Image via Flickr user Sjoerd van Oosten.
Wall Street, today a synonym for power and money, has withstood its share of chaos–market crashes, bombings, recessions, Occupy movements–in its years as the financial center of New York. Resilience is even in the street’s name, as it pays tribute to the Dutch wall that once stood in the seventeenth century as protection from hostile British and Native Americans. That Dutch fortification almost wasn’t built, however, because of a few unruly residents: a herd of persistent pigs (and not metaphorical ones, either).
The wall began as a picket fence in 1653 before the Dutch slowly expanded it to a 12-foot-high barrier over the years. At the time of the fence’s construction, the settlers let their livestock run loose around the settlement, and the hogs often uprooted orchards and gardens. Many of the animals foraged in areas along the wall, interfering with its construction. In a letter addressed to the city government in March 1653 (during the wall’s construction), Dutch Director General Peter Stuyvesant urged the government to take precautions against the pigs at nearby Fort Amsterdam. He detailed with “great grief the damages, done to the walls of the fort by hogs, especially now again the spring when the grass comes out.”
A 1664 map of New Amsterdam. The wide street is now Broadway, and Wall Street is the line with guard towers on the left. Source: William & Mary Barrett Dyer.
The city reportedly hired a herdsman to keep the pigs away, but this effort apparently proved fruitless. A few months later, in August, Stuyvesant wrote another letter to the city, impressing upon them the importance of keeping the hogs away from the wall:
“We cannot, consistently with duty, omit calling your Worships’ attention to the injurious and intolerable destruction, which we, to our great dissatisfaction, daily behold the hogs committing on the newly finished works of the fort, whence the ruin thereof will certainly ensue.”
Stuyvesant further warned officials to “take care, that what we with great pains and labor have brought us far will not again be destroyed by hogs, and thus all our labor be rendered useless.” This time, city officials responded to his request by ordering each resident to “take care of his hogs or keep them in the sty” until construction on the fort was finished.
A 1600’s sketch of the Dutch wall. Source: William & Mary Barrett Dyer.
As Stuyvesant warned, the Dutch’s labor was rendered useless, though not by their pigs. When the British seized New Amsterdam and renamed it New York, they demolished the wall and constructed a paved road in its place. The original Dutch name “de Waal Straat” became Wall Street. While there’s no record of what happened to the pigs that plagued Stuyvesant, hogs continued to run wild in the streets of New York (and eat its garbage) even until the nineteenth century.