Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Native Peoples Of Lower Manhattan

above image and information below are from Eric Ferrara at the the lower east side history project
Gentrification? The native peoples of Lower Manhattan
Native American peoples inhabited the New York City area for a thousand years before America was "discovered" by Christopher Columbus.
These people were the Lenape tribes of Algonquin lineage, who were considered to be the "grandfathers" of all the various Algonquin-speaking tribes. It was Lenape canoes that met Verrazano in NY Harbor during the very first recorded contact with Europeans in 1524.
The complicated Native American social structure is easier to identify and group by language-spoken rather than by "tribe," but for the sake of this article, I will lazily associate each group as "tribe" anyway. :)
The Native peoples of early Manhattan island hunted big game like Moose and deer, and harpooned bottlehead whales off the shores. They grew maize and trapped small game like beaver. Since nature was sacred to the Lenape, who believed animals held spiritual significance, not one bit of their game was wasted. Pelts, bones, and meat were used in every way possible. In fact the Dutch were impressed by the minimal footprint the Lenape left after living here for hundreds of years. Nothing was destroyed that was not necessary for survival or ritual.
According to Dutch accounts, "The environment was pristine. The air smelled unusually sweet and dry, and schools of playful dolphins escorted ships into the harbor. The air was so filled with birds that sometimes you could hardly hear a conversation."
Large settlements of Native Americans sprouted up at strategic locations along today's Hudson and East River banks. The streets we call the Bowery and 4th Avenue today were the exact route the natives used to travel North and South and Astor Place was a sacred meeting place called "Kintecoying" (meaning "Crossroads of Three Nations").
It was here at Astor Place, or Kintecoying (see map, right), that these three diverse sects of Lenape met around a tall oak tree, a sacred symbol to the people of the day, and told stories of ancient tradition and held spiritual ceremonies. This is where the tribes would share important news and information from around the territories, where tribal councils were set up to decide disagreements, and where valuable goods were traded.
The closest tribe to Kintecoying was the Renneiu-speaking Canarsie tribes, who predominantly settled on the east side of the Bowery, with two major Villages: Shempoes, which was located between modern day 10th to 14th Streets along 2nd Avenue; and Rechtanck, located on the coast around modern day Clinton and Montgomery streets.
To the West of the Bowery were the Unami-speaking Sapohannikan tribes. Their territory was approximately between today's W.14th Street and Canal streets, with their main village, Sapohannikan, established along the coast of the Hudson River approximately where Horatio and Greenwhich streets sit today. And North of today's Union Square were the Munsee speaking Lenape tribes.
The trail from Shempoes Village started about where St. Marks Church sits today and cut straight through 9th Street and St. Marks Place, then West into Astor Place.
The Sapohannikan trail originated around Horatio Street heading North to 13th Street before essentially following Greenwich Avenue all the way to Washington Square Park -- which the path cut straight through -- before heading East again to Astor Place.
The Lenape were not helpless people; Manhattan island was a thriving center of agriculture and commerce; The Canarsie had set up shipping routes to export local goods as early as 1300 AD, 300 years before the first Europeans settled New Amsterdam.
To put it in perspective, once the Dutch arrived for good in 1613, there were about 15,000 Lenape inhabiting the area. It took only a few short years before most of Manhattan island's natural resources were exhausted and the native people were wiped or forced out. By 1700, less than 200 Lenape remained.
I can only imagine the nerve of guys like Columbus, Verrazano, et al. Think about it. That is like you or I driving into a small town upstate, setting up a shop a main street, telling the locals they now live in "Joe town," then inviting all of our friends from the city to join us. (Oh, then we negotiate deals with neighboring towns to kill all of the locals so there is no opposition. Then we kill the people who helped us because we need to expand to accommodate more of our friends.)
Want to talk about gentrification?

1 comment:

K said...

Might be good if you cite your source, "New York Natives," Evan Pritchard. Im doing research on this for a lesson and your blog popped up in my search. Most of what you wrote should be in quotes.
In Peace,