Atlas Obscura: NYCity and oysters:
Archaeologists have discovered New York harbor-area middens—ancient shell piles—dating back to 6950 B.C. Oysters thrived for millennia in the brackish waters around New York Harbor, keeping the estuary clean thanks to their natural filtration abilities, and serving as a favored food for the Lenape people who once lived there.
When Henry Hudson arrived in 1609, there were some 350 square miles of oyster reefs in the waters around what is today the New York metro area, containing nearly half of the world’s oyster population. European settlers wasted no time in turning this natural resource into a powerful industry. By the 18th century, immigrants to what was then known as New Amsterdam referred to Ellis and Liberty islands as “Little Oyster Island” and “Great Oyster Island,” respectively. The Dutch named the waterfront Pearl Street for a midden, later paving it with discarded oyster shells (though they were disappointed to discover that New York oysters don’t actually produce pearls). New Yorkers started eating oysters en masse and shipping the delicacy to cities across the U.S.
As the culinary historian Mark Kurlansky writes in his 2006 book The Big Oyster, “The combination of having reputably the best oysters in the world in what had become inarguably the greatest port in the world made New York City, for an entire century, the world’s oyster capital.”