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Subject: [IRISH-NYC] Harlem: Is It Legally Part of NYC?
Date: Wed, 3 Sep 2003 19:20:31 EDT


Harlem -- Is It Legally Part of NYC?

There has never been a reason for New Yorkers to doubt that Harlem was part
of New York City. After all, it's situated on Manhattan Island. But in 1903,
a writer argued that Harlem was not legally part of New York City. In his
book, "New Harlem Past and Present: The Story of an Amazing Civic Wrong Now at
Last to be Righted," Carl Horton Pierce put forth that the Township of New
Harlem was never legally integrated into New York City.

To understand Pierce's argument, we need to go back in time to both the Dutch
and British colonial periods in New York. There is no doubt that the Dutch
founded the town of Nieuw Haarlem, around 1636. When the British occupied
Manhattan Island in 1664, the town's name was changed to New Harlem. Then it
becomes confusing.

In 1666, while still under British control, New Harlem was granted its first
patent -- or recognition as a legal entity -- by the crown. This patent had
to be purchased, and what it did was to legitimize landholdings in the town.
It also acted as a form of taxation. This 1666 patent was called the 'First
Nicholls Patent.' (Nicholls was the name of the colonial governor of the colony
at the time.) There were some sort of problems left unresolved by this
patent, so the same year, a second patent was issued by the crown.

As the Dutch-English War wore on, there was a lot of taking and retaking of
land on Manhattan Island. The Dutch took back the colony in 1673, only to lose
it again in 1674. With the land changing hands as it did, exact ownership of
land became confusing. As we know, the British finally won ownership of the
colony.

The crown began to realize that they should and could get more money from the
inhabitants of the New York colony, so a new patent was issued. In April
1686, Governor Thomas Dongan issued a patent for New York City. The details of
this particular patent are very important. It stated that New York City owned
all the waterways surrounding Manhattan Island, up to the low tide mark of
surrounding lands. (This may also explain why the waterfront of the borough of
Brooklyn was controlled by New York City's shipping industry.)

The property records for Nieuw Haarlem Dutch period were either lost or
destroyed sometime in the 1700s. Following the Revolution, Manhattan passed back
into American hands and New Harlem simply became Harlem.

In 1772 and 1775, the New York State Legislature legally fixed the boundary
between New York City and the Township of Harlem as a diagonal line as follows:
the Eastern boundary running from what is now 74th Street and the East River
to the Western boundary at 129th Street and the Hudson River. So, following
the American Revolution, there was New York City and the Township of Harlem.
Mention is made of the Township of New Harlem in New York State laws as late as
1835.

Pierce argues that the Township of New Harlem was never legally dissolved as
an entity and still legally existed as late as 1903. Following this train of
thought, if the Township of New Harlem wasn't legally dissolved, then Harlem's
integration into New York City wasn't legal. Therefore, Harlem is not
legally part of New York City. And the lands in the Township of New Harlem are
vested in the descendants of the original Dutch inhabitants.

New York City historians have argued that the history of land ownership in
Manhattan is very confusing due to the shuffling of land back and forth between
the Dutch and British. What few records that do exist are either incomplete
or they contradict each other. Some historians also attacked Pierce for
concocting this story for his own monetary gain. At the time his book was
published, the trains were reaching into far Northern Manhattan and the Bronx. So the
land was desirable for housing. Even if Pierce's assertion is pure bunk, it
makes for an interesting piece of history.

What is eerie though, is what appears in the minutes of the Trustees of the
Township of New Harlem. In 1820, this committee was appointed to oversee the
subdivision and selling of land originally held by the Dutch inhabitants. The
minutes state, "The Act of 1820 appoints trustees for the freeholders and
inhabitants of Harlem seized in fee simple of the common lands."

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