A Walk Through the Bronx - With David Hartman and Historian Barry Lewis
A Walk Through the Bronx - With David Hartman and Historian Barry Lewis
History See the Sites Interactive Map About the Program Resources
A Walk Through the Bronx - With David Hartman and Historian Barry Lewis History Join Thirteen receive a gift
Early European Residents Birth of a Borough Growth and Urbanization
Photo of the Valentine-Varian House, home of the Museum of Bronx History.
A map of the Bronx in 1639.
Photo of Jesuit priests at Fordham University.

TOP: Built in 1758, the Valentine-Varian House is the home of the Museum of Bronx History.

MIDDLE: A 1639 map of what came to be the Bronx.

BOTTOM: Jesuit priests at the Rose Hill campus of Fordham University.

The Dutch    English Rule

The Dutch

European contact with the Bronx first occurred almost 400 years ago. In 1609, Henry Hudson, probably the first European to see the shoreline, sought cover from a storm for his vessel the Halve Maen, Half Moon, in Spuyten Duyvil Creek. Thirty years later in 1639, the mainland was settled by Jonas Bronck, a Swedish sea captain from the Netherlands who eventually built a farmstead at what became 132nd Street and Lincoln Avenue; a small group of Dutch, German, and Danish servants settled with him.

Anglicanism was the religion sanctioned by colonial law, but Presbyterians, Quakers, and members of the Dutch Reformed church were in the majority.
Most of the eastern half of the area now known as the Bronx was bought in 1654 by Thomas Pell of Connecticut, who invited sixteen families to form the village of Westchester near what is now Westchester Square. Westchester was between 1683 and 1714 the seat of Westchester County (which included the Bronx until the second half of the nineteenth century) and as a chartered borough was the only town in the colony with an elected mayor. In addition, it was the first town without a property qualification for suffrage: settlers chose a representative to the provincial assembly and had their own municipal court. Horses, cattle, sheep and wheat were the main agricultural products and a cottage industry in cloth making thrived.

English Rule

During English rule most inhabitants were English, of English descent, or Dutch. Anglicanism was the religion sanctioned by colonial law, but Presbyterians, Quakers, and members of the Dutch Reformed church were in the majority. The first blacks, slaves from the West Indies, soon made up 10 to 15 percent of the population. Indians left the area soon after 1700. At this time the Bronx was composed of two towns and all or part of four huge manors: the town of Westchester; the town of Eastchester; the manor of Pelham, owned by the Pell family; the manor of the Morris family, Morrisania; the manor of Fordham, settled in 1671 by John Archer; and the manor of Philipsburgh, owned by the Philipse family.

The area saw constant conflict during the American Revolution. Fortifications erected by General George Washington to protect the Harlem River valley proved ineffective on October 12, 1776 when British troops outflanked the Continental army landing at Throgs Neck. During the Battle of Pell's Point on October 18 about 750 men led by Colonel John Glover of Marblehead, Massachusetts, stayed the march of four thousand British and Hessians, enabling Washington to evacuate his army to White Plains in Westchester. For much of the rest of the war the Bronx remained in British hands and was subjected to raids by rebels that caused widespread destruction. In November 1783, Washington and Governor George Clinton began a push from Van Cortlandt Mansion (now in Van Cortlandt Park) to take possession of New York City from the departing English.

During the early nineteenth century the chief occupations of lower Westchester County were growing wheat and raising livestock; between 1800 and 1830 the population rose from 1755 to 3023. Severe famine in Ireland and the growth of industry and commerce in the city drew thousands of Irish to the Bronx as laborers. Many Irish immigrants were employed in the construction of the High Bridge over the Harlem River, the New York and Harlem Railroad, and the Croton Aqueduct. Much of the area consisted of fertile lands that yielded fruits, vegetables, and dairy products for sale in the city. The first railroad tracks were laid over these lands, and rural stations eventually became the centers of new villages such as Melrose, Tremont, and Riverdale. As the railroad was extended, the center of population shifted west from the area east of the Bronx River, and the towns of West Farms (1846) and Morrisania (1855) were established.

Economic opportunity in the United States and a failed revolution in Germany in 1848 led thousands of Germans to move to the Bronx. Many settled in Melrose and Morrisania and became shopkeepers, brewers, and saloon owners. In 1863 the Janes and Beebe ironworks at 149th Street and Brook Avenue produced the dome for the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

By the late 1860s it was generally assumed that the towns on the mainland would be annexed by New York City as it expanded northward. In 1868 Morrisania numbered its streets to make them conform to those of the city, and in the following year the municipal parks department was given control of the bridges over the Harlem River and the streets leading to them. In 1874 the towns of Morrisania, West Farms, and Kingsbridge were annexed to the city; known as the Annexed District, they were placed under the jurisdiction of the parks department and became the city's twenty-third and twenty-fourth ward. Later, in 1888, the 3rd Avenue elevated line was extended to 132nd Street, precipitating the most rapid growth the Bronx had ever seen.