New York City and Long Island look nothing like they used to. Parts of Long Island are now at the economic center of the world, but in ages past, it was mostly forested with only a few scattered settlements and largely unremarkable to the rest of the world. Here's a glimpse into the pre-European and early Dutch and English history of the famous American island.

Long Island was first settled by Europeans (the Dutch) in the 17th century but it had a long Native American history before that. Today some of the oldest surviving colonial buildings in the United States are in New York and Long Island.


The Native American Peoples of Long Island

The Native inhabitants of the island mostly fell into two linguistic groups with the Montauk, at the eastern half of the island, and Delaware (or Lenape), in the west.

When the Europeans arrived on the island, the Lenape (also called "Delaware" by the Europeans) inhabited the western part of the island. They spoke an Algonquian language called the Munsee dialect.

The eastern portion was inhabited by people who spoke a language of the Mohegan-Montauk-Narragansett language group and were related to the peoples of what is now Connecticut and Rhode Island.

  • Lenape (Delaware): The People Who Inhabited The Western Part of the Island
  • Montauk: The People Who Inhabited the Eastern Part of the Island
  • Name: The Native American Name For Long Island Is Paumanok (Translates as "The Island that Pays Tribute")

During this time, Long Island was important to the production of Wampum. Wampum is a traditional shell bead of the Eastern Woodlands tribes of Native Americans. Strings of wampum were used for storytelling, as well as for ceremonial gifts and other uses.

In 1524 they encountered the first European, Giovanni da Verrazzano, in New York Bay. He was in the service of King Francis I of France and is famous for being the first European to explore the Atlantic coast of North America from Florida to New Brunswick.

  • 1524: The First Contact Between Europeans And Native Peoples In the Area

In all, there were believed to have been thirteen tribes living on Long Island at the time of European contact but more modern research points out that the reality is much more complicated.

Today, the Montaukett, Unkechaug, and Shinnecock nations, three Native American groups with ties to aboriginal inhabitants, still live on the island.

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History of the Anglo-Dutch Struggle For The Island

After European contact, the Native American population on Long Island went into decline and it became dominated by the Dutch and the English.

The Dutch were the first Europeans to settle the island and they first settled on the western part. They called the island "Lange Eylant." During the 1600s, the English started to settle on parts of the island bringing them into conflict with the Dutch.

  • Name: "Lange Eylandt" (Long Island) Named By Dutch Explorer Adriaen Block

The English settled the eastern end of the island and can be seen in English place names in the area like North Fork, South Fork, Southampton, and Suffolk. In the west, one can find more Dutch names from the Dutch settlement like Nassau, "Heemstede," New Utrecht, and "Breuckelen."

Eventually, the English took over the Dutch colony of New Netherland and the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam became New York. Today there are tours of what survives of New York's Dutch heritage.

The English colony of Connecticut claimed all but the westernmost part of Long Island until 1664.

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Museums of The Early History of Long Island

Most museums on Long Island are concerned more with the recent (Revolutionary period and later) history of the Island. But there are some that delve into its geological and Native American past.

Shinnecock National Cultural Center & Museum:

The Museum was established in 2001 and is today the only Native American owned and operated non-governmental, not for profit, Native American owned and operated organization on Long Island. It is dedicated to honoring the ancestors and living history of the Algonquin descendants.

They exhibit over 10,000 years of the history of their people. Their facilities are built of Adirondack white pine and exhibit the different time periods of Shinnecock history including the Paleolithic, Archaic, Woodland, and Historic periods.

  • Address: 100 Montauk Hwy, Southampton, New York
  • Season: Closes in The Winter

Opening Hours:

  • Monday-Thursday: CLOSED
  • Friday-Sunday: 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM

Garvies Point Museum:

The Garvies Point Museum is a center for research on Long Island geology and the study of the Island's Native American archaeology. They exhibit collections of original archaeological artifacts and geological phenomena. They are part of the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Museums whose mission is to preserve and interpret the county's natural, prehistoric and historic heritage.

  • Hours: Tuesday - Saturday 10 am to 4 pm
  • Adults: $5.00

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