A History of New York City - Exploration, Immigration and Development
Anybody who has seen Martin Scorcese's 'Gangs of New York' will be aware of what New York's Five Points was, or perhaps even still is. It typifies a large city that was the focus of immigration in the 19th century, not only from Ireland as portrayed in the film, but from many other parts of Europe.
However, New York began long before Martin Scorcese or Daniel Day-Lewis and Cameron Diaz were even a twinkle in somebody's eye, unless that person was resurrected from an earlier life in the early 16th century. For it was then than Giovanna Di Verrazzano visited New York City! There was no Times Square then, however, and no Statue of Liberty: they were to come later in the history of New York City. There was a likely looking harbour, a couple of large islands and some indigenous native settlements, including the Lenape and Manahattoes.
It was not Verrazzano who was responsible for the beginning of the history of New York as we know it however, it was Henry Hudson. Hudson, contrary to many who think him English, was Dutch, and he claimed the area for Holland. In fact, the whole area, including most of what is now known as New York State, was given the name New Holland. What was to become New York City was called New Amsterdam, and so it continued until 1664.
In fact, Dutchman Peter Minuet is reputed to have paid the Canarsees Indians only $65 for the city, though others claim it was for Manhattan Island. Since dollars did not exist then, and it is unlikely that Native Americans traded in European currency, such tales can be taken with a pinch of salt.
In 1664, Peter Stuyvesant, the Governor of New Amsterdam, lost the city to the British. New Amsterdam is frequently associated with the island of Manhattan, but it also included surrounding areas that are now parts of Brooklyn. It was, after all, new Holland that was lost to the British and not just New Amsterdam. An interesting fact from this era of American history is that the Dutch West India Company, that had great influence in then Eastern seaboard of North America, responded to Stuyvesant's pleas for help by providing the finance to build a spiked wall across the northern end of the island to protect the population from the invaders. This is now known as Wall Street!
However, British naval power beat the Dutch, and Manhattan and New York were taken without the wall being involved. The whole colony that became the state, and the city, were renamed New York by the British after James, Duke of York, later to become king.
New York has always been a strategically important port due to its situation with respect to Europe and access to the Americas. Britain never gave New York City up until 1783, when they left New York for good. In 1789, George Washington was inaugurated as first president of the United States in Wall Street and Federal Hall and New York became, for a short time, the fist capital of the USA. Many think that Philadelphia was the first capital, but that is false. It did not become capital for another year.
Then came mass immigration in the mid 1800s, and the Five Points that were certainly not fiction. What is displayed in Martin Scorcese's film is based on fact, and that five-way intersection was the focal point of gang meetings and fatal confrontations. Parts of New York City slid in to degradation, and in many areas the Irish and Tammany Hall ruled New York with the aid of the Irish gangs and corrupt politicians. William Marcy "Boss" Tweed ruled with a rod of corrupt iron. He was exposed through the rough justice of one of his associates ratting on him because of not receiving a sufficient share of the 'slush fund'.
There then followed a period of affluence into the 1900s, exemplified by the construction of the New York subway in 1904, and Grand Central Terminal in 1911, to become the biggest station in the world. Paradoxically, the building of the tallest building in the world, the Chrysler Building, in 1929, superseded a year later by the Empire State Building, coincided with the biggest fall in the world: the Wall Street Crash of 1929 that signalled the start of the Great Depression. This continued through the 1930s but the Second World War heralded the beginning of a new era.
From 1945 onward, New York has flourished, and although it has been subjected to many heinous terrorist attacks, it remains the world's financial capital and one of the greatest cities on earth.