Fordham, a History of the Jesuit University of New York: 1841-2003

By Thomas J. Shelley | Go to book overview

4
RETURN OF THE BLACKROBES

The New Metropolis

The New York and Harlem Railroad, which whisked the Kentucky Jesuits from downtown Manhattan to Fordham in an hour in August 1846, was their first introduction to the changes that were transforming New York City. At the beginning of the decade the population of the city (which was then coterminous with the twenty-two acres of Manhattan island) was 312,710. Only 33,000 people lived north of 14th Street, with perhaps as many as a third of them making their living from agriculture. When St. John’s College, Fordham, celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary in 1866, the population of the city had grown to more than 813,669, creating a whole new city between 14th Street and 42nd Street. “The New Metropolis” was the name that the historian Edward Spann gave to New York City in that era.1

Thanks partially at least to the Erie Canal, New York City outstripped all its maritime rivals on the East Coast in the thirty-five years before the Civil War. By 1828 the import duties collected at the New York Customs House practically financed the operations of the federal government, defraying all the expenses in Washington except the interest on the national debt. New York also became the financial capital of and the largest manufacturing center in the United States. By the 1840s it was one of the fastestgrowing large industrial areas in the world. Between 1800 and 1850 the rate of growth was 750 percent, higher than that of Manchester or Liverpool or, in Sean Wilentz’s memorable words, “higher than that of all the jerry-built catastrophes of Dickensian lore.” By 1860 the population of New York City was larger than that of twenty of the thirty-three states.2

1. Edward K. Spann, The New Metropolis (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981), 103; Ira Rosenwaike, Population History of New York City (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1972), 36. The census of 1860 included seven Native Americans in the population of New York City.

2. Spann, New Metropolis, 121; Sean Wilentz, Chants Democratic: New York City and the Rise of the American Working Class, 1788–1850 (New York: Oxford University Press,

-51-

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