A Brief History and Introduction to New York City

Discover and Experience New York City, 
its history, neighborhoods, skyscrapers, bridges, 
and, most of all, its people!

New York Harbor at Sunset
Port to America

The historic importance of New York City to this country is undeniable.  New York Harbor was the entrance and passageway to America for many immigrants from Europe and their first real glimpse of the New World,  their new country, and New York City -- a city of hope.   The first blood shed in the Revolutionary War was in New York City on John Street in lower Manhattan on January 18, 1770 at the Battle of Golden Hill six weeks before the Boston Massacre.  Revolutionary War battles were not only fought in Manhattan, but in Brooklyn and Staten Island, and more Americans gave their lives in these battles or in prisons in New York state than anywhere in America during the War of Independence.  After the Revolutionary War, New York City's wealth and trading expertise would contribute to the success of the newly founded republic of America and New Yorkers would play important roles in the administration of George Washington.  Alexander Hamilton served as Washington's Secretary of Treasury, developed the nation's financial system and created the national bank.   

Important Historical Facts about New York City: 

  • The Declaration of Independence was publicly read to George Washington’s troops and the public in New York City on July 9, 1776 at what is now City Hall Park in downtown Manhattan.
  • Revolutionary War battles were fought on Staten Island, in Brooklyn Heights, Long Island (August 27 - 29, 1776) and Harlem Heights (September 16, 1776).
  • In the summer of 1776, a British fleet of 30 battleships with 1,200 cannons, 30,000 soldiers, 10,000 sailors and 300 supply ships occupied New York Harbor (the estimated number of soldiers and sailors vary in different accounts).
  • George Washington planned an astonishing retreat of Continental Army troops from Brooklyn Heights across the East River.  The British captured New York City and held in for seven years.
  • During the war, American prisoners of war would be imprisoned aboard British prison ships in New York harbor and over 11,000 would die there.
  • General George Washington set up another war-time headquarters at Morris-Jumel Mansion in Harlem Heights and, eventually, at the Battle of Harlem Heights, American troops forced the British to retreat from Manhattan.
  • At a Harlem tavern on November 25, 1783, George Washington waited for word that the British troops -- ending their seven years occupancy -- had finally left New York City. 
  • At Fraunces Tavern in downtown Manhattan, Washington said an emotional goodbye to his troops on December 4, 1783. The Tavern, now a museum, would become offices of the new U.S. government's Departments of War, Treasury and Foreign Affairs.
  • New York City became the country's first capital on January 11, 1785 and the first session of the United States Congress was held (March 4 - September 1789) at Federal Hall and the second session (January 4, 1790 - August 12, 1790).  
  • The country's first President, George Washington, was sworn into office by the first Vice President, John Adams, at Federal Hall (on Wall Street) on April 30, 1789. Washington would enter New York City and New York harbor by crossing the Hudson River from Elizabethtown, New Jersey on a 55 foot barge navigated by 13 rowing sailors in white uniforms.  Wearing a black velvet suit, Washington was then driven to the inauguration ceremony in a canary-yellow carriage pulled by six white horses and accompanied by the New York State militia. Cannons roared, church bells rang, crowds gathered and shouted from the streets and rooftops and candles were aglow throughout the City that evening. At the inauguration ball each woman was given a fan with an ivory frame, made in Paris, which when opened, displayed a likeness of George Washington's profile.
  • The first presidential mansion was in New York City at 3 Cherry Street in downtown Manhattan.  The land where the mansion stood would eventually become a part of the Brooklyn Bridge.
  • Members of President George Washington's first cabinet, many of them founding fathers, would establish residences in New York City. 
  • Two New York State governors (of the same family) became great American Presidents: Theodore Roosevelt, a NYC Police Commissioner in 1895, and Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR).
  • The first public housing project in the United States was built in 1934 on the lower east side at First Avenue and Third Street.
  • The City has always been a home to those seeking a new life without oppression and bigotry and a beacon to artists, musicians, jazz pioneers, and progressive thinkers, and
  • Many of our ancestors entered this country as immigrants with their hopes of a new life through New York Harbor and Ellis Island, and, therefore, New York City is a city that belongs to all Americans and the entire world.
Lower Manhattan is a rich textbook of American history.  The photo above is of New York Harbor and its bridges (viewed from the South Street Seaport Museum):  the Brooklyn Bridge (1883), the Manhattan Bridge (1909), and the Williamsburg Bridge (1896) in the far distance.  New York City itself was a bridge from the Old World to the New World with endless possibilities and new hopes and lives.

There are many wonderful websites on New York City and one might ask why another one?  This website is my own personal celebration of and ode to the City and its exciting and diverse history.  It's also an opportunity to share photos of historic and favorite City landmarks, and to suggest places you may wish to see or photograph when visiting (some will not be in your tour guide):

  • "the City that Never Sleeps"
  • "the Big Onion"
  • "the Big Oyster"
  • "Gotham"
  • "the Empire City"
  • "the Melting Pot"
  • "A Hell of a Town"
  • "Little Old Bagdad on the Subway" (as described by O'Henry)
  • Absolute Heaven or Absolute Hell or whatever you wish to call it (use your imagination)!

New York Harbor

Returning Oysters to NY Harbor, an electric reef


© 2008 by Ronald Spainhour

, a book of some photographs on this website, can be ordered through AdoramaPix.com. 
Submit all comments and questions to:  Ronald Spainhour.

Subpages (1): Planning Your Visit