Prior to European settlement, Long Island was inhabited by twelve Native American tribes. These tribes included the powerful Setuket near Stony Brook, the Matinecock on northern Long Island, the Montauk on Montauk Point, and the Manhanset on Shelter, Ram, and Hog Islands. All of these tribes belonged to the Mohegan nation. Like many Northeastern native peoples, the Long Island tribes suffered greatly from European diseases in the early seventeenth century.
In 1609, the Dutch explorer Henry Hudson met with the Canarsee tribe in western Long Island. Following his voyage, Hudson claimed New York for Holland. A formal charter was granted to the West India Company in 1621, and New Netherland became a colony in 1623. The colony claimed all the land between the Delaware and Connecticut Rivers.
Dutch settlement in western Long Island continued to spread throughout the 1620s and 1630s. Towns spread across the region, although most settlers lived on scattered farms. The first organized church was built in 1654 and was followed by various schools in 1661. As in the rest of New Netherland, Dutch language and culture flourished. Unlike most of the English colonies, religious toleration was encouraged, and western Long Island had small numbers of Jewish, Quaker, and Anabaptist settlers.
Charles I granted Long Island to the Earl of Sterling in 1635. Although this action was protested by the Dutch, their objections did not prevent English colonists from moving to eastern Long Island in the late 1630s. Most of these settlers were from New England, seeking new towns in which to practice their own interpretation of the Puritan faith. In addition, the Earl of Sterling sold grants of land to royalists fleeing the English Civil War, thereby creating an Anglican minority.
In 1664, England claimed the rest of Long Island and New York by granting the region to King Charles II’s brother, James. Following a lengthy dispute, the Dutch agreed in 1667 to cede New York to the British in exchange for Surinam. Although New York City itself remained Dutch in character throughout the seventeenth century, Long Island became ever more English. In 1683, the Charter of Liberties joined Long Island to Staten Island and divided the district into three sections modeled after Yorkshire in England.
Although rarely directly affected by the various colonial wars of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Long Island contributed both soldiers and financial support to King Philip’s War, King William’s War, Queen Anne’s War, and the French and Indian War. In contrast, the American Revolution was felt directly by the region.
The first signs of the war were financial and cultural. By the late eighteenth century, maritime industries and trade provided the primary source of income for Long Island. The boycott of British goods resulting from protests against the Sugar Act, the Townshend duties, and other acts had a financial effect on commerce. The cultural and religious divisions between Puritans and Anglicans became bitter political divisions between patriots and loyalists. By 1776, the war itself had arrived in Long Island.
The Continental army moved to New York City and began fortifying Brooklyn Heights in the spring of 1776 under the direction of General Nathaniel Greene. In June, the British fleet anchored off Long Island, planning to drive the Continental army from New York and take over Brooklyn Heights. On August 22, General William Howe landed 20,000 troops at Gravesend Bay. Within a week, he had seized all of western Long Island. Hundreds of American soldiers were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. Washington withdrew from New York City to Harlem Heights on September 12. There, he hoped to regroup the Continental army and prepare for another attack. Three days later, the British took New York City and Long Island.
British rule on Long Island had a devastating effect on the region. Howe’s attack on Gravesend Bay had destroyed dozens of farms in Kings and Queens counties. Each winter, the British garrison in New York City required Long Islanders to provide thousands of cords of wood, leaving almost no trees behind by the end of the war. American officers taken prisoner in 1776 were given parole and boarded with Long Island families. The Continental Congress was charged for their board, a total sum of nearly $30,000. Although General Charles Cornwallis surrendered to Washington in October of 1781, the British did not leave New York and Long Island until November of 1783. True prosperity did not return to the region until the whaling boom of the early nineteenth century. Abigail B. Chandler See also: New York; New York and New Netherland (Chronology). Bibliography Bliven, Bruce. New York. New York: W. W. Norton, 1981. Wilson, Rufus. Historic Long Island. New York: Ira J. Friedman, 1969.
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