A Walk Through Queens - With David Hartman and Historian Barry Lewis
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The First Residents Birth of a Borough Growth and Urbanization
Photo of Jamaica Bay, home of the Jameco Indians
Photo of the Old Quaker Meeting House
Painting of the the Lent Riker Smith Homestead

TOP: Jamaica Bay was named for the Jameco Indians who made this area their home.

MIDDLE: Built in 1694, the Old Quaker Meeting House is New York City's oldest house of worship in continuous use.

BOTTOM: Painting of the the Lent Riker Smith Homestead, which has been maintained as a private dwelling since the arrival of the first Dutch settlers
Painting by William R. Miller

The Dutch    English Rule

Native peoples

The geographic area of Queens offered plenty of sustenance for the Native peoples. The numerous bays and creeks around Queens provided fin fish and shellfish while the forest supplied game and migratory fowl. Strawberries, grapes, chestnuts and walnuts grew in the wild throughout the island.

The Flushing Remonstrance written in 1657 is sometimes regarded as the first declaration of independence and as a forerunner to the First Amendment.
The Native Americans on Long Island lived in small bands and led an agricultural way of life growing corn and squash.

Some of the places associated with these early inhabitants include Jamaica, named for the Jameco Indians, Rockaway, named after the Reckowacky Indians, and Maspeth, named for the Mespat Indians, who inhabited the headwaters of Newton Creek.

The Dutch

In 1614, Adrien Block sailing for the Dutch East India Company passed through Hell Gate in the East River and became the first European to set eyes on Queens (and incidentally the first to realize Long Island was an island.)

After his ship burned in the Hudson River, he built a fort and a settlement at the tip of Manhattan that was named New Amsterdam which became the seat of the regional colony in 1625. Beginning in 1637, Governor Peter Stuyvesant made periodic grants of land in Queens to individual Dutchman and settlement began in what is today known as Astoria, Hunters Point, and the Dutch Kills area of Long Island City.

While the Dutch settled the area, Englishman began coming from the north and east. The Dutch were willing to grant a charter to the English as long as they swore allegiance to the Dutch government, took a Dutch name for the colony, and accepted the Dutch form of government. With approval from the Dutch government some English from New England took up lands in Maspeth at the headwaters of Newtown Creek in 1642. The following year, a war between the Native Americans and Dutch caused the settlement to be destroyed. Additional settlements followed in Flushing (1645,) Newtown (1652,) and Jamaica (1656.)

While English settlers managed to exist side-by-side with the Native Americans, trouble with the Dutch was one of the factors which eventually drove the Indians from Long Island. The other was a smallpox epidemic in 1658, which reportedly killed two-thirds of the tribes in the area. Tensions began to grow between the English and Dutch especially after the Anglo-Dutch War of 1652-54.

The most significant event of this period occurred in Flushing in 1657. Quakers in Flushing rose in opposition to Governor Stuyvesant's laws which mandated that the Dutch Reform Church be the only one practiced in the area. The Quakers reacted by writing the "Flushing Remonstrance." The Remonstrance argues the cause of religious freedom and extends freedom of worship to Quakers, Jews, Turks, Egyptians, Presbyterians, and Baptists.

Stuyvesant reacted swiftly, instituting fines, imprisonments and removals from office, and replacing the Flushing town government with his own appointed organization.

In 1662, John Bowne openly defied the ban and was caught allowing Quakers to worship in his home. He was imprisoned and banished to Holland for judgment. He successfully argued his case and the directors of the Dutch West India Company declared Bowne a free man. The company then sent the Dutch New World officials a note: "Let everyone remain free."

Bowne's actions and those of his fellow residents of Flushing established principles that evolved into the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution. The Flushing Remonstrance is sometimes regarded as the first declaration of independence and as a forerunner to the First Amendment.

English Rule

Dutch rule came to an abrupt end in August 1664 when four English Ships commanded by Richard Nicolls sailed into New Amsterdam harbor and demanded surrender in the name of James, Duke of York. The English renamed New Amsterdam, "New York" and Long Island "Yorkshire." They replaced the Dutch colonial structure and divided the area into three "ridings". Modern Queens made up parts of the North and West ridings.

Most settlers, especially the English, were happy with the new leadership. However, in 1669 and again in 1674, the settlers protested at their lack of representation. The results of these protests led to a new governor and a permanent Provisional Assembly where colonists would be able to send delegates. The riding system was abolished and the area was divided into ten colonies.

On November 1, 1683, Queens officially became a county and emerged for the first time as a geographical entity. It was named in honor of Queen Catherine of Braganza, wife of King Charles II. The county consisted of the areas that are now Queens and Nassau counties. Each county was divided into towns. In Queens county, there were five towns: Newtown, Flushing, Jamaica, Hempstead, and Oyster Bay. Jamaica was the county seat.