Oyster Island

Long before the Europeans came to the New World, Native Americans were making use of Liberty Island. In particular, the Algonquin tribes came to take advantage of rich beds of oysters. Liberty Island to them was one of three Oyster Islands in what we now call New York Harbor. It was during restoration work in 1985 that archeologists uncovered a rich cache of Native American relics, including their discarded oyster shells, arrow heads, pottery fragments, and bones from turtles, fish, deer, and ducks. They accessed the island via dugout canoes.

European Colonization and Early New York

Henry Hudson came on the scene in 1609. The Europeans brought disease, war and occupation that forced the Native Americans to move out of the area entirely. Hudson had founded the Dutch colony of New Netherland, but English took it over in 1664 and renamed it New York. In 1667 Oyster Island was sold to Dutch merchant Isaac Bedloe. In the 1700s it was sold to various people, but throughout this time, New York City effectively took control of it, using it as a quarantine area for inspecting incoming ships for smallpox. After changing hands a number of times, it was finally officially sold to New York City in 1758. After the Revolution, its strategic defense value was realized and in the early 1800s a fort was constructed in an interesting 11-pointed star formation that came to be called Fort Wood after an army hero who died in the War of 1812.

Creation of the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World

French intellectual Edouard de Laboulaye was a devoted abolitionist who held President Abraham Lincoln in high regard. He thought a fitting way to celebrate the ending of the Civil War and the passage of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery in the US would be some kind of joint monument of the French and Americans devoted to freedom, liberty and democracy. This thought occurred to him in 1865. After letting it simmer for 5 years, French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi signed onto the idea and started working on designs. It was on a trip to the US in 1871 that Bartholdi saw Bedloe’s Island and knew that it was the right place for such a grand monument to be placed. Construction on pieces of the monument began in 1876. When the arm holding the torch was completed, it was put on display in Philadelphia at the Centennial Exposition. The head and shoulders were on display at the Paris Universal Exposition in 1878. The statue was fully assembled in Paris between 1881-1884 and presented to US Minister to France Levi P. Morton. It was then disassembled and shipped to New York for reassembly, arriving June 17, 1885. The pedestal upon which it would sit, however, was not ready until 1886. It is only fitting that many of the laborers who helped construct the base and assemble the statue were themselves new immigrants. The official unveiling took place on October 28, 1886.


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