New York Low Points


Anybody can trace the inexorable rise of New York City from strength to strength, culminating in its current position as the greatest city in the world -- with even greater things beckoning in the future.

In our guidebook, New York: The Unknown City, my co-author, Brad Dunn, and I thought it might be interesting to keep track of those days when the Big Apple got up on the wrong side of the bed.

(Note that this is by no means a complete list. Well-versed natives will notice many omissions -- the Malbone Street Crash, for instance, or the departure of the Dodgers, or the time Lord Cornbury allegedly gave his governor's address in drag. These and other days of New York infamy are discussed at greater length in New York: The Unknown City. Why not buy it today?)

  • 1637
    Governor Wouter van Twiller is dismissed by the Dutch West Indies Co. for, among other things, alcoholism, incompetence, and deeding himself vast amounts of company land in New York, including all of Governor's Island.

  • 1641-1645
    After putting a bounty on Indians, Governor Willem Kieft proceeds to massacre them wherever he can. Understandably upset, the Indians respond with massacres of their own. An uneasy peace is finally achieved after the colonists beg for Kieft's dismissal; he is sacked in 1645.

  • 1702
    Yellow fever kills over 500, including Mayor Thomas Noell.

  • 1712
    Thirteen slaves are hanged, one starved to death, four burned to death, and one broken on a wheel as retribution for an attempted uprising that killed nine whites.

  • Feb. 28, 1741
    A conspiracy by John Hughson, a white innkeeper and fence, to start another slave uprising, is discovered. Thirteen slaves are burned, 18 hanged, and 70 sold out of the city. At this time, slaves account for between 15 and 20 percent of the city's population.

  • 1776-1783
    New York is occupied by the British. In two separate fires, nearly a quarter of the city burns to the ground. Over 5,000 American prisoners of war die in hellish conditions on British prison ships moored in Wallabout Bay in the East River -- more than died in combat throughout the entire war.

  • Set. 22, 1776
    Nathan Hale regrets that he has but one life to give for his country, as the British execute him for spying. The hanging takes place around 66th Street and Third Avenue (then countryside). Note that just two days before, a devastating fire broke out in the city that destroyed over 400 buildings. It is unlikely Hale was involved in it (though even George Washington suspected that patriots might be have kindled the blaze) -- but the fire put the British on high alert, leading to Hale's capture in Long Island the next day.

  • 1784
    At the end of the Revolutionary War, vengeful patriots disenfranchise or banish most Loyalists, including large landholders like the De Lanceys, whose estates (all around the present Delancey Street), are confiscated.

  • April 13-14, 1788
    Spurred by incidences of grave robbing, a mob attacks Doctors' Hospital of Columbia University (then located far downtown), where dissections are taking place. In the end, the militia is called out and the mob is fired on. Five die.

  • 1790
    In the first federal census, New York State ranks fifth in slaveholdings, with 20,000; 2,000 of those are in the city.

  • Aug. 12, 1790
    Congress ends its last session in New York City; when it closes, the city is no longer the capital of anything.

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