New York harbor was visited by Verrazano in 1524, and the
Hudson River was first explored by Henry Hudson in 1609. The
Dutch settled here permanently in 1624 and for 40 years they
ruled over the colony of New Netherland. It was conquered by
the English in 1664 and was then named New York in honor of
the Duke of York.
Existing as a colony of Great Britain for over a century,
New York declared its independence on July 9, 1776, becoming
one of the original 13 states of the Federal Union. The next
year, on April 20, 1777, New York's first constitution was
In many ways, New York State was the principal battleground
of the Revolutionary War. Approximately one-third of the
skirmishes and engagements of the war were fought on New
York soil. The Battle of Saratoga, one of the decisive
battles of the world, was the turning point of the
Revolution leading to the French alliance and thus to
eventual victory. New York City, long occupied by British
troops, was evacuated on November 25, 1783. There, on
December 4 at Fraunces Tavern, General George Washington
bade farewell to his officers.
The First Government of New York State
The first government of New York State grew out of the
Revolution. The State Convention that drew up the
Constitution created a Council of Safety which governed for
a time and set the new government in motion. In June 1777,
while the war was going on, an election for the first
governor took place. Two of the candidates, Philip Schuyler
and George Clinton, were generals in the field. Two others,
Colonel John Jay and General John Morin Scott, were
respectively leaders of the aristocratic and democratic
groups in the Convention. On July 9, George Clinton was
declared elected and he was inaugurated as Governor at
Kingston, July 30, 1777. Albany became the capital of the
State in January 1797.
The First Capital of the New Nation
Alexander Hamilton was a leader in the movement which ended
in the development of the Federal Constitution, and he was
active in its ratification. New York City became the first
capital of the new nation, where President George Washington
was inaugurated on April 30, 1789.
The Empire State
In following years, New York's economic and industrial
growth made appropriate the title "The Empire State," an
expression possibly originated by George Washington in 1784.
In 1809, Robert Fulton's "North River Steamboat," the first
successful steam-propelled vessel, began a new era in
The Erie Canal, completed in 1825, greatly enhanced the
importance of the port of New York and caused populous towns
and cities to spring up across the state. The Erie Canal was
replaced by the Barge Canal in 1918; and the system of
waterways was further expanded by the construction of the
St. Lawrence Seaway.
Overland transportation grew rapidly from a system of
turnpikes established in the early 1880s to the modern day
Governor Thomas E. Dewey New York State Thruway. By 1853,
railroads, that had started as short lines in 1831, crossed
the state in systems like the Erie and New York Central.
Statue of Liberty
Located in New York harbor, the Statue of Liberty was
formally presented to the U.S. Minister to France, Levi
Parsons on July 4, 1884 by Ferdinand Lesseps, representing
the Franco-American Union.
The cornerstone was laid in August 1884 and the Statue of
Liberty arrived in June 1885, in 214 packing crates.
President Grover Cleveland dedicated the Statue of Liberty
on October 28, 1886, when the last rivet was put into place.
During the nineteenth century, America became a haven for
many of the oppressed people of Europe, and New York City
became the "melting pot." The Statue of Liberty (dedicated
in 1886 in the harbor), with its famous inscription, "Give
me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to
breathe free," was the first symbol of America's mission.