New York City Travel
New York Discovery and Settlement The first "history" written on the discovery of New York and the colony.    


"He was born no one knows where or when. He died—no one knows when or how. He comes into our view on the quarterdeck of a little shallop of scarcely ninety tons burden. He goes out of it in a crazy boat manned by seven sick sailors, cast adrift in the Arctic seas to perish miserably, the victim of a cruel mutiny."

So writes one historian of Henry Hudson, whose name is first identified with New York. He appears to have vanished into nothingness when his great work was done. Even his likeness and autograph are not generally believed to be genuine. No one knows his age at the time he made his discoveries. That he was of mature years is shown by his having an eighteen year-old son. But whether he was a hale mariner of forty or a grizzled veteran of seventy, has never been guessed.

For his perilous journey, in the frailest of frail crafts, Hudson received the munificent sum of $320. In case he never came back the directors of the company agreed to nay his widow a further sum of $80 in cash.

"Hudson," John Fiske tells us, "was a notable instance of the irony of human destiny. In all that he attempted he failed; yet he achieved great results that were not contemplated in his original plans. He started two immense industries—the Spitzenbergen whale fisheries and the Hudson Bay fur trade, now the world renowned Hudson's Bay Company; and he brought the Dutch to Manhattan Island.

No realization of his dreams, however, could have approached the astonishing reality which would have greeted him could he have looked through the coming centuries and caught a glimpse of what the voyager now beholds in sailing up the bay of New York.

"But what perhaps would have surprised him most of all would have been to learn that his name was to become part of the folk lore of the beautiful river to which it is attached; that he was to figure as a Dutch-man instead of an Englishman in both legend and story; that when it is thunder weather in the Catskills, children would say it is "Hendrik Hudson" playing at skittles with his goblin crew. Perhaps it is not an unkindly fate.

Even as Milton wished for his dead friend Lvcidas that he might become the genius of the shore, so the memory of the great Arctic navigator will remain a familiar presence among the hillsides which the gentle fancy of 'Washington Irving has clothed with undying romance."

In one important respect our city has been particularly fortunate. The records of its early days are singularly full and complete. This applies not only to its documentary records, but also and more particularly, to its pictorial records. It is an inestimable privilege to know that what we see is an exact and contemporary drawing of what our city looked like at that time. In one respect at least its original settlement by a private corporation was of exceeding value from an historic point of view.

The Dutch West India Company, under whose charter the city was established, left nothing to the discretion of its subordinates. Minute instructions concerning the most trivial details were received by every packet ship. Full directions regarding the construction of the first fort and the location of the surrounding houses accompanied Peter Minuit, the first Governor General, on his voyage of settlement.

The island was purchased from the Indians in 1626 for some trinkets, valued at $24, and Fort Amsterdam was erected on the site of the present Custom House facing Bowling Green. At this time the island ended there. The streets to South Ferry and Battery Park have since been added. The same is true of both the entire East and West sides of the downtown section. Pearl Street marked the extreme shore on the east and Greenwich Street on the west.

It is narrowest in the downtown section below Fulton Street. It is widest at Grand Street.

Certain popular errors of these early days have remained uncorrected. We call the Hudson River the North River, although every one knows that it lies directly west; and the body of water lying between New York and Brooklyn is called the East River, although it is not a river at all, but an arm of the sea. Both of these errors are inherited from the Dutch, who spoke of Hudson's river as forming the north boundary of their possessions, of which the Delaware River marked the south boundary—or South River, as they called it.

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