New York State History: Facts & Timeline

Instructor: Richard Reid
New York State has played a central role in both North American and world affairs for the past three centuries. In this lesson, we'll explore the three distinct phases in New York's history, including its emergence as one of the most important regions in the world from the 1900s through today.

First European Contact to Independence

The first Europeans to make landfall in what is today New York State were actually the Dutch, not the English. By 1624 the Dutch had firmly established the colony called New Netherlands. The importance of New Netherlands' natural harbors and abundance of fish made it a target for other colonizing powers like the English. However, by 1664, the English had conquered the Dutch and renamed the region 'New York' after the Duke of York.

Map of Early New Amsterdam

As one of the original 13 English colonies, New York played a pivotal role in the events that led up to America's independence. Native American tribes - mostly Algonquin or Iroquois - still populated much of the New York region and functioned as key players in the French and Indian War (1754-1763). Upstate New York was the site of a couple of major battles, including those at Fort William Henry and Fort Oswego. Although many Native Americans initially sided with the French, the English eventually won the 7-year conflict and acquired more land in the process.

Map of Algonquin and Iroquois Tribal Areas before European Settlement

New York played an even more central role in the American Revolution (1765-1783), as its dense inland forests were a perfect place to lure British soldiers into traps and ambushes. The shipping routes and resupply points from New York's harbors and bays were important strategic concerns throughout the course of the war. Eventually, New York was one of the first states to declare independence from Britain, and on July 9, 1776, it officially ratified the Declaration of Independence.

From Independence to Industry

After America won its war for independence, what made New York unique was its development of industry and manufacturing. Unlike the southern states that based their economies on plantation farming or slavery, New York's comparatively poor soil and climate forced a shift towards heavier industries. As a result, many technologies associated with the industrial revolution in America were first implemented in New York. For example, the first steam-powered boats and trains got their start in New York in 1807 and 1831 respectively.

New York was also one of the hotbeds for social movements in the 1800s. The Seneca Falls Convention (1848) was the first major meeting about women's rights in the nation's history. Although it did not lead to immediate reform, it was a step in the right direction. Additionally, New York was one of the first states to outlaw slavery (1827) and played a key role in the Union's fight in the American Civil War (1861-1865). Over one-sixth of Union soldiers came from New York State.

Site of the Seneca Falls Convention

Post-Civil War and Modern Era

As important as New York was prior to the Civil War, it became even more central to American, and even world, affairs by the latter 1800s. Starting in the 1890s and continuing through the early 1920s, over 12 million European immigrants, including those fleeing famines in Ireland and Italy, poverty, and wars, reached the shores of America at one place: Ellis Island. Ellis Island was the nation's immigration station where steerage passengers, or those traveling with the least costly tickets on the lower decks, were checked for diseases and ability to work.

Ellis Island in 1905

New York also became the most important center of financial power in the world in the 20th century. Vast amounts of money changed hands at the New York Stock Exchange, which crashed dramatically in 1929 and signaled the start of a worldwide depression. The Great Depression era, which lasted from 1929 to 1940, was a period of great suffering and uncertainty where many millions of people lost their jobs, homes, and livelihoods.

After the Great Depression and World War II, New York City became more commercially successfully than ever. As the 1940's came to an end, the city had the biggest manufacturing center and port in the world; it was also the biggest wholesaling hub in America. It also served as home to the United Nations (1952) and the World Trade Center (1973), the latter of which was attacked and destroyed by terrorists in 2001.

World Trade Center in March 2001

Historical Timeline

1524 CE : Giovanni da Verrazzano and the first European explorers reach the New York coast.

1624 : Dutch settlers establish New Netherlands in present-day New York.

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