Colonial and post-colonial history
European colonization brought Dutch and English settlers, as a part of the New Netherland colony. First settlements occurred in 1635 followed by early colonizations at Maspeth in 1642, and Vlissingen (now Flushing) in 1643. Other early settlements included Newtown (now Elmhurst) and Jamaica. However, these towns were mostly inhabited by English settlers from New England via eastern Long Island (Suffolk County) subject to Dutch law. After the capture of the colony by the English and its renaming as New York in 1664, the area (and all of Long Island) became known as Yorkshire.
The Flushing Remonstrance signed by colonists in 1657 is considered a precursor to the United States Constitution's provision on freedom of religion in the Bill of Rights. The signers protested the Dutch colonial authorities' persecution of Quakers in what is today the borough of Queens.
Originally, Queens County included the adjacent area now comprising Nassau County. It was an original county of New York State, one of twelve created on November 1, 1683. The county is assumed to have been named after Catherine of Braganza, since she was queen of England at the time (she was Portugal's royal princess Catarina daughter of King John IV of Portugal). The county was founded alongside Kings County (Brooklyn, which was named after her husband, King Charles II), and Richmond County (Staten Island, named after his illegitimate son, the 1st Duke of Richmond). However, the namesake is in dispute; while Catherine's title seems the most likely namesake, no historical evidence of official declaration has been found. On October 7, 1691, all counties in the Colony of New York were redefined. Queens gained North and South Brother Islands as well as Huletts Island (today known as Rikers Island). On December 3, 1768, Queens gained other islands in Long Island Sound that were not already assigned to a county but that did not abut on Westchester County (today's Bronx County).
Queens played a minor role in the American Revolution, as compared to Brooklyn, where the Battle of Long Island was largely fought. Queens, like the rest of what became New York City and Long Island, remained under British occupation after the Battle of Long Island in 1776 and was occupied throughout most of the rest of the Revolutionary War. Under the Quartering Act, British soldiers used, as barracks, the public inns and uninhabited buildings belonging to Queens residents. Even though many local people were against unannounced quartering, sentiment throughout the county remained in favor of the British crown. The quartering of soldiers in private homes, except in times of war, was banned by the Third Amendment to the United States Constitution. Nathan Hale was captured by the British on the shore of Flushing Bay in Queens before being executed by hanging in Manhattan for gathering intelligence.
From 1683 until 1784, Queens County consisted of five towns: Flushing, Hempstead, Jamaica, Newtown, and Oyster Bay. On April 6, 1784, a sixth town, the Town of North Hempstead, was formed through secession by the northern portions of the Town of Hempstead. The seat of the county government was located first in Jamaica, but the courthouse was torn down by the British during the American Revolution to use the materials to build barracks. After the war, various buildings in Jamaica temporarily served as courthouse and jail until a new building was erected about 1787 (and later completed) in an area near Mineola (now in Nassau County) known then as Clowesville.
The 1850 United States Census was the first in which the population of the three western towns exceeded that of the three eastern towns that are now part of Nassau County. Concerns were raised about the condition and distance of the old courthouse, and several sites were in contention for the construction of a new one.
In 1870, Long Island City split from the Town of Newtown, incorporating itself as a city, consisting of what had been the Village of Astoria and some unincorporated areas within the Town of Newtown. Around 1874, the seat of county government was moved to Long Island City from Mineola.
On March 1, 1860, the eastern border between Queens County (later Nassau County) and Suffolk County was redefined with no discernible change. On June 8, 1881, North Brother Island was transferred to New York County. On May 8, 1884, Rikers Island was transferred to New York County.
In 1885, Lloyd Neck, which was part of the Town of Oyster Bay and was earlier known as Queens Village, seceded from Queens and became part of the Town of Huntington in Suffolk County. On April 16, 1964, South Brother Island was transferred to Bronx County.
Incorporation as borough
The New York City Borough of Queens was authorized on May 4, 1897, by a vote of the New York State Legislature after an 1894 referendum on consolidation. The eastern 280 square miles (730 km2) of Queens that became Nassau County was partitioned on January 1, 1899.
Queens Borough was established on January 1, 1898.
"The city of Long Island City, the towns of Newtown, Flushing and Jamaica, and that part of the town of Hempstead, in the county of Queens, which is westerly of a straight line drawn through the middle of the channel between Rockaway Beach and Shelter Island, in the county of Queens, to the Atlantic Ocean" was annexed to New York City, dissolving all former municipal governments (Long Island City, the county government, all towns, and all villages) within the new borough. The areas of Queens County that were not part of the consolidation plan, consisting of the towns of North Hempstead and Oyster Bay, and the major remaining portion of the Town of Hempstead, remained part of Queens County until they seceded to form the new Nassau County on January 1, 1899. At this point, the boundaries of Queens County and the Borough of Queens became coterminous. With consolidation, Jamaica once again became the county seat, though county offices now extend to nearby Kew Gardens also.
Laurel Hill Chemical Works, 1883. Parts of Queens were becoming industrial suburbs
The borough's administrative and court buildings are presently located in Kew Gardens and downtown Jamaica respectively, two neighborhoods that were villages of the former Town of Jamaica.
From 1905 to 1908 the Long Island Rail Road in Queens became electrified. Transportation to and from Manhattan, previously by ferry or via bridges in Brooklyn, opened up with the Queensboro Bridge finished in 1909, and with railway tunnels under the East River in 1910. From 1915 onward, much of Queens was connected to the New York City Subway system. With the 1915 construction of the Steinway Tunnel carrying the IRT Flushing Line between Queens and Manhattan, and the robust expansion of the use of the automobile, the population of Queens more than doubled in the 1920s, from 469,042 in 1920 to 1,079,129 in 1930.
In later years, Queens was the site of the 1939 New York World's Fair and the 1964 New York World's Fair. LaGuardia Airport, in northern Queens, opened in 1939. Idlewild Airport, in southern Queens and now called JFK Airport, opened in 1948. American Airlines Flight 587 took off from the latter airport on November 12, 2001, but ended up crashing in Queens' Belle Harbor area, killing 265 people. In late October 2012, much of Queens' Breezy Point area was destroyed by a massive six-alarm fire caused by Hurricane Sandy.