The area was inhabited by the Lenape Native Americans at the time of its European discovery in 1524 by Giovanni da Verrazzano, a Florentine explorer in the service of the French crown, who named it “Nouvelle Angoulême”.
European settlement began with the establishment of a Dutch fur trading company at the southern tip of Manhattan in 1614 and was then called “Nieuw Amsterdam” (New Amsterdam). Dutch colonial leader Peter Minuit bought Manhattan Island from the Lenape in 1626 for 60 guilders (about $1000 in 2006). One legend says that Manhattan was bought for $24 worth of glass beads.
In 1664, the city was surrendered to England and renamed New York by the English Duke of York and Albany. At the end of the Second Anglo-Dutch War, the Dutch gained control of the Run Islands in exchange for English control of New Amsterdam (New York) in North America. Several civil wars among Native Americans and some epidemics resulting from the arrival of Europeans caused a great loss of Lenape population between the years 1660 and 1670. By 1700, the Lenape population had dwindled to 200. In 1702, the town lost 10% of its population with the spread of yellow fever. New York City suffered seven major yellow fever epidemics between 1702 and 1800.
New York essentially developed as a commercial port while under British occupation. The city hosted the trial of John Peter Zenger in 1735, helping to establish freedom of the press in North America. In 1754, Columbia University was founded by George II of Great Britain as King’s College in Lower Manhattan.
During the American Revolution the largest battle of the war, the Battle of Long Island, was fought in August 1776 in the present-day borough of Brooklyn. After the battle, in which the Americans staged a series of smaller engagements, the city became the British military and civilian base of operations in North America. The town was a port for Loyalist refugees until the war ended in 1783.
The only attempt at a peaceful resolution of the war took place during the Staten Island House Conference between American representatives including Benjamin Franklin, and the British Lord Howe on September 11, 1776. Shortly after the British occupation, the Great Fire began New York which destroyed about a quarter of the city’s buildings, including the Trinity Church.
The Congress of the Confederation made New York the national capital in 1785, shortly after the war. New York was the last capital of the United States under the Articles of Confederation and the first capital under the United States Constitution.
In 1789 the first president of the United States, George Washington, inaugurated the first United States Congress, the Supreme Court of the United States which met for the first time, and the United States Bill of Rights (United States Bill of Rights), all in the federal building on Wall Street. After 1790, New York City had surpassed Philadelphia in population to become the largest city in the United States.
By the 19th century, the city had been transformed by immigration and development. A visionary proposed the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 for development. This plan extended the city’s street network to include all of Manhattan, and in 1819 opened the Erie Canal to connect the Atlantic port with the vast agricultural markets of the North American interior.
The local government fell under the control of Tammany Hall, a political power supported by Irish immigrants. Many prominent American writers lived in New York during the 1830s and 1840s, including William Cullen Bryant, Washington Irving, Herman Melville, Rufus Wilmot Griswold, John Keese, Nathaniel Parker Willis, and Edgar Allan Poe.
Members of the old mercantile aristocracy employed by the government lobbied for the creation of Central Park, which became the first landscaped park in an American city in 1857. A substantial free black population also existed in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Slaves were held in New York until 1827, but during the 1830s New York became the center of northern desegregation.
New York’s black population was over 16,000 in 1840. The Great Irish Famine brought a large influx of Irish immigrants, and by 1860, one in four New Yorkers – over 200,000 – had been born in Ireland.
Conscription anger during the American Civil War (American Civil War 1861-1865) led to the Plan Riots of 1863, one of the worst events of social unrest in American history.
In 1898, the modern city of New York was formed by the incorporation of Brooklyn (until then a separate city), the borough of New York (which then included parts of the Bronx), the borough of Richmond, and the western part of the borough of Queens. The opening of the subway in 1904 helped unite the new city.
Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the city became a global center for industry, commerce, and communication. However, this growth also had its costs. In 1904, the steamer General Slocum caught fire on the East River, killing 1,021 people on board.
In 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire was the city’s worst industrial disaster until the World Trade Center disaster on 9/11/01 and claimed the lives of 146 workers. This has prompted significant improvements in factory safety standards.
The colored population of New York City was 36,620 in 1890. In the 1920s, New York City was the main destination for African Americans during the Great Migration from the American South. Since 1916, New York has been the destination for the largest population of the African diaspora in North America.
Harlem’s renaissance flourished during the Prohibition era, and coincided with a larger economic boom that saw development on the horizon with the construction of competing skyscrapers.
New York City became the most populous urban area in the world in the early 1920s, overtaking London, and the metropolitan area surpassed 10 million inhabitants in the early 1930s, becoming the first megacity in human history. The difficult years of the Great Depression saw the election of reformer Fiorello LaGuardia as mayor and the fall of Tammany Hall after eighty years of political dominance.
The return of World War II veterans created a postwar economic boom and the development of large tracts of housing in eastern Queens. New York emerged unscathed from the war as the world’s leading city, with Wall Street leading America as the world’s dominant economic power.
The United Nations headquarters (completed 1950) highlighted New York’s political influence, and the rise of Abstract Expressionism in New York City replaced Paris as the center of the art world.
In the 1960s, New York began to suffer from financial problems and rising crime. While an economic revival greatly improved the city’s financial situation, in the 1980s New York’s crime rate continued to rise sharply in the mid-1990s and early 1990s.
From 1990 onwards, crime rates began to drop dramatically due to an increased police presence. Major new sectors such as Silicon Alley emerged in the city’s economy, and New York’s population reached an all-time high according to the 2000 census.
New York City was rocked by the attacks on September 11, 2001, when an estimated 3,000 people died in the destruction of the World Trade Center. A new tower named 1 World Trade Center (formerly known as the Freedom Tower), and three other office towers, are being built on the site of the disaster and are scheduled to be completed by 2013.