Without the Hudson River Bulkhead, New York would never have become the primary port in America…
Manhattan Waterfront, 1879 Print, Library of Congress
The ship lay buried in mud for two centuries as New York City grew up around it. The last time it sailed along the East Coast and pulled into the harbor on the west side of the island, Manhattan’s population was probably less than 20,000. Just five blocks from the ship’s final resting place, George Washington had recently been inaugurated at Federal Hall on Wall Street as president of the newly formed United States, of which New York was the first capital. After its last voyage, its owners pulled the ship up onto the shore in order to perform routine maintenance. But it’s believed that when they removed the outer sheathing and saw that the lower timbers were too far gone to repair, they saved what was still useable and left the rest behind.
At the end of the eighteenth century, Lower Manhattan—the area around the original 1624 Dutch settlement—was too cramped and the harbor too small for the volume of trade that was coming into New York. In the late 1790s, the city began deliberate efforts to extend the shoreline farther out into the Hudson River, thereby expanding the size and usefulness of the harbor. By the 1830s, the area had been completely filled and the new shoreline lay 200 yards west of its original location at modern Greenwich Street. Over the decades, the earth brought in for the shoreline extension—and the trash discarded there—completely covered up the ship. The thick, clay-rich soil sealed the vessel in the fill, creating an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment that saved the ship from decay due to bacteria that grow in aerobic (oxygen-rich) environments.