Did You Know? Juan Rodriguez was the First Immigrant to Land in New York City

Isaac Vallenilla
 | February 27, 2023

Image courtesy of Nuestro Stories.

Almost ten years ago, a group of Dominicans gathered to celebrate the naming of a new way on Broadway, specifically between 159th and 218th Streets. 

Such a concentration of Dominicans in the area was uncommon. Although the area is known for being a Dominican neighborhood, the occasion warranted it.

They were celebrating the life of Juan Rodriguez. 

Juan Rodriguez, the first immigrant in the city

Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano first discovered New York in 1524 on behalf of France.

At that time, the city was inhabited by locals of the Lenape tribe.  

Almost a hundred years later, Juan Rodriguez arrived on the island, in 1613, alongside the Dutch captain Thijs Mossel from Santo Domingo. 

However, Juan Rodriguez was the only crew member who dared to stay in the territory. This would make him the first immigrant to New York.

The information about Rodriguez is known thanks to some documents found in Holland. It is said that he was born in Santo Domingo to a Dutch father and an African mother. Rodriguez was skilled in languages, which allowed him to work as a translator.

A year after Rodriguez’s arrival on the island, the captain of the ship Thijs Mossel returned and found him working for another Dutch expedition that had arrived a little earlier.

A dispute broke out between the two expeditions. According to testimonies later collected by the Dutch authorities, Rodriguez participated in the violent confrontation and was wounded and rescued by his new partners.

It is not known precisely what happened to Juan Rodriguez after that dispute.

Rodriguez’s story remained forgotten until 1959 when historian Simon Hart mentioned him in a book about the early Dutch voyages to the Hudson, which included quotes from the original notarial documents.

For Dominicans, the figure of Juan Rodriguez is dignifying since the first immigrant to the Big Apple was a free Black person born in the Dominican Republic.

Things You Should Know Before You Visit Juan Rodriguez Way

  • In 1625, the Dutch founded the island under the name of New Amsterdam.
  • In 1664, the English conquered New Amsterdam and renamed it New York.
  • New York was the capital of the United States from 1785 to 1790.
  • The first pizzeria to open in New York was Lombardi’s Pizza in 1905.
  • Latinos are the second largest racial and ethnic group in New York, with 19% of the population.

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Address: 499 W 218th St

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