In the musical "Hamilton," the Schuyler sisters sing of New York City as "the greatest city in the world". The scene is set in 1776, I believe.

This feels like an anachronism. Was New York regarded as even the greatest city on the eastern coast of North America in the 18th Century? At the time, Boston and Philadelphia may have had a greater claim. And it can't have held a candle to London or Paris.

Perhaps the song is intended ironically, to show how provincial these girls were despite coming from an extremely wealthy family, but I see no other sign of that in the play.

So this leaves us with the question -- would any reasonable person have described New York as "the greatest city in the world" in 1776?

  • 11
    No reasonable person, but all New Yorkers.
    – MCW
    Oct 21 '15 at 12:27
  • 3
    It's entirely possible that a "reasonable person" living in New York city in 1776 might have concluded that their choice of home was the "greatest city in the world". Of course, the same could be said of the occupants of almost any other city in the world, since, "greatest" is a subjective measure.
    – Steve Bird
    Oct 21 '15 at 12:29
  • @SteveBird the Schuyler sisters were from Albany Oct 21 '15 at 12:30
  • 1
    Right, you have figured it out. The sense is just country girls coming to the big city and being astonished. Oct 21 '15 at 16:21
  • 1
    Ha ha!. As the 1776 map and modern map show, the triangular area that is now City Hall was in 1776 a Common and Tanner's Yard outside the main city. Population of New York was only 25,000, behind in particular Philadelphia at 40,000 though Boston was another 10,000 behind with only 15,000 residents. The population of London at 650,000 was 1/4 that of the Entire Thirteen Colonies at just 2.5 million. May 4 '19 at 19:34

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