New York State History  << Pre-1900 | Post-1900 >>


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Reenactors fire a revolutionary war period cannon at Saratoga National Battlefield in Stillwater, NY
Reenactors fire a revolutionary war period cannon at Saratoga National Battlefield in Stillwater, NY

Travelers on the Erie Canal
Travelers on the Erie Canal

Albany, the capital of New York State
Albany, the capital of New York State

New Yorkers are rightfully proud of their state's many achievements and contributions. This synopsis is adapted from a brief history previously printed in the Legislative Manual.

Before the year 1900

New York harbor was visited by Giovanni Verrazano in 1524, and the Hudson River was first explored by Henry Hudson in 1609. The Dutch settled here permanently in 1624 and for 40 years they ruled over the colony of New Netherland. It was conquered by the English in 1664 and was then named New York in honor of the Duke of York. Existing as a colony of Great Britain for over a century, New York declared its independence on July 9, 1776, becoming one of the original 13 states of the Federal Union. The next year, on April 20, 1777, New York's first constitution was adopted.

In many ways, New York State was the principal battleground of the Revolutionary War. Approximately one-third of the skirmishes and engagements of the war were fought on New York soil. The Battle of Saratoga, one of the decisive battles of the world, was the turning point of the Revolution leading to the French alliance and thus to eventual victory. New York City, long occupied by British troops, was evacuated on November 25, 1783. There, on December 4 at Fraunces Tavern, General George Washington bade farewell to his officers.

The first government of New York State grew out of the Revolution. The State Convention that drew up the Constitution created a Council of Safety which governed for a time and set the new government in motion. In June 1777, while the war was going on, an election for the first governor took place. Two of the candidates, Philip Schuyler and George Clinton, were generals in the field. Two others, Colonel John Jay and General John Morin Scott, were respectively leaders of the aristocratic and democratic groups in the Convention. On July 9, George Clinton was declared elected and he was inaugurated as Governor at Kingston, July 30, 1777. Albany became the capital of the State in January 1797.

Alexander Hamilton was a leader in the movement which ended in the development of the Federal Constitution, and he was active in its ratification. New York City became the first capital of the new nation, where President George Washington was inaugurated on April 30, 1789.

In following years, New York's economic and industrial growth made appropriate the title "The Empire State," an expression possibly originated by George Washington in 1784. In 1809, Robert Fulton's "North River Steamboat," the first successful steam-propelled vessel, began a new era in transportation.

The Erie Canal, completed in 1825, greatly enhanced the importance of the port of New York and caused populous towns and cities to spring up across the state. The Erie Canal was replaced by the Barge Canal in 1918; and the system of waterways was further expanded by the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Overland transportation grew rapidly from a system of turnpikes established in the early 1880s to the modern day Goveror Thomas E. Dewey New York State Thruway. By 1853, railroads, that had started as short lines in 1831, crossed the state in systems like the Erie and New York Central.


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