Devil's Mile: The Rich, Gritty History of the Bowery
by Alice Sparberg Alexiou
St. Martin's Press, July 2018
By Alice Sparberg Alexiou
The settlement was to be called New Amsterdam, and it would serve as headquarters of New Netherland, which stretched from New England to Virginia. The Dutch had claimed the vast territory — a claim the English refused to recognize — after Henry Hudson in 1609 sailed the Half Moon up the river that would bear his name.
Hudson and subsequent explorers described the newly discovered land as a Garden of Eden filled with all sorts of resources ready for the picking: fish and oysters; berries, grapes, and nuts; and forests dense with timber, supplies of which were by then dwindling in Europe. The Indians grew corn and squash. There was also an abundance of game for hunting as well as otters and beavers to supply fur, which Europeans especially coveted. On the Continent, fur, like trees, had been overharvested. It was the mention of fur that had most caught the attention of investors in Holland, leading to the incorporation of the Dutch West India Company. But so far there were only a handful of people — perhaps a hundred adventurous immigrants from the Netherlands — who were engaged in fur trading. They lived scattered in the wilderness along the Hudson near the Mohican tribes who sold the foreigners pelts, which were then shipped downriver, to be loaded onto ships that crossed the Atlantic to Holland. The intersection of the Hudson and the Atlantic, then, was a natural hub where business could be transacted, including privateering, the Company’s biggest source of income, against Spanish ships en route to the Caribbean.
copyright 2018 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin's Press.