The Native Population of New York City

By Phin Upham

When most people visit New York City, they probably aren’t thinking about the Lenape people. They were the first people to inhabit the area that would become modern day New York. They spoke the Algonquin language, but European settlers at the time referred to them by the place they were settled. For example, the Raritan or the Canarsee in Staten Island, in the area that would become Brooklyn.

These groups were all tightly knit, and connected to each other by language. Lenape societies were matrilineal, so social status came from the mother’s side. Women managed land, doling out portions according to the needs of various family members.

One of the reasons the Dutch found the area so strategic was the waterways, which the natives of the area had taken advantage of for years prior. Fishing and hunting trips took them in and out of Raritan Bay, which linked them up with several important trade routes along the way. This explains some of the linguistic similarities in the people, who also developed their own slang and words to communicate more effectively within smaller groups.

In fact, some of the thoroughfares that modern New Yorkers drive everyday are based on the routes taken by these natives. Broadway, which runs through Manhattan, or the Bronx were all once paths used as hunting or trade routes.

By the time the Europeans had arrived, the natives were already practicing advanced agriculture like slash and burn. It’s estimated that the Lenape people were spread across 80 different settlements in the region, with some 5,000 people living there when the Europeans arrived.

About the Author: Phin Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Phin Upham website or Facebook page.