Posts Tagged ‘Why Williamsburg Brooklyn has no H at the end’

Williamsburg used to be Williamsburgh—when did it lose the h and why?

January 9, 2023

The Williamsburg section of Brooklyn has taken some strange and convoluted turns during its journey from farm village to urban neighborhood.

In the 17th century it was part of the Dutch town of Boswijck, which became the anglicized Bushwick when the British captured New Amsterdam in 1664.

But it wasn’t until 1802 when real-estate developer Richard M. Woodhull purchased 13 acres in Bushwick near the East River, intending to develop what had been farmland into an urban enclave. Woodhull hired an engineer, Jonathan Williams, to survey the land—then named the new development after Williams.

He called it Williamsburgh, with an h.

Williamsburgh grew rapidly. It became its own village in the town of Bushwick in 1827 and an affluent suburb of New York, according to Victor Lederer’s book Williamsburg. Riverfront industry such as shipbuilding and sugar refining attracted even more residents, and Williamsburgh incorporated itself into a town in 1840.

In 1852, the booming town—now home to 35,000 people—declared itself a separate city in Kings County. In the process, city officials dropped the h and called it the city of Williamsburg.

Williamsburg’s time as a city didn’t last long. By 1855, Williamsburg was annexed by the city of Brooklyn. And in 1898, the city of Brooklyn bit the dust, becoming the borough of Brooklyn of Greater New York City.

So it’s been 171 years since Williamsburgh became Williamsburg. What I’d like to know is why government officials decided to do away with the h in the first place.

Newspaper archives and other records aren’t giving me an answer. But my guess involves the ethnic background of Williamsburg’s newest residents in the mid-1850s. During the first half of the 19th century, thousands of Irish and German immigrants came to New York City, and a sizable number ended up in Williamsburg, laboring in the refineries and shipyards.

Perhaps “Williamsburgh” sounded a little too English. By ditching the h, Williamsburg may have been more appealing to new arrivals from nations that didn’t always have good relations with Britain.