The 25 best books about the history of New York City's boroughs and neighborhoods (2023)

Marjorie Cohen of the BNHG planning committee wrote this article which appeared originally in the website

In a previous blog, Marjorie Cohen asked 11 authors and historians to chooseThe 25 best books about New York City history. So many good books came up in the process that she decided to save some of the haul for further lists. Having highlighted books that deal with the entire city in some way or another, in this blog she rounded up the best neighborhood-specific New York history books, again as selected by an array of experts. Here are their picks, organized roughly by the part of the city they cover.

Lower Manhattan

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South Street: A Photographic Guide to New York City’s Historic Seaport, by Ellen Fletcher Rosebrock
"Rosebrock’s book was published in 1974 by the still relatively new South Street Seaport Museum. It remains an excellent guide to the neighborhood, but is particularly interesting for its historic images, both those illustrating the 19th-century Seaport, and those showing the neighborhood in all its 1970s shabbiness—aperiod in the Seaport’s history that now seems equally remote.”—Anthony Robins, architectural historian and author orNew York Art Deco

​The Lower East Side Remembered and Revisited: A History and Guide to a Legendary New York Neighborhood, by Joyce Mendelsohn
“Were I limited to one recommendation for a book about the Lower East Side, this book would definitely be it. Briefly and succinctly, Mendelsohn chronicles sites and the historic transformation of this immensely culturally rich neighborhood. Five self-guided walking tours let the reader view more than 150 sites, aged tenements nestled next to luxury apartment towers which in turn abut historic churches and synagogues. This book is a treasure!”—Justin Ferate, historian

The Synagogues of New York’s Lower East Side, Second Edition, by Gerard Wolfe, Jo Renee Fine, Joseph Berger, and Norman Borden
“In this update of the 1978 classic first edition, Wolfe kept the exquisite archival photos of Dr. Jo Renee Fine and has added photos and information from a group of very accomplished Lower East Side activists and archivists. This is the only documentation of the surviving synagogues of what was once the largest Jewish community.”—Justin Ferate

New York Before Chinatown, by John Kuo Wei Tchen
“The roots of the Chinese-American community and an exploration of the myths and stereotypes.”—Kathleen Hulser, public historian

Greenwich Village and How it Got that Way, by Terry Miller
“Historian Terry Miller’s walking tour book is a love song to Greenwich Village. Well illustrated with easy-to-read maps, the book glories in delightful stories and beloved legends while exploring the rich social and cultural history of this legendary New York City neighborhood. The author’s love and affinity for the Village can be experienced on every page.”—Justin Ferate


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The Park and the People: A History of Central Park, by Elizabeth Blackmar and Roy Rosenzweig
“Fascinating research that tells the story of creating a public park and also outlines what was lost (for example the demolition of the free black town of Seneca Village).”—Kathleen Hulser

​This Was Harlem, by Jervis Anderson
“Originally created as a series inThe New Yorker, this book is both jaunty and well-researched. It documents the migration of the black community to Harlem at the turn of the century and chronicles the community’s life and culture from its heyday in the 1920s to its decline in the 1950s. Using vivid primary sources (news, novels, etc.) as well as secondary sources, Anderson enlivens moments of history.”—Justin Ferate

The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1890-1950, by Robert Orsi
"This classic work of social history uses Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church as an entry point to exploring the way that immigrant identity, religion, family, and a changing city culture all shaped the lives of Italian immigrant families in East Harlem in the early 20th century. Readers learn how a community stays united in the face of pressures to assimilate, and how one church and its parish reveal both the tensions and the support that often goes unnoticed by the outside world.”—Dominique Jean- Louis, historian working on the New-York Historical Society’s upcoming exhibitionBlack Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow

​The Harlem Renaissance: Hub of African-American Culture, 1920-1930, by Steven Watson
"An important study of one of America’s most influential cultural periods. Readers learn of Harlem’s early 20th-century history, from the Cotton Club to its noted literary salons, from its white patrons such as Carl van Vechten to its most famous entertainers such as Duke Ellington, Josephine Baker, Ethel Waters, Fats Waller, and Bessie Smith, among many others. Watson conveys the social life of working-class speakeasies, rent parties, and gay and lesbian nightlife, as well as the celebrity parties at the mansion of Harlem’s most notedsalonniere, A’Lelia Walker. The flowcharts that illustrate the interrelationships among all the major players are without equal.”—Justin FerateBrooklyn

The 25 best books about the history of New York City's boroughs and neighborhoods (2)

The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar New York, by Suleiman Osman
“About how neighborhoods change. A deep dive into gentrification and redefining aging housing as historic neighborhoods.”—Kathleen Hulser

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​The Girls: Jewish Women of Brownsville Brooklyn, 1940-1995, by Carole Bell Ford
“A sociologist interviews women of her own cohort, who grew up in the 1940s and'50s, about their memories and shared experiences. A vibrant study of an ethnic, working class community and an original contribution to women’s history.”—Nancy Woloch, research scholar, Barnard College, author ofEleanor Roosevelt in Her Words

The Accidental Playground: Brooklyn Waterfront Narratives of the Undesigned and the Unplanned, by Daniel Campo
“A highly original book on how the public appropriates spaces, even before the city gets around to calling them ‘parks’ and moving in their bulldozers. Skateboarders, fishermen, the homeless, teens, Brooklyn hipsters, and preservationists all appear as players and characters.”—KathleenHulser

Brown Girl, Brownstones, by Paule Marshall
“This novel about immigrants from Barbados in Brooklyn shares a child’s view of an immigrant family’s struggle to achieve the American Dream. Her unforgettable neighbors, family, and classmates round out her world and understanding of where she and her family fit in the brownstone-lined streets of Brooklyn. A classic of Caribbean life in New York City.”—Dominique Jean-Louis

The Bronx

The City Boy
, by Herman Wouk

“An unpretentious and now-forgotten novel about a kid growing up in the Bronx in the 1920s. The reader meets Herbie Bookbinder and shares his droll experience of family, friends, public school, summer camp, and his lower-middle-class community.”—Nancy Woloch

Riverdale, Kingsbridge & Spuyten Duyvil, by William A. Tieck
“Rev.Tieck was the pastor of St. Stephen’s Methodist Church in Marble Hill. Fascinated by the history of the Bronx neighborhoods directly to the north of the church, he wrote a series of articles for the Riverdale Press, which were collected into this book in 1968. Local New York history was largely ignored at the time. These were the years when Penn Station was demolished. Rev. Tieck wrote in his preface: ‘It is time we realized that to lose our heritage is to lose our destiny. And it is time somebody did something about it. Hence this volume.’ Historic photos of buildings, sites and manuscripts accompany his chatty but knowledgeable story telling.”—Anthony Robins

Bronx Primitive: Portraits in a Childhood, by Kate Simon
“‘I was the queen of my block. No one but I knew it, and I knew it well.’ Simon’s limpidly written account of an immigrant Jewish girl’s life in a Bronx tenement in the 1920s quivers with such vibrant detail that it practically created our collective memory of what that place and period were like.”—Justin Davidson, author ofMagnetic City

The Beautiful Bronx 1920-1950, by Lloyd Ultan
Ultan, the Bronx borough historian, has written extensively about that borough. “His books go by era and deal with what was going on in individual neighborhoods at the time. They’re coffee-table size with lots of photos.”—AdrienneOnofri,author ofWalking BrooklynandWalking Queens


Walking Queens: 30 Tours for Discovering the Diverse Communities, Historic Places, and Natural Treasures of New York City’s Largest Borough, by Adrienne Onofri
“This book makes the complexity of Queens accessible and readily comprehended. It’s easily portable and explores the diverse communities, historical places, and natural treasures of well-known neighborhoods such as Forest Hills, Astoria, and Jackson Heights as well as lesser known villages such as Warnerville and Meadowmere. Each chapter features a map with directions for a three to four mile walk through the featured neighborhood."—JustinFerate

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The 25 best books about the history of New York City's boroughs and neighborhoods (3)

The Future of Us All,by Roger Sanjek
“In the 1990s, the author, an anthropologist at Queens College, began several years of field work in the Elmhurst-Corona area. Here different immigrant streams were becoming a majority of the population but no single ethnic group clearly predominated culturally or politically. In order to achieve improvements in the neighborhood, informal interpersonal connections led to informal and formal organizations, which worked together on their own and with local government. This remarkable book documents these processes.”
Jack Eichenbaum, geographer and Queens borough historian

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, by Robert Caro
Somehow this book didn't make it onto our best New York City list, but hey, we defer to the experts. This seminal tome isabout the man who drasticallyreshaped the face of the city and the state over five decades of the 20thcentury,without winning a single election. The bookdeals with, and Robert Moses's legacy is felt throughout,all of New York. But,“Queens, more than any other borough, was the beneficiary and/or victim of Robert Moses’s schemes, and Caro’s book is a great read.”
—Jack Eichenbaum

A Modern Arcadia: Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. and the Plan for Forest Hills Gardens, by Susan Klaus
“A chronicle of the history of the 142-acre development from its inception in 1909 through its first two decades. The book offers critical insights into American planning history, landscape architecture, and the social and economic forces that shaped housing in the Progressive Era. In this book you’ll learn of the major players, including Olmsted and Mrs. Olivia Sage, the woman behind the creation of this transformational community that theNew York Tribunecalled ‘ a modern Garden of Eden, a fairy tale too good to be true.’”—Justin Ferate

Staten Island

The 25 best books about the history of New York City's boroughs and neighborhoods (4)

Sailor’s Snug Harbor 1801-1876,by Barnett Shepherd
“I love this book. It is simple and to the point with pages and pages of genuine historical photos and some short stories from 19th century publications about Snug Harbor.”—PatriciaSalmon

Staten Island and its People, by William T. Davis and Charles W. Leng
“These are two of my heroes. They’ve written five volumes of what is the bible of Staten Island history. It’s where everybody goes first, and it’s an enjoyable read. The first two volumes are all about the history of the borough: religion, schools, factories, natural history, wildlife, everything. The third through fifth volumes are biographies of important Staten Island residents, people like Governor Daniel D. Tompkins, George Cromwell, the first borough president, and some of the Vanderbilts.”—Patricia M. Salmon, retired curator of history at the Staten Island Museum and author ofRealms of History: The Cemeteries of Staten Island

​Made on Staten Island
, by Charles L. Sachs

“A comprehensive look back at industry on Staten Island from 1819 to the 1970s. A companion piece to an exhibit at Historic Richmondtown, it covers businesses such as Procter and Gamble,Kreischer’s Brick Works, U.S. Gypsum, and some of the breweries that were once located on the island.”—Patricia Salmon
Sandy Ground Memories, by Lois Mosley
“Tells the story of Sandy Ground (anAfrican-American community of freed slaves and freedmen that dates back to the 1810s) through the personal reminiscences of the author and from a woman’s perspective. It covers the life of the oystermen (the profession of many of the residents), the churches, and the school life.”—Patricia Salmon


What is the oldest neighborhood in New York? ›

Stone Street is one of New York's oldest streets, incorporating two 17th-century roads in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. In 1658 it became the first cobbled street in New Amsterdam.
Stone Street (Manhattan)
Significant dates
Designated NYCLJune 25, 1996
14 more rows

What is the oldest burrow in NYC? ›

It's a little-known fact that our beautiful borough of The Bronx was, in fact, the first borough of New York City. In 1874, the lands west of the Bronx River were annexed to New York County aka NYC.

What is the most desirable neighborhood in NYC? ›

15 Best New York City Neighborhoods (in 2022)
  • Upper West Side (Manhattan)
  • Upper East Side (Manhattan)
  • Greenwich Village (Manhattan)
  • East Village (Manhattan)
  • Bayside (Queens)
  • Financial District (Manhattan)
  • Brooklyn Heights (Brooklyn)
  • Williamsburg (Brooklyn)
31 Aug 2022

What is the oldest name of New York? ›

Following its capture, New Amsterdam's name was changed to New York, in honor of the Duke of York, who organized the mission. The colony of New Netherland was established by the Dutch West India Company in 1624 and grew to encompass all of present-day New York City and parts of Long Island, Connecticut and New Jersey.

What did natives call New York? ›

The Lenape, Manhattan's original inhabitants, called the island Manahatta, which means “hilly island.” Rich with natural resources, Manahatta had an abundance of fruits, nuts, birds, and animals. Fish and shellfish were plentiful and the ocean was full of seals, whales, and dolphins.

What is the blackest neighborhood in New York City? ›

Black New Yorkers cluster in Central Harlem, the north Bronx, central Brooklyn, and southeast Queens. The Hispanic population predominates in northern Manhattan, the Bronx, Elmhurst/Corona area, north and east Brooklyn, and parts of Staten Island.

What is the quietest neighborhood in NYC? ›

Upper East Side

What is the coolest neighborhood in New York? ›

Ridgewood landed the top spot as the coolest neighborhood in NYC and the fourth coolest in the world (out of 51). Ridgewood came in behind Colonia Americana in Guadalajara, Mexico (No. 1), Cais do Sodré in Lisbon, Portugal (No.

What is the nicest borough in New York? ›

Manhattan is the most famous and recognizable borough of New York City. It contains the most desirable addresses in the city. Tourists and new residents naturally flock to Manhattan because of its location and popularity.

What is the only NYC borough that isn't an island? ›

Located north of Manhattan, and the only part of New York City that is not an island, is the Bronx. While being densely populated, much of the borough is open space including the New York Botanical Garden and the Bronx Zoo.

What's the smallest borough in NYC? ›

With a land area of 109 sq mi, Queens is by far the largest borough, with Brooklyn representing the next largest land area of 71 sq mi. The Bronx and Manhattan are the smallest with only 42 and 23 sq mi respectively.

What is the prettiest city in New York? ›

Lake Placid

Technically more of a village than a city, Lake Placid is perhaps the most beautiful town in New York State. If you're looking for a scenic spot to eat good food, shop in small boutiques, and spend the day skiing down hills or kayaking on a lake, Lake Placid is the place to be.

What is the nicest most affordable area in New York City? ›

Share: The most affordable neighborhoods in NYC for 2022 are the Bronx's Parkchester, Bedford Park, and Fieldston as well as Lindenwood and Briarwood in Queens. Median sales prices are under $300,000 in each of these NYC neighborhoods.

What does SoHo stand for? ›

SoHo (an acronym for South of Houston Street) still features galleries, though these days the work within them tends toward the more high-end commercial—matching the luxury boutiques and independent-designer outposts that characterize the area.

What is the oldest city in New York? ›

NEW YORK: Albany, est.

The capital of New York is also its oldest city. Originally founded as Fort Orange by Dutch settlers in 1624, the city was officially chartered by the British government as Albany in 1686.

Why does the Bronx have a the? ›

People often wonder why the Bronx, alone of all New York's boroughs, has “the” as part of its name. It's because the borough is named after the Bronx River and the river was named for a man born in far-off Sweden.

Where is the oldest restaurant in NYC? ›

Located at 54 Pearl Street on the corner of Broad Street, Fraunces Tavern now stands as an iconic institution in one of New York's most historic locations, near the Wall Street financial district. Listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, Fraunces Tavern is a museum, restaurant, and bar.

What did Native Americans call Brooklyn? ›

For Brooklyn, it was originally the “Lenapehoking” or the Land of the Lenape, an offspring of the Algonquin civilization; and includes present day New Jersey, New York and Delaware, until forced displacement started with European “discovery” of the land and continued well into the 19th century.

What do the locals call New York? ›

New York City: the Big Apple

New York City is known by many nicknames—such as “the City that Never Sleeps” or “Gotham”—but the most popular one is probably “the Big Apple.” How did this nickname come about?

What do Native Americans call themselves now? ›

The consensus, however, is that whenever possible, Native people prefer to be called by their specific tribal name. In the United States, Native American has been widely used but is falling out of favor with some groups, and the terms American Indian or Indigenous American are preferred by many Native people.

What is the whitest county in New York? ›

New York White Population Percentage by County
53 more rows

What is the safest community in New York? ›

The safest neighborhood in New York City is Tribeca. Located in southern Manhattan along the banks of the Hudson River, Tribeca sits in one of the most prominent parts of Manhattan for the rich and famous.

Where do rich Black people live in NYC? ›

A Look At Four Prominent NYC Neighborhoods Rich in Black History
  • Weeksville/Crown Heights. When it comes to New York City neighborhoods rich in Black history, Brooklyn houses many of them. ...
  • Bedford-Stuyvesant, aka Brooklyn's Little Harlem. ...
  • Jamaica, Queens, aka The Green.
22 Feb 2022

What is the safest city in NYC? ›

5 Safest Neighborhoods in Manhattan
  • Roosevelt Island.
  • Battery Park.
  • Tribeca.
  • Murray Hill.
  • Kips Bay.
23 Jun 2022

Where is the nicest place to live in NYC? ›

  • Astoria (Queens)
  • Park Slope (Brooklyn) ...
  • Lower East Side (Manhattan) ...
  • Greenwich Village (Manhattan) ...
  • East Village (Manhattan) ...
  • Bushwick (Brooklyn) ...
  • Inwood (Manhattan) ...
  • Fordham and University Heights (Bronx) Perfect for those looking for an affordable and quieter side of New York. ...
10 Mar 2022

What is the poshest place to live in New York? ›

With a median sale price of $1.14 million and a 4% Y-o-Y increase in the borough's median, Manhattan remained the priciest of the four boroughs analyzed (as expected).

What is the toughest borough in New York? ›

The following are the worst neighbourhoods and districts in New York's Unsafe Areas:
  • Long wood. A Bronx neighbourhood with a population of 33,198 people. ...
  • Fort Greene. ...
  • Brooklyn Heights, Boerum Hill & Dumbo. ...
  • Garment District. ...
  • Chelsea & Hell's Kitchen. ...
  • Ocean Hill. ...
  • Greenwich Village & Meatpacking District. ...
  • High bridge.
6 Aug 2022

What is the cleanest borough in New York? ›

Meanwhile, the cleanest are Stuy Town in Manhattan, Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill in Brooklyn, Co-op City in the Bronx, Springfield Gardens in Queens and Grymes Hill in Staten Island. The study found that the winter months of February and March are the worst for complaints.

Did New York ever have a 6th borough? ›

Jersey City and Hoboken in Hudson County are sometimes referred to as the sixth borough, given their proximity and connections by PATH trains. Fort Lee, in Bergen County, opposite Upper Manhattan and connected by the George Washington Bridge, has also been called the sixth borough.

Was there a 6th borough in New York? ›

Some 130 miles north of Times Square, on a bend in the river that shares its name, sits the city of Hudson, New York, population 6,300.

Which borough has the highest crime rate? ›

  • The most dangerous neighborhood in NYC is Hunts Point. ...
  • Brownsville has had a long history of being one of the bad parts of New York. ...
  • Mott Haven is easily one of the worst neighborhoods in New York in terms of safety. ...
  • Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood has long been known for its crime rates.
5 Oct 2022

What is the only borough in New York City not connected to the subway? ›

Staten Island is the only New York City borough not connected to the subway.

What is the most populated borough in NYC? ›

Besides being the most populous borough with a little over 2,600,000 inhabitants, Brooklyn is probably the second most famous district of New York after Manhattan.

Which burrow is Harlem in? ›

Harlem is an NYC neighborhood located in Upper Manhattan. It is bound by 155th St, the East and Hudson Rivers, Fifth Avenue, and Central Park North. What borough is Harlem in? Harlem is located within the borough of Manhattan.

What is the most fashionable street in New York? ›

fifth avenue

The most famous street for shopping in New York is Fifth Avenue between 49th Street and 60th Street. It's home to luxury brands' eye-catching stores.

What is the number one tourist attraction in New York City? ›

1. Statue of Liberty. America's most iconic sight, the Statue of Liberty is at the top of every first-time visitor's list of things to do in New York.

Where do most millionaires live in New York? ›

As you probably expect, most rich New Yorkers live in Manhattan. Overall, over half of the 50 richest NYC neighborhoods are in Manhattan, including the top 15, while Brooklyn is home to 19 of the city's priciest nabes, and Queens and Staten Island are home to 5 and 1, respectively.

Where do you live if you can't afford Manhattan? ›

Living in NYC is notoriously expensive. Want easy access to the city without the high price? Check out these affordable alternatives.
  • New Rochelle, NY. ...
  • 10 Things To Do in New York City. ...
  • Maplewood, NJ. ...
  • Stamford, CT. ...
  • Yonkers, NY. ...
  • Fleetwood, NY. ...
  • Tarrytown, NY.
14 Aug 2018

What does TriBeCa stand for? ›

The acronym TriBeCa stands for "Triangle Below Canal," a coveted swatch of real estate bordered by Canal Street (to the north) West Street (to the east), Broadway (to the west) and Vesey Street (to the south).

What does NoHo stand for in NYC? ›

Nestled just above SoHo's bustle, NoHo (for “North of Houston Street”) occupies only a few blocks—but proves that sometimes less is more.

What is the ho in SoHo? ›

Short for South of Houston (pronounced HOUSE-tin) Street, the neighborhood of SoHo got its name from the catchy naming acronyms that keep popping up. It is also a play on the London neighborhood of the same name. Other New York City acronyms are DUMBO and TriBeCa.

What is NYC known for historically? ›

New York City served as the capital of the United States from 1785 to 1790. During the 1760s and 1770s, the city was a center of anti-British activity–for instance, after the British Parliament passed the Stamp Act in 1765, New Yorkers closed their businesses in protest and burned the royal governor in effigy.

What are 3 historical facts about New York? ›

Times Square is named after the New York Times. It was originally called Longacre Square until the Times moved there in 1904. New York City became the first capital of the United States in 1789. More Chinese people live in New York City than any other city outside of Asia.

What is the brief history of New York? ›

The history of New York begins around 10,000 B.C. when the first people arrived. By 1100 A.D. two main cultures had become dominant as the Iroquoian and Algonquian developed. European discovery of New York was led by the Italian Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524 followed by the first land claim in 1609 by the Dutch.

What are 2 historical facts about New York? ›

In 1624 the Dutch established a colony on what's now Manhattan Island called New Amsterdam. It was renamed New York once the British took control of the area in 1664. But after the American Revolution in 1776, New York became a U.S. colony, then a state in 1788.

Who were the first settlers in NY? ›

The Dutch first settled along the Hudson River in 1624 and established the colony of New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island. In 1664, the English took control of the area and renamed it New York. One of the original 13 colonies, New York played a crucial political and strategic role during the American Revolution.

Which city does not sleep? ›

Although New York City may be the most prominently recognized city termed "The City That Never Sleeps", and the city's subway system never closes, the term has been applied to other cities.

What was NYC called before 1664? ›

By 1664, however, the English were back in control, and it has been New York ever since. New York City was called New Amsterdam before it was called New York. Early Dutch settlers became involved with the fur trade in the New York area.

Is it illegal to honk your horn in New York? ›

You can report noise from a vehicle caused by an idling engine, loud music, or horn honking. Horn honking is only allowed as a warning of danger.

What was New York called in 1776? ›

The Province of New York (1664–1776) was a British proprietary colony and later royal colony on the northeast coast of North America.

What are 5 historical facts about New York City? ›

Read on to learn more about the city that many consider to be the Centre of the Universe.
  • It used to be called New Amsterdam. ...
  • It's been a melting pot of cultures for nearly 200 years. ...
  • Its stock exchange was founded under a tree. ...
  • It popularised bingo in America. ...
  • It has one of the world's largest libraries.

What was New York called in 1692? ›

"New York, originally called New Netherlands, was so named in honor of the Duke of York and Albany, England, to whom the territory was granted on its conquest from its first settlers, the Dutch.

Why is Manhattan called New York? ›

The settlement was named New Amsterdam (Dutch: Nieuw Amsterdam) in 1626 and was chartered as a city in 1653. The city came under English control in 1664 and was renamed New York after King Charles II of England granted the lands to his brother, the Duke of York.

Did the natives sell Manhattan? ›

This letter from Peter Schaghen, written in 1626, makes the earliest known reference to the company's purchase of Manhattan Island from the Lenape Indians for 60 guilders. Schaghen was the liaison between the Dutch government and the Dutch West India Company.

What are people from New York called? ›

New York. People who live in New York are called New Yorkers and Empire Staters.

Who named New York City? ›

Dutch settlers named the lower part of the island New Amsterdam in 1624. When the English seized the land in 1664, they renamed it New York in honor of the Duke of York.


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