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Historic Old New York


Wall Street

Section of City Wall, 1653

Today this name is synonymous with that of speculation and great financial transactions. It is one of the famous streets of the world, hut its name has no relation to the business carried on in it. In 1653, during the reign of Stuyvesant, when the Dutch were afraid of an attack from the north, either by the Indians or by the English from the New England colonies, a wall was built across the island to the north of the city. It passed through what is now Wall Street, thence to the Hudson River through the place where Trinity church now stands.

The wall was a palisade made of posts twelve feet in length and six inches in diameter; one end was sharpened and the other set in the ground three feet deep. These posts were set so close that they touched each other. Split rails were spiked to the posts to strengthen the palisade. Within the palisade was a sloping breastwork of earth four feet high, three feet wide at the top and four feet at the bottom.

There were several semicircular bastions along the line of the wall, one at East River, projecting into the river so that the small cannon mounted on it could command the river both up and down the stream. There was another bastion near what is now Hanover Street, a third just west of William Street, another where the sub-treasury building stands, and still another just east of Broadway.

There was a gate in the wall near the East River shore, and another at Broadway.

The wall was never used as a means of defense. When it was torn down the street that was laid out where the wall had been was not regarded as being one of much consequence, but its importance was greatly increased when the new City Hall was erected upon it, opposite Broad Street. The erection of Trinity church at the head of this street added greatly to its attractiveness. The first slave market in the city was at the foot of Wall Street. The first library of the city had its home in the City Hall. The famous Zenger trial was held there. It was the City Hall, refurnished and improved, that was renamed Federal Hall, and it was there that Washington took the oath of office as President of the United States. It was in this building that Congress held its sessions as long as New York remained the capital of the nation.

Federal Hall

In 1770 a statue in honor of William Pitt was erected in Wall Street, near the intersection of William.

The Bank of New York, the first banking institution established in the city, was located in Wall Street at the corner of William. The next five banks established in New York were also located in Wall Street.

The Jumel Mansion, 161st Street

In 1758 Roger Morris erected a mansion for his wife, who was the daughter of Frederick Philipse, the second lord of Philipse Manor. She was the beautiful and cultured Mary Philipse who tradition says declined the hand of Washington to marry Morris an aide-de-camp to Braddock. Morris and his wife lived in this mansion till the beginning of the Revolution, when, having sided with the royalists, their estate was confiscated and the family went to England.

This famous old mansion is on 161st Street near Edgecombe Road. Washington made this house his headquarters after his retreat from Long Island, and when he was compelled to abandon the city, General Knyphausen, the Hessian, occupied it as his headquarters.

It was at this house that the unfortunate Hale received his final instructions before starting on his fatal errand, and here that Washington and his cabinet were guests in 1790.

For some time after the Revolution the title of the property was in dispute, but in 1810 John Jacob Astor bought the claims of the Morris heirs. A little later the house was sold to Stephen Jumel, an adventurous Frenchman who settled in New York and became one of its leading merchants. He married a beautiful New England girl and made the Morris mansion his home. Jerome Bonaparte was a frequent guest of the Jumels, and Louis Philippe, Lafayette, Talleyrand, and Louis Napoleon were entertained by them.

Jumel died in 1832, and about a year later his widow married Aaron Burr. The couple did not live happily together. Burr squandered his wife's estate and when she asked for an accounting coolly told her that that was not her affair, that her husband could manage her estate. The couple separated within a year from the time of their marriage, and for thirty-one years after Mrs. Jumel lived in the old mansion, spending the closing years of her life as a miser and a recluse.

During the time that John Jacob Astor owned the place it is said that his friend and secretary, Fitz-Greene Halleck, lived with him and wrote his famous poem "Marco Bozzaris" in this historic old mansion. The house, which has now most properly become public property, has not greatly changed since the time it had for its guests Washington and many other famous men.

Statue to Nathan Hale

Golden Hill

It was at Golden Hill, in John Street, near William, that the first blood of the Revolution was shed. Ever since the passage of the Stamp Act there had been bitter feeling between the British soldiers and the Sons of Liberty. The Liberty pole on the Common was made the rallying point of the patriots, and because of this it was offensive to the soldiers and was cut down by them. Twice it was replaced by the Sons of Liberty, and twice cut down again by the soldiers. The fourth pole was fastened with iron braces, and kept its place till the night of the 16th of January, 1770, when a party of soldiers not only cut it down for the fourth time, but cut it in pieces, and piled the fragments in front of the headquarters of the Sons of Liberty. This provoked the most intense anger. Two days later there was a collision on Golden Hill and half a dozen on each side were wounded; the next day the contest was renewed and a sailor was killed by the soldiers. These two days' fighting constitute what is known as the battle of Golden Hill. This occurred six weeks before the massacre in King Street, Boston, and five years before the Battle of Lexington, so New York has reason for the claim made that in her streets was shed the first blood in the cause of freedom.

The Bowery

Bowery, spelled bouwerie, is a Dutch word for farm. The road that led through the various farms on lower Manhattan Island was known as Bouwerie Lane and in time became the street we now call the Bowery. Along this road grew up a little hamlet, known as the Bowery. There was at this place a famous tavern which was a favorite resort. It was here, in 1690, that the Commissioners from the New England colonies met with those representing New York to consider plans for the invasion of Canada.

For many years the Bowery was the only road leading out from the little town clustered about Fort Amsterdam.

The largest of the bouweries belonged to Governor Stuyvesant; and it was on the Bowery road that he had his country home. It was along this road that the post-rider made his way in carrying the first mail from New York to Boston. During the Revolution a large part of the British army in New York was encamped along the Bowery, and the drinking places and resorts for low grade entertainments that were established there at that time drove the more fashionable people and the better class of business to other parts of the city, and did much to determine the future character of the street.

City Hall
City Hall, Park Row and City Hall Park, 1911

The new City Hall on the corner of Wall and Nassau Streets, completed in 1700, was a very fine building for the time. It contained the only prison in the city till 1760, so it must have been here that Zenger was confined during the imprisonment preceding his trial for libel. It was here that the Stamp Act congress assembled here that the chief men of the town met and resolved that they would not pay the tax on tea; here that the Sons of Liberty came and confiscated the arms and ammunition stored in one of the rooms, after they had heard the news from Concord and Lexington. It was from the balcony of the City Hall that the Declaration of Independence was read, by order of Congress. It was on the site of this famous City Hall that the United States Sub-Treasury building was erected.

Trinity Church

A Royal grant of land was given to Trinity in 1697, and the first church erected upon it was occupied in 1698. This church was destroyed by the great fire of 1776, and was rebuilt in 1778. The present edifice was erected in 1846. In 1703 the church came into the possession of what was known as the "King's Farm" which has since been a source of princely revenue to Trinity. Many churches and parishes owe their existence to the funds derived from this source. King's College, now Columbia University, owes its organization to the same means. All the income from the great estate, which in the early days was the Annetje Jans farm, is used for the support of Trinity, and several other churches in the city; in aiding weak churches in other places; in maintaining hospitals; in providing scholarships at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., and for many other beneficent purposes.

William Vesey, in whose honor Vesey Street was named, was the first rector of Trinity and served in that capacity for nearly fifty-years. It is quite remarkable that in the more than two hundred years of its existence Trinity has had only nine rectors.

In Trinity Churchyard are the remains of many noted men. Here lie William Bradford, editor of the first newspaper in New York; Sir Henry Moore, Sir Danvers Osborne, and James DeLancey. colonial governors; Robert Livingston; Michael Cresap, a noted Indian fighter; Alexander Hamilton and Albert Gallatin, famous Secretaries of the Treasury; the Earl of Sterling; John Iamb, and Marius Willett, the founders and leaders of the Sons of Liberty; Philip Livingston and Robert Lewis, signers of the Declaration of Independence; Robert Fulton; General Phil. Kearney; Charlotte Temple; James Lawrence, and many others but little less noted.

The Battery

When the English came into the possession of the city they proceeded to strengthen the fort by the erection of batteries. In course of time both the fort and the associated batteries fell into disuse, and when they were finally removed, a considerable portion of the territory was made into a park which is still known as the Battery. It was here that Lafayette landed on his visit to this country in 1824. It was here, in Castle Garden, that a grand reception was given him. It was here that Clay and Webster were heard; here that Jackson and other Presidents were received; here that Kossuth was welcomed, and Jenny Lind sang; here that Mario, Grisi, and many others were heard. But with the opening of the Academy of Music in Fourteenth Street in 1854 the day of Castle Garden as the home of the opera came to an end. The following year it became a landing place for immigrants and continued to be used for that purpose till 1890, since which time it has been under the jurisdiction of the department of public parks and used as the home of the New York Aquarium.

In former years the Battery Park had been the strolling place of Generals Howe and Clinton; of Washington, Arnold, and Andre; of Jefferson, Burr, and Hamilton; of Jerome Bonaparte, and Louis Philippe; of Irving, Cooper, Halleck, Drake, Willis, and Morris.

Bowling Green

A small park at the foot of Broadway that has always been used for public purposes is known as Bowling Green. When Fort Amsterdam was built the open space to the north of it was left for a public common, then known as "The Plaine." It is probable that it was on or near this spot that Minuit met with the Indians to bargain for Manhattan Island. This little park in the early days was the village green and the children's playground. It was here that Governor Kieft established two annual fairs, one held in October and the other in November. It was here that the "May-Day" festivals were held.

After a time this plot of ground came to be known as "The Parade." In 1732 the city fathers leased it to John Chambers. Peter Bayard, and Peter Jay, who prepared it for playing the game of bowls, whence the more modern name of the park. On the 2 1st of August, 1770, a leaden statue of George the Third was erected in the centre of Bowling Green. Just at the breaking out of the Revolution the statue was torn down and sent to Litchfield, Connecticut, where the wife and daughter of Governor Wolcott made forty-two thousand bullets from it.

Fraunces' Tavern

This historic building, one of the oldest in the city, is at the corner of Pearl and Broad Streets. It was built in 1730 by Stephen DeLancey, a Huguenot nobleman who fled from France. The firm of DeLancey, Robinson, and Company occupied the old mansion as a store from 1757 to 1761. In January, 1762, the property passed into the hands of Samuel Fraunces, a West Indian, who used it as a tavern. It was for many years the most popular place in the city, the Delmonico of its time.

It was the favorite meeting place of "The Moot," a club composed mainly of lawyers, and which included in its membership such names as Livingston, Jay, DeLancey, and Morris. Here also met the "Social Club" having among its members John Jay, Gouverneur Morris, Robert Livingston, Morgan Lewis, and Gulian Verplanck. It was at Fraunces' tavern that the Board of Trade of New York City was organized. The British held dancing assemblies there during their occupancy of the city. It was there that Governor Clinton gave a dinner to Washington and other noted men when the Americans entered the city after it was evacuated by the British. It was there that Washington, ten days later, at noon on the 4th of December, 1783, in the famous "Long Room" bade farewell to his associates in the army.

The Beekman House 1860

A house of much historic interest formerly stood on Fifty-First Street. At the time of the Revolution it was occupied by James Beekman. Being a loyalist Beekman fled when Washington entered the city after the Battle of Long Island. When Sir William Howe was in New York he made this house his headquarters. It was here that Andre received his final instructions before going to meet Arnold; here that Nathan Hale was tried and condemned to be hanged. When Washington was President, and living in New York, he often stopped at this house while driving about the city.

The Philipse Manor House

Although this house was not in the city of New York its owner and occupant was a part of the city life, and active in all the affairs that had to do with the city's welfare. The older part of the house was built in 1682, and the newer part in 1745. The building as a whole is a curious mixture of Dutch and English architecture. It was built by Frederick Philipse, who came to this country a penniless youth of high birth in the time of Stuyvesant. He engaged in the fur trade and became the richest man in the colony. His property, together with that of many other wealthy loyalists, was confiscated after the Revolution.

The beautiful Mary Philipse, with whom it is said Washington was deeply in love, lived at the Philipse Manor House. In 1868 the city of Yonkers bought the Manor House and converted it into a City Hall.

St. George's Chapel

St. George's Chapel stood on the corner of Cliff and Beekman Streets and was for many reasons a structure of much interest. It was erected as a chapel by Trinity Church but later became a separate organization. The demands of business led to its removal in 1868 and a new building was erected in Sixteenth Street. The lot on which the old church stood was purchased in 1748 for $500. It is probably worth more than a million dollars now. The first subscription for the church was made by Sir Peter Warren who gave £100 and asked that a pew be reserved for himself and family in perpetuity. The installation services were held on the 1st of July, 1752. St. George's was burned in January, 1814, but was rebuilt on the same walls. It is said that Washington frequently attended service here during the early part of the Revolution. Among the members of St. George's were the Schuylers, Livingstons, Beekmans, Van Rensselaers, Van Courtlandts, Reades, Moores and other famous families.

Fort George and City of New York, 1740

Early Schools

Something has already been said of education under the Dutch and that upon the coming of the English interest in education languished. It was not until a considerable time after the close of the Revolution that much interest was manifested in public education. In 1805 a society was formed which in 1808 took the name of "Free School Society of the City of New York." The first building which they erected was dedicated on the 11th of December. 1805. The dedicatory address was given by De Witt Clinton, who said the purpose of the society was not "the founding of a single academy, but the establishment of schools." By 1825 the society had erected six school buildings. The first school building was two stories in height, built of brick, and would accommodate six hundred and fifty pupils.

First Free School Building In New York

The Middle Dutch Church

Old Post office, Formerly Middle Dutch Church

This church was situated on Nassau Street. Between Cedar and Liberty Streets. It was finished in 1731, and was in the fullest sense a Dutch church. The English language was not used in preaching in it till 1764. The church would seat about twelve hundred people, and its congregation was the largest in the city. This church was for a long time regarded as one of the finest buildings in the city.

During the Revolution it was used as a military prison. It had to be thoroughly repaired afterwards and was not reopened for service after the Revolution till 1790. In 1845 it was leased to the United States Government, and used as a post office for thirty years.

Old Sugar House in Liberty Street

The Old Sugar House in Liberty Street was used as a prison during the Revolution. More than eight hundred of the patriots were confined there at one time. They had almost no bedding and absolutely no fire, during one of the coldest winters ever known in the city, so cold that for forty days the Hudson River was frozen over between Cortlandt Street and the New Jersey shore, as far down as Staten Island. There were no windows in the building, and the food furnished was poor and insufficient, "a loaf of bread, a quart of peas, half a pint of rice, and one and a half pounds of pork for six days." Many died of want.

 AHGP New York

Source: Stories from Early New York History, by Sherman Williams, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906


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