The New York area was first discovered by the Europeans when Henry Hudson, the English captain of the Dutch East India Company vessel De Halve Maen, laid anchor at Sandy Hook, before sailing up what is now known as the Hudson River.
In 1614 Dutch merchants established a trading post at Fort Orange. Ten years later thirty families came from Holland to establish a settlement that became known as New Netherland. The Dutch government gave exclusive trading rights to the Dutch West India Company and over the next few years other colonists arrived a large settlement was established on Manhattan Island.
Peter Minui, who became governor of New Netherland, purchased the island from Native Americans in 1626 for $24 worth of trinkets, beads and knives. The chief port on Manhattan was named New Amsterdam. To encourage further settlement, the Dutch West India Company offered free land along the Hudson River. Families who came from Holland to establish estates in this area included the Roosevelts, the Stuyvesants and the Schuylers.
Peter Stuyvesant became governor in 1646 and during his eighteen year administration, the population grew from 2,000 to 8,000. Descendants of these early settlers included three presidents of the United States: Martin Van Buren (1837-41), Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09) and Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-45).
In 1664 the English fleet arrived and demanded the surrender of the New Netherlands. Peter Stuyvesant wanted to fight but without the support of the other settlers, he was forced to allow the English to take control of the territory. New Amsterdam was now renamed New York, after the Duke of York (the future James II). Other name changes included Albany (Fort Orange), Kingston (Wiltwyck) and Wilmington (Fort Christina). New York City occupies Manhattan and Staten islands, the western end of Long Island, several islands in New York Harbor and Long Island Sound and a portion of the mainland.
Fernando Wood, a leading figure in the Tammary Society, served as mayor of the city (1855-59 and 1859-61). Wood was considered to be corrupt and was severely criticised for his opposition to the American Civil War. Wood made several speeches attacking President Abraham Lincoln and was blamed for causing the Draft Riots in July, 1863.
Samuel Gompers arrived in New York in 1863: "New York in those days had no skyscrapers. Horse tram cars ran across town. The buildings were generally small and unpretentious. Then, as now, the East Side was the home of the latest immigrants who settled in colonies making the Irish, the German, the English, and the Dutch, and the Ghetto districts. Father began making cigars at home and I helped him. Our house was just opposite a slaughter house. All day long we could see the animals being driven into the slaughter-pens and could hear the turmoil and the cries of the animals. The neighborhood was filled with the penetrating, sickening odor."
In 1870 William Tweed, with the support of the Tammary Society, was appointed as commissioner of public works in New York. This enabled Tweed to carry out wholesale corruption. For example, he purchased 300 benches for $5 each and resold them to the city for $600. Tweed also organised the building of City Hall Park. Originally estimated to cost $350,000, by the time it was finished, expenditure had reached $13,000,000.
Information about Tweed's corrupt activities were passed to Thomas Nast, a cartoonist working for Harper's Weekly. Nast now began a campaign to expose Tweed's corruption. Tweed was furious and told the editor: "I don't care a straw for your newspaper articles, my constituents don't know how to read, but they can't help seeing them damned pictures."
On 21st July, the New York Times published the contents of the New York County ledger books. This revealed that thermometers were costing $7,500 and brooms were being charged at a staggering $41,190 apiece. Tweed's friends were commissioned to do the work. George Miller, a carpenter, was paid $360,747 for a month's labour, whereas James Ingersoll received $5,691,144 for furniture and carpets.
In 1871 Samuel Tilden established a committee to look into Tweed's activities. Jimmy O'Brien, the sheriff of New York, believed Tweed was not paying him enough money for his services. Disgruntled, he passed documents to Tilden's committee. Tweed was arrested and found guilty of corruption, was sentenced to 12 years in jail. William Grace (1880-88) was another mayor who was investigated for corruption.
John Kelly and Richard Croker, of the Tammary Society held power in New York after the removal of William Tweed from power. They held various posts and were constantly being accused of financial irregularities. Charles Parkhurst, the president of the Society for the Prevention of Crime, led the campaign against city corruption, but Croker remained in power until 1901 when he was defeated by Seith Low.
The journalist, Lincoln Steffens, has argued that Low was a successful mayor: "The mayor of New York, Seth Low, was a business man and the son of a business man, rich, educated, honest, and trained to his political job. Seth Low and his party in power and his backers were not radicals in any sense. Mr. Low himself was hardly a liberal; he was what would be called in England a conservative. He accepted the system; he took over the government as generations of corrupters had made it, and he was trying, without any fundamental change, and made it an efficient, orderly business-like organization for the protection and the furtherance of all business, private and public." His good work was continued by John Mitchel (1913-17) and Fiorello La Guardia (1932-1944).
In the 19th century New York became the home of an increasing number of European immigrants. In 1890 over 640,000 people living in the city had been born in Europe. This was 42 per cent of the 1,515,000 population and included large numbers from Germany (211,000), Ireland (190,000), Russia (49,000), Austria-Hungary (48,000), Italy (40,000) and England (36,000).
Jacob Riis wrote about the migration to New York in his book, How the Other Half Lives (1890): "Ever since the civil war New York has been receiving the overflow of coloured population from the Southern cities. In the last decade this migration has grown to such proportions that it is estimated that our Blacks have quite doubled in number since the Tenth Census.... Cleanliness is the characteristic of the Negro in his new surroundings, as it was his virtue in the old. In this respect he is immensely the superior of the lowest of the whites, the Italians and the Polish Jews, below whom he has been classed in the past in the tenant scale. This was shown by an inquiry made last year by the Real Estate Record. It proved agents to be practically unanimous in the endorsement of the Negro as a clean, orderly, and profitable tenant. Poverty, abuse, and injustice alike the Negro accepts with imperturbable cheerfulness."
By 1910 the number of people living in the city that had been born in Europe had increased to 1,944,000. The major groups now came from Russia (484,000), Italy (341,000), Germany (278,000), Austria-Hungary (267,000) and Ireland (253,000).
Of the 5,400,000 immigrants who arrived in the United States between 1820 and 1860, about 3,700,000 entered in New York. Ellis Island, an area of about 27 acres 1.6 km southwest of Manhattan Island, served as the country's major immigration station between 1892 and 1924. During this period and estimated 17 million people were processed by the immigration authorities. From 1943 until 1954 Ellis Island was used as a detention station for aliens and deportees.
New York City occupies Manhattan and Staten islands, the western end of Long Island, several islands in New York Harbor and Long Island Sound and a portion of the mainland. The city area comprises 304 square miles (787 square km) and has a population over 7,300,000 and is the largest urban agglomeration in the United States.