How New York Became New York... by Jacob Harris
If you were to ask a British colonist in 1700 what the most prominent city in the colonies would be in 300 years they most likely would pick either Boston or Philadelphia (both religious havens and economic centers). Few would think of New York, then just a property of the British empire since 1674 and a small city that had been a struggling Dutch colony. So, how did the city’s fortunes rise so rapidly that it had become the biggest city in the United States by 1835 and has had an national and international prominence? Commerce.
New York was not necessarily a better shipping port that Boston in the beginning, but New York accrued advantages that led to further advantages over the years. The opening of the Erie Canal allowed New York to become a primary shipping point for goods from the interior to Europe. This in turn led to the development of a vibrant ship-building industry and more commerce through the city. Which then led to regular scheduled clipper ships to London and eventually the first Trans-Atlantic cable. Which meant that information from Europe came first to New York, so there was a natural advantage to locating banks and financial firms here. This also led to the growth of communication and innovation in the city, technology and trade. But it all started with shipping. Before the glass towers of commerce there now, lower New York was bristling with the masts of ships.
But, I’m losing my main point here is that the South Street Seaport is the best place to learn about this fascinating history. In addition to galleries of artifacts and history, the museum also has several docked boats that can be visited. In addition, there is a working letterpress print shop where you can learn about some of the supporting industries to the shipping trade.
But my favorite part is the Pioneer. A working schooner from 1885, she goes on 2-hour sails in New York harbor during the day and even sunset or night. Tickets are available at the seaport and include admission to the museum and other ships. It’s a great perspective on the city and a lovely experience on a summer day.over 7 years ago