On May 4, 1626, Dutch colonist Peter Minuit arrived on the wooded island of Manhattan in present-day New York. Hired by the Dutch West India Company to oversee its trading and colonizing activities in the Hudson River region, Minuit is famous for purchasing Manhattan from resident Algonquin Indians for the equivalent of $24. The transaction was a mere formality, however, as the Dutch had already established the town of New Amsterdam at the southern end of the island.
Under the direction of Minuit, New Amsterdam became the principal settlement of the Dutch West India Company’s New Netherland territory. When the British seized the territory in 1664 and divided it into the colonies of New York and New Jersey, New Amsterdam was renamed New York City in honor of England’s Duke of York.
Except for a brief recapture by the Dutch in 1673, New York City was controlled by the British until the American Revolution. After New York ratified the Constitution in 1788, the thriving port city was named state capital, a title it held until 1797. In the late 1700s, New York City also served as capital of the United States (1789-90)and home to Congress (1785-90). By the close of the eighteenth century, it was America’s largest metropolis.
In the 1800s growth on Manhattan Island boomed, first with the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, which facilitated trading by linking New York with the Great Lakes region, and second, with the arrival of thousands of immigrants, mostly from Europe. In 1898, Manhattan merged with its neighbors Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island to form the five-borough metropolis we know today as New York City. A center for finance, commerce, and culture, New York rose out of a wooded island to become one of the world’s great cities, its Manhattan skyline an icon of the American Dream.
- View more photographs of Manhattan. Search on Manhattan and New York City in the Library’s collections of Photos, Prints and Drawings.
- See more maps of Manhattan. Search across the Map Collections on New York City.
- Don’t miss The Life of a City: Early Films of New York, 1898 to 1906, which includes forty-five early films portraying the construction of skyscrapers, the busy waterfront, street parades, markets, horse-drawn carriages, and new automobiles and subways. To find these cinematic treasures, browse the collection’s Film Title List or Subject Index.
- Visit The Atlantic World: America and the Netherlands, a collaborative effort between the Library of Congress and the National Library of the Netherlands which explores the history of the Dutch presence in America.