City at the Water's Edge: A Natural History of New York

By Betsy McCully | Go to book overview

5
Staking Claim

Often during my summer walks on the shore, I come upon the desiccated shell of a female blue crab, recognizable by her bluish gray carapace and legs with reddish orange pincers. It's just as savory to gulls as to the humans who go crabbing along the jetties here. Spying a glistening live crab just stranded by the receding wave, a gull swoops down to grab it, then flies off to an isolated spot to dine on the sweet flesh. It was this crab that Dutch colonist David de Vries noted as a propitious sign from the gods: “In the summertime crabs come on the flat shores, of very good taste. Their claws are of the color of the flag of our Prince, orange white and blue, so that the crabs show sufficiently that we ought to people the country, and that it belongs to us.”1

The land “discovered” and “possessed” by the Dutch in seventeenth-century New Netherland was a place of astonishing plenty, awaiting the arrival of the European to reap her bounty. The waters were teeming with fish, the air with birds, the land covered with a luxuriant growth of trees, fruiting vines, and grasses. To the European with an eye toward settlement, it was the proverbial Land of Plenty.

Henry Hudson, an Englishman sailing under the auspices of the Dutch East India Company, nosed his little ship The Half Moon into Lower New York Bay in 1609. Based on Hudson's “discovery,” the Dutch staked their claim to the region they named New Netherland, which roughly corresponded with Lenapehoking. As described by Adriaen Van Der Donck, a lawyer who settled here in the 1600s, the colony was bounded by New England on its northeastern side, demarcated by the Connecticut River; Canada to the north, demarcated by the Saint Lawrence River; and Virginia to the south, past the Delaware River. The Dutch claimed control of both the Delaware and the Hudson rivers.2

By the time Hudson sailed into the river that would be named after him, the natives had grown used to seeing the strange sailing ships and bearded men. Explorers, traders, fishermen, and pirates had visited the shores of the Atlantic seaboard since the late 1400s, and possibly earlier. Word of the white

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City at the Water's Edge: A Natural History of New York
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Introduction - Coming Home ix
  • 1: Bedrock New York 1
  • 2: The Teeming Shore 16
  • 3: At the Glacier's Edge 32
  • 4: Land of the Lenapes 45
  • 5: Staking Claim 62
  • 6: Muddied Waters 76
  • 7: Footprints 96
  • 8: Forests for Trees 111
  • 9: Urban Flyway 127
  • 10: Weathering 146
  • Notes 161
  • Index 177
  • About the Author 186
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