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Tribes of New York

Native American TrailAn early photo of a Native American trail from the Inwood section of Manhattan Island. Photo by W.L. Calver, originally published 1922.

Plans to pedestrianize Astor Place and expand Cooper Square Park, which were presented to Community Boards 2 and 3 on January 6th, are moving toward approval from the city’s Public Design Commission. A few wrinkles must be smoothed out, however, before the blueprints can be handed over to a contractor. Perhaps the most interesting community petition made thus far is that an old Native American trail, which ran through the area, be memorialized in the new design.

The Local thought that in light of the request, this might be the perfect time to look at the oft-forgotten historical presence of Native Americans in the East Village.

Once upon a time, Manhattan was a remote offshoot of North America with dense forests full of wildlife, open fields overgrown with rich grass, and bountiful harbors teeming with oysters, lobsters, and fish.

According to Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, tribes of Lenape Indians set up camp on this bountiful land, which they called Lenapehoking or, “where the Lenapes dwell,” more than sixty-five hundred years ago. They moved about frequently in groups of roughly 200 people at a time, hunting deer and wild turkeys, fishing, and foraging for nuts and berries.

Some fifty-five hundred years later, they had established more static communities thanks, in large part, to agricultural advancements. When Europeans arrived in 1524, approximately 15,000 Lenape Indians of various tribes lived in what is now New York City.
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