Tag Archives: New Amsterdam

Before Harlem: The Stories of New York’s Forgotten Black Communities

PODCAST The history of African-American settlements and neighborhoods which once existed in New York City

Today we sometimes define New York City’s African-American culture by place – Harlem, of course, and also Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant, neighborhoods that developed for groups of black residents in the 20th century.

But by no means were these the first in New York City. Other centers of black and African-American life existed long before then. In many cases, they were obliterated by the growth of the city, sometimes built over without a single marker, without recognition.

This is the story of a few of those places.  From the ‘land of the blacks‘ — the home to New Amsterdam and British New York’s early black population — to Seneca Village, a haven for black lives that was wiped away by a park. From Little Africa — the Greenwich Village sector for the black working class in the late 19th century — to Sandy Ground, a rural escape in Staten Island with deep roots in the neighborhood today.

And then there’s Weeksville, Brooklyn, the visionary village built to bond a community and to develop a political foothold.

Greg welcomes Kamau Ware (of the Black Gotham Experience) and Tia Powell Harris of the Weeksville Heritage Center to the show.

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Google MusicStitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #230: BEFORE HARLEM: New York’s Forgotten Black Communities

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The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

________________________________________________________________________

Three boys from Sandy Ground, Staten Island, circa 1912.

Staten Island Historical Society

More information about the Black Gotham Experience here, including a list of walking tours.  Check out the websites for Weeksville Heritage Center and the Sandy Ground Historical Society for more information about visiting hours and tours.

Have plans tomorrow (Saturday, June 10)? Both the Black Gotham Experience and Weeksville Heritage Center have daytime events. Stop by and see both of them!

 

 

This map of Seneca Village was made by Andy Proehl illustrating what the settlement looked like in the years before its destruction.

Courtesy Andy Proehl/Flickr

The approximate area via Google Maps. The Great Lawn now sits on the spot where the reservoir is.

The approximate area of Little Africa. The map is from 1889.

NYPL via Greenwich Village Society of Historical Perseveration

Richard Hoe Lawrence and Jacob Riis’s images of a “Black and Tan” dive bar on Broome Street near Wooster Street, 1890.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

 

Minetta Lane, circa 1900.

MCNY

The approximate location of Weeksville, Brooklyn

Wikipedia

 

Brooklyn Public Library

The three surviving houses today

 

 

The picture at top features an African-American family posed in front of the John Brown Homestead in Torrington, Connecticut, circa 1890s-1900. I particularly love this picture (despite it not being in New York City) because the house is reminiscent of the Weeksville houses and those that were in Sandy Ground.

 

Connecticut Historical Society

 

Regrettably there are not a huge trove of photographs of any of the places mentioned in the podcast. If you know of any photography websites or resources, please leave the information in the comments so others may check them out. Thanks!

Bronx Trilogy: The Bronx Is Born — Before It Was A Borough 1638-1874

PODCAST A history of the land which would become the Bronx, from the first European settlement to its debut in 1874 as New York’s Annexed District.

The story of the borough of the Bronx is so large, so spectacular, that we had to spread it out over three separate podcasts!

In Part One — The Bronx Is Born — we look at the land that is today’s borough, back when it was a part of Westchester County, a natural expanse of heights, rivers and forests occasionally interrupted by farm-estates and modest villages.  Settlers during the Dutch era faced grave turmoil; those that came afterwards managed to tame the land with varying results.  Speculators were everyone; City Island was born from the promise of a relationship with the city down south.

During the Revolutionary War, prominent families were faced with a dire choice — stay with the English or side with George Washington’s Continental Army? One prominent family would help shape the fate of the young nation and leave their name forever attached to one of the Bronx’s oldest neighborhoods. Sadly that family’s legacy is under-appreciated today.

By the 1840s, Westchester County was at last connected to New York via a new railroad line. It was a prosperous decade with the development of the area’s first college, a row of elegant homes and some of its very first ‘depot towns’.  Two decades later, the future borough would even cater to the dead — both the forgotten (at Hart Island) and the wealthy (Woodlawn Cemetery).

The year 1874 would mark a new chapter for a few quiet towns and begin the process of turning this area into the borough known as the Bronx.

FEATURING: Many places in the Bronx that you can visit today and experience this early history up close, including Wave Hill, Pelham Bay Park, Woodlawn Cemetery, City Island and more.

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #212: BRONX TRILOGY (PART 1) THE BRONX IS BORN

___________________________________________________________________________

The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

________________________________________________________________________

In this 1896 Robert Bracklow photograph, a solitary woman stands by the Bronx River, looking almost completely unchanged from how it would have looked when Jonas Bronck saw it.

MNY16942
Museum of the City of New York

A 1914 illustration recounting the tale of Jonas Bronck:

Museum of the City of New York
Museum of the City of New York

Another book illustration, this one of the massacre of Anne Hutchinson and her family.

NYPL
NYPL

 

The Split Rock as it appeared in 1910, with a memorial plaque to Anne and her family and no highways anywhere around it. The rock today has no plaque but the impression of one can still be seen.

Courtesy MCNY
Courtesy MCNY

An auction map of the Bronx from 1910, highlighting the area of Throg’s Neck which gets its name from Throckmorton or Throgmorton.

NYPL
NYPL

 

The King’s Bridge from an 1856 illustration.

nypl.digitalcollections.510d47e2-eba4-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.001.w
NYPL

The town of Westchester in the East Bronx, pictured here in 1872. Throg’s Neck is in the lower portion of the map. Today’s neighborhood of Soundview comprises the green portion.

NYPL
NYPL

The village of Morrisania, pictured here in 1860, which arose from land owned by the Morrises after the railroad encouraged a row of ‘depot towns’.

MCNY
MCNY

 

St Ann’s Episcopal Church in Morrisania, where both Lewis and Gouverneur Morris (and Gouverneur’s wife Ann) are buried.

M3Y33813
Courtesy MCNY

A view of St. Ann’s today:

IMG_0079 IMG_0078 IMG_0081

 

The Van Cortlandt Mansion then (in 1906)…

4a13693r

 

And today (featuring George Washington’s room):

IMG_0057 IMG_0067

The old City Island monorail from 1910

LOC
LOC

mono

The old City Island Bridge, the only way on or off the island that’s not a boat. That remains true to this day, although the bridge is much sturdier-looking today!

MCNY
MCNY

The old City Island Cemetery with Hart Island in the distance.

IMG_0088

Breathtaking Wave Hill and the grounds which provide an unbelievable view of the Hudson River and the Palisades.

IMG_0024 IMG_0021

 

Here’s Tom, getting a peek inside George M Cohan’s mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery:

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Jerome Park Racetrack where the Belmont Stakes were first run in 1867.

Jerome_Park_Racetrack_1868

From Harpers Weekly, 1886:

jerome

 

The former (awkward) location of Edgar Allan Poe’s cottage. It has since been moved to the Grand Concourse.

MN162570 MNY220989

 

And finally — Gouverneur Morris’ mansion which — believe it or not — stood at the foot of St. Ann’s Avenue until the 20th century.

MCNY
MCNY

 

We want to give a big thanks to the Bronx Historical Society, Wave Hill, Woodlawn Cemetery and St. Ann’s Episcopal Church for helping us with our research. Keep coming back to the blog throughout the month of September as we’ll have additional stories about these places and others.

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.

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #206: THE LENAPE: THE REAL NATIVE NEW YORKERS

___________________________________________________________________________

The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

________________________________________________________________________

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!

fortamsterdampostcard

 

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!

NYPL
NYPL

 

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

NYPL
NYPL

 

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

NYPL
NYPL

…clearly derived from

 

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

NYPL
NYPL

 

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

NYPL
NYPL

 

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.

custom-house

 

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 archives.nyc

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.

Whip it! Early Valentine’s Day custom in old New York involved public displays of flirtatious flagellation

In old New York, there was a curious Valentine’s Day custom involving young women running around town whipping men with rope.

Yes, you read that correctly.  This form of socially acceptable violence was popular in the colonial era and extended well into the early 1800s.  It derives from a tradition practiced as part of an early Dutch holiday known as Vrowen Dagh* (or Woman’s Day) and was likely popular among the young ladies of New Amsterdam, New York’s precursor.

According to the 1850 history ‘Rural Hours’ written by Susan Fenimore Cooper (daughter of James), “[e]very mother’s daughter … was furnished with a piece of cord, the size neither too large or too small” and fitted with a “due length left to serve as a lash.”  Cooper elaborates on this playfully violent custom:

“On the morning’s of this Vrowen Dagh, the little girls — and some large ones, too, probably for the fun of the thing — sallied out, armed with such a cord, and every luckless wight of a lad that was met received three or four strokes from this feminine lash.”

Young men of marrying age dashed from place to place, fearful of being flirtatiously struck in this whirlwind of flying rope.

At left: Woman with a whip, 1780

“Every lad whom they met was sure to have three or four smart strokes from the cord bestowed on his shoulders,” writer Gabriel Furman recalled in 1875.  “These, we presume, were in those days considered as ‘love-taps’, and in that light answered all the purposes of the ‘valentine’ of more modern times, as the lasses were not very likely to favor those with their lashes whom they did not otherwise prefer.”

There obviously seems to be some statement about domestic violence in this practice.  At one point, injured males suggested the following day be a “Men’s Day,” allowing men to chase women around with these braided whips.  But they were told “the law would thereby defeat its very own purpose, which was, that they should, at an age and in a way most likely never to forget it, receive the lesson of manliness — he is never to strike.” [source]

At some point in New York, this custom actually did blend with the English custom of Valentine’s Day, and young women of the colonial era continued enjoying this frivolous custom — in fact, well into the early 1800s.  It blessedly vanished by the mid-19th century, replaced with the more recognizable gesture of sending valentines through the mail.

“We heard that 20,000 [valentines] passed through the New  York office last year,” Cooper writes in 1850.  But it seems the writer had grown tired of even this custom. “They are going out of favor now, however, having been much abused of late years.”

*I think the actual Dutch word would be Vrouwendag but I’m preserving the original spelling from Fenmore and Furman’s text. An 1832 Dutch dictionary says Vrouwendag means ‘Lady Day’!

Vintage valentine and whip lady 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

Dr. Johannes La Montagne: Manhattan’s first physician


Nothing underscores the harshness of early New Amsterdam more than the notion that the Dutch settlement, which first formed at the tip of Manhattan in 1625, didn’t actually have a trained physician for almost twelve years.

Most likely, in these earliest years, medical emergencies were handled by ship surgeons and non-professionals skilled in a set of rudimentary practices. More practiced professionals eventually came, such as the man who can lay claim to being Manhattan’s first practicing physician Johannes La Montagne (also known as Jean Mousnieer de la Montagne), a Huguenot who arrived in 1637 and initially settled outside the colony in the village of Haarlem.

Johannes soon became “the only doctor in Manhattan in whom the settlers had any confidence,” practicing surprisingly sophisticated innovations in Dutch medicine.

Shockingly, before La Montagne, if one needed actual surgery, one went to the barber. According to one old history, “it might be remarked that at that time barbers were commonly looked upon as surgeons. Any skilled barber was likely to be applied to for surgical procedures.”

These ‘barber-surgeons’, adroit in “performing minor operations“, mostly worked on ships and were hardly skilled in the modern advances of 17th century medicine. Eventually La Montagne was able to regulate these barber-surgeons himself, issuing permits to those practicing in the colony and even those who sailed out of New Amsterdam ports.

Like the millions of doctors who would follow in his footsteps, Johannes would soon benefit handsomely from his expertise, gaining a vote in the first official voting council of the new colony under director-general William Kieft.

Johannes was also the first of many Manhattan physicians who was also versed in the art of networking; within a year he became Kieft’s right hand man and an extension of of the director-general’s wishes, however misguided. He even briefly took over a small farm (around the area of upper Central Park today) maintaining the production of tobacco.

Unfortunately, this devotion to Kieft and the desires of the Dutch West India Company over the needs of the colonists proved to help undermine the new colony, eventually leading to Kieft’s ouster and replacement by Peter Stuyvesant. To his credit, La Montague then won over the steadfast Stuyvesant, who kept him on as a member of his council.

He and his family stayed in the colony after its possession by the British, and it is believed to have spent the remainder of his life in Albany.  Today, descendants of the good doctor have set up their very own genealogical society. 

This article originally ran on May 9, 2009. Original is here

Brooklyn’s Bergen Street and the firstborn lady of New York

Bergen Street is lovely trek through the borough’s most historic sites and neighborhoods — from its western end through Cobble Hill and Boerum Hill, dipping near Park Slope and up through Prospect Heights, and past old Grant Square and the Weeksville Heritage Center, the remnants of an early 19th century free black community. Indirectly, the street’s name also has a surprising connection to early New York women’s history.

The roughly outlined territory of New Netherlands was charted by the Dutch in the 1610s, building upon the early explorations by Henry Hudson, Adraien Block and others. By 1620, the Dutch had a fort in Albany and became trading partners the local Algonquin tribes. Four years later, it was an official province, with a budding settlement on the tip of Mannahatta

Its earliest Europeans settlers were all male, but Dutch women soon made the voyage over. Among the very first women was young Catalina Trico, all of eighteen years old when she joined her new husband Joris Jansen Rapelje aboard a vessel for the new territory. The pair were actually married days before their life-changing voyage.

The young couple would prosper in New Amsterdam. Rapelje would become an early leader in New Amsterdam, and the family would own a large farm across the water in Breukelen. Catalina would live into her 80s, witness to the British takeover of New Amsterdam in 1664 and the rapid growth of the newly named New York.

In 1625, Catalina gave birth to her first daughter — in fact, the first daughter ever born in European parents in the Dutch territory. Her name was Sara (or Sarah) Rapalje.

Now here’s the modern Brooklyn connection. When Sarah was all of fourteen years old, she was betrothed to the owner of an early tobacco plantation, a man named Hans Hansen Bergen (from Bergen, Norway). Hans and Sarah moved to a large property around today’s Brooklyn Navy Yard, an estate she maintained long after her husband’s death.

Descendants with the names of Rapalje and Bergen would feature prominently in Brooklyn history. When the streets of the early city of Brooklyn were delineated in the early 19th century, they were ultimately fastened with the name of important families. Hans and Sarah were not forgotten. Years later, the Bergens would not only have a street named for them, but an entire neighborhood (Bergen Beach) and, much later, even a couple subway stops.

Pic courtesy Flickr/wallyg

Rediscovering the rediscovery of a 350-year-old city view


This is not a land of hobbits. Despite looking like an illustration from a J.R.R. Tolkien novel, the map above is actual drawing made of early New Amsterdam as it looked to one cartographer in 1661. It’s most likely an alternate image of New Amsterdam by the city’s surveyor Jacques Cortelyou who provides us with some of the first bird’s-eye drawings ever made of Manhattan. Or else, it’s a drawing by another artist derived from Cortelyou’s more famous image of the young town.

You can see a full color version of this very map here. Upon its re-discovery in the mid-19th century, the crude map was elaborately repainted and enhanced.

Its full title is “The Duke’s plan: a description of the Towne of Mannados: or New Amsterdam as it was in September 1661 … Anno Dominus 1664.” That last date holds the secret of the map; it was commissioned not by the Dutch, but by the British, who took over the port city in a near-bloodless invasion in September 1664. Most likely the original map was completed by Cortelyou in 1661, then later revised by an unknown artist (or perhaps by Cortelyou himself) for New Amsterdam’s new owners, with a flattering array of British vessels in the water.

I think I’ll let New York city leaders from 1859 do the talking here, from a yearly manual of Common Council business, discussing the map when it was newly discovered in the possession of the British Museum archives:

“It is not an unreasonable supposition that the English officers, being desirous of presenting some pictorial illustration of the newly-acquired city to their master, the Duke of York, made inquiry for a plan of the city and were presented with this; and, having added the agreeable accessories of British men-of-war in the harbor, they dressed it up in its present shape, added the date 1664, and forwarded it to England, where it has hitherto been preserved in silent obscurity.”

The only building labelled in the little ‘Governor’s House’ right above Fort Amsterdam, the purported home of Peter Stuyvesant and a building later named White Hall. Not a surprise to discover that the building that sits near that spot today is Whitehall Ferry Terminal. You can probably figure out where a couple other modern features of the city sit as well.

The 1859 manual gives makes a detailed, if rather quaint, stroll through the streets of the map above, an interesting look at both early New Amsterdam and mid-19th century New York’s version of New Amsterdam — two very different things. Some of sites that may sound familiar to you will be, for instance, Kolck pond (Collect Pond), the Heere Graft (a water canal that once ran down the length of today’s Broad Street) and the good ole City Wall.