The Old New York: How the Big Apple Came from the Big Oyster

  Oyster on beach

  When looking to the past, one may more likely than not be able to deduce just how something or someone became what they are in the present.  History is a wealth of information that allows one to pinpoint which tinier factors led to bigger equations.  The colony of New Amsterdam and its history leading up to what it is today are no different.  
  The first Europeans to lay claim to the area were the Dutch.  Seeking to establish a banking system between the wealthy nations already settled throughout the New World, they instantly found the area of “New Amsterdam” to be opportune in both the centrality of its location and the natural resources at their disposal.  In their book Gotham: A History of New York to 1898, Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace illustrate in their first chapter how rich the land was in its “miraculous size and quantity and [the] variety of things” (Burrows and Wallace 1) that the land had.  This already indicates the future wealth the future-city would obtain, the “twelve-inch oysters…[that] crowded offshore waters” (Burrows and Wallace 4) eventually serving as New York’s original economic claim to fame  as the “Big Oyster”.  However, it was the people who settled there then the place itself that would help to attribute to New York’s stance in the future as a city open to those of political, ethnic, and ideological backgrounds.
  The original Amsterdam had made a name for itself as a haven for those not tolerated by the tyrannical Spanish government that was now in power.  The transfer of those ideals from Europe to America would eventually help to plant the seeds of future American ideals of democracy and the open-doors attitude the city is now famous for.  For one thing, the Dutch approached slavery much different then most other nations.   Not only had they come into the slave trade later than most, the Dutch also created a social stratum in which there were “free blacks.”  Although the word “free” may be a gross misrepresentation in that slaves were only given “half-freedoms”, the fact that the Dutch had recognized slavery as an immoral phenomenon as early as the 1600s was extremely progressive for that era.  In 1650, one Dutch settler by the name of Adriaten Van Der Donck illustrates the injustice of slavery in that the children of freed slaves are deemed in servitude despite the fact “it is contrary to the laws of every people that anyone born of a Christian mother should be a slave” (Empire City).
  Yet Van Der Donck brings up another interesting point in his discontent.  In his text, Van Der Donck makes the claim that the poor governmental structure set by the Dutch West India Company was the source of much disdain.   “It is bad government,” he states, “…that is the true and only foundation stone of the decay and ruin of New Netherlands” (Empire City).  Again, this mindset could be seen as extremely maverick for the time in which it was spoken in that colonial criticism of their governing countries  was generally unheard.  The statement could also be seen as a history yet-to-come, a history that involved a group of colonists rejecting sovereign rule and vying for freedom that would eventually lead to the United States of America.           
  Every event which occurs helps to shape the present and, consequently, the future.  Key aspects began to hint early on as to what kind of city Gotham would become.  Although not entirely perfect, certain financial foundations and ideological concepts began to piece themselves together to fit a bigger picture.  This picture would expand and diversify in such a way that it would form not only one of the most famous places in the world, but would help play a role in shaping one of the most influential and democratic nations to arise since the history first began.               


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