The Life of Jan Rodrigues

This image of Jan Rodrigues adorns a wall in Harlem
This mural on a wall in Harlem honors Jan Rodrigues, the first non-native resident of Manhattan.

Detail from “Harlem River” copyright 2009 Creative Art Works. All rights reserved.


Jan Rodrigues (or Juan Rodrigues, depending upon the source) was the first non-native to settle in New York City. Raised in a culturally diverse household (his mother was African and his father was Portuguese) in the Spanish settlement of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, Jan was known for his linguistic talents and was hired by the Dutch captain Thijs Volckenz Mossel of the Jonge Tobias to serve as the translator pn a trading voyage to the Native American island of Mannahatta. Arriving in 1613, Jan soon came to learn the Algonquinian language of the Lenape people and married into the local community. When Mossel's ship returned to the Netherlands, Jan stayed behind with his Native American family and set up his own trading post with goods given to him by Mossel, consisting of eighty hatchets, some knives, a musket and a sword.

Jan Rodrigues remained in Manhattan and future Dutch traders would have to use him as an intermediary to trade with the Native Americans. Some historical evidence exists to suggest he was absorbed into the New Amsterdam community and was still residing in the city as late as the 1640's. Even if this was not the case, we honor him as our city's first settler, the first African New Yorker, and as a man who was able to--like future African New Yorkers--successfully straddle the cultures of Europe, Africa, the West Indies, and Native Americans.

Last updated: September 5, 2017

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