Posts Tagged ‘Wall Street history’

A 1660 map depicts New York’s humble start

May 6, 2013

Is this village-like settlement really the humble beginning of the bustling New York City of today?

Hard to believe, but that’s what the map says. It’s officially known as the Castello Plan, and the New York Public Library calls it the “earliest known plan of New Amsterdam and the only one dating from the Dutch period.”


It looks tidy and sweet, but don’t be fooled. New Amsterdam in in the middle of the 17th century was “a thinly populated, uncomfortable and muddy place with few creature comforts and much lawlessness,” writes Eric Homberger in The Historic Atlas of New York City.

Four main roads took travelers northward: Heere Straet (Broadway) is on the left, followed by today’s Broad Street, William Street, and Pearl Street alongside the East River.

CastelloplanredraftThat fortified street crossing the island from east to west? Wall Street, of course, then 12 feet high and the northern boundary of the city.

There’s a very cool tool on Channel Thirteen’s website that includes a georeferenced version of the Castello Plan—letting users know the names of each street and who owned each house, building, and plot of land depicted.

 At left is more colorful redraft of the original map, done in 1916.

Wall Street: scene of the first bank robbery ever

December 7, 2011

It happened way back in March 1831—and the theft wasn’t just the first bank heist in New York, but the very first in the country.

Details are sketchy, but the robbery took place on Wall Street, a financial hub since the 18th century.

An English immigrant named Edward Smith reportedly stole $245,000 from The City Bank of New York—an ancestor of today’s megabank Citibank—headquartered at 52 Wall Street.

Smith was quickly nabbed, tried, and sentenced to five years of hard labor at Sing Sing—which was only five years old at the time Smith became a inmate.

[Logo at right: a 19th century name of the original City Bank of New York, which eventually morphed into Citibank]

A peaceful scene of once-bloodied Wall Street

August 12, 2011

It’s hard to tell when this technicolor, car-free view of a strangely placid Wall Street looking toward Trinity Church dates to.

But judging by the suits and hats, it must have been post-1920. That’s the year a bomb left behind in a horse-drawn wagon ripped into this exact location in front of Federal Hall on the right, killing 38 people—mostly messengers, clerks, and other financial workers.

No one was ever brought to justice for the carnage.

An 18th century slave market on Wall Street

March 28, 2011

Slavery in New York City? It thrived from Dutch days through British rule. By the 1720s, one out of every five residents was owned by another.

The first slaves, 11 African men, came to New Amsterdam in the 1620s.

Along with other enslaved men and women who arrived from Africa or the Caribbean after them, they cleared fields, built roads, and toiled as domestics.

The Dutch (shown in this Howard Pyle painting at a 17th century slave auction) extended liberties, such as the right to own property and even win partial freedom, explains New York: An Illustrated History, by Ric Burns and James Sanders:

“Under the much harsher conditions of English rule, however, even these slender prerequisites disappeared. Henceforth, all slaves were considered chattel—forever—and the few that were freed, permanently barred from owning land or houses.”

By 1711, a slave exchange (the gazebo-like structure at right) was built on Wall Street at the East River.

“Each morning, African slaves could be seen making their way to the market at the foot of Wall Street, where while waiting to be rented out as day laborers and domestic servants they exchanged news with free blacks, and looked for every chance they could to break free,” write Burns and Sanders.

Throughout the 18th century, slave revolts kept tensions high. The British promised freedom to any slave who fought for the crown during the Revolutionary War, and the practice was officially outlawed in 1827.

The wall that divided the earliest New Yorkers

November 19, 2010

Here it is, the namesake wall of Wall Street, depicted on a colorful mosaic at the (where else?) Wall Street subway station.

Built in the 1640s at the northernmost boundary of the young settlement, the half-mile wall was the idea of Dutch colonists, who wanted to keep British settlers and Native Americans out of New Amsterdam.

It didn’t exactly work—the English took over in 1664. The wall came down just before the 18th century.