The Colony of New York

First European Settlers:
In September 1609, an Englishman under the employ of the Dutch East India Company, traversed the wilds of what is now the state of New York. Henry Hudson, in his ship The Crescent, was on an assignment to find shorter trading routes to India. Failing in this, Hudson explored the eastern coast of America, searching for a passage through the continent to the Pacific Ocean. Trying to accomplish his task, Hudson moved further inland through what is now New York Harbor. He traveled up the Hudson River, going as far north as what is now the city of Albany, New York. Hudson spent several weeks there, surveying the land through the Native Americans’ knowledge of it. In October of 1609, Hudson returned to England, giving an extraordinary account of the unclaimed land. The English forbid Hudson to return to Denmark, for they feared the Dutch would claim the land as their own. Hudson had to obey his employer, returning to Denmark.[1]
This map shows the route of Henry Hudson's 1609 expedition
As predicted, on hearing Hudson’s report, the Dutch sent a fleet of ships to the area, and began to aggressively trade with the Native Americans inhabiting it. The Dutch found that the land was rich in furs, and made the area a part of its newly founded Dutch West India Company in 1612. The Dutch settled in the land, constructed homes, and built Fort Nassau, (later replaced by Fort Orange), in what is now Albany. The Dutch called their settlement New Netherland, which stretched from the Connecticut River southward to the Delaware River.[1]When the English discovered the Dutch had begun to settle in what they felt should have been part of Virginia, the English attempted to seize the land through persuasion and bribery. This tactic did not succeed, and as the British were too unfamiliar with the New World to begin in a war with another European power, they gave up efforts for the time being. The Dutch settled and traded in New Netherland, establishing a city called New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island; (the name “Manhattan” comes from the Lenni Lenapi word Mannahatta, meaning “land of many hills.”) [1]

This graphic shows the density of the Indian population in what is now New York. [6]"]]york_indians.jpg

Conflict with Native Americans:
The Dutch-Indian trading relationship was strong, as is evident by the Notification of the Purchase of Manhattan by the Dutch, November 5, 1626:

"High and Mighty Lords:Yesterday arrived here the ship the Arms of Amsterdam, which sailed from New Netherland, out of the river Mauritius, on the 23rd September. They report that our people are in good heart and live in peace there; the women also have borne some children there. They have purchased the island Manhattes from the Indians for the value of 60 guilders; 'tis 11,000 morgens in size. They had all their grain sowed by the middle of May and reaped by the middle of August. They send thence samples of summer grain such as wheat, rye, barley, oats, buckwheat, canary seed, beans, and flax.The cargo of the aforesaid ship is: 7246 beaver skins, 17886 otter skins, 675 otter skins, 48 mink skins, 36 wildcat skins, 33 minks, 34 rat skins, considerable oak, timber and hickory.Herewith, high and mighty Lords, be commended to the mercy of the Almighty. In Amsterdam, the 5th November, A. D. 1626.Your High Mightinesses' obedient, P. Schagen." [9]

(Sixty guilders translates into about 34.24 United States dollars. [10])

However, the Dutch came into major conflict with the Native Americans in the year 1624. Fort Orange, located in what is now Albany, was surrounded by two Native American tribes: the Mohecans to the east, the Mohawks to the west. The Dutch were trading partners with all the tribes in the area, but they were in an alliance with the Mohecan tribe. The Mohecans developed trade opportunities between the Dutch and other Indian tribes, as well as showed them the best places to find their main good: beaver fur. In return, the Dutch armed the Mohecans with Dutch-made guns. When beaver pelt became scarce, Peter Minuit, leader of the colony and buyer of the land, asked the Mohecans to form an alliance for them with Indian tribes near Lake Champlain: the Algonkins and Montagnais.[3] However, once this alliance was made, the Mohawk tribe was angered, for the Algonkins and Montagnais were their enemies, and the Mohecans should not have been fraternizing with the enemy. Fort Orange was caught in the middle of this Native American conflict, but instead of remaining neutral, chose to side with the Mohecans. The Mohecans, and some Dutch, fell to the Mohawks, but the war was not over. The few Dutch families settled at Fort Orange felt the situation was too dangerous to live in, and fled to New Amsterdam. The Dutch resigned from the war, and left the Native Americans to fight another two years before the war was over. [2][3]

Another conflict with Native Americans was the direct result of the Dutch’s dishonest trading. The Dutch had drained the Iroquois Indians of New Jersey of many of their resources, but when it came time for the Dutch to pay them in wampum and arms, the Dutch claimed they had not received the goods, and refused to pay them. Looking for revenge, the Native Americans destroyed the Dutch settlement on what is now Staten Island. In their own act of revenge, the Dutch allied with the Mohawks to destroy neighboring Native American tribes that were part of the Iroquois Confederation, which the Mohawks were all too willing to do. In one night, in 1643, nearly one hundred Native Americans were killed. Eventually, a truce was drawn up by Roger Williams, but the two parties were unsatisfied. The war, later called Kieft's War, continued until the Mohawks claimed sovereignty over the neighboring Indian tribes, ending the conflict with the Dutch. [1][2]

New Amsterdam to New York:
Owing to their power over trade in the region, the Dutch came into conflict with other European powers, such as the English at the Plymouth Colony in New England and the Swedes who had inhabited the Delaware River region, but that came to an end when the Dutch were forced to hand over their colony to the English Crown.[1] In 1664, King Charles II of England, claiming New Netherlands since its initial discovery by the Englishman Hudson, granted his brother, Duke of York James, the land from the Connecticut River to the Delaware River. This fully encompassed the Dutch settlement. The Duke of York sent several ships into the harbor, loaded with three hundred English soldiers, under the leadership of Sir Robert Nichols. Nichols made an impressive display of power in the harbor, then sent Governor Stuyvesant of New Amsterdam a request to surrender. Stuyvesant did so willingly, and the area of New Amsterdam was changed into English hands, and dubbed "New York", while Fort Orange, in what is now central New York state, was renamed "Albany" (because in addition to being the Duke of York, James was also Duke of Albany).[1]
To complete his conquest of the entirety of New Netherlands, Nichols forced the surrender of the Swedes near the Delaware River and bought the settlement on Long Island from the Earl of Sterling, to whom it had previously been granted. [1][2]
Under English control, New York experienced both times of peace and times of turmoil. The population of the colony, which was about half Dutch, did not change their lifestyles under English rule; the Dutch still controlled the inland fur trade, and the English controlled New York harbor, effectively. However, in 1672, the English declared war against Holland. Although they had no right, the English were forcing the Dutch to 'renew' their lands by paying ridiculous fees. When the Dutch stopped paying these fees and started rebelling, the English declared war. On August 9th of that year, the Dutch sent a small troop of men to attack New York City. This military would not have conquered the English in normal circumstances, but since the governor of New York, Governor Lovelace, was away at the time, New York was left without a leader, and the colony was forced to surrender. The Dutch regained control over New York, returning its name to New Netherland, seizing the areas of New Jersey and Delaware as well. Eventually, peace was made by the Duke of York. In November, he erased all controversy there was over his titles for the land given him by Charles II; he purchased a new patent for the land, thus legitimizing his rule over the territory. [1]

Leisler's Rebellion:
However, that was not the end of conflict within the colony. One of the most turbulent periods in English history affected the actions of the colonists: the Glorious Revolution. During the Glorious Revolution, the Stuart Dynasty - which had ruled with an iron fist for many years - was ended. King James II was dethroned because the Anglican Church was threatened by his Catholic ties. In his place, his daughter and son-in-law, William and Mary of Orange, ascended to the throne in 1689. Inspired by the Glorious Revolution, the colony of New York experienced an uprising of its own. [7]

After the Stuart Dynasty had been overthrown, New York's Lieutenant Governor, Francis Nicholson, feared he would be unseated as well. New York was part of the Dominion of New England, established by King James II (who had just been dethroned), who had placed Sir Edmund Andros as governor of the dominion. For over a year, the colony of Massachusetts had suffered under Andros's draconian rule, and had recently overthrown him. New York's militia was away in Maine, for it had been assisting Andros with a rebellion in that area, leaving Nicholson unprotected from the colonists who he thought would overthrow him. To solve this dilemma, Nicholson passed a law to heavily tax wealthy merchants in order to build up a better army. Of course, this angered the merchants, especially one Jacob Leisler. It was when Nicholson made insulting comments toward the colony's militia that the rebellion ensued. [7]

The overthrow of King James II of England, pictured here, inspired Leisler's Rebellion in New York. [8]
On May 30, 1689, the people of New York demanded that Nicholson step down until the new monarchs of England, William and Mary, made a decision for their leadership. They made Jacob Leisler the leader of the colony's militia, and took control over Fort James in New York harbor. On June 6, Nicholson fled to England. Leisler was the new head of New York; while he was in control, William and Mary sent a notice to the colony that all government positions be held by non-Catholics. Leisler followed these commands, and fired every Catholic official, most of whom had been placed into power by James II. [7]
Two weeks later, Leisler's rule officially began, for he received a letter from King William III, stating that in Nichols absence, he was responsible for keeping the peace in New York. However, this letter was not intended for him, but for his body of advisers. He misconstrued the letter, understanding that they wanted him to have complete authority over New York. Thus, he took that power.[7]

Under Leisler's rule, heavy taxes were imposed on all the people of New York, officials were appointed only by him (he took both legislative and executive power). Leisler refused to pay import taxes if the collector was Catholic, and the colony got into conflict with its neighboring colonists. Leisler often spread anti-Catholic propaganda, making the colonists fear an attack from the Catholics north of them. In 1690, Leisler undertook the mission of conquering New France. He hoped that merchants would provide for troops by donating their goods, and stole those goods if they did not. At a meeting with the rest of the Dominion of New England, Leisler pushed the idea of the invasion and refused to have anyone lead the effort but his own officials. These sorts of conflicts contributed to the colonists' dislike for Leisler.[7]

Eventually, England had to step in. William and Mary had appoint Henry Sloughter as Lieutenant Governor of New York in 1689, but Sloughter was delayed in getting to the colonies. In this case of emergency, William and Mary sent a small band of troops and a royal official to unseat Leisler. However, Leisler had holed himself up in Fort James, surrounded by his own militia. Few shots were fired, but Leisler refused to submit to the royal official's authority. On March 19, 1691, Sloughter arrived in New York, claimed his authority as Lieutenant Governor, and had Leisler arrested for treason. Leisler chose not to defend himself, was found guilty, and hanged on May 16, 1691.[7]Because of Leisler's rule, the colony of New York experienced a split in politics. The Leislerians became leading members of the Whig party, while the anti-Leislerians associated with the Tory party. This split would prove significant later on. When the colonies entered the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War, the colony of New York was split between loyalty to the British and loyalty to their own colony.[5]

New York Slaves:
New York became successful in inter-colony trade apart from the Dutch's fur trade. However, the main good for this trade was not lumber or cotton - it was slaves. Before the English rule, the Dutch West India Company was the largest slave buyer in all of Africa. The W.I.C. was buying slaves in Africa, shipping them to Holland to be sold, and then bringing them to the colony. By the 1640s, the W.I.C. had risen the price of slaves from Africa by three hundred percent. They used these slaves to build roads, construct houses, tame the wild, and tame unruly New England neighbors. The Dutch also used slaves in the agricultural industry, with the design of attracting more settlers to Hudson Valley. By using the slaves for all the back-breaking work, farming became more attractive to immigrants, and the colony prospered. The Dutch looked at slaves in a purely economic way, which benefited both the slaves (who were not treated to unnecessarily harsh conditions) and freed slaves (who were not subject to racism, could own property, and were allowed to marry whites). However, as opposed to using the slaves for the good of the colony, the English used the colony for the good of the slave trade.[5]

From 1700 to 1725, the English sought to make New York the center of the slave trade among all the colonies. In that time period, 1,570 slaves were imported from the West Indies, and another 802 were imported from Africa. However, those are only the recorded numbers; the actual numbers are much higher, for smugglers imported hundreds of slaves illegally. Between 1732 and 1754, slaves accounted for over 35% of the immigration through New York harbor, and by 1756, New York had the largest slave population of any colony north of Maryland - 13,000 adult slaves.[5] This was about ten percent of the population of the whole colony. This ten percent of the population was subjected to the same harsh laws as were placed on the most racist of plantation colonies in the south. They did not enjoy any of the rights of a white person, and any black man could be placed into slavery if he could not prove he was not a slave. The English made this northern colony the epitome of a slave state. [5][3]


1. Goodrich, Charles A. "A Brief History of the Colony of New York, 1609-1692." Celebrate Boston. 2011. Web. 21 Aug. 2011. <>.

2. New York Colonial History." Our Country. Web. 20 Aug. 2011. <>.

3. Federici, Richard. "THE MOHICANS ... Children of the Delaware." Mohican Press. 2001. Web. 22 Aug. 2011. <>.

4. Boerner, Gerald. "Henry Hudson Explores New York Harbor." Prof. Boerner's Explorations. 2010. Web. 22 Aug. 2011. <>.

5. Harper, Douglas. "Slavery in New York." Slavery in the North. 2003. Web. 23 Aug. 2011. <>.

6."New York Indian Tribes and Languages." Native American Language Net: Preserving and Promoting Indigenous American Indian Languages. Ed. Laura Redish. 2010. Web. 25 Aug. 2011. <>.

7. Roosevelt, Theodore. New York. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1906;, 2000. <>.

8. "Saints." Web. 25 Aug. 2011. <>.

9. "Notification of the Purchase of Manhattan by the Dutch; November 5, 1626." Avalon Project - Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy. Yale University, 2008. Web. 20 Aug. 2011. <>.

10. Ostermiller, Stephen. "Convert Netherlands Antillean Guilders (ANG) and United States Dollars (USD)." Currency Exchange Rate Conversion Calculator. 2003. Web. 25 Aug. 2011. <>.

Megan Simcock and Catherine Bonner