The Founding of New York Chapter I

A Series of Articles Written by Thomas A. Janvier for the New York Times, In commemoration of the 250th Anniversary of the Founding of the City of New York.
Chapter I: The Planting of the City

This earth of ours was a much more interesting planet to live on 300 years ago than it is nowadays: when all the coasts of it are charted, and when all the oceans of it are known. In those agreeably ignorant old times sailor men went seafaring in little ships that could be stowed by the half dozen in the hold of a modern liner; and all that they could be sure about when starting on their voyages was that they would fall in with a good many surprises, and that they would do a good many things which they did not at all expect to do, before they got back home. And along with those uncertainties, which gave a very lively zest to ocean travel went the probability that the voyage while it might and well__would end in accomplishing something widely different from the purpose for which it was planned. Therefore the sailor men of 300 years ago had to keep their eyes open and their wits about them in readiness to perceive the value for trading purposes of the strange countries which they stumbled upon as they went sailing over strange seas. These several facts must be kept in mind when we think about the beginning of our local history. They bear upon it directly. It was just by an accident that would be impossible nowadays that a navigator sailing in the Dutch service found our harbor; but it was "because that navigator did have his eyes open and his wits about him that Dutch merchants were led to establish on our island the fur-traders' camp that has grown to be our City of New York.

The practical discoverer of our harbor, and the actual discoverer of our river was an Englishman named Henry Hudson. (His name often is written "Hendrick," giving the impression that he was a Dutchman. This is an error. In the contract, in Dutch, that was made between him and his Dutch employers, he is referred to as "Henry Hudson, Englishman.") But nearly a century before Hudson's time, in the year 1524, two other European explorers__Verazzano, an Italian sailing in the French service: and Gomez, a Portuguese sailing in the Spanish service came in past Sandy Hook; and one of them, Verazzano, came up through the Narrows in a little boat and had a sight of the Upper Bay. But no practical results followed their discovery, and to Hudson therefore belongs the honor of having opened our port to the world. The discovery of our river belongs to Hudson absolutely. He was its first European explorer. Justly, therefore, the river is known by his name.

When Hudson started from Holland, April 6, 1609, on the voyage that brought him into New York Harbor he was under strict orders to go in a directly opposite direction. He was hired by the Dutch East India Company to go out in one of their ships a little vessel named the Half Moon of only eighty tons burden, about the size of our smallest coasting schooners of today to search for a northeast passage that would be a short cut to the Indies and to China. The course that he was ordered to follow would have taken him past the North Cape, and onward past Nova Zembla. He did follow that course until he was past the North Cape. Then he came to great fields of floating ice which blocked his way; and got into a region of intense cold "which some of his men, who had been in the East Indies, could not bear," and so broke out into mutiny.

That was the beginning of the accident that ended in his finding our harbor. Partly because the ice hindered his advance, partly to quiet the mutineers, he broke through his orders and headed his ship westward: in the hope that he might find a passage through the continent of America that would be the sought-for short cut to the East. This seems foolishness, and would be impossible, now; but it was not foolishness, and it did not seem impossible, then. In those days, as I have said, when coasts were uncharted and oceans were unknown, there were great chances that happy surprises might attend upon bold searching: and Hudson was as bold a searcher as ever lived.

Of course Hudson did not find his short cut eastward; but as the result of that accidental turn-about he did find also by accident the entrance to our harbor, and within the harbor the island on which New York stands today. That great finding was begun on the 3d of September, 1609, when the Half Moon came in past Sandy Hook; and was completed on the 11th of September, when she sailed onward through the Narrows and came to an anchor in the Upper Bay. During the ensuing month Hudson made his exploring voyage of what then became Hudson's River, getting about as far as where Albany now stands: and then, on the 5th of October, went out past Sandy Hook and away for home.

As Hudson had not discovered the passage to the East that he had been sent to look for, his voyage, in one way, was a failure. But, in another way, it was a success. At that time a great trade in furs was carried on between Holland and Russia: and the Dutch fur-traders were quick to perceive, when Hudson's report of his voyage was published, that the country which he had found abounding in beaver and in other fur-bearing animals would be better than Russia was for their purposes. And so, in the Summer following his return, in July, 1610, they sent here a ship to begin the fur trade. The sending of that ship is a matter of great interest: because it was the first ship t hose which preceded it having got here by accident that ever sailed from Europe under specific orders to come to this port; and because it was the first ship that entered this port solely for purposes of trade. With its coming, therefore, began the commerce of New York.

There was so much profit in the trade then opened that other ships quickly followed that first one to engage in it; and before long in order to have somebody always ready here to buy furs when an Indian happened along with a pack to sell some of the Dutch traders made a camp on our island, and lived in it while their vessels went and came across the sea. At that time the island was a wild region, a large part of it covered with forest, and its inhabitants were wild Indians and wild beasts. The Indians called themselves the Manhattes or something like that, we cannot be certain about it because of the queer notions of spelling that people had in t hose days and from the name of their tribe the name of our island, Manhattan, came. it is pleasant to know that in those early years the Dutch got along very well with the Indians: treating them kindly, and getting kindly treatment in return.

I wish that we knew with certainty the year in which those Dutch traders began to live here. But that date never has been fixed. Probably the camp had its beginning in the Autumn of the year 1613: because at that time one of the Dutch ships was burned here, and the sailors belonging to her remained on our island through the Winter and busied themselves in building a little vessel called the Onrust, or Restless, that they launched in the following Spring. She was a very little vessel of only 16 tons burden: but she has a very dignified place in our annals being the ancestor of all t he ships that ever have been built here: and of all the ships that ever will be built here in all coming time. But while we do not know certainly the date when the camp of the fur-traders was set up and set up without any thought of permanence we do know certainly that it stood just below where the Bowling Green now is, at the foot of Broadway, close upon the site where now stands the Produce Exchange. And we also know that that little temporary camp was the beginning of New York.

From what I have written it is evident that our city started in a very happy-go-lucky way. Hudson, who was looking for something else, happened to find our island; some enterprising merchants, who happened to hear of his finding, sent traders here to get furs; and the fur-traders, who never even dreamed that they were founding a great city, just picked out a good camping place down there at the foot of Broadway and pitched their camp. I sometimes think as I observe how careless we are apt to be of the honor and of the welfare of our city; how often in the past we have suffered it to be badly governed because we would not take the trouble to have it well governed that there was a touch of very uncomfortable prophecy in that happy-go-lucky start.

                                                                                                                                                     THOMAS A. JANVIER

Note: Thomas A. Janvier is the author of "In Old New York," "In Great Waters," "The Passing of Thomas," "In the Sargasso Sea," "The Uncle of an Angel," and "The Aztec Treasure House."


Website: The History
Article Name: The Founding of New York Chapter I
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


The New York Times May 25, 1903 Page: 8
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