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In the original records of New Amsterdam, the Dutch always called the street “Het Cingel” (“singel” in modern Dutch), which was also the name of the original outer barrier street, wall, and canal of Amsterdam. After the English takeover of New Amsterdam in 1664 they renamed the city New York and in tax records from April 1665 (still in Dutch) they refer to the street as “Het Cingel ofte Stadt Wall” (the Belt or the City Wall). This use of both names for the street also appears as late as 1691 on the Miller Plan of New York. New York Governor Thomas Dongan may have issued the first official designation of Wall Street in 1686, the same year he issued a new charter for New York. Confusion over the origins of the name Wall Street appeared in modern times because in the 19th and early 20th century some historians mistakenly thought the Dutch had called it “de Waal Straat,” which to Dutch ears sounds like Walloon Street. However, in 17th century New Amsterdam, de Waal Straat (Wharf or Dock Street) was a section of what is today’s Pearl Street.New Amsterdam’s wall depicted on tiles in the Wall Street subway station
The original wall was constructed under orders from Director General of the Dutch West India Company, Peter Stuyvesant, at the start of the first Anglo-Dutch war soon after New Amsterdam was incorporated in 1653. Fearing an over land invasion of English troops from the colonies in New England (at the time Manhattan was easily accessible by land because the Harlem Ship Canal had not been dug), he ordered a ditch and wooden palisade to be constructed on the northern boundary of the New Amsterdam settlement. The wall was built of dirt and 15-foot (4.6 m) wooden planks, measuring 2,340 feet (710 m) long and 9 feet (2.7 m) tall and was built using the labor of both enslaved Africans and white colonists. In fact Stuyvesant had ordered that “the citizens, without exception, shall work on the constructions… by immediately digging a ditch from the East River to the North River, 4 to 5 feet deep and 11 to 12 feet wide…” And that “the soldiers and other servants of the Company, together with the free Negroes, no one excepted, shall complete the work on the fort by constructing a breastwork, and the farmers are to be summoned to haul the sod.”
The first Anglo-Dutch War ended in 1654 without hostilities in New Amsterdam, but over time the “werken” (meaning the works or city fortifications) were reinforced and expanded to protect against potential incursions from Native Americans, pirates, and the English. The English also expanded and improved the wall after their 1664 takeover (a cause of the Second Anglo-Dutch War), as did the Dutch from 1673 to 1674 when they briefly retook the city during the Third Anglo-Dutch War, and by the late 1600s the wall encircled most of the city and had two large stone bastions on the northern side. The Dutch named these bastions “Hollandia” and “Zeelandia” after the ships that carried their invasion force. The wall started at Hanover Square on Pearl Street, which was the shoreline at that time, crossed the Indian path that the Dutch called Heeren Wegh, now called Broadway, and ended at the other shoreline (today’s Trinity Place), where it took a turn south and ran along the shore until it ended at the old fort. There was a gate at Broadway (the “Land Gate”) and another at Pearl Street, the “Water Gate.” The wall and its fortifications were eventually removed in 1699-it had outlived its usefulness because the city had grown well beyond the wall. A new City Hall was built at Wall and Nassau in 1700 using the stones from the bastions as materials for the foundation.Learn more about Wall Street.