The name Manhattan comes from the Munsi language of the Lenni Lenape meaning island of many hills. Other theories contend that it comes from one of three Munsi words. „Manahactanienk” meaning place of inebriation. Other possibilities are „manahatouh” meaning a place where wood is available for making bows and arrows and „menatay” meaning simply the island.

The area that is now Manhattan was long inhabited by the Lenape Indians. In 1524, some Lenape in canoes met the Florentine Giovanni da Verrazzano, the first European explorer to pass New York Harbor, although he may not have entered the harbor past the Narrows. It was not until the voyage of Henry Hudson, an Englishman who worked for the Dutch East India Company, that the area was mapped. Hudson came across Manhattan Island and the native people living there in 1609, and continued up the river that would later bear his name, the Hudson River, until he arrived at the site of present day Albany.

A permanent European presence in New Netherland began in 1624 with the founding of a Dutch fur trading settlement on Governors Island. In 1625 construction was started on a citadel and a Fort Amsterdam on Manhattan Island, later called Nieuw Amsterdam. Manhattan Island was chosen as the site of Fort Amsterdam, a citadel for the protection of the new arrivals; its 1625 establishment is recognized as the birth date of New York City. According to the document by Pieter Janszoon Schagen our people (ons Volck) [Peter Minuit is not mentioned explicitly there] acquired Manhattan in 1626 from Native American Lenape people in exchange for trade goods worth 60 guilders, often said to be worth 24 dollars, though (by comparing the price of bread and other goods) actually amounts to around $1000 in modern currency (calculation by the International Institute of Social History from Amsterdam).

In 1647, Peter Stuyvesant was appointed as the last Dutch Director General of the colony. New Amsterdam was formally incorporated as a city on February 2, 1653. In 1664, the British conquered New Netherland and renamed it „New York” after the English Duke of York and Albany, the future King James II. Stuyvesant and his council negotiated with the British to produce 24 articles of provisional transfer that sought to guarantee New Netherlanders liberties, including freedom of religion, under British rule.

The Dutch Republic regained it in August 1673 with a fleet of 21 ships, renaming the city „New Orange”. New Netherland was ceded permanently to the English in November 1674 by treaty.

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