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The Seaport district at the lower end of Manhattan Island dates back to the 1600s and, over a period of 300 years, grew into one of the City's most vital commercial centers, serving as the international gateway to New York.

Henry Hudson's Ship Half Moon
meets native Americans.
Hudson River Highlands
c. 1609

Henry Hudson's Ship Half Moon.

In 1624, the Dutch colony of New Netherland was founded, with the town of New Amsterdam on the lower tip of Manhattan established as its key settlement. Peter Minuit was subsequently sent by the Dutch West India Company to take charge of its holdings in America, and in 1626, he formally purchased Manhattan (for $24) from the local tribe from which it derives it name.

The Manhattans, Indians of the Algonquian-Wakashan linguistic stock, did not understand European customs of property and it was not long before they came into armed conflict with the rapidly expanding Dutch settlement at New Amsterdam. Beginning in 1640, a protracted war was fought between the colonists and the Manhattans, ending five years later with the tribe practically exterminated.

In 1664, without resistance, Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant surrendered New Amsterdam to a British naval force under Colonel Richard Nicolls, ending the Netherlands' colonial role in the New World. With the departure of the Dutch, the name of the promising settlement was changed to New York, in honor of the duke of York.

Map of New York. 1839. David H. Burr

Map of New YOrk. 1839. David H. Burr.

David H. Burr is of one of the first and most important truly American cartographers and map publishers. Burr was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut in August of 1803. In 1822 Burr moved to Kingsboro, New York to study law. A year and a half later he was admitted to the New York Bar association. Shortly after being admitted to the Bar, he joined the New York State Militia.

Though largely untrained in the art of Surveying, Burr was assigned to work under Surveyor General of New York, Simeon De Witt, to survey several New York Roadways. Burr was able to negotiate with the governor of New York at the time, De Witt Clinton, to obtain copies of other New York survey work in order to compile a map and Atlas of the state of New York. Recognizing the need for quality survey work of its territory, the government of New York heartily endorsed and financed Burr's efforts. The resulting 1829 Atlas of the State of New York was the second atlas of an individual U.S. State and one of the most important state atlases ever produced. Burr went on to issue other maps both of New York and of the United States in general.

New York became a great city because of its access to the sea and through the 17th and 18th centuries, the city and the port grew steadily.

Chambers Packet Ship Passing Castle Williams,
New York Harbor.

By the start of the 19th century, the port -- located along South Street -- had begun a period of intense growth and activity. Brooklyn was incorporated as a village in 1816 and construction began on the Brooklyn Navy Yard in Wallabout Bay. After the Erie Canal opened in 1825, waterfront warehouses and factories began to appear along the East River.

Enterprising merchants created new waterfront land here for hastily built warehouses and counting-houses to handle the wealth of goods coming in and out of the city by ship. The district received further boosts from the inauguration of Fulton's Brooklyn ferry service in 1814 and the establishment of the Fulton Market in 1822. South Street, New York.

In 1825, with the opening of the 425-mile Erie connecting the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean via the Hudson River, produce and goods from the country's midwest poured into the harbor. Settlers poured into western New York, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin. Goods were transported at one-tenth the previous fees in less than half the previous time. Barge loads of farm produce and raw materials traveled east and manufactured goods and supplies flowed west. The port was booming, and South Street became known to the world as the "Street of Ships." China clippers, trans-Atlantic packets, coastal and Caribbean schooners, grain barges, fishing smacks, and Long Island Sound steamboats crowded the teeming wharves.

During the months immediately following the discovery of gold in California, New York became the center of ship building in America.

May, 4, 1855, Milwaukee Daily News, Milwaukee Wisconsin

A SERIOUS CHARGE--Stephen E. Glover, a well-known merchant of New York, has been arrested on a charge of fitting out the barque Milendon for the slave trade and required to give bail in $20,000.

Saturday, September 10, 1858, New York Daily Times

Arrival of the Star of the West.
Over $1,000,000 in Gold Dust

The steamship Star of the West, Captain E. L. Tinklepaugh, arrived at 10 o'clock yesterday, in eight days from San Juan del Norte, with 560 passengers and $971,523 in gold dust on freight, and $475,000 in the hands of passengers—to Charles Morgon. She brings dates from San Francisco per Sierra Nevada, to 4 o'clock P.M. of August 16. The Pacific U.S. Mail steamship Winfield Scott left same date at 9 o'clock A.M. Tues U.S. frigate Columbia left San Juan August 31 at 4 P.M. bound to Pensacola — officers and crew all well. The brig Globe, to leave 3d inst. for New York. Hon. Solon Borland, Minister for Central America, was to proceed to Granada on the 3d inst.

We clip from the San Francisco Herald the following summary of the fortnight's news:

The news of the past fortnight possesses a good deal of interest. The Nicaragua steamship Sierra Nevada arrived on Sunday afternoon, July 31, a little before 6, in eleven and a half days from San Juan bringing dates from New York to the 5th ult. and from New Orleans to the 7th. The P.M.S.S. Co's steamer, Oregon with New York files of the same date, did not arrived until Friday afternoon, August 5, in fifteen days from Panama. She, however, brought telegraphic dispatches from New York by way of New Orleans, to the 9th ult., and New Orleans papers to the 13th. Both steamers brought a large number of passengers.

After the 1860s South Street declined, as New York outgrew its East River port. The maritime industry shifted from sail to steam, and deep-water piers drew ships across town to the Hudson River. By the mid-twentieth century, the port's activity had moved to the city's west side, to Brooklyn and New Jersey. Only the Fulton Fish Market and a few lingering cargo lines continued to use South Street's deteriorating piers.

During the late 1800s, New York was the largest port of entry for immigrants arriving to the United States. In 1855, the state of New York opened Castle Garden, at the tip of Manhattan, where officials helped immigrants change money, buy railroad tickets, and find a place to stay. Critics claimed that the depot brought down property values and that the immigrants "smelled bad."

Monday, January 10, 1870, New York Herald


The First Services in the New Building for Seamen, Foot of Pike Street
Sermons by Bishop Porter and the Rev. Samuel Cooke, D.D.
The Spiritual Comfort "Poor Jack" Has Received in this Port.

"The zest displayed by the "Protestant Episcopal Church Missionary Society for Seamen in the City and Port of New York," in the erection of the new and elegantly appointed floating chapel at the foot of Pike Street, East River, designed for the use and spiritual welfare of that class of men exposed to great temptations, both at sea and on shore, not ordinarily reached by the influences of the ministry and the Church, deserved the warmest commendation. God's blessing on such a work is already manifest. Not in the history of the society, when the first chapel was moored, in the year 1814, at the same location as the present, has the usefulness of the mission been so apparent as now. Yesterday, both in the morning and in the afternoon, services of consecration were held in the chapel, and appropriate thanksgiving in song and prayer indulged in, that such a place of rest, security and comfort, such a pleasant religious haven was finished.

Mennonite Immigrants.
1873. Mennonite Immigrants
from Russia in New York
for Journey to Dakota Territory.

Throngs of ladies and gentlemen, friends and promoters of the Christian enterprise, guided by a heavenly impulse, participated in the exercises, and many were the ejaculations of surprise heard as they collectively referred to as the appearance of the chapel, in contract with the dens of sin that are open and usually receive "Poor Jack" when first he reaches port. "An estimate of the good work which this society has accomplished may be inferred from facts developed during yesterday's services. A "Home" in Franklin square, under the same management and founded by reason of the condition of that destitute and friendless class as observed in the original chapel, has received in fourteen years 12,701 men, of whom 1,000 destitute from shipwreck were gratuitously provided with board and clothing. The large sum of $146,812 has been received from inmates for deposit in savings banks or sent to their friends, and 750 men, mostly drunkards, were reformed, many of them afterward becoming members of city churches. For the twenty-five years the mission has been in operation, the result of the work accomplished is embodied in the following:

Steamboat Landing, Albany, New York.

—Seamen and boatmen, exclusive of others to whom they have proclaimed the Gospel through the services of the church and sermons delivered 150,000. Visits have been made to 10,000 sick sailors in the hospitals; distributed 7,129 Bibles, 16,697 Testaments, 8,708 Prayer Books; 75,558 miscellaneous books of a religious tendency, and over 2,760,000 pages of tracts; baptisms, 1,544; confirmations, 324; marriages, 539; burials, 551; communicants added, 516."

June 21, 1890, American Settler, London, England

The Rise and Fugure of New York City

Immigrant Tenements of New York, 1880-1924. Deborah Hopkinson.

New York City is destined to be the largest in the world. It already contains counting all the suburban portion, about 3,500,000 inhabitants, and as it grows at the rate of a third every ten years it will not take long before it is abreast of London. Such are the advantages of position that although its government always bad, and at times infamous, may have checked its growth slightly, nothing can stop the advance of the great commercial metropolis of America to the first place in point of population.

In the main town on Manhattan Island the inhabitants are reckoned at 1,600, 000: Brooklyn 850,000; Jersey City 150,000; Long Island City, Hoboken, Staten Island, Yonkers, and other towns and villages around, making up the rest. Another disadvantage under which the commercial city labours is that its population comes under two States, being divided also into four cities and six counties. The port is lined by these cities, all really homogenous and governed by the same interest, one in sentiment and political aspiration, yet, as the New York Times has remarked, under conflicting municipal machines, which stand in the way of its healthful and orderly progress.

The Tenement Saga. The Lower East Side. Early Jewish American Writers. Sanford Sternlicht.

The tendency, however, is to consolidation, though there may be grave difficulties. By tunnels, by bridges, by railroads, and steamers, all the disjointed sections are being united ; and although two sovereign States may claim part of the New York harbour, the communication is so close, the interests so intimate, that a means will be devised by which this vast mass of population, increasing more rapidly than is any Western settlement may be united in one government. If New York city reaches as it quickly will to a population of 5,000,000 it might claim a government, apart from the States by which its two cities are misruled.

The commercial metropolis is a sort of milch cow to the politicians at Albany, and interests really adverse; to those of the great American city prevail in the State capital where lobbyists can deal with Bills which have money in them. The city owes the high place it occupies to its port, its river, and the fact that the natural cleft through the Alleghenies to the Valley of the Mississippi and the Great Lakes leads to that port. It forms a waterway and a highway for railroads, and presents the advantage of a navigable river, and a level line leading through a chain of mountains into the section which forms the producing prairies.

The City of New York. 1800s.

It is not only the most capacious but the deepest port along the whole seaboard of the North Atlantic ; and although cities possessing many facilities such as Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, &c, grow apace, they are all outstripped, falling farther and farther behind, each decade, till what were once rivals are compelled to admit that they have passed altogether out of the same category as New York. Yet the policy of the U. S. has been detrimental to the growth of New York city and other seaports. To make a port really great, it should be free, and whatever acts as a restriction, handicaps its growth. The American policy has been to exclude foreign products, to encourage home industries, and to reduce the competition of the cheaper labour of Europe to the smallest dimensions.

Hudson River. Currier & Ives.

Hudson River. Currier & Ives.

New York is the gateway, and if the American people incline to close those gates, that policy reduces the value of the port. Full and free imports stimulate to large exports, and if all the roads concentrated on New York for the exports and distributed the imports from New York, business would increase and the city would flourish to a still greater degree. Nothing can stop the growth, though something might impede, and New York city grows, and will continue to grow though ruled by a Tammany Hall, with Ward politicians to parcel out its municipal offices; though broken up into contending sections under different governments, and though the policy at Washington should continue to be to check to the utmost the import trade.

The National City Bank of New York

New York Harbor, c. 1882. Currier & Ives

New York Harbor c 1882.

City Bank of New York was chartered by New York State on June 16, 1812, with $2 million of capital. Serving a group of New York merchants, the bank opened for business on September 14 of that year, and Samuel Osgood was elected as the first President of the company. The company's name was changed to The National City Bank of New York in 1865 after it joined the new U.S. national banking system, and it became the largest American bank by 1895. It became the first contributor to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in 1913, and the following year it inaugurated the first overseas branch of a U.S. bank in Buenos Aires (although the bank had, since the mid-19th century, been active in plantation economies, such as the Cuban sugar industry). The 1918 purchase of U.S. overseas bank International Banking Corporation helped it become the first American bank to surpass $1 billion in assets, and it became the largest commercial bank in the world in 1929.

July 4, 1899, New York World, New York City

National City Bank Gets It on Highest Bid of $3,285,000
Only Two Other Bidders

The Architecture of Cross and Cross, New York. Peter Pennoyer, Author.

WASHINGTON, July 3.-The Secretary of the Treasury to-day opened bids on the New York Custom-House property. He awarded the property to the National City Bank of New York on the bid of $3,265,000, this being the highest received. There were two other bids, the New York Realty, Bond, Exchange and Trust Company at $3,075,000, and the Farmers' Loan and Trust Company at $3,050,000.

The bid of the City Bank was made in the name of Its President, James S. Stlllman. He enclosed a check for $150,030 as part payment, and stated in his letter of transmlttal that he preferred paying a large part of the purchase price in cash.

July 11, 1890, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California


The New York Tribune Advises England to Take Her Warships Away

New York, 1777, British Army. Revolutionary War Map. Howe.New York 1777. British Army

1777. British Army Fleet, Howe.

New York, July 10th. -- The Tribune, in an editorial on the Behring Sea matter to-morrow, will say that Congress has acted wisely in calling for correspondence on the controversy. "It is evident," says the editorial, that Lord Salisbury is advancing some most absurd contentions. There is some reason to believe that a certain quality of menace is imparted to his latter tones. Some curious military and naval operations have been going on lately about our coast. Great Britain has been strengthening her splendid defenses at Halifax, increasing the military and naval forces there, has been adding to her fleet at the Bermudas and Bahamas, and sending a considerable squadron to the Behring sea. If she desires this display to be interpreted by the United States as a menace, she is engaged in a foolish and regrettable business. It is not agreeable to a spirited people to feel that an effort is being made to awe them into submission by a display ot engines of force.

"We can imagine no proceeding on England's part more likely to convince the American people that the Behring sea is mare clausum than the presence of British gunboats in the neighborhood of our Pribylov islands. We can fancy no demonstration more admirably calculated to unite this country in resolute determination on its extreme demand than the sight of British cruisers hovering around our Atlantic coast. It is desirable that Great Britain should appreciate this point. Americans cannot suppose that this unusual congress of war ships is an expression of genuine British friendship. But whatever it means, it serves no good purpose, and the British Government will do itself a favor by ordering its cruisers away."

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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