The original name of the island whereon the squadron of Communipaw was thus propitiously thrown is a matter of some dispute, and has already undergone considerable vitiation—a melancholy proof of the instability of all sublunary things, and the vanity of all our hopes of lasting fame; for who can expect his name will live to posterity, when even the names of mighty islands are thus soon lost in contradiction and uncertainty!
The name most current at the present day, and which is likewise countenanced by the great historian Vander Donck, is Manhattan, which is said to have originated in a custom among the squaws, in the early settlement, of wearing men’s hats, as is still done among many tribes. “Hence,” as we are told by an old governor, who was somewhat of a wag, and flourished almost a century since, and had paid a visit to the wits of Philadelphia, “hence arose the appellation of man-hat-on, first given to the Indians, and afterwards to the island”—a stupid joke!—but well enough for a governor.
Among the more venerable sources of information on this subject is that valuable history of the American possessions, written by Master Richard Blome, in 1687, wherein it is called the Manhadaes and Manahanent; nor must I forget the excellent little book, full of precious matter, of that authentic historian, John Josselyn, gent., who expressly calls it Manadaes.
Another etymology still more ancient, and sanctioned by the countenance of our ever to be lamented Dutch ancestors, is that found in certain letters, still extant, which passed between the early governors and their neighboring powers, wherein it is called indifferently Monhattoes, Munhatos, and Manhattoes, which are evidently unimportant variations of the same name; for our wise forefathers set little store by those niceties, either in orthography or orthoepy, which form the sole study and ambition of many learned men and women of this hypercritical age. This last name is said to be derived from the great Indian spirit Manetho, who was supposed to make this island his favorite abode, on account of its uncommon delights. For the Indian traditions affirm that the bay was once a translucid lake, filled with silver and golden fish, in the midst of which lay this beautiful island, covered with every variety of fruits and flowers, but that the sudden irruption of the Hudson laid waste these blissful scenes, and Manetho took his flight beyond the great waters of Ontario.
These, however, are very fabulous legends, to which very cautious credence must be given; and though I am willing to admit the last quoted orthography of the name as very fit for prose, yet is there another which I peculiarly delight in, as at once poetical, melodious, and significant—and which we have on the authority of Master Juet, who, in his account of the voyage of the great Hudson, calls this Manna-hata—that is to say, the island of manna—or, in other words, a land flowing with milk and honey.