The Bronx...Its History & Perspective
~An Ongoing Series~
North of Manhattan
by Harry Hansen
Published by Hastings House in 1950
If Henry Hudson returned today and viewed the land where Manhattan
ends, he would observe a great bridge arching over the waters between
the island and the land north of Manhattan. He would see tall buildings
rising above the trees, but the contours of the land would have changed
little from the time he last saw it in 1609. What would puzzle him most,
perhaps, would be the 100-foot base that holds an effigy in bronze of a
bearded sea captain in wide boots that now stands above his anchorage.
He almost certainly would not recognize this as Karl Bitter's concept of
himself, nor would he understand why he was thus elevated.
In the days after Hudson, the island of Manhattan was separated from
the mainland by a small erratic creek that the Dutch called Spuyten
Duyvil, and which the English thought meant "Spitting Devil,"
though they were never certain about its meaning. It had a small,
confirmed channel, with large cliffs impeding its course,
and it wound around what we now call Marble Hill as far as
what is presently West 230th Street. It then flowed south into the
Harlem River, where it met tides coming up from the East River.
This Spuyten Duyvil creek separated Manhattan from the land beyond
and became the boundary of two counties.
Although the winding course of Spuyten Duyvil Creek around Marble
Hill has long since been filled in and a wider ship canal had been
blasted through the rock to provide easy passage for coal barges to the
East River, the political boundary remains. The authority of the
borough of Manhattan jumps the water boundary and holds fast the
little tip of land that sticks like a prodding thumb into the borough of the
Now we must return to Henry Hudson and what happened on
September 13, 1609, and how it affected the fortunes of the settlers.
On that day, Hudson anchored in the river near the Indian Village of
Nappechamack, which in Indian lingo meant "the trap-fishing place."
The Dutch transliterated the name to Nepperhan and it still identifies
the river that flows secretly into the Hudson at Yonkers.
The shipmaster permitted some of the Indians to board the "Half
Moon" and then decided to detain two of them.
According to a journal that was written in English and was kept by
Robert Juet, a mate, an Indian was caught stealing a pillow, two shirts
and two bandoliers. The master's mate shot him down, and when
another Indian tried to climb aboard, the cook cut off his hand.
The Half Moon set sail and went as far as Albany. The ship returned
several weeks near its former anchorage at Spuyten Duyvil, and on
October 2, was besieged by a shower of arrows.
In retaliation, The Dutch fired six muskets, killing several Indians.
Then they fired the small cannon which was called a Falcon and the
bewildered Indians fled into the woods. Thus, the White Man's superior
power and cruelty were demonstrated off the banks of the what would
later be known as the Bronx.