New York and the American Revolution

New York and the American Revolution

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The colony of New York was adversely affected by British policies in the period following the French and Indian War. British officials were interested in tightening imperial controls and taxing the colonists to provide for their protection and administrative costs.

Like elsewhere, New Yorkers resisted these newly implemented policies and resorted to violent protest, particularly in the case of the Stamp Act. New York, however, did differ from some other colonies in that there existed a significant number of Loyalists within its ranks, perhaps as many as one half of the population. In fact, the colonial assembly in New York remained in Loyalist hands until some months after Lexington and Concord.Many significant battles of the War for Independence were fought in New York. In the early stages, Americans gained confidence in victories at Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point.The tide turned in favor of the British in 1776 with victories on Long Island, Harlem Heights and Fort Washington, leading to the occupation of New York City and evacuation of the state government to Kingston.In 1777, American fortunes were revived in the battles of Oriskany and Saratoga. Following 1778, military activity in New York lessened as the focus shifted to the South.

See chronologies of the American Revolution and the War of Independence.

American Revolution: New York, Philadelphia, & Saratoga

Having captured Boston in March 1776, General George Washington began shifting his army south to block an anticipated British move against New York City. Arriving, he divided his army between Long Island and Manhattan and awaited British General William Howe's next move. In early June, the first British transports began appearing in lower New York Harbor and Howe established camps on Staten Island. Over the next several weeks Howe's army grew to over 32,000 men. His brother, Vice Admiral Richard Howe commanded the Royal Navy's forces in the area and stood by to provide naval support.

Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

New York played a decisive and crucial role in America's fight for independence.

Turning point of the revolution

The Patriot victory at the Battle of Saratoga turned the tide of the entire war effort and was a key factor in gaining the assistance from France which led to eventual triumph of the Continental Army.

Major Waterway Routes

Controlling the Hudson River was vital to the war effort on both sides. The British held New York City and its port for most of the war. The Continental Army was able to hold and control most of the Hudson River allowing them access to the entire Hudson Valley. The Hudson River provided a vital escape route for Washington's army after the Battle of Brooklyn and ensured that the Continental Army could continue the fight.

Major Battles

Nearly one third of all the battles fought during the American Revolution were fought in New York State. The capture of Fort Ticonderoga, the Battles of Oriskany, Newtown and Saratoga are just a few of the major events that took place on New York soil.

Additional Revolutionary War Resources

General Revolutionary War and Colonial History

Spy Letters of the American Revolution
This site offers a set of primary resource letters written by spies on both sides of the conflict, plus the stories surrounding them.

The American Revolution
This National Park Service site includes educational resources for students and teachers with activities and primary documents, historic sites, timeline.

Declaration of Independence
Complete text of the Declaration of Independence with information about the signers.

Black Loyalists
Explores the history of enslaved African Americans who fought for the British during the Revolution and later settled in Canada after the war.

Women Soldiers in the American Revolutionary War
Discusses specific women who contributed to Revolutionary War efforts.

The Oneidas and the American Revolution
A brief history of the tribe in the years prior to the War, and the story of the alliance with the new government during the Revolution.

Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR)
Non-profit, women's organization for the descendants of individuals who aided in achieving American independence. Engaged in historic preservation, genealogy and education.

Sons of the American Revolution (SAR)
Non-profit, organization for the descendants of individuals who aided in achieving American independence. Site provides historical information and interpretation of the basis, events and people related to the Revolution.

The American Revolution - NPS Collections
A multi-park on-line exhibit showcases museum and archival collections at selected National Park Service sites. Featured sites and collections commemorate significant events and individuals of the American Revolutionary War.

General Revolutionary War and Colonial History

Drums Along the Mohawk
Timeline, letters and links related to the impact of the Revolution along the New York State frontier.

People of Colonial Albany
Colonial Albany Social History Project, New York State museum. Provides census data, biographies and information on African American colonial life.

The Battle of Oriskany: "Blood Shed a Stream Running Down"
Online lesson project by the National Park Service exploring the major figures in the battle.

Revolutionary War Battles
Chronological listing of Revolutionary War battles, most with full descriptions of the battle maneuvers.

Liberty: Burgoyne Surrenders at Saratoga
A description of the British defeat at the hands of the combined force of American militia and Continental regulars.

Saratoga National Historical Park
A brief summary of the history and founding of the park and surrounding area.

A Loyalist and His Newspaper in Revolutionary New York

New York in the 1760s was a divided town, riven by local factions as well as imperial politics. Local elections were fiercely contested, as they had been for decades. The imperial crisis didn’t help. To be sure, New York was no hotbed of radical unrest like Boston — many among its merchant class remained broadly loyal to the British imperial government, or at the very least kept their qualms to themselves in order to smooth the flow of commerce. And the British had seated their American military headquarters at New York at the end of the Seven Years War, among other imperial offices that lined the streets of southern Manhattan Island.

In the maelstrom of the imperial crisis — or perhaps because of it — the city also germinated the stories that have become classic elements of New York life: the immigrant establishing himself commercial success built on controversy even a dispute with arrogant New Englanders crossing the colony’s border from Connecticut to meddle in a situation the city’s leaders thought they should control. In some cases these elements even converged in one person’s narrative.

James Rivington, Sr. (ca. 1724-1802). New-York Historical Society.

The figure at the center of this particular tale was James Rivington. The scion of a prominent London bookselling family, Rivington arrived in New York in the early 1760s — possibly to escape gambling debts back in England. Using his connections in the book trade, Rivington established successful shops in New York as well as Boston and Philadelphia within the decade. As he did so, for the most part he remained outside of partisan politics even as they heated up in New York and more broadly in North America.

As he expanded his trade from bookselling to printing, Rivington joined a collegial but competitive group of printers already active in the city. They were not a particularly radical bunch. Hugh Gaine had been a printer in the city since the 1750s and took a cautious tone in his New York Gazette and Weekly Mercury. Samuel Inslee and Anthony Carr, printers of the New York Gazette and Post Boy, took on that paper from James Parker at his death in 1770. Only John Holt, the prodigal son-in-law of a prominent Virginia businessman and printer of the New-York Journal, hewed strongly to the position of the Sons of Liberty.

Rivington's New-York Gazetteer or The Connecticut, New-Jersey, Hudson's-River, and Quebec Weekly Advertiser. The American Antiquarian Society.

In the early 1770s, Rivington made his move into politics by starting his own newspaper, Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer, the fourth in the city. With an expansive geographic view — he subtitled the paper the Connecticut, New-Jersey, Hudson’s-River, and Quebec Weekly Advertiser — Rivington aimed for a paper that would draw merchants as a major source of its customer base. To attract them, he printed prices current and information about customs clearances — information to which he had solid access because of his imperial connections. He likewise represented the Gazetteer as the most reliable source of fresh information from London, a claim his networks likewise helped him reinforce.

Rivington quickly achieved two milestones, producing one of the most widely read newspapers in the British North American colonies and also one of the most staunchly Loyalist. He began to excoriate anti-imperial leaders, decrying their protests and defending King George III, his ministers, and the imperial officials in the colonies. Within months Rivington had tapped into loyalist networks, his own printing trade contacts, and made use of the imperial post office to make the Gazetteer among the most-circulated newspapers in all of British North America. His version of the news traveled not only throughout the colonies but also back to the imperial center in London, where officials gave his accounts weight commensurate with the support he received in correspondence from imperial officials in New York.

Rivington published a woodcut of himself being hanged in effigy. Via Journal of the American Revolution:

The mere existence of a Loyalist newspaper angered many Patriots its popularity pushed them over the edge. Sons of Liberty in New York City as well as surrounding colonies as far away as Rhode Island discussed and plotted how to undermine Rivington’s newspaper for years. One letter addressed to Newport activists, for example, described him as a “Pensiond Servile Wench” who was “Insulting, Reviling And Counteracting this whole Continent.”[1] Active violence against Loyalist printers was rare, however, before the war. Patriots would threaten them, attempt to ostracize them, and demonize them in their own newspapers, but not usually attack them.

For Rivington, business continued to be good, and ironically, he continued to do a thriving business in trade with his fellow printers and booksellers, including those who were Patriots or Sons of Liberty themselves. He even sold copies of the journals of the First Continental Congress in the winter of 1775, which he had acquired from Philadelphia printer (and leader of the Sons of Liberty there) William Bradford. For printers, this was standard practice. Throughout the imperial crisis, even the most hardened partisans continued to act in concert with their fellow tradesmen and women when it served their commercial interests.

That shifted when the Revolutionary War started in 1775. Rivington kept up his strong Loyalist position in the Gazetteer, and local anti-imperial leaders fumed. In November, a group of Sons of Liberty from New Haven, Connecticut, led by Isaac Sears, decided that it was time to take matters into their own hands. They traveled to New York City, where they attacked Rivington’s office. They destroyed his sets of type (the most valuable possession of a printer) and his press. Just a few weeks later, Rivington abandoned the city for England.

It’s a New York City story, remember? When the city’s Patriot leadership found out about the attack, they were upset … at Sears and his Connecticut band, for taking on a matter that they felt was properly theirs. Sears had anticipated this, justifying himself by arguing that “it wou’d not otherwise have been done, as there are not Spirited & Leading men enough in N. York to undertake such a Business, or it wou’d have been done long ago.”[2]

Rivington’s story did not end with that trip to England because the British Army captured New York City just a few months later and made it its North American headquarters for the duration of the Revolutionary War. Seeing an opportunity, Rivington returned to his old printing office, armed with an appointment as King’s Printer. He resumed the Gazetteer as one of two Loyalist newspapers in the city — all its other printers evacuated to towns north along the Hudson River — and explicitly adopted the British position in his newspaper. Reports from American newspapers were labeled as from “Rebel Papers.” At the same time, he was likely also an active member of the Culper Spy Ring, which passed information about British strategy to George Washington (and now memorialized in fiction through the AMC show, TURN).

With the British evacuation in November 1783, Rivington lost his political protection. He’d been preparing for the moment for months, toning down his coverage of Congress and the Continental Army. New Yorkers, however, had not forgotten his Loyalist affiliations, and they pushed him to end the run of the Gazetteer. He remained in the bookselling and other trades for about a decade longer, and died in New York in 1802. Rivington, like many New Yorkers who came before and would come after, tried to capitalize on the new opportunities available across the Atlantic. But with the birth of the new nation, his New York story came to a disappointing close.

Joseph M. Adelman is the author of Revolutionary Networks: The Business and Politics of Printing the News, 1763-1789 (JHU Press, 2019). He is an associate professor of history at Framingham State University.

[1] “Freinds of America” to Stephen Ward and Stephen Hopkins, December 5, 1774 (postmarked at Newport, January 9, 1775), Ward Family Papers, ser. 4 [MS 776], Rhode Island His-

[2] Isaac Sears to Roger Sherman, Eliphalet Dyer, and Silas Deane, November 28, 1775, Feinstone Collection, David Library of the American Revolution.


The first peoples of New York are estimated to have arrived around 10,000 BC. Around AD 800, Iroquois ancestors moved into the area from the Appalachian region. The people of the Point Peninsula Complex were the predecessors of the Algonquian peoples of New York. [2] By around 1100, the distinct Iroquoian-speaking and Algonquian-speaking cultures that would eventually be encountered by Europeans had developed. [3] The five nations of the Iroquois League developed a powerful confederacy about the 15th century that controlled territory throughout present-day New York, into Pennsylvania around the Great Lakes. For centuries, the Mohawk cultivated maize fields in the lowlands of the Mohawk River, [4] which were later taken over by Dutch settlers at Schenectady, New York when they bought this territory. The Iroquois nations to the west also had well-cultivated areas and orchards.

The Iroquois established dominance over the fur trade throughout their territory, bargaining with European colonists. Other New York tribes were more subject to either European destruction or assimilation within the Iroquoian confederacy. [5] Situated athwart major Native trade routes in the Northeast and positioned between French and English zones of settlement, the Iroquois were intensely caught up with the onrush of Europeans, which is also to say that the settlers, whether Dutch, French or English, were caught up with the Iroquois as well. [6] Algonquian tribes were less united among their tribes they typically lived along rivers, streams, or the Atlantic Coast. [7] But, both groups of natives were well-established peoples with highly sophisticated cultural systems these were little understood or appreciated by the European colonists who encountered them. The natives had "a complex and elaborate native economy that included hunting, gathering, manufacturing, and farming. [and were] a mosaic of Native American tribes, nations, languages, and political associations." [3] The Iroquois usually met at an Onondaga in Northern New York, which changed every century or so, where they would coordinate policies on how to deal with Europeans and strengthen the bond between the Five Nations.

Tribes who have managed to call New York home have been the Iroquois, Mohawk, Mohican, Susquehannock, Petun, Chonnonton, Ontario [8] and Nanticoke. [9]

In 1524, Giovanni da Verrazzano, an Italian explorer in the service of the French crown, explored the Atlantic coast of North America between the Carolinas and Newfoundland, including New York Harbor and Narragansett Bay. On April 17, 1524 Verrazzano entered New York Bay, by way of the Strait now called the Narrows. He described "a vast coastline with a deep delta in which every kind of ship could pass" and he adds: "that it extends inland for a league and opens up to form a beautiful lake. This vast sheet of water swarmed with native boats". He landed on the tip of Manhattan and perhaps on the furthest point of Long Island. [10]

In 1535, Jacques Cartier, a French explorer, became the first European to describe and map the Saint Lawrence River from the Atlantic Ocean, sailing as far upriver as the site of Montreal. [11]

On April 4, 1609, Henry Hudson, in the employ of the Dutch East India Company, departed Amsterdam in command of the ship Halve Maen (Half Moon). On September 3 he reached the estuary of the Hudson River. [12] He sailed up the Hudson River to about Albany near the confluence of the Mohawk River and the Hudson. His voyage was used to establish Dutch claims to the region and to the fur trade that prospered there after a trading post was established at Albany in 1614.

In 1614, the Dutch under the command of Hendrick Christiaensen, built Fort Nassau (now Albany) the first Dutch settlement in North America and the first European settlement in what would become New York. [13] It was replaced by nearby Fort Orange in 1623. [14]

The British conquered New Netherland in 1664 [Note 1] Lenient terms of surrender most likely kept local resistance to a minimum. The colony and city were both renamed New York (and "Beverwijck" was renamed Albany) after its new proprietor, James II later King of England, Ireland and Scotland, who was at the time Duke of York and Duke of Albany [Note 2] The population of New Netherland at the time of English takeover was 7,000–8,000. [2] [17]

Thousands of poor German farmers, chiefly from the Palatine region of Germany, migrated to upstate districts after 1700. They kept to themselves, married their own, spoke German, attended Lutheran churches, and retained their own customs and foods. They emphasized farm ownership. Some mastered English to become conversant with local legal and business opportunities. They ignored the Indians and tolerated slavery (although few were rich enough to own a slave). [18]

Large manors were developed along the Hudson River by elite colonists during the 18th century, including Livingston, Cortlandt, Philipsburg, and Rensselaerswyck. [Note 3] The manors represented more than half of the colony's undeveloped land. The Province of New York thrived during this time, its economy strengthened by Long Island and Hudson Valley agriculture, in conjunction with trade and artisanal activity at the Port of New York the colony was a breadbasket and lumberyard for the British sugar colonies in the Caribbean. New York's population grew substantially during this century: from the first colonial census (1698) to the last (1771), the province grew ninefold, from 18,067 to 168,007.

New York played a pivotal role in the Revolutionary War. The colony verged on revolt following the Stamp Act of 1765, advancing the New York City–based Sons of Liberty to the forefront of New York politics. The Act exacerbated the depression the province experienced after unsuccessfully invading Canada in 1760. [20] Even though New York City merchants lost out on lucrative military contracts, the group sought common ground between the King and the people however, compromise became impossible as of April 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord. In that aftermath the New York Provincial Congress on June 9, 1775 for five pounds sterling for each hundredweight of gunpowder delivered to each county's committee. [21]

Two powerful families had for decades assembled colony-wide coalitions of supporters. With few exceptions, men long associated with the DeLancey faction went along when its leadership decided to support the crown while members of the Livingston faction became Patriots [22] [23]

New York's strategic central location and port made it key to controlling the colonies. The British assembled the century's largest fleet: at one point 30,000 British sailors and soldiers anchored off Staten Island. General George Washington barely escaped New York City with his army in November 1776 General Sir William Howe was successful in driving Washington out, but erred by expanding into New Jersey. By January 1777, he retained only a few outposts near New York City. The British held the city for the duration, using it as a base for expeditions against other targets.

In October 1777, American General Horatio Gates won the Battle of Saratoga, later regarded as the war's turning point. Had Gates not held, the rebellion might well have broken down: losing Saratoga would have cost the entire Hudson–Champlain corridor, which would have separated New England from the rest of the colonies and split the future union. [24]

Upon war's end, New York's borders became well–defined: the counties east of Lake Champlain became Vermont and the state's western borders were settled by 1786.

Many Iroquois supported the British (typically fearing future American ambitions). Many were killed during the war others went into exile with the British. Those remaining lived on twelve reservations by 1826 only eight reservations remained, all of which survived into the 21st century.

The state adopted its constitution in April 1777, creating a strong executive and strict separation of powers. It strongly influenced the federal constitution a decade later. Debate over the federal constitution in 1787 led to formation of the groups known as Federalists—mainly "downstaters" (those who lived in or near New York City) who supported a strong national government—and Antifederalists—mainly upstaters (those who lived to the city's north and west) who opposed large national institutions. In 1787, Alexander Hamilton, a leading Federalist from New York and signatory to the Constitution, wrote the first essay of the Federalist Papers. He published and wrote most of the series in New York City newspapers in support of the proposed United States Constitution. Antifederalists were not swayed by the arguments, but the state ratified it in 1788. [25]

In 1785, New York City became the national capital and continued as such on and off until 1790 George Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States in front of Federal Hall in 1789. [25] The United States Bill of Rights was drafted there, and the United States Supreme Court sat for the first time. From statehood to 1797, the Legislature frequently moved the state capital between Albany, Kingston, Poughkeepsie, and New York City. Thereafter, Albany retained that role. [26]

In the early 19th century, New York became a center for advancement in transportation. In 1807, Robert Fulton initiated a steamboat line from New York to Albany, the first successful enterprise of its kind. [27] By 1815, Albany was the state's turnpike center, [28] which established the city as the hub for pioneers migrating west to Buffalo and the Michigan Territory. [29]

In 1825 the Erie Canal opened, securing the state's economic dominance. Its impact was enormous: one source stated, "Linking the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes, the canal was an act of political will that joined the regions of the state, created a vast economic hinterland for New York City, and established a ready market for agricultural products from the state's interior." In that year western New York transitioned from "frontier" to settled area. By this time, all counties and most municipalities had incorporated, approximately matching the state's is organized today. [25] In 1831, the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad started the country's first successful regularly–scheduled steam railroad service. [30]

Advancing transportation quickly led to settlement of the fertile Mohawk and Gennessee valleys and the Niagara Frontier. Buffalo and Rochester became boomtowns. Significant migration of New England "Yankees" (mainly of English descent) to the central and western parts of the state led to minor conflicts with the more settled "Yorkers" (mainly of German, Dutch, and Scottish descent). More than 15% of the state's 1850 population had been born in New England [ citation needed ] . The western part of the state grew fastest at this time. By 1840, New York was home to seven of the nation's thirty largest cities. [Note 4]

During this period, towns established academies for education, including for girls. The western area of the state was a center of progressive causes, including support of abolitionism, temperance, and women's rights. Religious enthusiasms flourished and the Latter Day Saint movement was founded in the area by Joseph Smith and his vision. Some supporters of abolition participated in the Underground Railroad, helping fugitive slaves reach freedom in Canada or in New York.

In addition, in the early 1840s the state legislature and Governor William H. Seward expanded rights for free blacks and fugitive slaves in New York: in 1840 the legislature passed laws protecting the rights of African Americans against Southern slave-catchers. [32] One guaranteed alleged fugitive slaves the right of a jury trial in New York to establish whether they were slaves, and another pledged the aid of the state to recover free blacks kidnapped into slavery, [33] (as happened to Solomon Northup of Saratoga Springs in 1841, who did not regain freedom until 1853.) In 1841 Seward signed legislation to repeal a "nine-month law" that allowed slaveholders to bring their slaves into the state for a period of nine months before they were considered free. After this, slaves brought to the state were immediately considered freed, as was the case in some other free states. Seward also signed legislation to establish public education for all children, leaving it up to local jurisdictions as to how that would be supplied (some had segregated schools). [34]

New York culture bloomed in the first half of the 19th century: in 1809 Washington Irving wrote the satirical A History of New York under the pen name Diedrich Knickerbocker, and in 1819 he based Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in Hudson Valley towns. [35] Thomas Cole's Hudson River School was established in the 1830s by showcasing dramatic landscapes of the Hudson Valley. [36] The first baseball teams formed in New York City in the 1840s, including the New York Knickerbockers. Professional baseball later located its Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Saratoga Race Course, an annual summer attraction in Saratoga Springs, opened in 1847. [37]

A war was not in the best interest of business, because New York had strong ties to the Deep South, both through the port of New York and manufacture of cotton goods in upstate textile mills. Half of New York City's exports were related to cotton before the war. Southern businessmen so frequently traveled to the city that they established favorite hotels and restaurants. Trade was based on moving Southern goods. The city's large Democrat community feared the impact of Abraham Lincoln's election in 1860 and the mayor urged secession of New York.

By the time of the 1861 Battle of Fort Sumter, such political differences decreased and the state quickly met Lincoln's request for soldiers and supplies. Hundreds of thousands of New York's young men fought during the Civil War, more than any other Northern state. While no battles were waged in New York, the state was not immune to Confederate conspiracies, including one to burn various New York cities and another to invade the state via Canada. [38]

In January 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves in states that were still in rebellion against the union. In March 1863, the federal draft law was changed so that male citizens between 20 and 35 and unmarried citizens to age 45 were subject to conscription. Those who could afford to hire a substitute or pay $300 were exempt. Antiwar newspaper editors attacked the law, and many immigrants and their descendants resented being drafted in place of people who could buy their way out. Democratic Party leaders raised the specter of a deluge of freed southern blacks competing with the white working class, then dominated by ethnic Irish and immigrants. On the lottery's first day, July 11, 1863, the first lottery draw was held. On Monday, July 13, 1863, five days of large-scale riots began, which were dominated by ethnic Irish, who targeted blacks in the city, their neighborhoods, and known abolitionist sympathizers. [39] As a result, many blacks left Manhattan permanently, moving to Brooklyn or other areas.

In the following decades, New York strengthened its dominance of the financial and banking industries. Manufacturing continued to rise: Eastman Kodak founded in 1888 in Rochester, General Electric in Schenectady, and Endicott-Johnson Shoe Company in the Triple Cities are some of the well-known companies founded during this period. Buffalo and Niagara Falls attracted numerous factories following the advent of hydroelectric power in the area. [40] With industry blooming, workers began to unite in New York as early as the 1820s. By 1882, the Knights of Labor in New York City had 60,000 members. Trade unions used political influence to limit working hours as early as 1867. At the same time, New York's agricultural output peaked. Focus changed from crop-based to dairy-based agriculture. The cheese industry became established in the Mohawk Valley. By 1881, the state had more than 241,000 farms. [40] In the same period, the area around New York harbor became the world's oyster capital, retaining that title into the early twentieth century. [41]

Immigration increased throughout the latter half of the 19th century. Starting with refugees from the Great Famine of Ireland in the 1840s, New York became a prominent entry point for those seeking a new life in the United States. [40] Between 1855 and 1890, an estimated 8 million immigrants passed through Castle Clinton at Battery Park in Manhattan. [42] [Note 5] Early in this period, most immigrants came from Ireland and Germany. Ellis Island opened in 1892, [42] and between 1880 and 1920, most immigrants were German and Eastern European Jews, Poles, and other Eastern and Southern Europeans, including many Italians. By 1925, New York City's population outnumbered that of London, making it the most populous city in the world. [40] Arguably New York's most identifiable symbol, Liberty Enlightening the World (the Statue of Liberty), a gift from France for the American centennial, was completed in 1886. By the early 20th century, the statue was regarded as the "Mother of Exiles"—a symbol of hope to immigrants. [44]

New York's political pattern changed little after the mid–19th century. New York City and its metropolitan area was already heavily Democrat Upstate was aligned with the Republican Party and was a center of abolitionist activists. In the 1850s, Democratic Tammany Hall became one of the most powerful and durable political machines in United States history. Boss William Tweed brought the organization to the forefront of city and then state politics in the 1860s. Based on its command of a large population, Tammany maintained influence until at least the 1930s. Outside the city, Republicans were able to influence the redistricting process enough to constrain New York City and capture control of the Legislature in 1894. Both parties have seen national political success: in the 39 presidential elections between 1856 and 2010, Republicans won 19 times and Democrats 20 times. [40]

By 1900, New York was the richest and most populous state. Two years prior, the five boroughs of New York City became one city. [45] Within decades, the city's emblem had become the skyscraper: the Woolworth Building was the tallest building in the world from 1913, surpassed by 40 Wall Street in April 1930, the Chrysler Building in 1930, the Empire State Building in 1931, and the World Trade Center in 1972 before losing the title in 1974. [46]

The state was serviced by over a dozen major railroads and at the start of the 20th century and electric Interurban rail networks began to spring up around Syracuse, Rochester and other cities in New York during this period. [47] [48]

In the late 1890s governor Theodore Roosevelt and fellow Republicans such as Charles Evans Hughes worked with many Democrats such as Al Smith to promote Progressivism. [49] They battled trusts and monopolies (especially in the insurance industry), promoted efficiency, fought waste, and called for more democracy in politics. Democrats focused more on the benefits of progressivism for their own ethnic working class base and for labor unions. [50] [51]

Democratic political machines, especially Tammany Hall in Manhattan, opposed woman suffrage because they feared that the addition of female voters would dilute the control they had established over groups of male voters. By the time of the New York State referendum on women's suffrage in 1917, however, some wives and daughters of Tammany Hall leaders were working for suffrage, leading it to take a neutral position that was crucial to the referendum's passage. [52] [53]

Following a sharp but short-lived Depression at the beginning of the decade, [54] New York enjoyed a booming economy during the Roaring Twenties. New York suffered during the Great Depression, which began with the Wall Street crash on Black Tuesday in 1929. The Securities and Exchange Commission opened in 1934 to regulate the stock market. [55] Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected governor in 1928, and the state faced upwards of 25% unemployment. His Temporary Emergency Relief Agency, established in 1931, was the first work relief program in the nation and influenced the national Federal Emergency Relief Administration. Roosevelt was elected President in 1932 in part because of his promises to extend New York–style relief programs across the country via his New Deal. [45] [56] In 1932, Lake Placid was host to the III Olympic Winter Games. [17]

As the largest state, New York again supplied the most resources during World War II. New York manufactured 11 percent of total United States military armaments produced during the war [57] and suffered 31,215 casualties. [58] The war affected the state both socially and economically. For example, to overcome discriminatory labor practices, Governor Herbert H. Lehman created the Committee on Discrimination in Employment in 1941 and Governor Thomas E. Dewey signed the Ives–Quinn bill in 1945, banning employment discrimination. The G.I. Bill of 1944, which offered returning soldiers the opportunity of affordable higher education, forced New York to create a public university system since its private universities could not handle the influx the State University of New York was created by Governor Dewey in 1948. [59]

World War II constituted New York's last great industrial era. At its conclusion, the defense industry shrank and the economy shifted towards producing services rather than goods. Returning soldiers disproportionately displaced female and minority workers who had entered the industrial workforce only when the war left employers no other choice. [59] Companies moved to the south and west, seeking lower taxes and a less costly, non–union workforce. Many workers followed the jobs. [60] The middle class expanded and created suburbs such as the one on Long Island. The automobile accelerated this decentralization planned communities like Levittown offered affordable middle-class housing. [60]

Larger cities stopped growing around 1950. Growth resumed only in New York City, in the 1980s. Buffalo's population fell by half between 1950 and 2000. Reduced immigration and worker migration led New York State's population to decline for the first time between 1970 and 1980. California and Texas both surpassed it in population. [ citation needed ]

New York entered its third era of massive transportation projects by building highways, notably the New York State Thruway. The project was unpopular with New York City Democrats, who referred to it as "Dewey's ditch" and the "enemy of schools", because the Thruway disproportionately benefited upstate. The highway was based on the German Autobahn and was unlike anything seen at that point in the United States. It was within 30 miles (50 km) of 90% of the population at its conception. Costing $600 million, the full 427-mile (687 km) project opened in 1956. [61]

Nelson Rockefeller was governor from 1959 to 1973 and changed New York politics. He began as a liberal, but grew more conservative: he limited SUNY's growth, responded aggressively to the Attica Prison riot, and promulgated the uniquely severe Rockefeller Drug Laws. The World Trade Center and other profligate projects nearly drove New York City into bankruptcy in 1975. The state took substantial budgetary control, which eventually led to improved fiscal prudence. [60]

The Executive Mansion was retaken by Democrats in 1974 and remained under Democratic control for 20 years under Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo. Late–century Democrats became more centrist, including US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1977–2001) and New York City Mayor Ed Koch (1978–1989), while state Republicans began to align themselves with the more conservative national party. They gained power through the elections of Senator Alfonse D'Amato in 1980, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in 1993, and Governor George Pataki in 1994. New York remained one of the most liberal states. In 1984, Ronald Reagan was the last Republican to carry the state, although Republican Michael Bloomberg served as New York City mayor in the early 21st century. [60]

In the late 20th century, telecommunication and high technology industries employed many New Yorkers. New York City was especially successful at this transition. Entrepreneurs created many small companies, as industrial firms such as Polaroid withered. This success drew many young professionals into the still–dwindling cities. New York City was the exception and has continued to draw new residents. The energy of the city created attractions and new businesses. Some people believe that changes in policing created a less threatening environment crime rates dropped, and urban development reduced urban decay. [60]

This in turn led to a surge in culture. New York City became, once again, "the center for all things chic and trendy". [60] Hip-hop and rap music, led by New York City, became the most popular pop genre. Immigration to both the city and state rose. New York City, with a large gay and lesbian community, suffered many deaths from AIDS beginning in the 1980s. [60]

New York City increased its already large share of television programming, home to the network news broadcasts, as well as two of the three major cable news networks. [ citation needed ] The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times became two of the three "national" newspapers, read throughout the country. [ citation needed ] New York also increased its dominance of the financial services industry centered on Wall Street, led by banking expansion, a rising stock market, innovations in investment banking, including junk bond trading and accelerated by the savings and loan crisis that decimated competitors elsewhere in New York.

Upstate did not fare as well as downstate the major industries that began to reinvigorate New York City did not typically spread to other regions. The number of farms in the state had fallen to 30,000 by 1997. City populations continued to decline while suburbs grew in area, but did not increase proportionately in population. [60] High-tech industry grew in cities such as Corning and Rochester. Overall New York entered the new millennium "in a position of economic strength and optimism". [17]

New York entered a new era following the September 11, 2001 attacks, [60] the worst terrorist attack ever to take place on American soil. Two of the four hijacked passenger jets crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, destroying them, and killing almost 3,000 people. One flew into the Pentagon demolishing the walls. The final one was almost taken back over by the passengers aboard and crashed into an open grassland with 296 out of the 500 people dead. [62] Thousands of New Yorkers volunteered their time to search the ruin for survivors and remains in the following weeks.

Following the attacks, plans were announced to rebuild the World Trade Center site. 7 World Trade Center became the first World Trade Center skyscraper to be rebuilt in five years after the attacks. One World Trade Center, four more office towers, and a memorial to the casualties of the September 11 attacks are under construction as of 2011. One World Trade Center opened on November 3, 2014. [63]

New York City became a hotspot for coronavirus cases, and the state went on lockdown.

The American Revolution: A History of Violence

America’s Violent Birth
By Holger Hoock
Illustrated. 559 pp. Crown Publishers. $30.

Gangs prowl the streets, armed with improvised weapons, hunting political opponents, whom they often scourge, sometimes hang and occasionally burn. Captors shackle their prisoners in darkness, in underground chambers too small to allow them to stand. Soldiers plunder houses and rape wives and daughters, sometimes in front of their husbands and fathers, the violation of the women justified as a weapon of war, “a fortunate stroke … in mending the breed,” as one newspaper puts it.

Such images more readily conjure up scenes from Srebrenica or Kigali or Mosul than from the fledgling United States some two and a quarter centuries ago. As the runaway success of “Hamilton” amply demonstrates, American audiences prefer to imagine the nation’s birth pangs as a series of dexterous verbal battles played out more or less civilly, in the proverbial rooms where it happened. Holger Hoock will have none of it. As this revelatory and sometimes punishing study documents, the United States took shape not only in coffeehouses and on the pages of political pamphlets, but also on blood-soaked battlefields. “I have no relish for civil Wars & there is no such thing as being a looker on,” one New Yorker wrote in 1775. “Scars of Independence” makes lookers-on of us all, forcing readers to confront the visceral realities of a conflict too often bathed in warm, nostalgic light.

A German trained in England as a historian of the British Empire, Hoock trumpets the novelty of his angle of vision in what he calls the “first book on the American Revolution and the Revolutionary War to adopt violence as its central analytical and narrative focus.” He marshals a good deal of startling new evidence, the fruits of prodigious research in British archives too rarely used by historians of colonial America and the early United States. But conceptually, “Scars of Independence” also owes a large debt to other scholars’ efforts to reframe the revolutionary era. Like Kathleen DuVal’s “Independence Lost,” Maya Jasanoff’s “Liberty’s Exiles” and Alan Taylor’s “American Revolutions,” Hoock maps a war far broader — both strategically and geographically — than the founding of the United States. Following their lead, he takes in the view from London and from the North American interior as well as from Boston, New York and Philadelphia. (The Caribbean, a focus of some of the best recent works, is largely missing here.) Hoock’s account of the insights and blind spots of George III’s ministry leans on the work of Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy in “The Men Who Lost America” his analysis of the careful grooming and deployment of ethnic hatreds accords with Robert G. Parkinson’s pioneering research in “The Common Cause.” And like all of these works (and my own recent book on the subject), Hoock recovers a conflict in which “the motivations of the Revolutionaries were complex,” and in which Patriots, Loyalists and neutrals all mingled “principle and pragmatism.”

Yet the Patriots’ battle for independence was, to the British crown, not war but rebellion. From the perspective of George III’s ministry, the American cause was an insurgency: an uprising of once (and rightfully) loyal subjects rather than a conflict between sovereign rival nations. British political and military leaders confronted what Hoock calls a “strategic-moral dilemma”: how to crush the insurrection without driving the rebels further from the imperial fold and closer to each other? The distinction between waging war and suppressing rebellion mattered, too, on the fields of battle, where engagements often slipped the porous boundaries dividing state-sanctioned, choreographed regular combat from irregular or “desolation warfare.” Flags of surrender meant little in such a conflict. Captured patriots were not prisoners whose care was governed by established norms, but rather traitors “destined to the cord,” General Gage told General Washington early in the conflict.

The treatment of battlefield captives and the arming of the enslaved nourished on all sides of the long, grinding civil war “an enduring desire for revenge.” Hoock documents reprisals as creative as they were brutal. In New Jersey in 1782, for example, a cascading series of quasi-official executions — a Loyalist murdered by Patriot troops, then a Patriot strung up for the Loyalist’s killing, then a British officer picked by lot to mount the scaffold for the Patriot’s death — embodied the paradoxical notion of “lex talionis”: the law of retaliation.

Narratives of atrocity were themselves weapons of war, and “both sides recognized the power of print media,” Hoock points out. The Patriots’ near monopoly on American printing presses meant that reports of British and Hessian cruelty spread and survived disproportionately. But Patriots, too, engaged in decidedly irregular warfare, especially with Britain’s native allies. Hoock narrates the brutal “campaign of terror” Gen. John Sullivan waged in Iroquoia during the summer of 1779, a scorched-earth march involving one-third of the total Continental fighting force. George Washington himself planned the campaign, telling Sullivan to pursue “the total destruction and devastation of their settlements and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more,” wrote the Patriots’ supreme commander, whom the Seneca nicknamed Town Destroyer. Sullivan followed Washington’s orders his men put at least 41 Indian towns to the torch. They desecrated native graves, raped native women and mutilated native bodies for profit and for sport. One lieutenant, William Barton, sent a party of his men “to look for some dead Indians.” The soldiers returned to camp having skinned two of them from their hips down for boot legs: a pair for Barton’s commander and “the other for myself,” he wrote in his official journal.

If war was hell, it was also gold. “British massacres … became highly effective assets in the Patriots’ moral war,” Hoock writes. So, too, in his own narrative, and just in time for Father’s Day. “Scars of Independence” veritably drips with patriotic gore, wallowing in the details of bayonet attacks, tomahawk chops and “the awful sound of musket butts against a skull.” On occasion, Hoock’s sources lead his tone, and his generally brisk and vivid prose turns purple, as when he introduces the unfortunate Loyalist captives in Kingston, N.Y., who, like characters out of Dickens, if not Frances Hodgson Burnett, had “only lice and fleas for company.” The best war writers, from Pat Barker to Tim O’Brien to Phil Klay, often create the highest drama from the quietest moments. Hoock too often looks for glory in guts.

Where “Scars of Independence” scours the wounds, it rushes the reckoning promised by its title: the suturing together of this battered body politic, and the subsequent bleaching of the bloody national fabric. We know a good deal more about the fate of exiled Loyalists than we do about the reintegration of those who remained through or returned after America’s violent birth. On this question Hoock presents tantalizing evidence all too quickly. He also offers a fascinating, brief broad-brush sketch of the ways Americans scrubbed their own revolutionary record, making all Americans into Patriots, and Patriots into warriors who bled but rarely bloodied. From the early 1800s, historians outsourced the violence of the Revolutionary War, first to the British and then, by the time of World War I, to “savage Indians and brutish Hessians.” As decades became centuries, the concerted efforts of survivors, descendants, scholars and even congressmen washed the United States clean of its origins in violent internecine struggle.

Holger Hoock’s important book recovers a rawer, more ruthless national beginning: a war long on wounds and short on principles — a war, in short, like any other. But he has not fully plumbed the implications of this new origins story. “The violent story of the nation’s not-so-immaculate conception reads as a cautionary tale,” he writes. But what, precisely, is its moral? The myth of an America conceived in love and sprung fully formed from the thigh of George Washington misshapes our present as much as it distorts our past. Hoock’s research casts a startling light on that primal scene. We must not turn away. Yet I can’t help wishing that he’d spent fewer pages watching blood pool in the gutters, and more time looking at the scars.

When New York City Was a (Literal) Battlefield

With old maps in one hand and Google Maps in the other, the author Russell Shorto roams across the city’s five boroughs, searching for remnants of the American Revolution.

The Morris-Jumel Mansion in northern Manhattan served as Gen. George Washington’s temporary military headquarters. Credit. Todd Heisler/The New York Times

New York City is a battlefield. I know what you’re thinking — psychological warfare, the endless grim clashing of economic forces — but I am being literal. When we ponder America’s defining war, the Revolution, we think of Bunker Hill, or Saratoga, or Lexington and Concord, yet its largest battle, a vast and ferociously fought chess match in August and September of 1776, right after the formal declaration of the colonies’ independence, ranged over what are now the five boroughs. As to why the place was so hotly contested, you already know the answer. Then, as now, as ever, New York City was the center of it all. Both sides believed that if the British took control of New York and the Hudson River, the American resistance would likely collapse.

The battle isn’t as well known today as other encounters during the Revolution, in part because the city has done an excellent job of removing most traces of it. Where Boston sets aside hallowed historic precincts and wends a handsome brick Freedom Trail through its Revolutionary sites, New York City buries its past under mountains of concrete and steel. Hills have been flattened, islands swallowed up by landfill, shorelines redrawn.

But I was determined to find Revolutionary New York, and I did eventually, after a fashion. It helped that I had an organizing principle. I was researching a book, and, since my book isn’t about military strategy I wasn’t trying to cover all of the complex maneuverings of troops. I write narrative history, which to me means focusing on people’s lives. Getting to know the places in which those lives unfolded helps me in my efforts to get into the individuals’ heads and hearts.

The book tells the story of the founding era by following the interwoven stories of six people from the period, from birth to death. They include a Connecticut slave, a Seneca warrior, a British aristocrat and an Albany shoemaker. But it was because of the other two — a Virginia planter and the teenage daughter of a British officer — that I found myself going from subway to bus to ferry around the five boroughs, with old maps in one hand and Google Maps in the other. These two figures of 18th-century America were caught up in the mayhem of New York. They gave my journey through the city’s past what I always crave when I write, research or travel: a personal angle.

George Washington is everyone’s touchstone for the Revolution, and I made him mine as well. To orient myself alongside the commander of the American Army in New York, I began at “the commons,” now City Hall Park, joining municipal workers on the benches at lunch hour. On July 9, 1776, as British soldiers were gathering on Staten Island and preparing to attack Manhattan, Washington arrayed his troops here and had the newly minted Declaration of Independence read aloud to them. The men were so roused up they charged southward and pulled down the statue of King George at what is now Bowling Green. I hiked down to the same spot and stood there, surrounded by the skyscrapers of the Financial District. Washington was furious at the lack of discipline, but pleased at the men’s ardor.

The cheery mood of the troops ended abruptly. Walking a few blocks westward gave me a view of the Hudson River, where Washington was able to join the rest of the shocked town in observing two British warships race up the river with their guns blasting, sending cannonballs careering into the streets. It was a test of the American defenses they failed.


In truth, it was a harrowing situation for the would-be nation, and Washington was frankly uncertain of his ability. His military record was mixed, and most of his service had come two decades earlier, in the French and Indian War. Much of what he had learned of military leadership had been from a book. He was 44, burning with ambition but saddled with an inferiority complex due to his lack of formal education. He was learning on the fly.

While he was trying to perform the impossible task of defending miles of shoreline, an odd diplomatic comedy ensued. The British wanted to negotiate, and officers arrived bearing letters intended for Washington. But the letters did not give the American commander his proper title. Washington knew how important protocol was, and refused to accept them.

Then another letter arrived. Surprisingly, it was not addressed to Washington, but to a Miss Margaret Moncrieffe. She was the daughter of Major Thomas Moncrieffe, who had chosen to side with the British. The father was now on Staten Island, but Margaret was trapped behind enemy lines — i.e., in New York with the Americans — and Major Moncrieffe wanted Washington to deliver her over to him.

I chose young Margaret Moncrieffe as one of my subjects in part because of this slender connection to Washington, in part because of the vibrancy of her personality, but most of all because as her life unfolded I saw her as embodying one aspect of the wider yearning for freedom that America’s Revolution was a part of: the desire of women for some measure of independence. In the summer of 1776, Margaret was only 14, but she was about to reveal her nature by standing up to the most powerful man in America.

Washington likely had no idea who this girl was when the letter arrived, but he soon found out. While standing in the little grassy teardrop of Bowling Green, I focused on one of the office buildings before me, 1 Broadway, and held up over it an engraving of the structure that had once stood on or about this same spot. That building had served as the American military headquarters. Here, in the midst of preparations for war, and following the collapse of peace negotiations, Washington hosted a formal dinner. A toast was offered to the Continental Congress, the gathering of representatives from the 13 colonies in Philadelphia. General Washington noticed that the girl at the table did not raise her glass. Margaret Moncrieffe had been invited to join the American officers while they decided what to do with her. Despite having partly grown up in the city, Margaret followed her father’s loyalties and, like thousands of other New Yorkers, was rooting for the British. She now scandalized the gathering and personally affronted Washington by offering a counter toast, to Gen. William Howe, Washington’s opposite on the British side.

For a moment, the reserved and deeply formal commander of American forces faced off with an impudent and headstrong teenager. Then Washington ended the standoff with a bit of levity, promising to find a way to send the girl to her father on Staten Island, and asking that once there she offer a toast to the American commanders.

Since the building at the foot of Manhattan was alive with military secrets, and seeing as this girl was both observant and openly disposed toward the enemy, Washington thought it prudent to send her away until arrangements could be made to transfer her to the British. She found herself shipped to one of the many fortifications the Americans had constructed, at Kingsbridge, in the Bronx, just opposite the northern tip of Manhattan.

I went there too. From the 231st Street subway it was a steady uphill hike. The fort is gone, of course. In place of farms and military outposts I found Chinese takeouts and check-cashing outlets. Then I was met by a steep set of stairs — a step-street — flanked by a Kingsbridge Heights community art project: two painted trees.

I climbed the trees — that is, I marched to the top of the steps. Up here, wedged between three avenues — Sedgewick, Reservoir and Webb — lies a scallop of a playground and a weedy strip of park. Part of it, emerging from an outcropping of schist, is called Washington’s Walk. There’s a plaque marking this as the location of one of the American defensive posts. Looking up from the plaque, I saw why the spot was chosen. You’re high up. The expanse of sky is a surprise. Down below, the Jerome Park Reservoir, though man-made in 1906 and bound by land, reminds you of what these forts were for: monitoring the rivers for signs of the British Navy.

Here young Margaret was meant to wait until diplomats could arrange for her to be reunited with her father. And here, improbably, she fell in love. None other than Aaron Burr, who at age 21 was already known as a ladies man, was stationed at Kingsbridge. The two young people apparently managed to find some time alone amid the soldiers and the gathering chaos, for Margaret later declared that Burr “subdued my virgin heart.”

As a result, suddenly, she changed her mind. She had been desperate to reach her father, but now she didn’t want to leave Burr. But the two enemy commands had made their arrangements. Against her will, she was rowed out into the Hudson River and southward, toward Staten Island.

I followed her, on the Staten Island Ferry. When we were somewhere in the Upper Bay — past Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, the choppy green-brown water below as somber as death — I imagined the scene of her wobbly transfer from an American to a British boat, as two armies that were about to engage in a world-historic conflict paused to do this small human thing.

From the terminal on Staten Island I marched uphill to Tompkinsville Park, which I understood roughly marked the place where the British Navy gathered as General Howe prepared to attack. It was a windswept little triangle of urban greenery, hemmed in by traffic, but with a bit of wandering I was able to get a view down onto the bay, which would have been crowded with naval vessels flying the British flag.

Those ships, 400 of them, were now fully occupying Washington’s mind. Where would Howe choose to strike? With no way of knowing, Washington strung his men out in a long, skinny line across six miles of Brooklyn and Manhattan shoreline.

Then Howe moved: On Aug. 22, 22,000 British soldiers crossed from Staten Island more or less where the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge stands, hit the beach at Gravesend Bay in Brooklyn and began decimating the American forces.

Washington stayed on Manhattan for a time, believing Howe would launch another strike there. Then from the East River shore he saw the signal lights of his men on Brooklyn Heights indicating that the whole British force was enveloping Brooklyn. He crossed the river.

Cobble Hill is now the name of a neighborhood, but in the 18th century it was an actual hill. The Americans had built a fort atop it, and from here Washington oversaw the action to the south. The former bank building at Atlantic Avenue and Court Street sits where the hill stood. My plan was to get to the roof and give myself the same view Washington had. But the manager of the Trader Joe’s that now occupies the building informed me that the staircase to the roof was unsafe. I tried piecing together Washington’s view of the Battle of Brooklyn (which is also known as the Battle of Long Island) from the upper floors of the YMCA on Atlantic Avenue and the roof of a nearby apartment building.

But that wasn’t very satisfying, so I ended up plunging into the battle. I marched down Smith Street, past hipster lounges, juice bars and bagel shops, past Carroll Street with its little front gardens, and turned left on Third Street. The neighborhood became industrial, which somehow seemed more suitable for mentally recreating a battlefield.

Crossing the Gowanus Canal, which then was a creek, I reached the center of the fighting. With the American forces in disarray, Gen. William Alexander made a stand here, in front of the stone farmhouse of Nicholas Vechte, leading a Maryland regiment in a furious counterattack that bought time for much of Washington’s bedraggled army to retreat to Brooklyn Heights.

Imagining the fight was made immensely more satisfying by virtue of the fact that the Old Stone House, a reconstruction of Vechte’s farmhouse, stands snugly in the middle of Washington Park, at Third Street between Fourth and Fifth Avenues. Parts of the original Dutch house, around which the fighting took place, were used in the 1933 reconstruction, and the building was moved across the park from where it originally stood, but it’s still as evocative of the period as it is anomalous in the neighborhood.

Even better, inside, the new permanent exhibition, which went up in 2016, is packed with interpretive displays. Most useful to me was a three-dimensional diorama that shows Brooklyn in its original hilly state. Even more challenging for me than mentally deleting the brownstones and office buildings from the landscape was appreciating its geography. The diorama makes clear why Washington decided to deploy his smaller army as he did, along a series of steep hills that ran between present-day Fulton Street and Eastern Parkway and south to Greenwood Heights. (Later I gave myself another sense of the original terrain by hiking the hills of Green-Wood Cemetery.)

The Americans protected the passes between the hills, but the British found that the Jamaica Pass was unguarded and swarmed through. Washington then executed one of the most brilliant maneuvers of the war, using fog and the cover of darkness to get 9,000 soldiers safely across the East River to Manhattan. I mirrored their retreat, taking the ferry from Pier Six to Wall Street, on what turned out to be an appropriately heavy, gray morning.

The escape of the American Army stunned the British, and Howe, the victor in the battle, took his time regrouping and planning how he would conquer the city and finish off Washington’s army.

Washington, on the run, guessed that Howe would attack either in the south, directly on New York itself, or to the north, at Harlem. He placed an army at Corlears Hook, just north of the city, and chose the mansion of Roger Morris, a wealthy loyalist who had earlier fled the city, as his military headquarters. From here he studied maps, held court-martials and scanned the river below. The Morris-Jumel Mansion still exists, near West 160th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, and as a museum maintains its 18th-century decorum. Its revolutionary vibe was enough to draw, among others, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who lives in the same Washington Heights neighborhood its operators allowed him to write part of “Hamilton” in the mansion.

From here, on Sept. 15, Washington heard cannon fire that told him his guesses at where Howe would attack were wrong. The explosions were coming from the south, as 9,000 men landed at Kips Bay, near where the United Nations now sits. The redcoats stormed across Manhattan. Washington fought a brilliant battle at Harlem Heights, but Howe took New York City. Washington’s army retreated up the Hudson River, and eventually into New Jersey.

Once the British had control of New York, the little city of 4,000 or so houses became, in effect, two cities: a place of stench and squalor, which had already endured much, and a genteel quarter that the British officers reserved for themselves and their families. Thus Margaret Moncrieffe made a triumphant return, and lived for a time in the center of Loyalist America. She attended the theater and danced at balls with officers, feeling for a short while that she had bested the great but stern American general with whom she had clashed.

Washington was shaken to his core by the loss of New York, writing to his cousin, “If I were to wish the bitterest curse to an enemy on this side of the grave, I should put him in my stead with my feelings.”

But war, like life, involves many twists. Despite what both sides thought, the loss of New York would not mean the end of American resolve. Washington’s side would win, and he would achieve all the honor he craved and more. Young Margaret Moncrieffe would turn out to back the losing army, and the rest of her tumultuous and ultimately tragic life, in which she would continue to defy powerful men, would unfold in Europe.

I ended my search for these two personalities of 18th-century America back at 1 Broadway, in the lobby of the building, pondering the unlikely moment they came dramatically into contact with one another. And pondering, too, the many ways that New York has been, and still is, the heart of America.

American Revolutionary War, 1775-1783

Cover from "New York in the Revolution."

The New York State Library holds an extensive collection of material on the American Revolutionary War in print, microform, and online formats. This material consists of troop rosters and other details extracted from muster and pay rolls, Loyalist records, colonial New York State history documents, military bounty land records, diaries, orderly books, personal papers of participants and broadsides. The New York State Library is also a depository for several record series compiled by New York State Chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution, including grave locations of Revolutionary soldiers and their immediate family members buried in New York State.

Listed below are publications that have been digitized from items/volumes in the New York State Library’s collection. As the State Library digitizes other Revolutionary War materials, links to the digital copy will be added to this list. The titles listed below are also available in print copy at the NYSL for use onsite. Additional materials relating to the American Revolutionary War can be found by searching the NYSL online catalog or the Finding Aids to Special Collections.

For more information, contact the Reference Desk at 518-474-5355 or via email, or see the Digital Collections FAQ.

The Balloting Book and Other Documents Relating to Military Bounty Lands in the State of New York : This book contains copies of several acts relative to Revolutionary War bounty lands and the payment given to officers and soldiers for service in the War. An alphabetical listing of the names of soldiers and officers in each regiment is provided and includes the rank and company of the soldier, the township number, the lot number, the acreage, and date of patent. Dead and miscellaneous persons laying claim to land are also listed. The book also contains Lieutenant Michael Connolly's return of names from Continental Army muster rolls and an accompanying list of names from the return of Colonel John Lamb. Another section of the book provides the number and names of townships in the military tract. The final section lists the names and lots of Canadian and Nova-Scotia refugees.

Benedict Arnold at Saratoga : This pamphlet by Issac N. Arnold is a reprint from the United Service, September 1880 and is a "reply to John Austin Stevens, and new evidence of Mr. Bancroft's error."

The Border Warfare of New York During the Revolution or, the Annals of Tryon County : Tryon County comprised the entire province west of the counties on the west bank of the Hudson. This volume by William W. Campbell was published in 1849. First edition of this book was published in 1831 under following title: Annals of Tryon County or, the Border Warfare of New York, During the Revolution.

Diary and Orderly Book of Sergeant Jonathan Burton, of Wilton, N.H…. : This volume compiled and edited by Issac W. Hammond is the diary and order book of Sergeant Jonathan Burton while he was in service in the Army on Winter Hill from December 10, 1775 – January 26, 1776. The volume also contains Lieutenant Jonathan Burton's diary and orderly book while he took part in the Canada expedition at Mount Independence from August 1, 1776 - November 29, 1776.

Dr. Auchmuty's Letter to Capt. Montresor : This broadside contains text of a letter written on April 19, 1775, by Reverend Samuel Auchmuty in New York to Captain John Montresor in Boston. The letter includes extracts from an earlier letter dated London March 4, 1775, concerning the unrest in the American colonies.

In Congress, October 4, 1777 : This broadside contains abstracts of minutes from Congress including the text of some resolutions adopted on October 4, 1777 and October 6, 1777. The topic of the abstracts relates to the appointments and responsibilities of the Commissionaires General of Purchases, their deputies, assistants and clerks. This broadside was printed in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. in October 1777

In Provincial Congress, New York, September 1, 1775 : The subject of the broadside is a resolution from the Provincial Congress dealing with inhabitants of the colony who assist and aid the "ministerial army and navy" and their punishment. The resolution is signed by Robert Benson, Secretary of the Provincial Congress. This broadside was printed in New York.

In the House of Representatives, September 17, 1776 : This broadside includes the text of a resolution that provides a process for developing and approving a constitution and form of government for the state of Massachusetts. The resolution was to be printed as "hand-bills" and sent to the selectmen of each town. Note: Town meetings have played – and still play - an important role in Massachusetts government. For more information on this topic, see the Massachusetts Citizen's Guide to Town Meetings.

New York in the Revolution as Colony and State : This publication is a compilation of papers located in the NYS Comptroller's Department that was arranged and classified by James A. Roberts, Comptroller. The papers included in the volume relate to the services performed by New York in the Revolutionary War, including muster and pay rolls of men serving in the Line, Levies, Militia, and Navy (Privateers). A personal name index and indexes to "sundry persons", pensioners and applicants for pensions, and commanding officers are included in the volume. This 2nd edition was published in 1898.

  1. Part 1 - pp. 1-96: The Line the Levies (includes map of eastern New York counties and drawings of Governor George Clinton, Colonel Philip Van Cortlandt, Brigadier General Peter Gansevoort, Brigadier General James Clinton, Captain Alexander Hamilton, and Colonel Marinus Willet)
  2. Part 2 - pp. 97-267: The Militia (includes drawings of Major General Philip Schuyler, Brigadier General Nicholas Herkimer, and Major General Richard Montgomery)
  3. Part 3 - pp. 268-534: Naval Service (Lists and Indexes)

New York in the Revolution as Colony and State: Supplement : This supplement is a compilation of papers located in the NYS Comptroller's Department related to the participation of New York State in the Revolutionary War. Included in this supplement is information on aspects of the military and naval service during the War including Courts-Martial, deserters, pay, bounties, pensions, American prisoners of war, hospitals, Indians, fortifications, military roads, military stores, clothing, provisions, privateers, and ships. The volume also includes information on the civil service during the War including the judiciary, the legislature, and the executive and executive bodies. This supplement was printed in 1901.

Revolutionary War Manuscripts in the New York State Library : This publication, edited by Stefan Bielinski, lists and describes the State Library’s holdings relating to the American Revolution that were accessioned as of April 1, 1975. Included are manuscripts and documents referring to the genesis of the revolutionary movement, the winning of independence on both the battlefields and on the home fronts, the establishment of New York State and the US, and the various reactions to each of these.

State of Massachusetts-Bay: in the House of Representatives, Feb. 5, 1777 : This broadside is a proclamation prohibiting the export of "rum, molasses, and sundry other articles" which are "all needed for the supply of the Army and the Inhabitants of this State."

Sullivan's Campaign in New York, 1779 : The text of this pamphlet by Simon L. Adler was read before the Rochester Historical Society on January 14, 1898.

15 Revolutionary War Sites in NYC That Bring Our Country's History to Life for Kids

As a diehard history nerd, I've taken my nine-year-old son to Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia (twice!), and we've visited Philadelphia and Boston, both cities with major Colonial cred, numerous times. But some of the most important Revolutionary War battles and key events took place right here in NYC, so, really, you can bring the birth of our nation to life in a way no textbook can just by using your MetroCard.

See where George Washington slept during the war and the Bible he used for his inauguration check out where the battles of Fort Washington, Harlem Heights and Brooklyn were waged and tour Founding Father Alexander Hamilton's home all without leaving the boroughs. Plus, many of these sites host special interactive activities like living historical reenactments, battles and commemorations.

Here are 15 NYC sites where kids (and grown-ups!) can connect with the events and people who helped found our country.

St Paul's Chapel – Financial District
209 Broadway at Fulton Street
Built in 1766, Trinity Church's historic chapel is NYC's oldest church building. During the Revolutionary War, Alexander Hamilton drilled troops in its churchyard. George Washington worshiped here regularly, including on his inauguration day. His pew is easy to spot: It's beneath the painting of the Great Seal of the United States. FREE

Federal Hall National Memorial – Financial District
26 Wall Street near Nassau Street
The original Federal Hall was built in 1700 and served as our nation's first Congress, Supreme Court and Executive Branch, and was where George Washington was inaugurated. Demolished in 1812, it was replaced by a Customs House and eventually became the Federal Hall National Memorial. Visitors can check out fragments of the original building along with the bible used during Washington's oath of office. In fact, the statue of our first President outside the building marks the exact spot of his swearing in. Visiting is FREE but it's only open Monday through Friday.

Morris-Jumel Mansion – Harlem
65 Jumel Terrace near Sylvan Terrace
George Washington slept here! Manhattan's oldest house was built in 1765 by British Colonel Roger Morris. Ultimately, it served as General Washington's headquarters during the 1776 Battle of Harlem Heights and, after he became President, he held a dinner here in 1790 with his cabinet, including John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. Check out Washington's bed chamber, the swanky dining room and the kitchen where the meal was prepared. Morris-Jumel Mansion also hosts frequent hands-on family programs, many of which are FREE like the annual commemoration of the Battle of Harlem Heights, George Washington’s birthday celebration and Colonial-themed Family Days.

Fraunces Tavern Museum – Financial District
54 Pearl Street near Broad Street
While the building has been renovated and repurposed several times over the centuries, this is the tavern where George Washington bid farewell to his troops at the end of the Revolutionary War. The second floor houses a museum where visitors can see the room where it all went down. On the ground floor, there's an independent upscale restaurant decked out with maps, flags and displays celebrating early American life in NYC.

Hamilton Grange National Memorial – Harlem
414 West 141st Street inside St. Nicholas Park
Founding Father Alexander Hamilton graces the $10 bill, and is best known as the country's first Secretary of the Treasury and being murdered in an infamous duel with Aaron Burr. However, Hamilton was also a soldier who rose through the ranks of General Washington's Continental Army and fought in many Revolutionary War battles. Hamilton's home, Hamilton Grange, was recently renovated and moved back to its original lot in St. Nicholas Park. Take guided tours of the period rooms, and hit the visitor center to explore his life and legacy. FREE

Fort Tryon Park – Washington Heights
Broadway to the Hudson River between 190th and Dyckman Streets
Named after Sir William Tryon, the last British governor of Colonial New York, the park was the site of the Battle of Fort Washington in 1776. Although the U.S. lost, the skirmish made Margaret Corbin famous after she took up her fallen husband's cannon. (The park's drive and circle bear her moniker.) There's a plaque dedicated to her efforts at 190th Street and Fort Washington Avenue. Every November, Fort Tryon Park marks the anniversary of the Battle of Fort Washington with reenactments by the Brigade of the American Revolution period games, crafts, music and trade demos and a tour of the battlegrounds with Corbin herself. FREE

Bowling Green – Financial District
Broadway and Whitehall Street
It's hard to imagine that this genteel public park, the first in NYC, was the location of an angry riot back in 1776. Following the first reading of the Declaration of Independence in New York State, Continental soldiers and patriots toppled the park's statue of King George III, and parts were melted down and made into ammunition. In the New-York Historical Society 's Central Park West entryway, there's a cool interactive video wall of the painting "Pulling Down the Statue of King George III" that responds to movement. Stick around until a crowd gathers and you'll be able to help virtually bring down the statue.

New-York Historical Society – Upper West Side
170 Central Park West at 77th Street
Founded in 1804, NYC's oldest museum showcases a host of artifacts from the era. Check out George Washington's inauguration chair, portraits of George and Martha Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, and the New York Rising exhibition, which includes tons of relics from the period like musket balls and British coins. Of course, the New-York Historical Society is well known for its family programming so be sure to check the calendar to find out what's going on. Its Living History Days are particularly engaging.

The Old Stone House – Park Slope
336 Third Street between Fourth and Fifth Avenues
A reconstruction of the 1699 Vechte-Cortelyou House, this museum sits in Park Slope's Washington Park, where part of the 1776 Battle of Brooklyn was waged. Learn about this bloody battle through displays of period relics like clothes, uniforms and ammunition, along with an informative diorama detailing the multiday fight. Keep an eye out: every August the battle is reenacted in Brooklyn, usually at the Old Stone House, which also hosts occasional family events. Open to the public weekends only.

Green-Wood Cemetery – Sunset Park
500 25th Street at Fifth Avenue
The famed Battle of Brooklyn included a deadly fight on Battle Hill, the highest point in the borough, now part of the historic cemetery. Green-Wood commemorates the fight every August with a living history event featuring period demos, parades and sometimes even reenactments. FREE

Fort Greene Park – Fort Greene
Myrtle Avenue to DeKalb Avenue between Washington Park and St. Edwards Street
Brooklyn's first official park was once the site of Fort Putnam, a Revolutionary War-era fort that's honored in the Fort Greene Playground. Kids can romp on a fort-like double-decker play structure, check out 13 pillars that represent the original American colonies and spot the patriotic bald eagle weather vane atop the bathroom. Fort Greene Park also commemorates and houses the remains of thousands of civilians held as British prisoners on ships in its Prison Ship Martyrs Monument.

Historic Richmond Town – Staten Island
441 Clarke Avenue
The sole living history museum in NYC, this 100-acre attraction contains elements of multiple eras, not just Colonial times. Here you can visit one of the borough's oldest homes, municipal buildings, trade shops, farms and explore Staten Island's history.

Fort Wadsworth – Staten Island
210 New York Avenue
Strategically located at the entrance to New York Harbor, Fort Wadsworth was captured by the British during the Revolutionary War and remained under their control until the conflict's end. Today, visitors can take tours of the decommissioned military base's underground tunnels and bunkers, and enjoy its great views of Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The Conference House – Staten Island
298 Satterlee Street near Hylan Boulevard
In 1776, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Edward Rutledge met with Sir William Howe, the Commander-in-Chief of British forces, at the Conference House in an unsuccessful attempt to broker peace. The museum recreates this historic event every September. One of the few remaining 17th-century manor houses in NYC, the building is open year-round for guided tours.

Van Cortlandt House Museum – the Bronx
Broadway at West 246th Street inside Van Cortlandt Park
Not only is this the oldest house in the Bronx, it's also the first historic house museum created in NYC. Located in the southern portion of Van Cortlandt Park, it was built by the wealthy Dutch Van Cortlandt family in the 17th century. During the Revolutionary War, George Washington used the house as his home base at least twice. The museum is open for guided tours throughout the year.

New York and the American Revolution - History

The British viewed New York City and the Hudson River Valley as key strategic locations. After evacuating the patriot stronghold of Boston in March of 1776, the British concentrated on New York as a base of operations. In July of 1776, shortly after the signing of Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, a huge British fleet of nearly 500 ships and 35,000 men--the largest single armed force in America until the Civil War--appeared off New York. Under the command of General William Howe, the vastly larger British forces began pushing back the smaller and less-organized American Army under the command of George Washington almost immediately. By August, Washington had withdrawn from Long Island, pulling back to Manhattan. In September of that same year, Washington and his generals, convinced of the weakness of their position in New York City, debated whether they should burn the city upon retreat, or simply leave it to the British. Under instructions from the Continental Congress to not torch the city, Washington withdrew into New Jersey, where he successfully harassed the British and their mercenary soldiers. Washington's withdrawal from Manhattan, however, had other, non-military consequences.

After the Declaration of Independence was signed, the 13 American colonies found themselves adrift without any governmental institutions. To remedy this situation in New York, New York patriots chose delegates to a Provincial Congress, which first met in New York City, the old colonial capitol. As the British drew their noose around Manhattan, the New York Congress decided to move north up to White Plains, where in July, John Jay was named chairman of a committee to draw up a State constitution. Calling itself the "Convention of the Representatives of the State of New York," the group was forced to move farther north to safety when Washington's army fully abandoned New York City. Stopping in Fishkill, New York, the delegates decided that the town's lodging's were inadequate--and too close to British forces--and moved even farther up the Hudson River Valley to Kingston in February of 1777.

The delegates found Kingston to their liking. A "government on the run" for many months, the city welcomed the delegates, opening several public buildings for the Convention's use. For two months, the delegates met in the Ulster County Courthouse, working deliberately on a State constitution. On April 22, 1777, the bells of Kingston's churches announced approval of the State's first constitution. Largely the work of chairman John Jay, the new constitution provided for the election of a Governor, a Lieutenant Governor, and members of a Senate and Assembly. In June of 1777, the State held its first elections, and George Clinton, a well-known brigadier general of the militia was sworn in in Kingston as the State's first Governor on July 30.

The Supreme Court and the Legislature stayed in Kingston until October, when Kingston found itself a small player in much larger military events. Once again forced to flee, the new government hastily adjourned at word that a British force was slowly moving north, plundering the Hudson Valley.

After George Washington had evacuated New York City almost a year earlier, General Howe had remained comfortable in the city, choosing not to campaign during the winter. In May of 1777, General Howe detached an army from Boston under the command of General John Burgoyne up to Canada. Burgoyne was to bring his troops, approximately 7,000 men, from Montreal down to Lake Champlain, capture the city of Saratoga, and then proceed from there down the Hudson River, meeting Howe's force of some 30,000 men, which was to come north up the Hudson River from New York City. In this manner, the British would secure the Hudson River Valley, which was serving a vital roll as a transportation and supply route for the American armies.

Unfortunately, Howe changed his plans after Burgoyne left for Canada. Trying to force Washington's army out into the open, the bulk of the British army marched on Philadelphia, leaving only a small force in New York City under the command of Brigadier General Henry Clinton. Howe would not be able to provide any support to Burgoyne's invasion, but instead vaguely instructed Clinton to "act offensively" and "if you can, make any diversion in favor of General Burgoyne's approaching Albany."

Burgoyne, however, needed far more help than Clinton could provide, for British plans vastly underestimated the difficulty of the terrain in Canada, as well as the ability of the Americans to gather dispersed armies together. Burgoyne captured Fort Ticonderoga on July 5, 1777, but when the army began chopping its way south through the thick forests, Burgoyne's progress slowed considerably. Troops throughout New England and New York, sensing blood, gathered around Saratoga, picking at Burgoyne's army throughout September and October.

Simultaneously, Burgoyne's position in northern New York was deteriorating rapidly. With reinforcements from all over New England and New York, an American army under the command of General Horatio Gates--led brilliantly on the field by General Benedict Arnold--managed to surround Burgoyne's army. On October 17, just a day after Vaughan's troops torched Kingston, British General Burgoyne surrendered his entire army to Gates at the Battle of Saratoga, easily one of the American army's greatest victories during the American Revolution.

Kingston, however, paid a large price for its role in the American Revolution. With many of Kingston's Dutch buildings made of stone, numerous buildings were simply gutted and not completely destroyed by the fire, but reconstruction was slow and painful. As the years passed Kingston slowly rebuilt, and by the beginning of the 19th century was once again the largest, most dominant town in the Hudson River Valley area. It would not relinquish its dominance until the 1850s, when the Hudson River once again played a major role in the area's development.

The American Revolutionfor Kids New York, New York

After being chased out of Boston, the British army was looking for a good place to reenter the colonies. The British had the world's largest and best navy. The colonists had no navy. So a place made up of islands and rivers would seem to give the advantage to the British.

New York was chosen because of its large harbor, all of the rivers in and around it, and all of the islands that make up New York City.

Washington's spies told him of the British plans so he rushed his army to New York and prepared to defend it. Washington tried four times to drive the British out of New York City, but to no avail. Washington finally gave up, and abandoned the city.

The loss of the largest colonial city, New York City, was a major blow for the colonists because New York City offered:

A major port for the British to get supplies

A centralized location in the colonies

Easy river access to the interior

The loss of New York and the defeat of General Washington at the battles of Long Island, Harlem Heights, White Plains, and Fort Washington allowed the British to do pretty much whatever they wanted to do next. So they set their sights on Philadelphia, the Capital of the 13 colonies and the home of the Continental Congress and Independence Hall.

As the British marched toward Philadelphia, Washington and his defeated army could only watch. The Continental Congress had to flee Philadelphia, moving away from the advancing British.

The British felt very confident about victory and an end to the rebellion. With winter starting the British army settled into Philadelphia to wait for spring to beat those pesky Colonials.

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