The colonial cities of New York and Philadelphia both played similar roles as significant port cities and business centers in colonial America. However, they each developed under somewhat separate circumstances which led to different characteristics and histories.
New York was founded in 1624 as a Dutch settlement known as New Amsterdam. Nearly all the founding families of this city were Dutch. However, a number of African slaves were among the early settlers who constructed the initial fortifications of the settlement. When the English took control o the city in 1665, it underwent significant demographic changes and growth. Settlers from various parts of Europe came to the city. This included French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and Jewish residents. It also retained a significant slave population throughout the 17th and 18th Centuries.
Philidelphia was permanently established in 1682 by William Penn, a Quaker from England. Most of the first settlers in this city were English as well. However, it did not take long before others arrived. Within a short time of its founding, Philidelphia became a haven for Welsh, German, Dutch, Irish, Finns, and Swedes.
Both Philadelphia and New York were religiously pluralistic. New York had many Puritans from neighboring New England and Catholics from nearby Maryland. Being founded by Quakers, Philadelphia had many residents of this faith. Both cities tolerated a considerable degree of religious freedom and practitioners of many faiths resided in them. However, New York City formed distinct religiously segregated neighborhoods while Philadelphia was more integrated.
Both cities quickly established themselves as centers of commerce. Goods and resources from their regions found their way to docks on the Hudson and Delaware Rivers for export while imports from England, the Caribbean, and elsewhere in the colonies arrived in great quantities. Both cities were also early centers of manufacturing. New York, in particular, became one of the early banking centers of the colonies.
The early charters of both cities dictated that the cities would be governed by elected and appointed city councils. The councils, in turn, elected mayors from among their council members. It was not until after the colonial period that citizens took a more direct role in electing their municipal governments.