New York Overview: History

The Algonquians and the Iroquois

Before Europeans began to arrive in the 16th cent., New York was inhabited mainly by Algonquian- and Iroquoian-speaking Native Americans. The Algonquians, including the Mohegan, Lenni Lenape, and Wappinger tribes, lived chiefly in the Hudson valley and on Long Island. The Iroquois, living in the central and western parts of the state, included the Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, and Seneca tribes, who joined c.1570 to form the Iroquois Confederacy .

French and Dutch Claims

Europeans first approached New York from both the sea and from Canada. Giovanni da Verrazzano , a Florentine in the service of France, visited (1524) the excellent harbor of New York Bay but did little exploring. In 1609, Samuel de Champlain , a Frenchman, traveled S on Lake Champlain from Canada, and Henry Hudson , an Englishman in the service of the Dutch, sailed the Hudson nearly to Albany. The French, who had allied themselves with the Hurons of Ontario, continued to push into N and W New York from Canada, but met with resistance from the Iroquois Confederacy, which dominated W New York.

The Dutch early claimed the Hudson region, and the Dutch West India Company (chartered in 1621, organized in 1623) planted (1624) their colony of New Netherland, with its chief settlements at New Amsterdam on the lower tip of present-day Manhattan island (purchased in 1626 from the Canarsie tribe for goods worth about 60 Dutch guilders) and at Fort Nassau, later called Fort Orange (present-day Albany). To increase the slow pace of colonization the Dutch set up the patroon system in 1629, thus establishing the landholding aristocracy that became the hallmark of colonial New York. The last and most able of the Dutch administrators, Peter Stuyvesant (in office 1647–64), captured New Sweden for the Dutch in 1655.

An English Colony

The English, claiming the whole region on the basis of the explorations of John Cabot , made good their claim in the Second Dutch War (1664–67). In 1664 an English fleet sailed into the harbor of New Amsterdam, and Stuyvesant surrendered without a struggle. New Netherland then became the colonies of New York and New Jersey, granted by King Charles II to his brother, the duke of York (later James II ). Except for brief recapture (1673–74) by the Dutch, New York remained English until the American Revolution .

After the early days of the colony, the popular governor Thomas Dongan (1683–88) put New York on a firm basis and began to establish the alliance of the English with the Iroquois, which later played an important part in New York history. The attempt in 1688 to combine New York and New Jersey with New England under the rule of Sir Edmund Andros was a failure, turning almost all the colonists against him. The threat of the French was continuous, and New York was involved in a number of the French and Indian Wars (1689–1763). The friendship of Sir William Johnson with some of the Iroquois aided the British in the warfare and also opened part of central New York to settlers, mainly from the British Isles. Frequent warfare hindered growth, however, and much of W New York remained unsettled by colonists throughout the 18th cent.

Slowly, however, the colony, with its busy shipping and fishing fleets, its expanding farms, and its first college (King's College, founded in 1754, now Columbia Univ.), was beginning to establish its own identity, separate from that of England. Colonial self-assertiveness grew after the warfare with the French ended; there was considerable objection to the restrictive commercial laws, and the Navigation Acts were flouted by smuggling. When the Stamp Act was passed, New York was a leader of the opposition, and the Stamp Act Congress met (1765) in New York City. The policies of Lt. Gov. Cadwallader Colden , who did not oppose the Stamp Act, occasioned considerable complaint, and unrest grew.

Revolution and a New Constitution

As troubles flared and escalated into the American Revolution, New Yorkers were divided in their loyalties. About one third of all the military engagements of the American Revolution took place in New York state. The first major military action in the state was the capture (May, 1775) of Ticonderoga by Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys and Benedict Arnold . Crown Point was also taken. In Aug., 1776, however, George Washington was unable to hold lower New York against the British under Gen. William Howe and lost the battle of Long Island, as he did the succeeding actions at Harlem Heights (Sept. 16) and White Plains (Oct. 28).

The British invested New York City and held it to the war's end. The state had, however, declared independence and functioned with Kingston as its capital, George Clinton as its first governor, and John Jay as its first chief justice. In 1777 New York was the key to the overall British campaign plan, which was directed toward taking the entire state and thus separating New England from the South. This failed finally (Oct., 1777) in the battles near the present-day resort of Saratoga Springs (see Saratoga campaign ), generally considered as the decisive action of the war, partly because France was now persuaded to join the war on the side of the Colonies.

The British alliance with the Iroquois resulted in widespread violence in the frontier portion of the state. After the devastation of two Iroquois villages, the Iroquois and British responded with the massacre at Cherry Hill (1778). For the rest of the war there was more or less a stalemate, with the British occupying New York City, the patriots holding most of the rest of the state, and Westchester co. disputed ground. In 1780 Benedict Arnold failed in his attempt to betray West Point.

The influence of Alexander Hamilton was paramount in bringing New York to accept (1788) the Constitution of the United States at a convention in Poughkeepsie. Other leaders, however, mostly from the landed aristocracy (such as John Jay and Gouverneur Morris), were also powerful. Hamilton, Jay, and James Madison wrote The Federalist , a series of essays, to promote ratification. New York City was briefly (1789–90) the capital of the new nation and was also the state capital until 1797, when Albany succeeded it. Political dissension between the Federalists and the Jeffersonians was particularly keen in New York state, and Aaron Burr had much to do with swinging the state to Jefferson.

Land Speculation and Commercial Development

By the end of the war many Loyalists had left New York; the emigrants included former large landowners whose holdings had been seized by the legislature. After the war speculation in W New York land (some newly acquired by quieting Massachusetts claims) rose to dizzying heights. The eastern boundary of the state was established after long wrangles and violence when Vermont was admitted as a state in 1791.

From the 1780s increased commerce (somewhat slowed by the Embargo Act of 1807 ) and industry, especially textile milling, marked the turn away from the old, primarily agricultural, order. It was on the Hudson that Robert Fulton demonstrated (1807) his steamboat. In the War of 1812 New York saw action in 1813–14, with the British capture of Fort Niagara and particularly with the brilliant naval victory of Thomas Macdonough over the British on Lake Champlain at Plattsburgh.

The state continued its development, which was quickened and broadened by the building of the Erie Canal. The canal, completed in 1825, and railroad lines constructed (from 1831) parallel to it made New York the major East-West commercial route in the 19th cent. and helped to account for the growth and prosperity of the port of New York. Cities along the canal (Buffalo, Syracuse, Rome, Utica, and Schenectady) prospered. Albany grew, and New York City, whose first bank had been established by Hamilton in 1784, became the financial capital of the nation.

Political, Reform, and Cultural Movements

New constitutions broadened the suffrage in 1821 and again in 1846; slavery was abolished in 1827. Politics was largely controlled from the 1820s to the 40s by the Albany Regency , which favored farmers, artisans, and small businessmen. Martin Van Buren was the regency's chief figure. The regency's control was challenged by the business-oriented Whigs, led by Thurlow Weed and William H. Seward , and by the Anti-Masonic party . The rise of tension between the reform-minded Locofocos and the Tammany organization in New York City weakened the Democratic party in the 1830s. After the panic of 1837, Seward was governor (1839–52), and his Whig program included internal improvements, educational reform, and opposition to slavery.

New York was a leader in numerous 19th-century reform groups. Antislavery groups made their headquarters in New York. In 1848 the first women's rights convention in the United States met in Seneca Falls.

Early in its history New York state emerged as one of the cultural leaders of the nation. In the early 19th cent. Washington Irving and William Cullen Bryant , leaders of the famed Knickerbocker School of writers, and James Fenimore Cooper were among the country's foremost literary figures. The natural beauty of New York inspired the noted Hudson River school of American landscape painters. With New England's decline as a literary center, many writers came to New York City from other parts of the nation, helping to make it a literary and publishing center and the cultural heart of the country.

Immigration and Civil War

Migrants from New England had been settling on the western frontier, and in the 1840s famine and revolution in Europe resulted in a great wave of Irish and German immigrants, whose first stop in America was usually New York City. In 1850, Millard Fillmore became the second New Yorker to be President of the United States; the first was Martin Van Buren (1837–41). The split of the Democrats over the slavery issue into antislavery Barnburners and the Hunkers , who were not opposed to the extension of slavery, helped pave the way for New York's swing to the Republicans and Abraham Lincoln in the fateful election of 1860.

Despite the draft riots (1863) in New York City and the activities of the Peace Democrats, New York state strongly favored the Union and contributed much to its cause in the Civil War. Industrial development was stimulated by the needs of the military, and railroads increased their capacity. New York City's newspapers, notably the Tribune under the guidance of Horace Greeley , had considerable national influence, and after the war the publication of periodicals and books centered more and more in the city, whose libraries expanded. From 1867 to 1869, Cornelius Vanderbilt consolidated the New York Central RR system.

Political Corruption and the Labor Movement

As economic growth accelerated, political corruption became rampant. Samuel J. Tilden won a national reputation in 1871 for prosecuting the Tweed Ring of New York City, headed by William Marcy Boss Tweed , but Tammany soon recovered much of its prestige and influence as the Democratic city organization. The Republican party also had bosses, notably Roscoe Conkling and Thomas Collier Platt , and the split between Democratic New York City and Republican upstate widened. New Yorkers Chester A. Arthur (1881–85) and Grover Cleveland (1885–89, 1893–97) served as Presidents of the United States in the late 19th cent.

After 1880 the inpouring of immigrants from Ireland, Italy, and Eastern Europe brought workers for the old industries, which were expanding, and for the new ones, including the electrical and chemical industries, which were being established. Labor conditions worsened but were challenged by the growing labor movement, whose targets included sweatshops (particularly notorious in New York City). Muckrakers were particularly vociferous in New York in the late 19th and early 20th cent. Service as New York City's police commissioner and then as a reform-oriented governor of the state helped Theodore Roosevelt establish the national reputation that sent him to the vice presidency and then to the White House (1901–9). A fire in 1911 at the Triangle Waist Company in Manhattan that killed 146 workers resulted in the passage of early health, fire safety, and labor laws including the Widowed Mothers Pension Act.

New York since 1912

The Democrats returned to power in the state in 1912, and subsequently New York seesawed from one party to the other. The reform programs continued to gain ground, however, and Democratic state administrations between World War I and II—those of Alfred E. Smith (1918–20, 1922–28), Franklin D. Roosevelt (1928–32), and Herbert H. Lehman (1932–42)—presided over a wide variety of reform measures. The reform programs emphasized public works, conservation, reorganization of state finances, social welfare, and extensive labor laws. Four years after Smith's defeat in the 1928 presidential election, Roosevelt went to the White House. Lehman followed Roosevelt's national New Deal program by instituting the Little New Deal in New York state. At the same time Fiorello LaGuardia , Republican mayor of New York City (1934–45), enthusiastically supported Roosevelt's social and economic reforms.

The Republican party returned to power in the state in 1942 with the election of Thomas E. Dewey as governor (reelected 1946, 1950). Dewey had the immense task of coordinating state activities with national efforts in World War II, straining New York's resources to the utmost. He also built upon the reforms of his predecessors, extending social and antidiscrimination legislation, and won a reputation for effectiveness that made him twice (1944 and 1948) the Republican presidential nominee.

During the governorship (1959–73) of Nelson Rockefeller , a Republican, state social-welfare programs and the State Univ. of New York were expanded, and a large state office and cultural complex was built in Albany. New York's growth slowed from the 1970s, though, as the state lost its dominant position in U.S. manufacturing, and the older cities lost businesses and residents to suburbs or to other states.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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