How Manhattan or York Island of New York City was Named.

Henry Hudson, 1609.

A letter written by Peter Schaghen from the ship Arms of Amsterdam in November 1626 is the first to refer to the island as Manhattes.  The Dutch, early on began calling the Native Americans who resided on the island they settled as well as to the surrounding region as Manhattan Indians, however no such tribe existed.

The word Manhattes is from a dialect of the Wappinger or Wapanachki tribe and specifically a sub-tribe called the Reckgawawancs.  It is this tribe who inhabited Manhattes Island and along the eastern shore of Long Island. They pronounced the island manah (island) and atin (hill). In 1633, the Dutch settler Van de Donek classified all the natives in the region by their spoken language naming four: Manhattan, Minqua, Sauanos and Wappanoos.

Manhattens became the genetic title given to all aboriginal people with whom the Dutch settled. The  Manhattans included those indigenous people who lived along the North River (Mahicanittuk or Hudson), Long Island and the ‘Neversinks’ (headwaters of the Neversinks River to the west of the Hudson Highlands).

Native American village on lower Manhattan Island

De Laet wrote that on “the east side [of the island] and on the mainland dwell the Manhattens.”  In 1632, Wassenaer wrote “[the Manhattens] are a bad race of savages who have always been unfriendly to our people.

The Wappinger were the tribe that notoriously attacked Henry Hudson on his return trip down the North River. From their fort Nipinichsen, on the north bank of the Spuyten Duyvil Creek, they pushed out in two dug-out birch canoes and threatened the explorer’s ship.  It was the sub-tribe Reckgawawancs who used the southern portion of the island as hunting villages. One such village, Sapohanikan, was purchased from the Reckgawawancs by Peter Minuit on May 6th, 1626 for 60 guilders worth of trinkets.

The English began calling Manhattan Island York Island after they conquered New Netherland in 1664 renaming New Amsterdam to New York. This was in honor of the Duke of York who acquired the settlement and subsequent land in the 1674 Treaty of Westminster.  By the time of the Revolution, because of British influence, many still called the island York.  Eventually it was dropped reverting back to Manhattan Island.

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Map of lower Manhattan Island, New Amsterdam. Note the wall enclosing the New Amsterdam, future Wall Street.

The Indians of Manhattan Island and Vicinity by Alason Skinner.  Pbl. American Museum of Natural History 1909.

New York Historical Society Collections 2nd ser, 1841 vol. 1: 71-74.

History of the City of New York, Martha J. Lamb, 1877.

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