Courtesy Reuters

New York Looks Abroad

YEARS ago, I remember, an employee at the New York Customs House was filling out some paper for me. He asked where I had been born. "New York," I replied. "Yes," he said, "but which town?" Apparently it didn't cross his mind that I might have been born in New York City. His instinctive reaction was reasonable enough. For a century the tides of European immigration into the United States had channelled through the Narrows and dispersed on the piers of Chelsea, Weehawken and Brooklyn. Each tide had left such a deposit in the port of arrival that native New Yorkers had become the exception. When Peter Stuyvesant surrendered New Amsterdam to the English in 1664 it was a place of less than 1,500 souls. At the close of the Revolution the population was still only a little over 22,000. In each succeeding decade or so the figure doubled, until by a hundred years ago it reached 312,000. Today it is over seven millions. If we add the population of nine adjacent counties whose daily life centers almost wholly in the city, the total passes the twelve million mark -- one-tenth of the nation.

I

Even in its beginnings New York was a mosaic. Eighteen languages were spoken in the streets of New Amsterdam, including Dutch, French, Swedish, English, German, Polish, Bohemian, Portuguese and Italian. Religious discrimination was rare. There was no witch hunting. Indeed, many persons who found New England insupportable moved to Long Island and the shores of Pelham Bay in order to enjoy the religious freedom of the New Netherlands. The town's cosmopolitan and easy-going character was not materially altered by nearly a century of English rule. As in the other British colonies, political institutions took shape along Anglo-Saxon lines, but the population remained mixed and kept the traits usual in a place where many races congregate -- liveliness, bustle, resourcefulness and, on the whole, tolerance.

The ethnic picture did not alter much immediately after the British troops and their Tory friends

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