter under the title of theĀ  “West India Company.” Their charter gave them the exclusive privilege of trade on the whole American coast, both of the northern and southern continents, so far as the jurisdiction of Holland extended.

The City of New York

The City of New York is the largest and most important in America. Its corporate limits embrace the whole of Manhattan Island, on which it is situated, and which is bounded by the Hudson, the East and Harlem rivers, and by Spuyten Duyvil creek, which last connects the Harlem with the Hudson. Being almost entirely surrounded by deep water, and lying within sight of the ocean, and only sixteen miles from it, the city is naturally the greatest commercial centre of the country. The extreme length of the island is fifteen miles, and its average breadth a mile and a half. The city lies at the head of New York Bay, which stretches away for miles until the Narrows, the main entrance to the harbor, are reached, presenting a panorama unsurpassed for natural and artificial beauty. The people of New York are very proud of their bay, and justly regard it as one of the most magnificent in the world.

The city was originally settled by the Dutch, toward the close of the year 1614, and called by them New Amsterdam. In 1664, it passed into the hands of the English, and was named New York, which name was also given to the whole province. The first settlement was made at the extreme lower part of the island, on the spot now known as the Battery. A fort was erected, and the little hamlet surrounded by a strong stockade as a protection against the savages. The first settlers were eminently just in their dealings with the red men, and purchased the island from them, giving them what was considered by all parties a fair price for it. They felt sure that their new home was destined to become a place of importance in the course of time. Its commercial advantages were evident at a glance; the climate was delightful, being neither so rigorous as that of the Eastern colonies, nor so enervating as that of the Southern. The hopes of the founders of New York are more than realized in the metropolis of to-day.

The city grew very slowly at the beginning. In 1686, it was regularly incorporated by a charter. In 1693, the first printing press was set up in the city by William Bradford. In 1690, New York contained five hundred and ninety-four houses and six thousand inhabitants. In 1790, one hundred years later, the city had a population of thirty-three thousand. It was not until the beginning of the present century that it commenced that wonderful growth which has given it its present importance. At first it spread more rapidly on the east side than on the west. As late as the close of the Revolution, what is now Chambers street was the extreme upper limit, and its line was marked by a strong stockade, built across from river to river, with gates leading to the various country roads which traversed the upper part of the island.

The City of New York now extends from the Battery to the Harlem river and Spuyten Duyvil creek, and is built up with great regularity as far as One-hundred and Thirtieth street. Harlem, Yorkville, Manhattanville, Bloomingdale, Carmansville, and Washington Heights or Fort Washington, were all originally separate villages, but are now parts of the great city. The island comes to a point at the Battery, and from this extremity stretches away northward like a fan. It attains its greatest width at Fourteenth and Eighty-seventh streets. Broadway is the longest street, running from, the Battery to Spuyten Duyvil creek, a distance of fifteen miles. It is lighted with gas along the entire line. Street railways and omnibus lines connect the various parts of the city, affording cheap and rapid transportation within its limits. Ferry boats ply constantly between the island and the neighboring shores, and railroads and steamboats connect it with all parts of the world.