Early New York

The history of New York from the 1620s to the 1830s is a story of economic expansion and the city’s emergence as a major population center. The story is also one of struggle. The growth of New York did not always benefit everyone. Consequences of economic change included the growth of inequality and the development of a class of workers dependent on daily wages and always in danger of falling into poverty.

  • In 1791 a large loaf of bread cost six pennies—$1.50 in today’s dollars.
  • In 1808 Houston Street formed the northern limit of urban development.
  • From 1790 to 1830, the population of New York increased sixfold, from 33,000 to 202,000.
  • In 1730 nearly 60% of New Yorkers lived at or near the subsistence level.
  • In the mid-1700s at least half of the city’s households contained one or more slaves.

Romon's Story

Romon, a 12-year-old free black boy, had been laboring onboard a merchant ship for more than a month by the time he arrived in the port of New York in March 1792. The journey from Portugal to New York City, through icy winter waters, had been harrowing for the crew in general and Romon in particular. Romon’s work on the ship required him to be out on the deck, exposed to bitter cold. By the time the ship docked, both of his feet were severely frostbitten.

Where was the almshouse?

New York City built a series of institutions for poor or homeless individuals and families. The locations of a number of these structures, usually built on the city's outskirts, are denoted on this map from 1833. Also noted on this map are locations that played important roles in the lives of the poor and homeless in early New York. Map Credit: The Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library. Images courtesy of the New York Public Library.

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