Wall Street’s wall

Wall Street in New York City is named after one of two things: the Walloons, early Dutch settlers… or a literal wall to defend against the Algonquian peoples angry over the slaughter of 120 local Weckquaesgeek.

Wall Street
Jacques Cortelyou, General Governor of Nieuw Amsterdam at that time. / Public domain

New York’s Wall Street is today one of the centres of world commerce. Back in the 17th century CE, it was one edge of the Dutch settlement New Amsterdam. It’s entirely possible that it was named for Walloon settlers of the time, “de Waalstraat.” But it’s also possible that the name comes from a depressing and violent episode in American colonial history.

Willem Kieft was a man very much out of his depth. He was the director of New Netherland, the Dutch colony in what is today the east coast of the United States, from 1638 to 1647. He was… not a friend to the Native Americans of the area. Whereas most of the colonists had lived (relatively) peacefully with the local population, Kieft had a tendency towards violent retaliation. In one early incident he sent soldiers into a Raritan village in response to the theft of several pigs. The pigs were actually stolen by other colonists, but several Raritan died for it anyway.

It got worse. Kieft wanted to send a message to the local tribes, and in 1643 he sent a band into a Weckquaesgeek village that killed more than a hundred people – the so-called Pavonia massacre – and that heinous act set off a cycle of retribution that is today known as Kieft’s War. The Algonquian tribes of the area united against the Dutch settlers, and the settlers hid behind a large wall – a double palisade, actually – along the northernmost border of the New Amsterdam settlement. The location of that wall: today’s Wall Street.

(An end note: Kieft was recalled to Amsterdam to answer for his incompetence, but died on the ship back. Wall Street went on to host the first official slave market in New York, from 1711 to 1762.)

[Thanks to Brett Chapman for writing about this topic.]


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