The Fifth Borough A Trip to Staten Island

"The whole island is like a garden, and affords very fine scenery." - Henry David Thoreau,
Staten Island, 1843

Since Thoreau wrote about its charms nearly 200 years ago, Staten Island has occasionally been referred to as the "suburban stepchild" of New York City, and often finds itself the one borough that people have a hard time remembering after they rattle off Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens. In fact, when a 1998 survey asked New Yorkers why they go to Staten Island, the top two responses were "visiting friends and relatives," and "passing through." Closer to New Jersey than the rest of New York City proper - the 59 square-mile island in New York Bay is separated from Jersey by Kill Van Kull and Arthur Kill - the island is nevertheless home to nearly half a million bona fide New Yorkers who commute into the city by way of bridges and ferry lines every day.

An Island in the Stream

Staten Island has been on the map since the early 1500s, when Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazano - sailing under the banner of King Francois I of France - sailed into New York Bay while searching for a water route to Asia. Giovanni didn't find a shortcut to the East, but he did become the namesake of the Verrazano Narrows, and - much, much later - the Verrazano Bridge, which connects Staten Island to Brooklyn.

It wasn't until 1609 that British explorer Henry Hudson - sailing for Holland - entered New York Bay, landed on Staten Island, and christened it "Staaten Eyelandt" in honor of the "Staaten," or the Dutch Parliament, and Hudson's benefactors.

The first European settlement on Staten Island didn't spring up until nearly 30 years after Hudson's visit, when one Captain David Pietersen De Vries led a small, ill-fated group of settlers in establishing a permanent community. De Vries' group abandoned the settlement after just two years, after sustaining heavy losses in conflicts with the island's native inhabitants.

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Staten Island had been home for hundreds of years to several distinct subsets of the Native American Delaware Nation; the Lenapes, the Tappens, and the Hackensack peoples all lived on the north shore, while a larger group, the Raritans, lived in the central and southern parts of the island.

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