James Grant Wilson.

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By James Grant ^yILSON.

ALTHOUGH the commercial metropo-
lis of the western world had its ori-
gin in the pursuit of commerce, there is
about the early history of New York a
certain romantic and picturesque interest
not perhaps found in that of any other
American cit3^ Boston was settled by
the stern Puritan ; Philadelphia by the
broad-brimmed Quaker ; Baltimore by the
gay cavalier, but New York was cosmo-
politan from the first. Stolid and deliberate
Dutchmen, volatile .French Huguenots,
witness-bearing Quakers and Anabap-
tists, Swedes from the Delaware, Con-
necticut Yankees, Maryland cavaliers, In-
dians and African slaves formed the bulk
of her population two centuries ago. Later

came the Irish, Germans, Jews, Italians
—almost all the nations, so that in more
or less heterogeneous mass may be found
within her borders representatives of
scores of principalities and powers —

" lu one strong race all races here nnite."

Her government — too often it must be
admitted no government — has been equal-
ly varied and original in type. First,
under that brief nondescript — Occidental
in organization, Oriental in dreams — the
Dutch West India company, her unhappy
settlers lived under laws framed by a body
of self-seeking merchants, administered
by directors whose bigotry or ignorance
or incapacity were so great as to lead us

Tames Grant Wilson, the son of the late poet publisher Wilham Wilson, of
Pou't'hkeepsie New York, after completing his studies travelled in Europe and
vvastor a time associated with his father in business. He was among the many
young cavalry officers who distinguished themselves in the civil war, and was a
favorite with General Grant, with whom he seri'ed at Vicksburg and elsewhere.
General Wilson, who was promoted in March 1S65, was for some time in command
at Port Hudson, but during the same year resigned from the army, since which
period he has resided in New York. He has written several books and contrib-
uted many articles to magazines, and edited the Cyclopedia of Amencan Biog-
raphy He is at present engaged on a history of New York from its farst settle-
ment to the yeari892, and the illustrations that accompany the present article are
taken from nearly 1000 which have been collected for use in that work.



to infer that they were chosen
for their unfitness rather than
for their fitness. After Eng-
land captured the cit}-, in 1664,
the qualit\' of the laws was
improved, Init the navigation
laws and port charges were
intended to destroy, or at least
restrict, her conuuerce, while
most of the English governors
were impoverished favorites
whose exchequers must be im-
proved at the expense of the
people they governed, or sol-
diers of fortune whose services
on the field entitled them to
fill their purses from the rev-
enues of a province. Under
the republic for a time her government
was pure and honest ; to describe that of
later years other adjectives must be used.
Nevertheless her situation renders her
peerless among American cities. On a
long, low narrow island, Avashed on the
west by the broad Hudson, on the east by
the narrow estuary of the East river, with
the unrivalled and beautiful bay before
her, Providence seems to have intended



New York for the port of the nation. Al-
read}- she is aspiring after statehood, and
her population approaches that of several
of the smaller states combined.

The discovery of her bay and site in
1524 was accidental.

The finding of a passage to India
through or around newly discovered
America was then as much the dream of
bold navigators as is the discovery of the
North pole to modern adventurers. The
Florentine Jean Verrazano was on this

quest when earl 5^ m 1524 "^-^x^^y'^-"' '■•
he discovered the bay and 1 "'"

was probabl}' the first European to enter
and explore it. Nearly a centur}-, how-
ever, elapsed before an attempt was made
b}' an}' European nation to utilize its com-
mercial advantages. This was at length
done b}' Holland, then the foremost com-
mercial power of Europe. Certain shrewd
Amsterdam merchants in 1615 secured
from the states general a char-
ter for a trading company and
the exclusive privilege of
trading to New Netherlands
for the space of three j'ears.
Their object was trade, not
settlement. They were suc-
ceeded a few 3'ears later — 1621
— by the "West India cora-
pan}- ' ' — a private corporation
with sovereign powers, and a
monopoly of trade for Amer-
ica, the Atlantic coasts of
Africa and the isles between.
It announced that it would at-
tack Spaiai — then at war with
Holland — in its American de-
pendencies, but its real object was gain.
A small trading post was established by
this company on Manhattan island in
1624, and in 1625 a larger body of emi-
grants with cattle, seed and agricultural
tools were sent out, and landing on Man-
hattan island in May 1626 founded the
city of New York under the name of New
Amsterdam. They were in command of
the first governor, Peter Minuit of Wesel
in Westphalia, who a few weeks later ac-
quired an honest title by purchase from





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Online LibraryJames Grant WilsonOld New York → online text (page 1 of 2)