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captain-kidd-in-new-york-harbor-jean-leon-gerome-ferris-001Captain Kidd, one of Williamsburg’s first regular visitors, entertaining guests. Painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, courtesy of Wikimedia.

Editor note: Untapped Cities columnist Janos Marton, New York City lawyer, activist and founder of the website janos.nyc has been working on a full history of Williamsburg. While this project will be in progress for some time, a few months of research has already yielded fun facts about the popular Brooklyn neighborhood, which he will share with us today. In a fun anecdote, he says:

I got to drop one at a biker bar on Saturday night. A group of bikers were mocking the real estate industry’s generation of new neighborhoods, like “East Williamsburg”, and the latest, “Bushwood.” Somehow “Bushwick” got mockingly thrown into the mix, and I felt obliged to point out that Bushwick was actually named by Peter Stuyvesant in 1660, so unless one wants to argue (and one could) that “Bushwick” was a very old school real estate marketing gimmick, at least that neighborhood can stand on its name.

Without further ado, ten interesting facts about Williamsburg, before it was cool–before it was even Williamsburg.

1. Williamsburg Was Purchased (For More Money) From the Same Indian Tribe That Likely Sold Manhattan

Copy of Ancient Map-Williamsburg-Brooklyn-NYC-Ancestor Hans Hannes Bergen-T.G. BergenA copy of a map of Williamsburg by a descendent of Hans or Hannes Bergen, made prior to 1760

The geographic area that includes Williamsburg was first purchased in 1638 by the Dutch West India Company from a group of Canarsee Indians sachems, the same tribe that likely sold Manhattan. The purchasing price was greater than Manhattan, a harbinger of today’s real estate market, and the deal similarly involved a collection of European tools and wampum.

There is little evidence that the Canarsees actually lived in future Williamsburg, much of which was set on a swamp called “Cripplebush.” (Cripplebush is an anglicization of the Dutch word for “scrub oak.”) The Canarsees likely used the area seasonally for hunting and fishing, but their various settlements were elsewhere. The “purchase” was likely understood by both sides to allow common use of the land until it was developed, which took some time.

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1 Comment

  1. Elaine Scholl says:

    I grew up in Williamsburg from 1936 until 1956. I never knew any of the above facts. It’s very interesting.

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