Indigenous Staten Island History

Plus Some Facts about Christopher Columbus

Staten Island’s Indigenous History

  • Staten Island was originally inhabited by tribes of the Lenape Nation. Their specific names are not known, however, they are generally called the Munsee, which was a dialect spoken in the region. 
  • There is documented proof of the Lenapes living on the West Shore of Staten Island as far back as 10,000 BC when most of the North American continent was covered by a glacier. As the glacier receded, the Lenape began moving around the island in seasonal camps. 
  • The Lenape called Staten Island, Aquehonga Manacknong, which is translated to, “the place of bad woods.”
  • The largest Native American burial ground is called “Burial Ridge” and is a protected site located in Tottenville’s Conference House Park.
  • In 1770, the chiefs of the Lenni-Lenape agreed to sell Staten Island to New York Governor, Francis Lovelace.  
  • Nothing is named after Indigenous cultures on Staten Island, which sets it apart from all the other boroughs and surrounding areas. 

Christopher Columbus

“In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

Facts about Christopher Columbus and his story:

  • Christopher Columbus knew the Earth was round. Pythagoras (c. 570 – c. 495 BC), Aristotle (384–322 BC) and Euclid (300 BC) all wrote about the Earth being a spherical shape well before Christopher Columbus was born.  Educated people during Columbus’ time knew the Earth was round.
  • The Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria were not the names of Columbus’ ships.
    • The Nina was the nickname for the la Santa Clara
    • The Santa Maria was actually la Santa Gallega
    • The Pinta’s is also believed tot be a nick-name, though the actual name is unknown.
  • Christopher Columbus landed in Caribbean islands, Central and South American coasts, but he never traveled to the North American continent.
  • He captured the Arawak natives of the Caribbean islands, forcing them into slavery.
    • Because of the atrocities against the Arawak natives, Arawaks began participating in mass suicides and poisoning their infants to spare them from the cruelty of the Spaniards.
  • Christopher Columbus was governor of Hispaniola, where he mistreated Spanish colonists. When the King and Queen of Spain heard of his mistreatments, he was arrested, brought back to Spain, and stripped of his governorship. 

Quotes from Christopher Columbus

  • “They … brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things … They willingly traded everything they owned … They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features …. They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane. … They would make fine servants. … With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”  -Columbus’ journal entry regarding the Arawak natives in the Bahamas
  • “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.” Written by Colubus after the 1,300 surviving Arawak men, women, and children taken from Caribbean islands were sold as slaves in Spain. 

Quotes from Bartolome de las Casas

Bartolome de las Casas was a young priest who participated in the conquest of Cuba and wrote a history of the Indies.
  • “Two of these so-called Christians met two Indian boys one day, each carrying a parrot; they took the parrots and for fun beheaded the boys.” 
  • “Endless testimonies … prove the mild and pacific temperament of the natives. … But our work was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy; small wonder, then, if they tried to kill one of us now and then…. The admiral, it is true, was blind as those who came after him, and he was so anxious to please the King that he committed irreparable crimes against the Indians …“ 

The European Exchange

Columbus did not discover North America, as we were taught in elementary school. With his travels to the “New World,” came what became known as the Columbian Exchange. The Columbian Exchange was an important time in the history of our world in that it brought about the transfer of plants, animals, cultures, and people between the Americas and Europe. This connection between “worlds” was unprecedented and for better or worse, historically significant. The Columbian Exchange helped Europe become wealthy and powerful in ways that had not been seen before. 

To acknowledge these benefits to Europe, and the eventual colonization, and advancements in North America, without also acknowledging that these benefits came on the backs of indigenous people subjected to atrocities such as torture, and enslavement, is a willful display of ignorance and avoidance of personal growth. Good can come from bad, but it is important to remember the bad to learn from it, to acknowledge the mistakes, and grow as a society.

Who Really Did Travel to North America First?

Historians acknowledge Viking expeditions to North America as historical fact. An ancient Norse settlement was discovered in Canada in 1960 by Anne Stine Ingstad and her husband Helge Ingstad. This confirmed the documentation of Viking explorer, Leif Erikson’s expedition to “Vinland,” which is now a Canadian province of Newfoundland. 

Leif Erikson Statues

Though there are many statues of Christopher Columbus globally, there are only a handful of Leif Erikson statues throughout the world. Here is a list of the ones in the United States:

  • Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA (1887) 
  • Juneau Park, Milwaukee, WI (1887) 
  • Humbolt Park, Chicago, IL (1901)
  • Marinor’s Museum, Newport News, VA (1938)
  • State capitol, St. Paul, MN (1949)
  • Duluth, MN (1956)
  • Shilshole Bay Marina, Seattle, WA (1962) 
  • Scandinavian Heritage Park, Minot, ND (1993)
  • Cleveland, OH (2001)
  • Lodge of the Sons of Norway, Ballard, Seattle, WA (2003)

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