The Five Boroughs of the City of New York: A Brief Historical Description

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This island was purchased from the Indians by the Dutch West India Company in 1626, Colonists may have arrived one or two years earlier. Traders probably occupied temporary huts as early as 1613. The settlement in the Dutch Period was limited to the southern end of Manhattan, extending from the fort to Fresh Water Pond. As shipping was so important, the village grew along the East River. There were a number of farms to the north, but as time went on there was a tendency to concentrate rather than to remain in scattered districts. This afforded protection from the Indians. In Stuyvesant's time, two hamlets had sprung up on lower Manhattan in addition to the settlement about the Fort, one to the east called the Bowery and one to the west, known later as Greenwich Village.

The Bowery derives its name from the Great Bouwerie (farm) which Stuyvesant purchased from the West India Company for a country seat. Because many of the Company's Nero slaves lived here to work the farm, and because structures were added for grinding corn, black-smithing, religious services, etc., the locality assumed the form of a village. Nearby were the farms of other settlers including the Beeckmans, Bayards and de Lanceys. The Bowery Road, the line now followed by Chatham Street and the Bowery, was the connecting link between the village and the Fort settlement. Bull's Head Tavern, near Canal Street, became a famous meeting place. It is said that in Stuyvesant's house, near the site of the present St. Mark's Church, the terms of surrender to the English were signed in 1664. The house was burned in the early part of the Revolution.

On the west, the North River Road followed the present route of West Street through Lispenard Salt Meadows and was the fashionable drive leading to Greenwich Village. In those days the hamlet still bore traces of its Indian origin and was called Sappohanican. Van Twiller obtained a grant of 200 acres in this region and started a tobacco plantation. For years Greenwich was known for its pure air and considered a health resort. During the early part of the 19th century, this section became a refuge from plagues of yellow fever and cholera and was rapidly built up. Its present boundaries are roughly the North River, West 14th and Spring Streets. The original section was of much smaller compass.

As early as 1658, a settlement was established in the locality of modern Harlem. It was called Nieuw Haerlem and existed as a distinct village for over a hundred years, extending from the East River west beyond the present Third Avenue and from 121st to 126th Streets. It is now largely a colored section and of much greater compass.

The settlement of Manhattan Ville was on the west side of the valley between 125th and 135th Streets, across which the viaduct now carries Riverside Drive. A ferry to Fort Lee was established here before the Revolution. It was known in Dutch days as Matje David's Vly (Widow David's Meadow). In Revolutionary days it was called the Hollow Way. The name Manhattanville dates from 1806.

The name Chelsea is applied tot he region on the Hudson River between 19th and 24th Streets as far east as Eighth Avenue. It received its name from the home of Captain Clarke, a veteran of the French and Indian wars. This 18th century homestead was west of Ninth Avenue between 22nd and 23rd Streets. In this house lived Clement C. Moore who wrote the poem, "Twas the night before Christmas."

The old village of Bloomingdale centered about 100th Street on the west side of Manhattan. In early days the only access to this region was by water and a few farm roads. Later it was bisected by the "Road to Bloomingdale". This road ran from 23rd Street and Broadway to 115th Street and the present Riverside Drive. It largely followed the present Broadway. It was later extended to 147th Street where it merged with Kingsbridge Road.

The section called Inwood is located on the northwestern part of Manhattan just south of the Ship Canal. Many Indian and Revolutionary relics have been found there. In Inwood Hill Park is a famous tulip tree, said to be about two hundred and fifty years old. It is probably the oldest living thing on Manhattan. There is also an Indian Cave in the side of the hill, probably used before Hudson's day.

In 1771 the population of Manhattan was nearly all south of Grand Street. In 1811 the Commissioners' Plan laid out the city as far north as 155th Street, although the actual cutting of the streets took many years to complete.


This borough received its name from Jonas Bronck. He bought a large area from the Indians in 1639 for "two guns, two kettles, two coats, two adzes, two shirts, one barrel of cider and six bits of money." Around this area grew a number of small settlements. Few of them, however, had a separate existence until about 1800. In 1874 the southern part of the present Bronx was annexed to New York City. In 1883 a commission was appointed to select "proper and desirable" lands for "one or more public parks". As a result large tracts were laid out for this purpose. The borough is divided by the Bronx River into an east and a west section.

Mott Haven is in the southwestern part of the Bronx. It was named after its founder whose home, the Mott Mansion, was at Third Avenue and 136th Street. The original house was cut in two and is now two separate buildings.

East of Mott Haven is Morrisania where Jonas Bronck lived. Gouverneur Morris also lived here. The latter was a member of the Constitutional Convention and much of the actual form and wording of the Constitution is traceable to him as chairman of a committee for that purpose.

In the early days of the Revolution, it was urged that this locality be the site for the National Capitol. The northern part of the borough was annexed in 1898.


By 1643 a little village named Breucklen had come into existence along the highway to Flatbush about a mile from the ferry to Manhattan, the name having been taken from an old town in Holland. There were many ways of spelling the name before "Brooklyn" was finally accepted. A number of other villages developed in the neighborhood, and later became Flatbush, Flatlands, New Utrecht and Bushwick. In 1816 a limited area in the region of the present Borough Hall was incorporated as a village. In 1834 a city Charter was granted. Twenty years later Williamsburg and Bushwick were absorbed into Brooklyn. At the time of consolidation (1898) Brooklyn had a population of nearly one million.


This is the largest borough in area. As early as 1637 there were settlements by individual Dutch farmers within the area now known as Long island City. These were grants from the director-general and council at New Amsterdam, were under the supervision of the New Amsterdam government, and were known as "out Plantations". The remainder of the present borough was settled by colonists from New England. They received township government but modeled after the Dutch form. Among these villages may be mentioned Vlissingen (Flushing), Middleburg (Newtown), Heemstede (Hempstead and Rustdorp (Jamaica).


(Municipal ferry from foot of Whitehall Street every ten or fifteen minutes during the day time).

This borough consists of Staten Island which was formerly occupied by the Hackensack and Raritan Indians. It was Henry Hudson who gave the name "Staaten Eylandt" (Island of the States) in honor of the States-General of the Netherlands. The Indians first sold the island to Peter Minuit in 1630. The first active colonizer was Cornelis Melyn who received the land as a patroonship in 1640. Melyn and his colonists were always quarreling with Stuyvesant and they suffered terribly at the hands of the Indians in 1655. In the days of the English the question arose as to what province Staten island belonged. It was decided by the Duke of York that "all islands in the harbor that could be circumnavigated in twenty-four hours should belong to New York". Sailing around the island in that short time was not easily done in the 17th century, but it was finally accomplished by Captain Christopher Billopp and the island allotted to new York. The Captain's reward was a grant of 1163 acres in the southern part of the island. This included the area now known as Tottenville. The island was made into Richmond County in 1683; in 1688 it was divided into the towns of Northfield, Southfield, Westfield and Castleton. Middletown was established in 1860. In 1898 Richmond became one of the five boroughs of Greater New York.

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Website: The History
Article Name: The Five Boroughs of the City of New York: A Brief Historical Description
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Historical Handbook of the City of New York; Compiled by Mary F. Smart; Published by the City History Club of New York (1934)
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