General Historical Information Prior to 1901

HISTORY.....New York Bay was discovered by Verrazano in 1524, but though Portuguese, French and 
Spanish navigators, in all probability, visited the harbor during the sixteenth century, no important 
explorations were made  before 1609, when almost simultaneously Samuel de Champlain, the founder of 
Quebec, in August, and Henry Hudson, sailing in the half moon under the Dutch flag, in September, 
entered the limits of the present State.

Champlain's action in lending the Huron Indians aid against the Iroquois imbued the Five Nations 
with an implacable hatred for the French, and to a great extent determined in advance the fate of 
their colonizing schemes in America. Hudson's account of New Netherland, as he named the region, 
and of the great river, called at first Mauritius and then North, and finally Hudson, which he 
had ascended to the highest navigable point, led Dutch merchants, eager for furs, to dispatch 
trading vessels to the new country in 1610 and subsequent years. Just below Albany, Captain 
Christiaensen built Fort Nassau in 1613 (abandoned in 1617), and about the same time a number 
of traders built their posts on Manhattan Island. A trading company , organized in 1615, concluded 
two years later at Tawasantha, near Albany, a treaty with the Iroquois, who remained to the last 
friends of the Dutch. 

With the foundling of the West India Company in 1621 a fairly active immigration began. A number 
of Walloons brought over by Captain May in 1623 were settled on Manhattan Island, on Long Island, 
and up the Hudson at Fort Orange (later Albany), founded in 1622. In 1626 Peter Minuit was made 
director-general of the company, and bought Manhattan Island from the Indians. 
(See NEW YORK CITY, section on HISTORY). T

he greater part of the population of New Netherland  200 in number in 1625, were agents of the 
company, whose object in the main was trade and not colonization: and as it guarded its monopoly
 jealously and offered few inducements to permanent settlers, progress for a few years was slow. 
Quickly, however, individual directors discovered the advantageous facility with which the Indians 
might be brought to part with their lands, and in 1629 the patroon system, a system of feudal 
tenure on an extensive scale, was established. Kilan Van Rensselaer purchased a large tract 
of land in the neighborhood of Albany, and Michael Pauw bought Staten Island and Pavonia. 

Ships from Holland stocked these great estates with colonists, tools, and animals.The acquisition 
of land continued under Wouter Van Twiller (q.v.), who came over in 1633, and under Kieft (q.v.), 
who succeeded Van Twiller in 1638. The abandonment of the company's trade monopoly was followed 
by a large influx of colonists, among whom were many English Puritans and French Huguenots. 
The population was cosmopolitan even in 1643, when , according to Father Jogues, 400 or 500 
inhabitants spoke eighteen different languages and were divided into Calvinists, Lutherans
 Catholics, Puritans, Baptists, and other more minute denominations. 

War with the Algonquins Indians, caused by the greed of Kieft, brought the colony near to 
destruction. The settlements around New Amsterdam were wiped out and the town itself was threatened. 
In the moment of highest danger Kieft was forced by popular demand to appoint a council of eight 
to assist him in carrying on the war. This was the beginning of representative government in
 New York. Peter Stuyvesant (1647-64) appointed a council of nine to advise him and acted in 
systematic opposition to it. Sincerely solicitous for the welfare of the colony, he reserved 
it for himself to determine in what that welfare consisted and how it was to be attained. Defying 
alike the popular will and the orders of the States-General in Holland, he ruled, arrested,
 confiscated, silenced public speech, and dictated the outline for the Sunday sermon. New 
Amsterdam received a burgher government in 1653, but Stuyvesant had the appointment of the 
magistrates. He upheld bravely the rights of the company against the Swedes on the Delaware, 
whom he dispossessed, and the English in Connecticut and Long Island, but the citizens grew weary 
of him and yielded in 1664 to an English fleet under Colonel Nicolls, which had come to enforce 
the Duke of York's title to the region. New Netherland became New York, and was ruled by the 
Duke's Governors (a legislature was refused), and the" Duke's laws.". Taken by the Dutch in 1673, 
it was returned to England in the following year. At the time of the English occupation New 
Netherland had a population of about 8000, comprising many nationalities, with the Dutch predominant.

       Life in the colony had not that deep spiritual tinge which it bore in New England,  but it 
was more gracious and more free. The churches were well supported, and the school system was 
excellent, but breweries and drinking shops found their place in the order of things. In religion 
a broad toleration, in social life a hearty gayety and timely hospitality marked the cosmopolitan 
colony of well-fed traders and farmers.  The Dutch did not take kindly to the English rule in the 
beginning. The desire of the people for some share in the government remained unsatisfied. Complaints 
against the arbitrary imposition of taxes and customs culminated in a  demand, expressed in the form 
of petitions, for a popular assembly, and this was finally granted in 1683, when a provincial assembly 
summoned by Governor Dongan passed the Charter of Liberties, granting freedom of religion to all 
Christians, and the suffrage to all freeholders. An important treaty with the Iroquois in 1684 confirmed 
the alliance between them and the English and made them definitely the enemies of the French, who 
retaliated with punitive expeditions into the country, in 1687 under Denonville, and later, repeatedly, 
under Frontenac. In 1686 New York and Albany obtained new charters, but in the following year the 
provincial assembly was dissolved, absolute rule was restored, and New York became a part of the Dominion 
of New England, under Governor Andros. The Revolution of 1688 in England found two parties in the colony, 
the richer classes who were loyal to James II., the popular majority in favor of William of Orange. 
Exaggerated reports of Catholic intrigues caused Jacob Leisler (q.v.) to seize the fort at New
 Amsterdam in the name of William and Mary. A committee of safety made him commander-in-chief, and 
the popular assembly in 1689 gave him autocratic power. He held the fort against a force of troops from
 England, but willingly laid down his authority when Governor Sloughter, the King's appointee, arrived. 
The clergy and the wealthy merchants hated Leisler as the champion of popular ideas, and brought about 
his death on a charge of treason in 1691.

         The period from 1690 to the Revolution was marked by almost continuous disputes between the Governor 
and the Assembly on the questions of the Governor's salary, the collection and the disposal of the revenue,
the control of the courts, and the establishment of an endowed church. Of the Governors the larger number 
were impecunious peers sent to America to grow fat as best they might.  They bargained with the Assembly for 
an increase in salary, participated in gigantic land frauds in common with minor officials and prominent 
citizens, and in one instance, the notable case of Governor Fletcher (1692-98), shared in the profits of piracy. 

There were, however, Governors of a far higher character, men like Bellomont (1698-1701), to whom the 
rehabilitation of Leisler's memory is due, Robert Hunter (1710-19), or William Burnet (1720-28), who 
was an ardent champion of the royal power, but nevertheless an honest man, and zealous for the welfare
of the province, but in spite of political turmoil the growth of the colony was rapid and uninterrupted. 

In 1720 the population consisted of 31,000 whites and 4000 negroes; in 1756 it comprised 83,000 whites 
and 13,000 negroes, and in 1771 168,000 whites and negroes. 

The first newspaper, the GAZETTE, a Government organ, was published in 1725, 
and the second, the WEEKLY JOURNAL, an opposition sheet, appeared in 1733. 

For his criticism of the Governor's conduct the editor of the WEEKLY JOURNAL, John Peter Zenger
(q.v.), was brought to trial for libel in 1734, but, supported by the people and the Assembly, he won 
his case and vindicated the freedom of the press in New York. In 1746 the Assembly appropriated f250 
toward the foundation of King's College. The people who fought for the freedom of the press and established 
King's College were the same who in 1741, thrown into a paroxysm of fear by the baseless rumors of a negro 
insurrection, murdered 31 negroes and drove out 71 others by due process of the law. 

In the early French and Indian wars New York suffered heavily, for, owing to the factious disputes between 
the Governor and the Assembly, the border was left without any troops and the frontier settlements were 
swept clean by the French and their Indian allies. In 1690 Schenectady was destroyed. Sir William Johnson 
kept the Iroquois friendly to the English, and the alliance with them was strengthened at the Albany Convention 
of 1754 (q.v.). By the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768 a definite line of delimitation between the English and 
the Indian territory was traced.

        As early as 1762 petitions and remonstrances against the oppresive commercial laws had been submitted 
to Parliament and the King. In 1764 the Assembly appointed a committee to correspond with the other provinces
concerning the common cause, and in October, 1765, a colonial Congress assembled at New York. The imposition 
of the stamp duty was followed by the outbreak of disorder, in which the Sons of Liberty (q.v.) were prominent,
and non-importation agreements were entered into by the people.Though the commercial interests of the colony 
suffered greatly, the Assembly refused to vote supplies for the troops, and on January 18,1770, the Sons of 
Liberty, and the British soldiers fought the battle of Golden Hill on John Street in the city of New York. 

There was peace till 1773, when the arrival of tea ships aroused the Sons of Liberty to renewed activity. 
By 1775 the Provincial Assembly had become devotedly Tory, and unrepresentative of popular opinion. Its last 
session occured on April 3d. On April 20th a Provincial Congress, comprising representatives of seven counties 
outside of New York City, met at New York, and elected delegates to the Continental Congress. Upon the news 
of the battle of Lexington a committee of 100, in which the more conservative element among the revolutionists 
predominated took possession of he Government, and issued a call for a provincial convention, which assembled 
July 10, 1776, at White Plains, and subsequently removed to Kingston, where it adjourned April 20, 1777, 
after drawing up a constitution for the State of New York.

      The Articles of Confederation were ratified in 1778. Two years later New York ceded its public 
lands in the West to Congress, and in 1786 it terminated its dispute with Massachusetts by granting it 
the right of preemption to about 6,000,000 acres of land in the western part of the State. Of this vast 
tract more than 3,500,000 acres came by purchase into the possession of Robert Morris (q.v.), who disposed 
of a large area, embracing a considerable part of that section of the State, to a number of citizens of 
Amsterdam, who in 1798 were authorized by the Legislature to hold land within the State. This tract came 
to be popularly known as the Holland Purchase. Land speculation was entered into on an extensive scale,
 and the region filled up rapidly with immigrants from New England. The dispute regarding the possession 
of Vermont, to which New York laid claim, was settled by the erection of an independent State, Vermont 
being admitted into the Union in 1791. The fear of too strong a central government and the desire to 
retain possession of its rich custom-house made New York ill-inclined toward the newly framed Federal 

Two of its three delegates withdrew from the Federal convention, and only after ten States had adopted 
the Constitution did a State convention ratify it by 30 votes to 27 (July 26, 1788). From the very outset 
party lines were sharply drawn in the State. The Federalists were led by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and
General Schuyler. Among the leaders of the various factions of the Republicans were the two Clintons--George, 
and after him De Witt--the Livingstons, and Aaron Burr. Federalist from 1795 to 1800, the State became
Republican after that year, and passed under the domination of DeWitt Clinton, who remained in power till 
1822 except for a brief period of eclipse between 1815 and 1817. Politics during this period were venal, and
personal ambitions determined the attitude of factions. The followers of the ascendent faction were rewarded 
with the grant of bank charters and valuable franchises, and, favored by the provisions of the Constitution, 
which gave the power of appointment to office and removal to a council of appointment in 1821 there were 
15,000 offices, military and civil, at its disposal), the spoils system was developed to perfection and 
was introduced later by Van Buren into national politics. To De Witt Clinton is due the rise of the canal 
system which brought such prosperity to the State. The project of an Erie Canal had been discussed by 
Gouverneur Morris in 1777; it was revived by Clinton in 1810, and work on the Erie Canal was begun in 1817 
and terminated in 1825. The success of the Undertaking brought about Clinton's election to the Governorship 
in 1824 and 1826, though his political following had really been shattered.

   Clinton was succeeded in power by the Albany Regency (q.v.), a group of men headed by Martin Van Buren, 
Silas Wright, William L. Marcy, and John A. Dix, who made machine politics an exact science. Personal 
rivalries and short-lived popular movements determined the general course of events. 

From 1836 to 1842 the anti-Masonic agitation (see ANTI-MASONS), assiduously fanned into life by Thurlow Weed, 
was powerful enough to decide the outcome of State elections. The anti-rent troubles originating in the 
grievances of the farmers against their landlords---the successors of the patroons and the great land 
companies--lasted from 1836 to 1846, when feudal tenure was abolished by the new Constitution. The attitude 
of the Democrats toward such questions as anti-Masonry, State and national banks, and the canal system, was 
not uniform. Dissensions between the Conservatives (see Hunkers) and the Radicals ( see Barnburners) enabled 
the Whigs to carry the State in 1838. After 1840, when the Liberty Party arose, the anti-slavery feeling was
strong in the agricultural parts of the State, and in 1848 the Barnburner Democrats led by Van Buren, broke 
away to aid in forming the free-Soil Party. The Whigs and Know-Nothings gained and lost power in swift 
succession before the Civil War broke out. The mercantile and manufacturing classes in 1860 advocated peace 
at any price, but the mass of the people were Unionist. The reaction following upon the disasters of the 
first year and a half of the war put the Democrats into power. In July 1863, occured the draft riots
in New York City. (see DRAFT RIOTS IN NEW YORK.) The war measures of President Lincoln were denounced 
violently by the State authorities, and the election of 1864 was bitterly fought, the outcome being decided 
in favor of the Republicans by the votes of the men at the front.

      The economic development of New York has continued uninterrupted after the war, and has fully justified 
its title of Empire State." Its history, however, has been characterized by much of that corruption which 
has marked the post-bellum politics of many States. The period in general presents a dead level of 
partisan rule relieved by occasional spasmodic upheavals of civic virtue. The gubernatorial power, nevertheless, 
has been repeatedly in the hands of able men, several of whom attained national eminence. From 1863 to 
1871 New York City was ruled by the notorious William M. Tweed (q.v.). In 1875, and again in 1899, frauds in
connection with the management of the State canals, involving high officials and others, together known as 
the Canal Ring, were discovered. In the assignment of public contracts much dishonesty was displayed. 

The State Capitol at Albany and the county court house at New York are monuments of what patient industry 
may accomplish in the way of nursing a modest estimate into an enormous defalcation. Many attempts, however, 
were made to remedy political evils by legislation. Laws were passed to check lobbying, to insure honest 
party primaries, and to reform the civil service. The question of tax reform was an important subject of 
legislation after 1880, and brought the State into conflict with the powerful railway, gas and insurance 
corporations upon the question whether their capital stock and the value of their franchises were subject 
to taxation or not. The rise of the Labor Party in 1886 was the cause of much important labor legislation. 

Laws limiting the hours of daily work and protecting women and children in factories and shops were passed 
in 1892 and subsequently. Much attention has been devoted to the preservation of the Adirondack forests. 
In 1867 the public schools of the State were made entirely free, and in 1875 primary education was made 

The Constitution of 1777 was revised in1821; the councils of revision and appointment were abolished, and the
Governor received the veto power. Many offices formerly filled by appointment were made elective, and, in 
general, the new Constitution represented  a great advance toward democracy. This tendency was continued
in the Constitution of 1846, which put an end to feudal tenure in lands, abolished the court of chancery, 
established a court of appeals, and made all the judges of the higher courts elective. By amendments adopted 
in 1869 (when a new Constitution framed in 1867 was rejected by the people), 1874, and 1882, further reforms 
in the judiciary were carried out, negro voters were freed from the property qualification hitherto imposed 
upon them, penalties for bribery and corruption in office were established, and the canals were freed from toll. 

Of the thirty-four amendments submitted to the people by the Constitutional Convention of 1894, the most 
important among those adopted were concerned with the reform of the judiciary, the shortening of the Governor's 
term to two years, and the reapportionment of the legislative districts of the State.

       New York is an uncertain State both in national and State elections, and the influence exerted by its 
large electoral vote on the outcome of Presidential contests has given it the well-earned name of the
 "pivotal State." Notable cases were the elections of 1844, 1848, and 1884. In the Presidential election 
of 1844 James K. Polk, the Democratic candidate, received 170 votes in the electoral college as against 
105 votes cast for Henry Clay, the Whig candidate. The 36 electoral votes of New York, which Polk carried 
by a small plurality, were sufficient to decide the election. In 1848 the dissensions in the Democratic 
Party in the State enabled Taylor to secure the Presidency. In 1884 Cleveland , the Democratic candidate, 
carried the State by a plurality of 1149 and secured the Presidency. New York voted for the Republican 
candidates from 1796 to 1808. In 1812 it cast its vote for De Witt Clinton, who had been nominated by the
section of the Republican Party opposed to the domination of the Congressional caucus, and had been indorsed 
by the Federalists. It voted for Monroe in 1816 and 1820, divided its vote among Adams, Crawford, Clay, and
 Jackson in 1824 (26 out of 36 for Adams) and between  Adams and Jackson in 1828 (20 out of 36 for Adams).  

It was Democratic in 1832, 1836, 1844, and 1852, and Whig in 1840 and 1848. From 1856 to 1864 it was Republican,
and then entered on a course of vacillation. It voted for Seymour (Democrat) in 1868, Grant (Republican) 
in 1872, Tilden (Democrat) in 1876, Garfield (Republican) in 1880, Cleveland (Democrat) in 1884, Harrison 
(Republican) in 1888, and Cleveland (Democrat) in 1892. The State went decidedly Republican on the money 
question in 1896 and 1900.

Source:    The New International Encyclopaedia
Publisher:  Dodd, Mead and Company--New York
Copyright:  1902-1905  Total of 21 Volumes

Transcribed by Miriam Medina