Pre - Urban History
Copy of an Ancient Map- in possession of a descendant of Hannes or Hans Bergen whose house is located therein" Made by T.G. Bergen 1760
The first record of contact with the indigenous people that inhabited Long Island was in 1524. The natives were known as the Canarsie, which translates to "Grassy Place"; they belonged to the Algonquin tribe. The Canarsie cultivated the land using companion planting systems that kept the soil nutrient rich while growing crops such as: maize, sunflowers, beans, squash, melons, cucumbers, and tobacco. The Canarsie established trails and villages, and navigated water routes that later became popularized by the Dutch and can even be seen today (Grand Street Ferry). They were importers and exporters, participating in early trade in the area using Wampum (their currency of highly valued, precious shells) to procure and sell items such as fur, pottery, and metals.
The Canarsie traded with the Dutch and by the early 1600s business was booming. The Dutch settled areas all over Manhattan and began settling Long Island during the mid 1600s. Their increased interest in Long Island was partly due to the Dutch East and West India Companies’ rising success in the pelt trading business along the Hudson River. The 1638 Charter of Exemptions and Freedoms for All Patrons, Masters and Freemen encouraged free Dutchmen to acquire land throughout Long Island to establish colonies, further rooting the Dutch in the area. By 1640, the Dutch West India Company purchased land from the Canarsie and began establishing their first settlements in Long Island.
Dutch settlements actually took over the already existing Canarsie villages. These growing settlements were eventually divided into six Dutch towns. By 1645, the Canarsie village of Mareckweck, now taken over as Dutch settlement, was renamed Breuklen after the old Dutch town. In 1661, Governor General Peter Stuyvesant named the new town of Boswijck, Dutch for “heavy woods,” which included what is now Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Greenpoint. The other four towns included: Midwout, Nieuw Amersfoort, Gravesend, and Nieuw Utrecht, and together these towns comprised Kings County. Today, Midwout is known as Flatbush, Nieuw Amersfoort is Flatlands, Nieuw Utrecht is New Utrecht, and Gravesend is the same.
Soon, Dutch settlers in the new towns further parceled their land into farmlands. Farmers produced large amounts of vegetables including cabbage, potatoes, corn, and grain, which provided sustenance for Long Island settlements as well as Manhattan. The produce from Breuklen was transported to Manhattan by ferries that traveled between ports on the two islands. These ferry ports were actually put in place by the earlier Canarsie inhabitants. The ferry made the transportation of goods and people so efficient that more and more people began to inhabit areas along these ports. One such area was what is now present day Williamsburg, which first became a village in 1827. The first village Trustees were Noah Waterbury, Abraham Meserole, Lewis San Ford, and Thomas T. Morrell, and are names that still resonate throughout the community.