From Breukelen to Brooklyn – Brooklyn History
Before the Dutch colonists occupied the territory what is now Brooklyn in the early 1600s, it was home to the Canarsie Native American tribe who farmed the land and fished the surrounding waters. During the following 400 years, Brooklyn’s rural landscape and forests were entirely urbanized to become the Brooklyn that we know today. The borough of Brooklyn is among the most populated areas in America and known for its rich history and diverse culture.
Brooklyn’s impressive history started long before Christopher Columbus set foot on the shores of the New World. The borough of Brooklyn is located at Long Island’s southern tip and besides the Canarsie Native American Tribe, the area was originally also inhabited by American Indians called the Lenape (meaning “the People”) that also included the Nyack Tribe. The Lenape planted and cultivated tobacco and corn and fished in the rivers in the area.
When the Dutch colonists settled in Manhattan (as said around the early 1600s) they were met by these people and the Dutch called them “wild people” or “River Indians.” Around 1636, the wealthy Dutch started to buy land at the other side of the river and consequently, diseases like smallpox, until the unknown to America, were spreading rapidly. This led to wars and land deals were also not always done in an honorable way. So by the late 1680s, the native Lenape tribes had no longer any claims to the beautiful forested and rolling landscape and the Dutch took it all.
In those days, the Dutch colonists established five villages: Brooklyn (named after the Durch village of Breukelen), Bushwick, Flatlands, Flatbush, and New Utrecht. A sixth village, Gravesend, was established by Lady Deborah Moody in the area in 1643. She was a woman from England who had fled religious persecution in her native country and was now fleeing the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1674, the British conquered the Dutch territory and gathered all six villages into the British crown colony of New York as part of Kings County. See Brooklyn Museum.
In 1698, a census counted a total of 2,017 residents in Kings County, half of whom were these early Dutch settlers, and the others had come from England, Germany, Scandinavia, and France. There were also quite a few black slaves that were brought from Africa, mostly by the British and the Dutch, and the slave trade was flourishing in the area’s rich farmlands in the 18th century. In the years preceding the American the Revolutionary War (1775 – 1783), the slave population represented almost one-third of the entire Kings County population. Bear in mind that in New York State, slavery wouldn’t be abolished and become illegal until the year 1827.
During the Revolution, in 1776, British troops almost destroyed the inexperienced Army of George Washington at the battle of Brooklyn. The fierce fighting was ranging from Gravesend all the way to Gowanus, and if Washington’s Colonial Army hadn’t slipped to Manhattan across the East River on a very foggy night, they definitely would have been annihilated by the British who, for the duration of the war, then occupied Manhattan as well as Brooklyn. Check out also this post about Brooklyn Museums.