Colonizers and Immigrants: New York

The Dutch were the first to colonize what is now called Manhattan Island.[1]There is a great deal of information available about New Amsterdam, including detailed maps. See for example this website. In September 1664 the English invaded and claimed the Dutch colony. New Amsterdam was renamed New York City and New Netherland became New York State.

What today is referred to as Castle Garden began as a fort on an artificial island about two hundred feet off the tip of Manhattan, built in anticipation of  (yet another)  attempted British invasion, this time during the War of 1812.  The fort, called Castle Clinton, was used as the headquarters of the Third Military District after the war ended, and eventually was decommissioned.

The city filled in the harbor between Manhattan and the fort, and in 1824 it reopened as Castle Garden, with an opera house, theater, exhibition hall, restaurant, beer garden, and rooftop promenade.

Castle Garden in Battery Park
Castle Garden. Battery Park. Manhattan.

Before 1855 immigration was largely unregulated in the U.S., and unscrupulous employers and real estate moguls routinely exploited vulnerable new arrivals.

In response and an attempt to take control of immigration,  the State of New York’s Board of Emigration Commissioners reclaimed Castle Garden and repurposed the whole as the Emigrant Landing Depot.  
Immigrants outside Castle Garden, ca 1880

By 1890 Castle Garden and immigrants arriving there were once again being exploited, and the federal government stepped in. Castle Garden was closed, and in 1892 the new  Ellis Island Immigration Station began to process arrivals.

As of 2021 only parts of the original Castle Garden structure remain and can be viewed in Battery Park.

Immigration intensified in the second half of the 19th century. New arrivals  were drawn into the parts of the city where others of the same ethnic or religious group had settled.  Some of the earliest immigrant communities included the French Quarter south of Washington Square Park (now barely remembered); Kleindeutschland (Little Germany, with many internal subdivisions); numerous Irish communities; rapidly growing groups of Italians and of Asians (in the vicinity of Chatham Square).

Castle Garden figures in the Waverly novels series.


1There is a great deal of information available about New Amsterdam, including detailed maps. See for example this website.