Friday, 16 January 2009


Captain Henry Hudson took little notice of the small island to his east, as he sailed upriver (Hudson River) 0n a September day in 1609. Manhattan was mentioned only once in the log of the Half Moon, and then only because of the shower of arrows coming from the natives at its northern tip.

Hudson was a merchant captain, hired by merchant investors, and often went ashore to trade with local tribes (see above), when he wasn't ducking their arrows or shooting at them. Had he decided to explore the commercial possibilities in Manhattan, the Greenwich Village area would have been a likely place to begin. One of the largest native sites on the island was on what would become the Greenwich Village waterfront around Gansevoort Street and Greenwich Street ( in those days before land-fill the river came close to this point.)

Saponkanican, as the Lenape called it, wasn't a village, at least not in the way that the term is usually defined, i.e., a permanent place of residence. The Lenape, a loose confederation of Algonquian-speaking tribes who populated much of New York and New Jersey, had little use for permanent places. They'd find a good location, set up an encampment, live there for a season, leave when the weather changed, and return the next year. Saponkanican was the ideal Lenape encampment. It was on the river. Its loamy soil was perfect for growing tobacco, a native trading commodity. It bordered on a small pathway that connected to the main Lenape trail that traversed the length of Manhattan, roughly along the line of today's Broadway. It was close to a fresh water stream, Minetta Creek.

" Are you sure there used to be a native encampment here?"

Nobody knows how long Saponkanican had been there when Hudson made his voyage, but we do know its days were numbered. The Dutch that came after Hudson did notice Manhattan and in 1624, they founded a colony at the superb natural harbour on the island's tip. The colony, New Amsterdam, was run by a corporation, the Dutch West Indes Company and the rest, as they say, is history.

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