Where is Mannahatta?

Where did Manhattan island get its name? 

(Psst… scroll down for a virtual tour of Manhattan in the year 1609!)

Before we can start our “walk,” I want to introduce you to Mannahatta.

Back in 2014, when my husband and I still lived in Oklahoma City, I was lucky enough to direct a new play during the Native American Playwright Festival, Mary Kathryn Nagle’s Manahatta. (It has since been produced all over the country!)

Here’s a beautiful description of the play from the Public Theatre, which produced the play in NYC for the first time in 2014 (the page appears to be gone, but the quote was borrowed from Tanis Parenteau’s blog post relating her experience in the production, playing the double role of Jane Snake and Le-Le-Wa-You):

“A gripping journey from the fur trade of the 1600s to the stock trade of today, Mary Kathryn Nagle’s MANAHATTA tells the story of Jane Snake, a brilliant young Native American woman with a Stanford MBA. Jane reconnects with her ancestral homeland, known as Manahatta, when she moves from her home with the Delaware Nation in Anadarko, Oklahoma to New York for a job at a major investment bank just before the financial crisis of 2008. Jane’s struggle to reconcile her new life with the expectations and traditions of the family she left behind is powerfully interwoven with the heartbreaking history of how the Lenape were forced from their land. Both old and new Manahatta converge in a brutal lesson about the dangers of living in a society where there’s no such thing as enough. Written in the Public Theater’s Emerging Writers Group, Mary Kathryn Nagle’s MANAHATTA is a stunning new play about the discovery that the only thing you can truly own is who you are and where you come from.”

The word “Mannahatta” comes from the Lenni Lenape, or “The People,” that lived here well before the Dutch colonizers arrived in the 1600s. Mannahatta means

“Island of Many Hills”

While much of lower Manhattan seems very flat, where the further you go uptown, the hillier it gets! (Also, it’s worth noting that a lot of dynamite shaped the terrain of New York City into what we see today).

The Spring I directed Nagle’s play, Sam and I visited NYC, in part to plan our future move, that year, and in part to research much of the play’s historical representation of those first encounters, and what the island was like, then.

For instance, did you know Pearl Street in the Financial District was so named because of the pearls that the Dutch found on the path that lined the Southeastern shore of the island – leftover from the oysters that were harvested there?

Or that Broadway, one of the only main streets in Manhattan that runs “crooked,” follows The Broad Way, an old trading path that the Lenape used?

Or that Wall Street is named for the Wall that was built by the Dutch settlers, in part to keep Native people out of New Amsterdam?

(And I bet you can guess what used to be where Canal Street is, now!)

All in all, New York City looked much, much different in the past, before Henry Hudson first arrived, and there is one incredible source I’ve turned to again and again – and still do, just to marvel at what New York City once was.

The Welikia Project!

Cover of Mannahatta book, by Dr. Eric Sanderson

Created in part by the author of an incredible book, Mannahatta by Dr. Eric Sanderson, the Welikia Project has painstakingly researched what each area in Manhattan might very well have looked like in 1609, and created digital representations! Have a look! If you know someone or something’s address, type it in and find out what it looked like.

Having established the big picture of the island – and my fascination with it – I’d like to start our “walk” (via my blog!) where Sam and I spent most of our time exploring, back in 2014. It’s where we always begin our annual island walks, and it boasts the most “untouched” area of the entire island…

Check back soon for our first stop, here on my blog…

Inwood Hill Park!

(cover photo courtesy of Welikia Project)

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