1902 Encyclopedia > New York City > Population

New York City
(Part 3)


The population of New York, in spite of the great attractions of the site, increased very slowly for the first century after its settlement. When the Revolution began it amounted to less than 22,000, and the city stood far below Boston and Philadelphia in importance. It was too, dominated to a degree unknown in the other Northern States by the landowners whose estates lined the Hudson as far up as Albany, and who played the leading part in society and politics. The original constitution of colonial society was thoroughly aristocratic, and it was maintained almost intact until after the Revolution, the large landed estates along the Hudson being still held by the descendants of the original Dutch grantees, and let on tenures which were essentially feudal in their character. In spite of the large influx of settlers from New England and other parts of the country, the Revolution found the Dutch elements in New York society still strong, if not dominant, and the political ascendancy of the territorial families on the Hudson on the whole but little diminished. After the revolution the growth of the city population became more rapid, but it did not reach 100,000 until 1815, nor 160,000 until 1825. From this date it grew by leaps and bounds until it reached, in 1880, 1,206,299, although a large body of persons whose business lies in New York reside in Brooklyn or Jersey City, on the other side of the East and Hudson Rivers respectively, or in the lesser suburbs, and are not included in the census return. At the end of 1883 the population was estimated at 1,337,325. The impetus which the population received in 1825 was due to the opening of the canal connecting the Hudson with Lake Erie, which made New York the commercial entrepot for a vast and fertile region such as lay behind no other port on the eastern coast. The tendency of foreign trade to concentrate at New York, which has since reduced many small but once flourishing ports along the Atlantic coast, and has taken away from Boston and Philadelphia a good deal of the chief source of their early prosperity, at once began to show itself, and has apparently lost none of its force since the railways came into use to supplement or supersede the canals.

In considering New York as a commercial port, the population of several suburbs within 10 or 15 miles radius should be taken along with it. Including only that of Brooklyn (556,663( and of Jersey City (120,722), the total would be 1,883,684. Of the 1,206,299 forming the population of the municipality of New York proper in 1880, 478,670 or nearly one-third, were of foreign birth. Of these 163,482 were Germans and 198,595 Irish, forming together by far the largest and most important part of the foreign element. Of the total population, 336,137 are males above the voting age, and the females exceed the males by about 25,000. In the native American population, amounting to 727,629, there are 647,399 natives of the State of New York, only 80,330 coming from other States. New Jersey furnishes the largest contingent, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Connecticut following next, though every State and Territory in the Union contributes something. There are no means of ascertaining the proportion something. There are no means of ascertaining the proportion of the inhabitants born within the city limits; it is probably smaller than even in London or Paris.

The heterogeneous character of the population, however, so largely composed of persons who come from widely different parts of the globe to seek fortune, while infusing great energy into commercial and industrial operations, has had an unfortunate effect on the municipal life of the place. It has prevented the growth of a healthy local pride among the successful men of business, many of whom labor with the intention of passing their closing years elsewhere, a sentiment particularly strong among the prosperous New Englanders, whose affections are very apt to be fixed on the place of their birth. The result is that, considering the very large fortunes which have been made in the city during the last century, it has profited but little, compared with others in America, by the gifts or endowments of its wealthy men. The same cause has operated to some extent to prevent hearty co-operation in municipal affairs. The inhabitants of the different nationalities live much apart, both in politics and in society. The Germans, whose social life is very active, give but little attention to local politics, although they form, owing to their intelligence, order, and industry, a very valuable element in the population. Germans head a good many of the principal banking and commercial houses. A considerable proportion of those settled in New York are skilled artisans; cabinetmaking and upholstering in particular are largely in their hands. They supply also most of the music of the city, do nearly all its brewing and a considerable portion of its baking, and furnish a very large contingent in the work of all the leading manufactures. They supply comparatively few of the domestics of either sex, or of the manual laborers. Difference of language, combined with the absence of political training at home, keeps the Germans from taking a very active part in politics, except to resist some of the attempts at restrictive legislation directed against their beer drinking and Sunday amusements, which the American temperance advocates frequently make. As a rule it may be said that the prominent Germans in city, like the Catholic Irish, belong to the Democratic party.

The port of New York is the great gateway for immigrants coming to the United States. Of the 7,892,783 immigrants who have come to the country from the years 1855 to 1882 inclusive, 5,169,765 have landed at New York city. The largest number landed there in one year was 476,086 in 1882. Germany sends the greatest number, Ireland coming next, England third, and Sweden fourth. From 1847 to 1881 inclusive the German immigrants arriving in New York have numbered 2,498,595; the Irish, 2,171,982; the English, 834,328; and the Swedish, 208,505. The total number of immigrants landed at New York during the years 1858 to 1862 inclusive was 404,918; from 1863 to 1867 it was 1,009,641; from 1868 to 1872, 1,209,011; from 1873 to 1877; 614,219; in 1878 it was 75,347; in 1879; 135,070; in 1880, 327,371; in 1881, 455,681; in 1882, 476,086; and in the first six months of 1883 it was 257,635. The Irish emigrants who settle in New York are to a considerable extent a deposit left by the stream of emigration which enters the country at that port. The more energetic and thoughtful, and those who have any money, push on to the west; the penniless and the shiftless are apt to stay where they land, and furnish the city with most of its unskilled labor, although of late years they have been exposed to considerable competition from Italians, mainly from southern Italy. The resource of a large number of the more pushing is pat to be liquor dealing, which generally brings them influence in ward politics, and secures recognition from the party leaders as a means of communicating with and controlling the rank and file. The great body of the porters and waiters in the hotels and second-class restaurants, of the carters and hackney-coach drivers, a large proportion of the factory workers, and almost the entire body of household servants are Irish also, and for the most part a saving and industrious body.

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