Nutmeg for New York

New York History

On February 2nd 1653 New Amsterdam received municipal rights thus becoming a city.   We at present affectionately refer to it as New York.  The original span  (acquired by a wily Dutchman, Peter Minuit) was only a section of Lower Manhattan, but has throughout its tumultuous past been known as Fort Amsterdam, New Orange, Capitol City, Gotham and of course the Big Apple.

Purchase Price

During May 24th 1626 in order to legally safeguard the settlers’ investments, possessions and farms on Manhattan island, Minuit negotiated the “purchase” of Manhattan from the Lenape band of Manahatta Indians for 60 Dutch guilders worth of trade goods, which equates to just over $1000 today. Another popular version in this story of Manhattan claims that Minuit actually purchased the island from the wrong tribe (the Canarsee actually living in Brooklyn) while the true local people, the Weckquaesgeeks, were excluded from the transaction. This transaction is often viewed as beneficial only for the Dutch (the trading benefits were great for both parties) however it was not viewed this way at the time. This was the first legal change of name and possession for New York.

Fort Amsterdam

When originally settled in 1624 the area was claimed as a Dutch colony (New Netherlands).  To ensure its survival a fort was built to house the new inhabitants and protect them from harsh conditions and the Mohawk wars in the north.  This fortified town at the south end of Manhattan became New Amsterdam.

New York

Ceded by the Dutch Director General Peter Stuyvesant in 1664 to British warships it was renamed in June of 1665 in honor of the Duke of York and Albany.  The Dutch brokered a deal with the English that sought to guarantee New Netherlanders liberties, including religious freedom along with the nutmeg negotiation.  In 1667 when peace was brokered in the Treaty of Breda the Dutch were granted the tiny spice island of Run in the Banda islands, rich in nutmeg (and consequently mace) as long as they did not press their claim to New York.  A great deal for the British until you realize the wily Dutch once more obtained millions in the highly prized nutmeg.

In July 1673 the Dutch occupied the city and renamed it New Orange, but by November 1674 it was back to New York.  Ironically the Duke it was named after, reigning as James II of England would cede his crown and country to the Prince of Orange within 25 years and broker no deal in return.

Capitol City

New York was the U.S capital under the Articles of Confederation (1785 to 1788) and remained the first U.S capital under the Constitution until 1790.  It was an obvious choice due to its proximity to Europe, its naturally deep harbor and defenses started by the Dutch and re-enforced by the English.  Again, New York changed hands but not name.


Gotham derives from an article by Washington Irvine (in 1807) that lampoons New York culture and politics as being base and uncouth.  Gat (Goat) ham (Home) is a place in Nottinghamshire England, which means homestead where goats are kept (in Middle English).

The Five Boroughs of New York

Manhattan named after the Manahatta Indian bands (Lenape & Canarsee) who had inhabited this land prior to the arrival of Europeans.

Brooklyn named after a Dutch town called “Breukelen”. The Dutch people established the city in 1634.

The Bronx named after Jonas Bronck, a farmer, brokered a treaty in 1642 with the Weckquaesgeek Indians.

Queens named for Catherine of Braganza, the Queen of England (Charles II wife).

Staten Island or states island (Staaten Eylandt) was named in honor of the Dutch parliament known as the Staten General in 1609 by the ironically English explorer Henry Hudson sailing for the Dutch.

In 1898, New York (Manhattan), Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens and Staten Island all merged together forming Greater New York, which is the total area of the city we know today.

The Big Apple

New York’s most famous nickname is the Big Apple. Several theories abound, so you can decide which suits the cities profile best on this one, if any.

It was first popularized in the 1920s by a New York Morning Telegraph sports writer by the name of John J Fitzgerald.  He references it but does not give its origins.  The Big Apple was referred to (by a disgruntled Kansas City representative) as a city that received a disproportionate percentage of the national sap (regarding government funding).

Having been previously known as New Orange the loyal English would refer to it as an apple to simulate the stark difference between the English apple and the Dutch orange and further their claim to the territory. (The differences between apples and oranges)

In the early 19th century a Quaker nurseryman Jonathan Jessop (also Jessup) developed a variety of apple on his springwood farm near York, Pennsylvania.  Although lopsided it was tart and sweet with resilience for freshness and tasted better over time, a bit like the city itself.

Claimed by all and owned by none the myths surrounding the city that never sleeps are as varied and enigmatic as the inhabitants of the boroughs themselves.  Throughout its existence in any name it has been both reviled and attracted by the rich and poor alike, it accepts everything and everyone.  Still, it is ingrained in the heart of history by all as NEW YORK.

by Pearse Fee


Raise a glass to Prohibition


What is Prohibition?

On January 16th 1919, Prohibition was instituted with ratification of the 18th Amendment to the States Constitution.  Its primary objection was to prohibit the “…manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States…”  Congress enforced this law by passing the “Volstead Act” on October 28, of the same year and the legislation was enforced one year later to the day.  Major influences in its induction were evangelical Protestant churches, (Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Disciples and Congregationalists), Womens Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), and the Anti Saloon League (first world war prohibition, political corruption of saloons, reduce domestic violence at home).

Although alcohol consumption did initially decline, there was a dramatic rise in organized crime that fuelled the demand for good and bad alcohol alike.  Since the twenties were a boom economic period there were innovative ways around prohibition and money was in abundance as were, the lack of morals.  Casting aside the restrictions and sorrow concordant with the first world war a very Carpe Diem attitude was developed which gave rise to innovative and experimental music, dress styles and inventions which, although synonymous with the roaring 20’s are still with us today.

Jazz Music:  

Even though jazz music had been around since the 1890’s it had been largely localized (New Orleans, Memphis, St Louis & other southern cities) as ragtime.   Social barriers had crumbled during the Great War and new values were transported with returning dough boys from a newly liberated Europe.  The jazz age took off in lively illegal venues of an era when popular music included current dance and novelty songs, and show tunes.   Due to its denigrating disregard for social conformity and physical proximity jazz started to get a reputation as being immoral promoting the new decadent values of the 1920’s.


The slang use of the word describing a “young woman”, supposedly refers to a young bird flapping its wings while learning to fly, although earlier references are abundant in use with prostitution.  Origins are most likely found in Paris during the socially and politically turbulent period of Liberalism during and after WW1.  During the 1920s the term applied to a “new breed” of young woman who wore short skirts, bobbed hair, listened to Jazz music, and flaunted their disdain for socially acceptable behavior.  Flappers were considered brash for their smoking, drinking, immoral sexual proclivity, wearing excessive makeup and the provocative flapper dress.

Bathtub Gin:

The term first appeared in 1920, in reference to the poor-quality alcohol that was being made, but not because it was made in a bath.  Gin was the predominant drink of the 20’s and, as a result, many variations were created by mixing cheap alcohol with water, extracts and flavorings (juniper berry juice and glycerin).  The term refers to the fact that the usual tall bottle could not be filled up using a sink tap but, rather had to use the bath tap, as well as sometimes distilled from and fermented in a bathtub.

Many other cocktails owe their existence to bathtub gin, as they were also created in order to mask its awful taste. Concoctions such as the Barbary Coast were born from desperation (scotch and gin) during Prohibition, along with the Colony cocktail (for the rich) and the Bees knees are prime examples of results from the cocktail shaker.

The Speakeasy (AKA Blind Pig):

Supposedly the term “speakeasy” originated in Pennsylvania during the 1880’s as a result of the Brooks High-License Act , decreasing the number of licensed bars but causing an increase in illegally operated ones.  Kate Hester, who ran a saloon for years outside of Pittsburgh refused to pay the new license fee and wanted to keep from drawing attention to her illegal business.  When her customers got too rowdy, she would hush them by whispering, “Speak easy, boys! Speak Easy!”

The more popular theory (albeit incorrect) is that during prohibition barkeeps would encourage the ordering of illicit liquids in his establishment by patrons in a hushed or speak easy volume, especially since many saloons were underground.

The Blind Pig name supposedly comes from a slang term used to refer to police officers who had been bribed to ignore illegal establishments in the days of prohibition.

The Real Mc Coy:

During this era, it was common for rumrunner captains to water down alcohol or re-label bottles in order to increase profits.  One American rumrunner captain and boat builder, William S Mc Coy, became famous for never watering his booze, selling only the best real top-quality products.  As a result, McCoy according to some is the source of the term “the Real McCoy”.  Other origins pre date this suggestion but few suit it as well.

However, Prohibition became increasingly unpopular during the Great Depression. The repeal movement ironically was started by a wealthy female Republican, Pauline Sabin,. The Repeal of Prohibition in the United States was accomplished with the passage of the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution on December 5, 1933.   Perhaps we should raise a glass on this date!

Pearse Fee

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