New York City began as a Dutch settlement in 1626 when Peter Minuit purchased the island of Manhattan from the Lenape Indians. Although the directors of the West India Company drafted a plan for an elaborate fortified village, the town of New Amsterdam grew in haphazard fashion for over twenty years. In 1647, new legislation removed buildings that had been illegally constructed in streets or on public lots and required all holders of undeveloped lots to build structures or forfeit the land. Many of the original streets remain, including Wall Street, once the path of a fortification wall.
New Amsterdam evolved into New York City after the English gained control in 1664. The city developed into a wealthy and powerful trading center by the time of the Revolution. During the war, a large percentage of the population remained loyal to the crown. City Mayor David Mathews and New York’s Royal Governor William Tryon even launched a failed plot to kidnap George Washington. British troops occupied the city for much of the war and two fires caused widespread damage. New York’s prewar population of 20,000 dropped to 10,000 by 1783. The city served briefly as the United States capital from March 4, 1789, to December 5, 1790.