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This page gives a very brief history of New York City, Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens.

New York City

New York City is the largest US city and one of the largest cities in the world. It has more than twice the number of people as any other city in the US. It is also one of the world's leading ports, as well as the number one destination of immigrants and travellers alike.

To fully grasp the sheer numbers of the city's populace, one need only look at a few census figures:

1790: 33,000
1800: 60,515
1900: 3.4 million
1930: 7 million
2000: 7.5 million

The New York region was first explored by Giovanni de Verrazano. In 1609, Henry Hudson established a Dutch claim to the area. It is alledged that Peter Minuit paid twenty-four dollars worth of merchandise for the area. From 1624-1626, the Dutch West India Company established the colony of New Netherland, with its main settlement of New Amsterdam located at the lower tip of Manhattan Island. Indigenous tribes were forced out of the area in a series of bloody battles. Peter Stuyvesant was then appointed the colony's first governor.

In 1664, the British, at war with the Netherlands, seized control of the colony. Under British control, it was split into two separate colonies - New York and New Jersey, after the Dukes of York and Jersey, respectively. Governor Stuyvesant was replaced by Richard Nicholls. The Dutch briefly won back control of the colonies in 1673. In 1683, the original twelve counties of New York State were formed, including Kings, New York and Richmond.

During the British colonial period, many New Yorkers were loyalists. However, New York's own Sons of Liberty forced the British from the city in 1775. The following year, New York declared its independence from Great Britain. General George Washington tried to defend the city, but after a series of losses at Harlem Heights and White Plains, the colonial army gave up New York City. The British would occupy the area until the end of the war.

In 1785, New York City became the first capitol of the United States. George Washington was inaugurated as the new country's first president at Manhattan's Federal Hall on April 30, 1789. New York City would remain the nation's capitol until 1790. It also remained the state capitol until 1797.

Alexander Hamilton founded the Bank of New York in 1784 and the beginning of the stock exchange in 1790. The Erie Canal was completed in 1825, opening the the Great Lakes region to expansion. An 1835 fire destroyed most of lower Manhattan. However, rebuilding the area not only brought new buildings, but the Croton water system.

The Civil War brought historic civil unrest to New York City. The Conscription Act called for a nation-wide draft into the Union military. However, one provision allowed for a substitute to be 'purchased' for three hundred dollars. From July 13 to July 16, 1863, the poor of New York City rioted in protest. They roamed the city, burning, looting and killing at will. It is estimated that 800 people were injured, with an unknown number killed. Eighteen African-Americans were hanged and 5 were drowned. Over 100 buildings were burned to the ground.

New York City adopted a new charter in 1898, making it a city of 5 boroughs. New York City was split into Manhattan and the Bronx, while the independent city of Brooklyn was annexed, along with Queens and Staten Island.

Orphan Trains
The poor areas of New York City in the 1800s were something taken from a nightmare. Cholera and tuberculosis were rampant. Thousands of children roamed the streets, picking up the nickname street arabs. Many of these children formed gangs. Police arrested children as young as 5 years of age. Other children sold matches and newspapers on the street to survive. There were problems with this from the start. There was no formal placement for these children. Handbills were handed out in potential farming areas. The children were then taken off the trains and placed on a platform for prospective 'parents' to examine. Many farmers viewed these children as a cheap source of labor. Many of the children were abused, though the exact numbers are not known.

The Statue of Liberty
This universal symbol of freedom was a gift from France to express the friendship our two countries had formed during the American Revolution. It is situated on Liberty Island (once known as Bedloe's Island) in New York Harbor, where it has been a beacon for millions of immigrants.

The statue was sculpted by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, while famed engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (who designed the Eiffel Tower) designed the framework. The intent was to have it finished by 1876, just in time for the American Centennial. It wouldn't be completed until July 1884. In the meantime, the pedestal was designed in the US by architect Richard M. Hunt.

The statue was disassembled into 350 pieces and shipped to the US in June 1885 on the French frigate, Isere. It would take 4 months to completely reassemble the statue and place it upon its pedestal. The statue was officially accepted and dedicated by President Grover Cleveland on October 28, 1886. It was declared a National Monument on Monday, October 15, 1924. In 1999, over 5 million people visited Liberty Island.

Facts on the Statue of Liberty

It is 305 feet, 1 inch in height from the ground to the tip of the torch

It is a 22 story climb to the crown

The total weight is 225 tons

Winds in excess of 50 mph cause the statue to sway 3 inches and the torch 5 inches

The tablet reads July 4, 1776 in Roman numerals and is held in the left hand

The proper name of the statue is Liberty Enlightening the World

Symbolism in the Statue of Liberty

The toga symbolizes the Republic of Rome

The torch symbolizes enlightenment

The 25 windows in the crown symbolize gemstones and Heaven's rays shining over the world

The 7 rays of the crown symbolize the both the 7 seas and 7 continents

The chains under her foot symbolize Liberty crushing the chains of slavery


The New Colussus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
with conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
a mighty woman with a torch
whose flame is imprisoned lightning,
and her name Mother of Exiles.

From her beacon-hand glows
world-wide welcome;
her mild eyes command the air-bridged harbor
that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands your storied pomp!"
cries she with silent lips.

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Emma Lazarus 1849-1887


The Bronx is the only mainland borough of New York's five boroughs. It is 42 square miles in size, comprised of approximately 80 miles of waterfront and is the center of shipping, warehouses and textiles.

The Keskeskeck Indians sold the area to the Dutch West India Company in 1639. In 1641, Jonas Bronck purchased 500 acres. The area became a home for religious dissenters and New England settlers.

The Bronx was acquired from Westchester County in two stages in 1874 and 1895. In 1898, it was incorporated into the City of New York, but remained part of New York County. In 1912, the Bronx became its own separate county.

The Bronx is home to the Bronx Zoo - one of the world's most notable zoological gardens - and the World Champion New York Yankees. The 1990 population of the borough stood at just over 1.2 million people.

The New York Yankees

No baseball team has won more pennants or World Series titles than the Yankees. Many of baseball's greatest players have worn pinstripes.

The team began as the Baltimore Orioles in 1901 when the American League was first established. In 1903, they moved to New York City and changed their name to the New York Highlanders. The year 1920 saw the most controversial trade in baseball history when Babe Ruth was acquired from the Boston Red Sox for a mere one-hundred-twenty-five thousand dollars. It was the beginning of not only the Yankees' dominance in baseball, but also of the Curse of the Babe. In 1923, Yankee Stadium, the House that Ruth built, was erected.

From 1921-1964, the Yankees won 29 pennants and 20 World Series titles. The 1927 team is considered to be the greatest team in history. Six members of that storied team have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Earle Combs, Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock. Manager Miller Huggins was also inducted.

The Yankees three-peated World Series victories in 1998, 1999 and 2000.


Brooklyn is the most heavily populated of New York City's five boroughs, with a 2000 population of just over 2.4 million people. The borough is vital to the United States for its important industrial setting and it is home to one of the country's leading seaports, due to its extensive waterfront facilities. Brooklynites have the most recognizable dialect in the United States with youse guyz, Toid Avenew and the command, Kamere.

Brooklyn was originally inhabited by the Canarsie Indians. They were pushed out when the Dutch and English settled in the area in 1636-1637. Around the year 1645, Dutch farmers formed the hamlet of Breuckelen, named after a village in Holland. Breuckelen, Anglicized to Brooklyn, is near the present-day area of Borough Hall. In 1664, the six towns of Brooklyn were formed: Brooklyn, Bushwick, Flatbush, Nieuw Amersfoort (aka Flatlands), Gravesend and New Utrecht. The County of Kings was established in 1683.

Brooklyn was chartered as an independent city in 1834; the village of Brooklyn was incorporated in 1876. In 1898, with a population of 830,000, it became the borough of Brooklyn. Though once home to the beloved baseball team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, (Da Bums), Brooklyn's most famous landmark is the beautiful Brooklyn Bridge.

If Brooklyn were an independent city, it would be the 4th largest city in the United States.

Brooklyn Bridge

In 1802, a petition was received by the New York State Legislature to build a bridge over the East River, connecting Brooklyn with Manhattan. The bill would stagnate for a few decades until being approved in 1866.

The New York Bridge Company was chartered to build the bridge. Design engineers John Augustus Roebling and Wilhelm Hildenbrand were signed on. All went well until Roebling died of lockjaw on July 22, 1869. His son, Civil War hero Washington Roebling, stepped in as chief engineer. That year, President US Grant signed the bill approving the construction. Work began in 1870.

The Brooklyn Bridge officially opened on May 24, 1883. That first day, 150,300 people crossed on foot, while 1,800 vehicles made the journey. The initial bridge toll for opening day was one cent, which was raised to 3 cents the next day. In 1998, 2001 people crossed on foot while 144,000 vehicles crossed daily.

The Brooklyn Bridge is 3,455 feet 6 inches in length. At the time she was built, it was the first steel cable suspension bridge - 50% longer than any other bridge at that time. Her construction also saw the first use of pneumatic caissons. On a humorous note, it is the most purchased bridge in world history!


Queens is one of the two New York City boroughs that sits on the north-western end of Long Island. (Brooklyn is the other borough.) It is 118 square miles in size, with a 2000 population of just over 2.2 million people.

Queens derived its name from Catherine of Braganza, the Princess of Portugal who became Queen of England in 1662. It was one of the original counties of New York, formed on November 1, 1683. At that time, Queens included all of Nassau County and part of Suffolk County. The first known settlements in Queens were Astoria, Hunters Point and Dutch Kills (circa 1637). Under the New Netherland settlement, the original towns of Queens were Newton - now Elmhurst (1642), Flushing (1645), Jamaica (1656) and Far Rockaway (1644).

The American Revolution bitterly divided the people of Queens - Whig vs. Tory. When the British captured Long Island in 1776, many people were forced to flee for their lives. The British occupied Queens for 7 years.

Queens remained a wholly rural area until the 1830s, when the spectacular growth of New York City and neighboring Brooklyn exerted change on the countryside. An 1848 law prohibited burials in lower Manhattan for health reasons. Due to this, large cemeteries were opened in western Queens.

Queens is known for its enclaves of ethnicity. The Famine Irish settled mostly in Astoria (with some in Jamaica and Flushing), while the Germans settled in Middle Village.

The 1894 referendum for the consolidation of boroughs was bitterly opposed by the town of Flushing. However the towns of Jamaica, Newtown and Long Island City firmly agreed to it. In 1898, Queens was incorporated into the City of New York.

The 1939 World's Fair put Queens on the national map. Preparations for the Fair began in 1936 with the building of the Whitestone Bridge, the widening of Astoria Boulevard and the elimination of the Corona Dumps. (The Corona Dumps were immortalized as the 'valley of ashes' by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby.)

Rootsweb Lists
The following lists, courtesy of Rootsweb, may be of interest for their historical and genealogical discussions:

First Ladies is the place to discuss our First Ladies and the impact they had.

Mariners, is for the discussion of all vessels and people who worked on the waters throughout history. Be sure to visit the corresponding website. NOTE: Messages pertaining to passenger lists, migration, immigration and naturalization are not allowed!

Native American Chiefs is for anyone with an interest in the great chiefs of various American Indian tribes.

New Netherland is for anyone with an interest in Colonial New York or New Jersey.

NY Freedmen is for anyone with an intereset in the freedmen of New York State.

Witch Trials is for anyone with an interest in the trials of those accused of witchcraft. This list is not geared towards one geographic area.

Online Resources

View images from the 1939 New York World's Fair. Click on the postcard to see photos and other images.

Revisit the awe-inspiring scenery of the 1964 New York World's Fair courtesy of UCLA. Site includes a short history of the Fair as well as a virtual tour of the pavillions.

Spend some time at the Empire State Building without leaving home. The official website of the Gorilla Building, voted Skyscraper of the Millenium by ASCE, offers a webcam, virtual tour, gift shop and even a children's trivia contest. You'll also find the lighting schedule, new security procedures and instructions on how to order tickets.

Find A Grave is a fascinating listing of the famous and infamous buried around New York State. Includes short bios, cemetery locations, and sometimes a link to a photo.

You can't learn the history of New York during the Revolutionary War period without hearing of Fraunces Tavern. This official website is both fascinating and informative. View photos of flags, including the US flag from when New York City was the nation's capitol; photos of the room where Gen. George Washington bed farewell to his troops and read a brief history of NYC through the colonial period. You will also find an online exhibit as well as links to the Fraunces Tavern Society and restaurant.

The FDNY site provided by the City of New York is the official website of New York's Bravest. Here you will find the histories of fire companies, stories & updates, as well as photos.

This unofficial website for the FDNY offers stories from September 11.

The NYPD website is the official website of New York's Finest. Read of current news of the men and women in blue and tributes to those lost on September 11.

The NY Police Museum offers no online exhibits, but has interesting links as well as an online store.

The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey official website gives no history, but does offer important contact information.

Christopher Gray's article Researching the History of a Building is a fascinating story of his efforts to aid a fellow researcher obtain the history of a specific building in New York City. Full of great tips and advice.

A Syosset Scrapbook offers charming old photographs of old Syosset.

New York History offers a fascinating look into a slave's road to freedom with The Underground Railroad in New York State. Includes maps, history, the people and the places.