Early history examines the archaeological record that tells the story of the first inhabitants of New York. Learn about the prehistory and culture of the first early inhabitants, and what lessons it might teach us about the early history of New York.
When the first European explorer sailed into New York harbor in 1524, the native civilization found on the banks of the Hudson was a complex and ancient one. The natives' ancestors had entered the Hudson Valley some twelve thousand years earlier, after the last continental glacier receded from North America.
A significant change took place in the northeast from 1000 to 1600 AD as these early people gradually discovered they could grow their own vegetables. Horticulture, or garden farming, added to the traditional lifestyle of hunting, fishing and gathering. Corn, beans, squash and pumpkins, sunflowers and tobacco came from the south and southwest, perhaps initially from Mexico, where agriculture had been practiced for several thousand years.
At the time of encounter with the Europeans, the natives densely populated the entire area in and around what is now New York City. On the banks of the Hudson, as far north as Albany, Algonquin tribes lived in fortified villages, protected by sturdy walls of upright logs. According to early colonists and explorers' journals, there were also many unfortified villages on both banks of the Hudson.
From the mid to late 1700s, the Indian population had gradually dwindled as the lower River Indians suffered from smallpox, malaria, influenza and other diseases which were previously unknown to them. Entire villages were wiped out because the natives lacked immunity to the white man's diseases. The Westchester Indians to the east of the river had sold most of their lands to the English by the early 1700s. Some remained in Yorktown around Indian Hill. Some chose to stay in the Hudson Valley, settling in remote areas either marrying other remaining Indians or intermarrying with their black or white neighbors. Most, however, moved west into Ohio, where they endured another century of struggle as white settlers spread beyond the Ohio River. Some would return to their lands to trade furs they had trapped, to sell baskets and crafts door-to-door, to visit the graves of their ancestors and to die in their homeland.
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