Dominican Who was City’s First Settler to Get Street

Document pertaining to New York’s first immigrant, Juan Rodriguez, from the Archives of the City of Amsterdam. (Reproduction by the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute, via The Uptowner)

The first immigrant resident of New York arrived in 1613 from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Four hundred years later, the city will honor his legacy by naming Broadway, between 159th and 218th Street, Juan Rodriguez Way. Rodriguez was also the first Dominican, first free black settler, first Latino and first non-Native American merchant to arrive in what is today New York, reported Marielle Mondon for The Uptowner.

The Uptowner piece didn’t mention it but Rodriguez got his first taste of the spotlight two years ago in the sweeping exhibition of Latino life in the city, “Nueva York (1613-1945),” at El Museo del Barrio. The show introduced him as the first non-Native settler of the city, a sailor called Jan (Juan) Rodrigues, who was born on the island of Hispaniola to a Portuguese father and an African mother.

Led Black, a northern Manhattan Dominican-American writer and the editor of the Uptown Collective, said, “It completely re-conceptualizes the Dominican presence in NYC. I think many Dominicans feel that even though we have been a part of this city for quite some time now, we have been left out of the city’s narrative and that is starting to change finally.”

Black noted the renewed sense of pride Rodriguez’ history offered Dominicans.

“People are generally happy to find out our history predates the last 50 years,” he said. “Most had no idea but once they knew, they were pretty proud of it.”

According Anthony Stevens, assistant director of the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute, Rodriguez appears to have arrived via a Dutch expedition ship.

“After that, the documents say that he wanted to stay here and didn’t want to return to Holland,” Stevens said.

Rodriguez stayed in New York for a year, into 1614, when a new ship from Holland found him, Stevens said. “He knew they were after trading with the Native Americans, and he agreed to help this new Dutch crew,” Stevens said.

“A few weeks later, a second Dutch ship arrived. It happened that this crew included the same people that had brought him over when he first arrived. This created a conflict.”

After Rodriguez reportedly took part in a fight between ship crews, the records of him stop.

With further research, the Dominican Studies Institute found documents linking Rodriguez to Santo Domingo—and the ethnic background that makes him noteworthy.

“He’s sort of the first immigrant,” Stevens said. “Not just the first settler, because he came from afar — another culture, another place.”

In May of 2013, the first installment of Rodriguez’s name will take place on Broadway in a celebration to mark the 400th anniversary of his arrival to the city.

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