Written documentation of the history of New York City began with the first European visit to the area by Giovanni da Verrazzano, in command of the French ship, La Dauphine, when he visited the region in 1524. It is believed he sailed in Upper New York Bay where he encountered nativeLenape, returned through The Narrows where he anchored the night of April 17, and then left to continue his voyage. He named the area of present-day New York City Nouvelle-Angoulême (New Angoulême) in honor of Francis I of France, King of France and Count of Angoulême.
European settlement began on September 3, 1609 when EnglishmanHenry Hudson in the employ of theDutch East India Company sailed the Half Moon through The Narrows into Upper New York Bay. Like Christopher Columbus, Hudson was looking for a westerly passage toAsia. He never found one, but he did make note of the abundant beaver population. Beaver pelts were in fashion in Europe, fueling a lucrative business. Hudson’s report on the regional beaver population served as the impetus for the founding of Dutch trading colonies in the New World, among them New Amsterdam, which would become New York City. The beaver’s importance in New York City history is reflected by its use on the city’s official seal.
The Dutch West Indies Company transported Africa slaves to the post as trading laborers. By the late 17th century, 40 percent of the settlement were African slaves. They helped build the fort and stockade, and some gained freedom under the Dutch. After the English took over the colony and city they called New York, they continued to import slaves from Africa and the Caribbean. In 1703, 42 percent of the New York households had slaves; they served as domestic servants and laborers, but also became involved in skilled artisan trades, shipping and other fields. They were integral to the development of colonial and federal New York. By the time of the Revolution, slaves comprised nearly a quarter of the city’s population; second only to Charleston, South Carolina, New York had the largest number of slaves of any city in the nation.
The area around New York City was the location for multiple battles of the American Revolutionary War, including the largest battle of the war: the Battle of Brooklyn. With victory, the British occupied the city from September 1776 to late 1783. In response to the Crown’s offer of freedom for slaves who left rebel masters, by 1780 the city became crowded with 10,000 blacks, most of whom had escaped slave masters. The British evacuated 3,000 freedmen with their troops in 1783; the Black Loyalists had chosen resettlement in Nova Scotia and other colonies. George Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States on April 30, 1789 in front of Federal Hall and the city served as the capital of the United States until 1790. The New York legislature passed a program of gradual emancipation in 1799; finally abolishing all slavery in the state in 1827.
Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, waves of new immigrants arrived from Europe, dramatically changing the composition of the city and serving as workers in the expanding industries. Modern New York City traces its development to the consolidation of the five boroughs in 1898 and an economic and building boom following the Great Depression and World War II. Throughout its history, New York City has served as a main port of entry for many immigrants, and its cultural and economic influences have made it one of the most important urban areas in the United States, and the world.