Enter and Exit the British
The British took over New Amsterdam in 1664, renaming the colony New York after the Duke of York, later crowned King James II. The Dutch system of government was replaced with the British one, but for most of the Dutch colonists, life went on as before. The colony remained predominantly Dutch until the end of the century and continued to prosper and grow, with New York City reaching a population of 25,000 in 1750. In the New World, only Philadelphia was bigger.
For the colonists of African heritage, however, life under British rule became increasingly difficult. The slave trade was encouraged and a slave market was set up on Wall Street. Some black families who had owned land under the Dutch had their property confiscated; others lost it after passage of a 1712 law prohibiting blacks from inheriting land.
The land-use system in upstate New York also continued much as it had before. The Dutch had used the patroon system, whereby an individual was given a large tract of land in return for bringing over at least 50 settlers to work that land. The English established a similar landlord-tenant arrangement whereby a few men were given enormous manor estates, which they then rented out in parcels to poor farmers. In some parts of the Hudson Valley and Catskills, remnants of this feudal-like system remained in effect until the 1840s.
By the time of the Revolutionary War, New York City had reached a population of 25,000. Albany and Kingston were thriving as river ports, and several smaller settlements, including Saratoga and Fort Stanwix, had been established as far north as Lake Champlain and as far west as Rome. Manor estates lined the Hudson River, and Long Island was peppered with productive farm communities.
When rumblings of revolution began, New York took a pro-Tory stance at first. Merchants and manor landlords intent on making money wanted nothing to do with war. “What is the reason that New York must continue to embarrass the Continent?” queried John Adams at one point. As tensions escalated, however, New Yorkers changed their position and, after 1753, supported the Revolution wholeheartedly.
No state bore the brunt of the war more than New York. The earliest battles were fought in New York City—which remained in British hands throughout the war—and many of the later ones took place upstate. The Americans were badly defeated by the British at Oriskany, near Rome, in 1777. The British were unexpectedly defeated by the Americans at Saratoga, also in 1777. Benedict Arnold plotted to betray the Continental Army at West Point in 1780. General Washington declared victory over the British in Newburgh in 1781.
In 1789, Washington was inaugurated as the first president of the United States in Federal Hall on Wall Street, New York City. The city served as the nation’s capital until 1790, when the federal government transferred to Philadelphia.
© Avalon Travel and Sascha Zuger from Moon New York State, 5th Edition