Category Archives: New Amsterdam

Building The Wall: How Wall Street got its name

One of the first facts you learn as a student of New York City history is that Wall Street, that canyon of tall buildings and center of the American financial world, is named for an actual wall that once stretched along this very spot during the days of the Dutch when New York was known as New Amsterdam.

A simplistic but colorful view of “Man Mados” or “New Amsterdam” in 1664 (click in to inspect the detail)


There was most definitely a walled fortification nearby on New Amsterdam’s northern boundary, and it certainly did stretch along about the same area as Wall Street does today.

But the present name seems to be a formation of mixed meanings that only a tangle of languages and hundreds of years of history can create. The Dutch themselves referred to an actual street alongside the waterfront that ran up to and alongside the wall as the ‘Cingel’ — according to an old history, meaning “exterior, or encircling, street.

But ‘De Waal Straat’, as it was also known, was also the center of a small Walloon community in New Amsterdam, and some believe the name comes from them. The Walloons were French-speaking Belgians who were among the first European settlers, arriving in the New World as part of a contingent hired by the Dutch West India Company.

A map of New Amsterdam, indicating the layout from about 1644, well before a wall was constructed.


The real reasons for New Amsterdam building its famous wall are also up for grabs. It’s commonly held that an original wooden palisade was erected in 1644 in defense of Indian attacks, and certainly the residents of New Amsterdam did their part to rile the anger of the native landowners.

Below: A fanciful illustration from Harper’s Magazine, 1908, imagining New Amsterdam and the construction of the original ‘wall’.

But the Dutch had been living at the tip of Manhattan for over 25 years by the time the sturdier wall was built in 1653. In truth, it was commissioned to keep out a different sort of enemy.

You’ll be pleased to know that one-legged director-general Peter Stuyvesant was the man who ordered the construction of the wall — in his words, “to surround the greater part of the city with a high stockade and small breastwork” — to replace the inadequate wooden barrier that had previously marked the city’s northern border .

A model of New Amsterdam made in 1933, clearly showing how sudden the city borders stopped thanks to the wall.


This was an incredibly important year for New Amsterdam in two respects. In February 1653, New Amsterdam was chartered as a official Dutch city. Although Stuyvesant was quite against the outpost receiving such official recognition, he eventually took advantage of it, appointing the first town council himself rather than putting it up to such trivial inconveniences as elections.

But in 1653 the tides of the motherland spilled onto their shores, as the war between England and the Netherlands threatened the remote and undefended new city. The Dutch intended to launch ships from New Amsterdam harbor in battle against the English.

As a result, the English colonies up north were sure to retaliate, either by sea or, feared Stuyvesant, over land, possibly teaming with hostile Indian forces, down through undefended Manhattan island.

Essentially, the wall that helped give us Wall Street was built because Stuyvesant feared attacks not just from Indian tribes, but from the European colonies of Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Haven!

Looking at this more well known map of New Amsterdam – the Costello Plan of 1660 — one can see the two gates very clearly.

Stuyvesant called upon the 43 richest residents of New Amsterdam to provide funding to fix up the ailing Fort Amsterdam and to construct a stockade across the island to prevent attacks from the north, while it took New Amsterdam’s most oppressed inhabitants — slave labor from the Dutch West India Company — to actually build the wall.

The barrier was constructed out of earth, rock, and 15 feet timber planks sold to the Dutch, ironically enough, by the notorious Englishman Thomas Baxter. In a turnabout that one would expect from hiring your enemy, Baxter later led a group of Rhode Island marauders and pirated Dutch fishing ships.

Early in the 1660s, the Dutch upgraded its wall to include brass cannons and two sturdy gates — one at today’s intersection of Wall and Broadway (for land), the other at Wall and Pearl Street (according to an early account, a water gate and access to a ‘river road’).

Below: A detail from a map of New Amsterdam’s eastern side, clearly showing the water gate, and a illustration from 1908 of that eastern gate:

Internet Archives Book Images


The British took over New Amsterdam in 1664 and renamed it New York, but the wall still remained, becoming more a relic than a serious defense.

By the turn of the century, the fear of land attacks had almost completely subsided and the city was beginning to feel crowded. So in 1699 the wall was torn down with some of the material salvaged to help construct a new City Hall at the corner of Nassau Street and the newly cristened Wall Street. In 1711 a slave market was built on Wall Street along the eastern shore, remaining there until 1762.

When the British were forced out in 1783 by the Americans, the City Hall building was finally renamed Federal Hall — the first official center of American government.

A plaque honoring the old wall sits today at the corner of Wall and Broadway, where the gate to the city once opened:

The tragic tale of the Lenape, the original native New Yorkers

PODCAST The story of the Lenape, the native people of New York Harbor region, and their experiences with the first European arrivals — the explorers, the fur traders, the residents of New Amsterdam.

Before New York, before New Amsterdam – there was Lenapehoking, the land of the Lenape, the original inhabitants of the places we call Manhattan, Westchester, northern New Jersey and western Long Island.  This is the story of their first contact with European explorers and settlers and their gradual banishment from their ancestral land.

Fur trading changed the lifestyles of the Lenape well before any permanent European settlers stepped foot in this region. Early explorers had a series of mostly positive experiences with early native people.  With the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam, the Lenape entered into various land deals, ‘selling’ the land of Manhattan at a location in the area of today’s Inwood Hill Park.

But relations between New Amsterdam and the surrounding native population worsened with the arrival of Director-General William Kieft, leading to bloody attacks and vicious reprisals, killing hundreds of Lenape and colonists alike. Peter Stuyvesant arrives to salvage the situation, but further attacks threatened any treaties of peace.  But the time of English occupation, the Lenape were decimated and without their land.

And yet, descendants of the Lenape live on today in various parts of the United States and Canada.  All that and more in this tragic but important tale of New York City history.

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The long road of the Lenape. This 1978 map shows the path of their various relocations across the country in comparison with the relocation path of the Cherokee.

Ives Goddard, “Delaware,” in Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 15: Northeast, ed. Bruce Trigger and William Sturtevant (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution1 1978)
Ives Goddard, “Delaware,” in Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 15: Northeast, ed. Bruce Trigger and William Sturtevant (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution1 1978)


Henry Hudson’s interaction with the native people of the area would much later inspire a host of fanciful depictions.

From a 1909 postcard for the Hudson-Fulton Celebration

Hudson Trading With Indians On Manhattan Island
Hudson Trading With Indians On Manhattan Island


From an old textbook:

Courtesy The Baldwin Project
Courtesy The Baldwin Project


“‘Designed and etched for Bancroft’s History of the United States’ Written on image: ‘Sept. 7 1609’

Courtesy NYPL
Courtesy NYPL


From a 1915 textbook ‘A First Book In American History’ — “Hudson’s ship anchored again opposite the Catskill Mountains, and here he found some very friendly Indians, who brought corn, pumpkins, and to-bacco to sell to the crew. Still farther up the river Hudson visited a tribe onshore, and wondered at their great heaps of corn and beans. The chief lived in around bark house. Captain Hudson wasmade to sit on a mat and eat from a red wooden bowl. The Indians wished him to stay all night; they broke their arrows and threw them into the fire, to show their friendliness.

Internet Archive Book Images
Internet Archive Book Images


Behold New Amsterdam!



From another text book, this one from 1881:

New York Public Library
New York Public Library


From an 1876 print: ‘Treaty with the Indians at Fort Amsterdam.” Not sure what year this picture depicts but everybody has two legs, so no Peter Stuyvesant!



A well-known engraving by Aldert Meijer depicts New Amsterdam as being touched by the hand of providence.



A drawing of the 1926 purchase of Manhattan between the native population and Peter Minuit. Image is from Popular Science Magazine, 1909.


…clearly derived from


“Peter Minuit and the Swedes purchasing lands of the Indians.” Illustration dated 1890



William Kieft’s reputation as a vicious tyrant is made apparent here in this 1897 illustration captioned ‘Kieft’s Mode of Punishment.’



From the Delaware Indians website: “A painting by Lenape artist Jacob Parks (1890-1949), which depicts a Lenape family leaving their home on their reservation in Kansas in 1867. This area had been their home for over thirty-five years, and now the government told them they had to move to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).”

Courtesy Delaware Indians
Courtesy Delaware Indians


The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian is currently living in the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House. It’s a FREE museum so you should stop in anytime you’re in the Battery Park area.



For more information, you might like to check out these books and websites:

The First Manhattans: A History of the Indians of Greater New York by Robert S. Grumet

The Island At The Center Of The World by Russell Shorto

The Delaware Indians: A History by  C.A. Westanger

Native New Yorkers: The Legacy of the Algonquin People of New York by Evan T. Pritchard

The Official Site of the Delaware Tribe of Indians

Lenape Lifeways: An overview of Lenape life and customs

Removal History of the Delaware Tribe

New York City just opened up its New Amsterdam records, including Peter Stuyvesant’s rules for drinking responsibly

From A New and Accurate Map of the Entire New Netherland, engraving believed to be by Carolus Allard, courtesy the Department of Records  

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, the New York City Department of Records just blew the minds of history geeks everywhere.  They released the first batch of digitized documents from the first years of the city’s existence, back when it was the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam.

You can find the first batch of released documents at the city’s attractive new portal here.

This is the equivalent of pulling out old photo albums of you playing with birthday cake in your high chair.  This first round of documents show “the early development of the City’s government: ordinances drawn from the Records of New Amsterdam for the period of 1647 to 1661, and their corresponding translations, maintained by the Municipal Archives and Municipal Library.”

Don’t speak Dutch? No problem. Translations of the old ordinance pages pop up as you peruse them, and there are 19th century historical translations included underneath.

Below: The Duke’s Plan, drawn to celebrate the British take over of the Dutch property of New Amsterdam

This is the first round of documents provided by the Department of Records.  Future updates will feature “early documents granting lands to settlers in Brooklyn and Queens, maps and other primary resources.”

Peter’s Rules For Drinking Responsibly

Among these pages are the first edicts made by new director-general Peter Stuyvesant and the Common Council, including a laundry list of new restrictions regarding drinking and selling alcohol in the chaotic settlement.

The documents note that New Amsterdam’s excessive alcohol consumption “causes not only the neglect of honest handicraft and business, but also the debauching of the common man and the Company’s servants and what is still worse, of the young people from childhood up, who seeing the improper proceedings of their parents and imitating them leave the path of virtue and become disorderly.”

And so the following list of edicts were laid down including rules on bar fights, drinking on Sunday and providing liquor to Indians:

1. “Henceforth no new taproom, tavern or inn shall be opened.”

2. “The taverns, taprooms and inns, already established, may continue for at least four consecutive years, but in the meantime the owners shall be obliged to engage in some other honest business at this place.”

3. “The tavern-keepers and tapsters are allowed to continue in their business for four years at least, but only on condition, that they shall not transfer their former occupation.”

4. “The tavern keepers and tapsters shall henceforth not be allowed, to sell or give beer, wine, brandy or strong waters to Indians or provide them with it by intermediaries.”

5. “To prevent all fighting and mishaps they shall daily report to the Officer, whether anybody has been hurt or wounded at their houses, under the penalty of forfeiting their business and a fine of one pound Flemish for every hour after the hurt or wound has been inflicted and been concealed by the tapster or tavern-keeper.”

6. “The orders, heretofore published against unseasonable night tippling and intemperate drinking on the Sabbath, shall be obeyed by the tavern-keepers and tapsters with close attention.”

7. “They shall be held, not to receive any beer or wine or distilled waters into their houses or cellars, directly or indirectly, before they have so reported at the office of the Receiver.”

8. “Finally, all tavern-keepers and tapsters, who intend to continue in their occupation, shall eight days after the publication hereof present themselves in person and give their names to the Director General and Council and there solemnly promise, that they will faithfully obey what rules have been or may be made.”een o

r may be made…. March 10, 1648.
Images from the Municipal Library, also available on the site

The story of ‘Klein Klassje’, the New World’s first Roosevelt and the surprising origin of Roosevelt Street

New Amsterdam, the home of Claes Maartenszen van Rosenvelt (by Thomas Addis Emmet, courtesy NYPL)

The new Ken Burns seven-part documentary The Roosevelts: An Intimate History is underway on PBS, a sprawling look at one of New York’s most prominent families.  It began last night with the introduction of young Theodore Roosevelt, the sickly boy turned New York police commissioner. Tonight, in part two, he becomes the President of the United States.

With so many Roosevelts to speak about — and two clans of Roosevelts, named for their summer haunts Hyde Park and Oyster Bay — there wasn’t much time to mention the very first Roosevelt.  That is, the first ancestor to arrive in future North America — Claes Maartenszen van Rosenvelt.

Claes arrived to New Amsterdam sometime around 1649 or 1650, although possibly much earlier (some records say 1638), one of a number of Dutch settlers arriving at this outpost of the Dutch West India Company.  If the earlier dates are true, this puts Rosenvelt in the outpost during the years of William Keift, when New Amsterdam was a ragged company town, with a rudimentary civic structure and in constant fear of attack by the Lenape.

His wife is referred to in records as both Jannetje Samuels and Jannetie Thomas.  Keep in mind that with the paucity of extant records, a company-town’s inefficiencies, basic human error and the “peculiar method of naming people during Dutch times,” it’s incredible that we even have these names at all!

Many histories make note of Claes unusual nickname — Klein Klassje or Cleyn Claesjen (“Little Claes”) — perhaps meaning he was a short man or that there was a much larger Claes in town. It’s not inconceivable to think he was also “short” in social stature, not physical.

Brooklyn Bridge PierThe colony was whipped into a relatively more livable condition with the arrival of Peter Stuyvesant in 1647, and records list Claes as having a farm “situated back of Stuyvesant’s Bouwery, at present somewhere between Broadway and the East River, in the neighborhood of Tenth Street.” [source]

The couple had four children of which only one (Nicolas) took and kept the name Rosenvelt, which of course was modified over time into Roosevelt.

For decades, Manhattan once had a Roosevelt Street, named not for any of the later great leaders who would make the family famous, but (it’s believed) for either Nicolas or his son Jacobus. The family owned a profitable mill on a small stream which ran between the East River and the banks of Collect Pond. [source]

At right: the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge as seen from Roosevelt Street, 1876 (courtesy MCNY)

In the 19th century, Roosevelt Street was a dour place, rife with poverty and the downtrodden culture of South Street piers.  It was entirely erased in the 1950s with the creation of the Alfred E. Smith Houses.

Farewell New Amsterdam! Peter Stuyvesant vs the world, reflecting on the handover between the Dutch and the English

On August 26, 1664, English ships sailed into the harbor and essentially ran the Dutch out of their port town of New Amsterdam, renaming it New York.  Despite this momentous event, little actually changed for the townspeople themselves whose allegiances were more for their own livelihood and that of their neighbors, and less for the distant power who relied on the city as an anchor to the New World.

Nobody wanted a fight — not the English, not the residents.  The only one angling to defend the town was its director-general Peter Stuyvesant.

He had been director-general since 1647, transforming the scraggly outpost into, well, a slightly more presentable one. But for all his firm guidance — transforming the government, the infrastructure, the defenses of what would become one of the world’s great cities — it was still no match for a fleet of powerful warships.

But Stuyvesant wanted to fight.  His blood and toil had gone into improving this town. Perhaps he did not consider it the domain of the West India Company so much as his. He ripped up entreaties by the English which had promised safety to the townspeople of New Amsterdam. He attempted to corral the soldiers at Fort Amsterdam (its walls woefully unprepared for battle) and rally the spirits of the townfolk, but his provocations were ignored.  Angered that their ambitious leader would prefer battle over acquiescence, the residents presented Stuyvesant with a politely-worded remonstrance.

Everybody signed it, including Stuyvesant’s own son.  For the men and women of New Amsterdam, it was a document of peace.  For Stuyvesant, a surrender.

“…[W]e humbly, and in bitterness of heart, implore your Honors not to reject the conditions of so generous a foe, but to be pleased to meet him in the speediest, best and most reputable manner.  Otherwise, which God forbid, we are obliged to protest before God and the world; and to call down upon your Honors the vengeance of Heaven for all the innocent blood which shall be shed in consequence of your Honors’ obstinacy…” [source]

It became Peter Stuyvesant versus everyone.  If he did not back down, the subtext of the petition ensured he would be removed by force.

The following day, on August 27, a delegation of English advisers met with locals at Stuyvesant’s home at the Battery to arrange the handover and draft the so-called Articles of Capitulation.  Over the next few days, further assurances were made to the Dutch residences of New Amsterdam, securing their property and protecting their liberty and religious freedoms.

On September 8, 1664, the British flag was raised over Fort Amsterdam, now named Fort James, and the wild town of New Amsterdam officially became New York.

As the New York Times noted yesterday, nobody in New York is exactly celebrating this unusual anniversary.  There may not be any Dutch parades or ceremonies in Battery Park, but I suggest you take an hour or two over this Labor Day Weekend and appreciate the remnants of Dutch symbolism that sill exist in the city today, from the official state flag to the many street names that still reflect their Dutch origins.

Here are a few articles from the back catalog to inspire your appreciation of Dutch New York:

Smoke a Peter Stuyvesant! New Amsterdam leader becomes a cigarette, the “international passport to smoking pleasure” [link]

Boston vs. New York: You think this is just about sports? Origins of an epic rivalry, from Puritans to the Super Bowl [link]

Dr. Johannes La Montagne: Manhattan’s first physician [link]

How some rough Saint Patrick’s Day hangovers almost destroyed New Amsterdam [link]

Rediscovering the rediscovery of a 350-year-old city view [link]

Lovelace’s Tavern: Early New York history, under foot [link]

New York and Brooklyn’s first ferry — for a handful of wampum and the toot of a horn [link]

 — A Very Special New Amsterdam Christmas [link]

 — Name That Neighborhood: Wall Street Blues [link]

And our very old podcast on Peter Stuyvesant from 2007! [link]  You can also listen to it here.  This show is ancient.  We sound so young!  Our early shows were so brief,  so perhaps Stuyvesant is due a re-do in the near future.

Images courtesy New York Public Library

Smoke a Peter Stuyvesant! New Amsterdam leader becomes a cigarette, the “international passport to smoking pleasure”

Oh, that Peter Stuyvesant. He was all about luxury, high class athletic sport and international travel. The Concorde! Monte Carlo! Caviar!

Less than three centuries after the iconic Dutch director-general of New Amsterdam died at his palatial farm in today’s East Village, his name was employed to sell a brand of stylish, premium cigarette, still enjoyed today by smokers in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and other counties, most being places Peter Stuyvesant had no idea existed.

The cigarette was developed by a German company in the 1950s and soon became associated with an international sensibility due to its ‘American blend’ of various tobaccos from different countries. “The smell of the large far world: Peter Stuyvesant” went the slogan in 1958. It was test marketed in New York in 1957. Stuyvesant was not the only Dutch historical figure to make his cigarette debut that year; Rembrandt cigarettes also hit the streets of New York that year.

“Stuyvesant people having fun!” went the jingle, accompanied by rigorous activity that might prove challenging for those enjoying one too many of their advertised product:

By the 1980s, the Peter Stuyvesant cigarette was advertised as a high adventure, Donald Trump-like symbol of masculinity and wealth, trying to closely align with upper class leisure. In London, during the 1980s, the cigarette company even sponsored the Peter Stuyvesant Pops in London. In 2003, the cigarette was even bought by a British company, which would have disturbed the actual Peter Stuyvesant to no end.

The company even experimented with Peter Stuyvesant travel agencies in some places, clever ways to advertise their cigarettes in places with strict advertising laws.

The cigarette embodied the American ideal, a distillation of glamour, capitalism and excess, ‘further testimony to the adoption by European of American dreams’, according to author Alexander Stephan.  “Feel the Big Apple beat!” went this promotion in 1985. “It’s fun! It’s fabulous! It’s fast!”

Meanwhile, over in Brooklyn, the neighborhood which bore the Stuyvesant name (Bedford-Stuyvesant) was hardly tasting the fruits of prosperity advertised in Stuyvesant commercials half a world away. And it was hardly Polos and champagne in the East Village, the neighborhood which developed from Stuyvesant’s old farm to become the gritty backdrop for 1980s art and punk music.

Not that Stuyvesant cigarette executives turned their backs to the promotional opportunities provided by the fight for freedom and human rights. In 1989, employees in ‘Come Together’ shirts distributed Peter Stuyvesant cigarettes to East Berliners on their way to the vote in the election that would unite the former Soviet sector with West Berlin.

Here’s an older ad for you German speakers!

Tomorrow, the Bowery Boys will return to the world of Peter Stuyvesant in our newest podcast.

 Image at top courtesy Museum Victoria