People often wonder why the Bronx, alone of all New York’s boroughs, has “the” as part of its name. It’s because the borough is named after the Bronx River and the river was named for a man born in far-off Sweden.
In 1639 Jonas Bronck arrived in the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam and purchased from the local Native Americans some 500 acres of land on the east side of the Harlem River below the line of present-day East 150th Street. The area was then known as Ranaqua, or “the End Place,” as it was the southern terminus of an old trailway. Ranaqua soon became known as “Bronck’s Land,” and the Aquahung, or “River of High Places” that lay to its east was dubbed “Bronck’s River.”
Contrary to what you may see in some old history books, there’s no evidence that Bronck built the first water-powered mill on the Bronx River. The flat, marshy banks of the river’s southernmost reach were unsuited to building such a mill, and Bronck had no need to build one anyway – he planned to grow only tobacco in Bronck’s Land.
Jonas Bronck died in 1643, just as conflict between the Dutch and the Native Americans was heating up in the lower Hudson Valley. His widow remarried and moved with her new husband to more peaceful lands near present-day Albany. Bronck’s remaining tenants, frustrated with growing tobacco and nervously eyeing the treeline for Siwanoy warriors, mostly abandoned their farms and dispersed.
Bronck’s Land eventually became known as Morrisania, but the Aquahung held on to its new name, and in time the Bronx River gave its name to a borough, a county, a cocktail and a distinctive cheer.
By S.P. DeVillo. 2008.