5 Things You Didn’t Know About New York History

Things You Didn’t Know About Divorce, Statues and Rapid Transit In New York City

Washington statue Union Square unveiled in 1856, an 80 year gap between public statues in New York City

Under English rule there was never a divorce in New York until 1787

When the Dutch founded New Amsterdam they allowed divorce but it was a rare occurrence. The English captured New Amsterdam in 1664  and after a brief retaking of the city by the Dutch in 1673, the English took permanent possession of the colony of New York until the Revolution. Over the next 100 years there was no divorce in New York.

Isaac Governeur became the first New Yorker granted a divorce in 1787. Up until then there had been no legal way of separating from your spouse. Alexander Hamilton created the law that allowed divorce in New York. The sole basis for being granted a divorce was adultery. Those who were desperate enough, went to another state that did allow divorce for other reasons. Incredibly, until 1966, adultery remained the only grounds for getting a divorce in New York.

The first successful manned flight in New York took place in 1819

A Frenchman, Charles Guillé who had made many successful balloon ascensions in France arrived in the United States in the summer of 1819. The oval balloon Guillé brought with him was about 40 feet in height when inflated. An umbrella shaped parachute with a 60 foot diameter would be deployed to get the balloon safely to the ground.

On August 2, 1819 Guillé got into the cab of his balloon at Vauxhall Gardens, located at Lafayette Street between 4th and 8th Streets in New York City.  Guillé’s balloon ascended rapidly after the ropes were cast loose. Within six minutes Guillé was over 6,000 feet in the air and over the village of Williamsburg, Long Island (now part of Brooklyn). As Guillé continued his flight, he approached a threatening dark cloud with tornado like winds. Guillé decided to cut the cords to his balloon. The balloon quickly rose above the clouds and went out of sight. After a few tense seconds of freefall, with over 100,000 people watching, Guillé’s parachute deployed  and he settled gently down on to Jacob Suydam’s farm in New Bushwick out of the sight of almost all of the spectators. Guillé came back to New York that evening to great fanfare.

The balloon was found floating in the water near the shore of Oyster Bay Long Island and returned to Guillé. Charles Guillé’s entire flight lasted about half an hour and was the first successful balloon flight in New York.

A tidal wave once hit New Amsterdam

According to Greater New York: Its Government, Financial Institutions, Transportation Facilities and Chronology (1898) edited by The Evening Post “a tidal wave 12 feet above the ordinary tide, inundated New Amsterdam, and the people had to camp in the woods for three days”

(Not because it is in a book by the Post which was reputable in the 19th century, but as a caveat we found no other reference to this event, so if anyone can provide another source please contact us.)

The first street railroad to be built in the United States ran along the Bowery from Prince Street to 23rd Street     

Public transit was authorized by the New York Legislature on April 25, 1831 and the first streetcar railway, coaches pulled by horse ran from Prince Street to 23rd street on the Bowery.

Why did the railway terminate at Prince Street? It was believed that most people could get about the city below that point on  foot or through their own private conveyance.

After the revolution in 1776 New York City had no public statues until 1856

At Bowling Green stood an equestrian lead, tin, copper and antimony statue of King George III lord and master of the British colony of New York. On July 9, 1776, Captain Oliver Brown and a group of revolutionary soldiers toppled the statue by pulling it down with ropes. The soldiers melted the broken statue down to make musket balls to be fired at the soon to be invading British troops. The only remnant from the statue surviving today is the fence that surrounds Bowling Green, minus its original finials that topped off the fence.

In 1856 sculptor Henry Kirke Brown’s bronze equestrian statue of President George Washington was unveiled in Union Square.

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