In July of
1652, war broke out between England and the Netherlands.
As battle commenced in Europe and on the high seas, it
also affected relations between the two nations’
respective North American colonies. Many New Englanders
thought the time was right to overrun the Dutch colony
to the south. In New Amsterdam, meanwhile,
Director-General Petrus Stuyvesant, hunkered down within
the walls of Fort Amsterdam, read dispatches from his
superiors in the Netherlands telling him of recent
events and instructing him to prepare for the worst.
that the citizens of New Amsterdam had finally won from
Stuyvesant and the government in the Netherlands a city
charter. At last, after thirty years, New Amsterdam was
a true city. As such, its first municipal governing
body—the burgomasters and schepens—sat in February 1653.
A few weeks later, on March 13, Stuyvesant called an
extraordinary meeting consisting of his own council as
well as the burgomasters and schepens—in effect, every
political representative in the city and surrounding
areas. The matter was simple: the English to their north
were strong, and the Dutch defenses were weak. How could
they protect themselves in the event of an invasion?
agreed to repair the fort, and to begin round-the-clock
guards. But this wasn’t enough to ensure defense. They
decided they needed to wall themselves in. The city was
clustered at the southern tip of the island, and they
decided that they would create a wall across the
northern reaches of town. Thomas Baxter was charged with
the task of producing logs for palisades. They were to
be twelve feet high and eighteen inches thick. The wall
would stretch from the East River straight across to the
North (or Hudson) River. There would be a gate at de
Heere Straat (later, Broadway).
course, that wall would last in history not for its
defensive uses (the English didn’t invade, and the war
ended the following year) but because the street that
ran along it took its name from it. Wall Street was just
a street until the summer of 1791, when semi-official
brokers began trading shares of stock beneath a sycamore
tree on it.