“success stories” like China or the East Asian tigers. Moreover, the larger aggregates to which the block
belongs – New York City and the United States – are also “success stories” and so the block helps
visualize some of the micro successes behind these much larger aggregate successes. Still, we
acknowledge that, like “success sto ries” of nations, a case study of only one block’s success is mostly of
use to illustrate how development success hap pen s; it do es not const itute rig oro us ev iden ce for detailed
In the first two centuries after the Dutch founding of New Amsterdam in 1625, maps and histories allow
us to track the few individuals operating on our block. Beginning in 1834, maps, city directories,
censuses, tax records, and factory inspection reports allowed a recording about every 5 years of alm ost
everyone who was on the block, their econo m ic activ ity, and real estate values.
The data is subject to
some errors and omissions, but the num bers enabled description and analysis of what was happening on
We base our links from shocks to changes on the block on the many specialized histories available (for
example, Gilfoyle (1994) and Sanger (1859) on prostitution in New York) and some contemporary press
accounts (all sources ar e detailed in the endnotes and bibliography). It is the nature of a case study,
however, that we cannot rigorously prove causal links from shocks to changes. Some of the determinants
of change were them selv es endo g enous (transportation infrastructure, for exam ple) , and we are describing
outcomes that are part of a larger general equilibrium.
The rest of the paper proceeds organized into sections corresponding to major changes in comparative
advantage of the block, describing each of the shocks that contributed to chang es – w e call them
“surprises ” when the shocks and changes were generally unanticipated.
II. The agricultural period
Before the Dutch founded New Amsterdam in 1625, the block lay in a forest just north of some wetlands
There is little knowledge about the Lenape people (later known as Delawares) who
occupied the greater New York region before Europeans arrived.
The earliest records for the block date from the 1640s, when Manhattan was the Dutch colony New
Amsterdam. The Dutch had brought slaves from Africa to New Amsterdam as early as 1626.
governor Wi llem Kieft gave parcels on our block and surrounding area to four slaves, Marycke (widow of
Lawrence, December 2, 1643), Anthony Portuguese (before 1644), Gratia D’Angola (December 15,
1644), and Piet er Van Cam pen (April 6, 1647).
The borders of the four parcels straddled our block.
These slaves then bec ame “half-free” – meaning that they were free, but their children would remain
The gift was not quite as magnanimous as it appears, as Kieft had provoked a war with the Indians that
lasted from February 1643 to August 1645. The slaves formed a buffer against Indian attacks.
produced food for the city by paying a tax of grain and livestock. Giving this land to slaves also reflected
the low value of the land at the time, which reflected the low population of the city (only 450 people in
The gift of land to slaves also reflected the low expectations the Dutch had for New Amsterdam. During
the treaty negotiations with the British after the war that resulted in permanent transfer of the colony, the
Dutch at one point addressed the question of whether to retain Suriname or New Amsterdam, and chose
the more promising sugar-producing slave plantations of Suriname.
Surprise 1: Dutch expect New York to be less valuable than Suriname.