The region now known as New York State has been inhabited for about 10,000 years. The first Indians probably came across the Bering Strait and most likely reached New York via the Niagara Peninsula. Remains have been found in southwestern New York of the Indians called Mound Builders (for their practice of burying their dead in large mounds), who cultivated food crops and tobacco. The Mound Builders were still living in the state well after AD 1000, although by that time most of New York was controlled by later migrants of the Algonkian linguistic group. These Algonkian tribes included the Mahican in the northeast, the Wappinger in the Hudson Valley and on Long Island, and the Leni-Lenape (or Delaware) of the Delaware Valley.
Indians of the Iroquoian language group invaded the state from the north and west during the early 14th century. In 1570, after European explorers had discovered New York but before the establishment of any permanent European settlements, the main Iroquois tribes—the Onondaga, Oneida, Seneca, Cayuga, and Mohawk—established the League of the Five Nations. For the next 200 years, members of the League generally kept peace among themselves but made war on other tribes, using not only traditional weapons but also the guns they were able to get from the French, Dutch, and English. In 1715, a sixth nation joined the League—the Tuscarora, who had fled the British in North Carolina. For much of the 18th century, the Iroquois played a skillful role in balancing competing French and British interests.
The first European known to have entered New York Harbor was the Florentine navigator Giovanni da Verrazano, on 17 April 1524. The Frenchman Samuel de Champlain began exploring the St. Lawrence River in 1603. While Champlain was aiding the Huron Indians in their fight against the League in 1609, the English mariner Henry Hudson, in the service of the Dutch East India Company, entered New York Bay and sailed up the river that would later bear his name, reaching about as far as Albany. To the Dutch the area did not look especially promising, and there was no permanent Dutch settlement until 1624, three years after the Dutch West India Company had been founded. The area near Albany was first to be settled. The Dutch were mainly interested in fur trading, and agriculture in the colony—named New Netherland—was slow to develop. New Amsterdam was founded in 1626, when Director-General Peter Minuit bought Manhattan (from the Indian word manahatin, "hill island") from the Indians for goods worth—as tradition has it—about $24.
New Amsterdam grew slowly, and by 1650 had no more than 1,000 people. When the British took over New Netherland in 1664, only 8,000 residents lived in the colony. Already, however, the population was remarkably diverse: there were the Dutch and English, of course, but also French, Germans, Finns, Swedes, and Jews, as well as black slaves from Angola. The Swedes lived in what had been New Sweden, a territory along the Delaware River ceded to the Netherlands during the administration of Peter Stuyvesant. Equally famed for his wooden leg and his hot temper, Stuyvesant had become director general of the New Netherland colony in 1647. Three years later, after skirmishes with the English settlers of New England, the colony gave up all claims to the Connecticut Valley in the Treaty of Hartford.
Though small and weak, New Netherland was an annoyance to the English. The presence of Dutch traders in New York Bay made it difficult for England to enforce its monopolies under the Navigation Acts. Moreover, the Dutch colony was a political barrier between New England and two other English colonies, Maryland and Virginia. So, in 1664, King Charles II awarded "all the land from the west side of the Connecticutte River to the East Side of De La Ware Bay" to his brother, the Duke of York and Albany, the future King James II. The British fleet arrived in New York Bay on 18 August 1664. Stuyvesant wanted to fight, but his subjects refused, and the governor had no choice but to surrender. The English agreed to preserve the Dutch rights of property and inheritance, and to guarantee complete liberty of conscience. Thus New Netherland became New York. It remained an English colony for the next 112 years, except for a period in 1673 when Dutch rule was briefly restored.
The first decades under the English were stormy. After repeated demands from the colonists, a general assembly was called in 1683. The assembly adopted a Charter of Liberties and Privileges, but the document, approved by James before his coronation, was revoked after he became king in 1685. The assembly itself was dissolved in 1686, and James II acted to place New York under the dominion of New England. The plan was aborted by the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when James was forced to abdicate. Power in New York fell to Jacob Leisler, a German merchant with local backing. Leisler ruled until 1691, when a new royal governor arrived and had Leisler hanged for treason.
The succeeding decades were marked by conflict between the English and French and by the rising power of the provincial assembly in relations with the British crown. As early as 1690, a band of 150 Frenchmen and 100 Indians attacked and burned Schenectady. New York contributed men and money to campaign against the French in Canada in 1709 and 1711 (during Queen Anne's War) and in 1746 (during King George's War). In 1756, the English determined to drive the French out of the region once and for all. After some early reverses, the English defeated the French in 1760. The Treaty of Paris (1763), ending the French and Indian War, ceded all territory east of the Mississippi to England, except for New Orleans and two islands in the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. The Iroquois, their power weakened during the course of the war, signed treaties giving large areas of their land to the New York colony.
The signing of the Treaty of Paris was followed by English attempts to tighten control over the colonies, in New York as elsewhere. New York merchants vehemently protested the Sugar Act and Stamp Act, and the radical Sons of Liberty made their first appearance in the colony in October 1765. Later, in 1774, after Paul Revere brought news of the Boston Tea Party to New York City, British tea was also dumped into that city's harbor. Nevertheless, New York hesitated before committing itself to independence. The colony's delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia were not permitted by the Third Provincial Congress in New York to vote either for or against the Declaration of Independence on 4 July 1776. The Fourth Provincial Congress, meeting at White Plains, did ratify the Declaration five days later. On 6 February 1778, New York became the second state to ratify the Articles of Confederation.
Nearly one-third of all battles during the Revolutionary War took place on New York soil. The action there began when troops under Ethan Allen captured Fort Ticonderoga in May 1775, and Seth Warner and his New England forces took Crown Point. Reverses came in 1776, however, when George Washington's forces were driven from Long Island and Manhattan by the British; New York City was to remain in British hands for the rest of the war. Troops commanded by British General John Burgoyne recaptured Ticonderoga in July 1777, but were defeated in October at Saratoga, in a battle that is often considered the turning point of the war. In 1778, General Washington made his headquarters at West Point, which General Benedict Arnold tried unsuccessfully to betray to the British in 1780. Washington moved his forces to Newburgh in 1782, and marched into New York City on 25 November 1785, the day the British evacuated their forces. On 4 December, he said farewell to his officers at Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan, a landmark that still stands.
Even as war raged, New York State adopted its first constitution on 20 April 1777. The constitution provided for an elected governor and house of assembly, but the franchise was limited to property holders. The first state capital was Kingston, but the capital was moved to Albany in January 1797. After much debate, in which the Federalist Alexander Hamilton played a leading role, the state ratified the US Constitution (with amendments) on 26 July 1788. New York City served as the seat of the US government from 11 January 1785 to 12 August 1790, and the first US president, George Washington, was inaugurated in the city on 30 April 1789.
George Clinton was the state's first elected governor, serving from 1777 to 1795 and again from 1801 to 1804. The achievements under his governorship were considerable. Commerce and agriculture expanded, partly because of Clinton's protectionist policies and partly because of the state's extremely favorable geographical situation.
The end of the War of 1812 signaled the opening of an era of unprecedented economic expansion for the state. By this time, the Iroquois were no longer a threat (most had sided with the British during the Revolutionary War, and many later fled to Canada). Migrants from New England were flocking to the state, which the census of 1810 showed was the most populous in the country. Small wonder that New York was the site of the early 19th century's most ambitious engineering project: construction of the Erie Canal. Ground was broken for the canal in 1817, during the first term of Governor De Witt Clinton, the nephew of George Clinton; the first vessels passed through the completed canal in 1825.
Actually, New York had emerged as the nation's leading commercial center before the canal was even started. The textile industry had established itself by the mid-1820s, and the dairy industry was thriving. The effects of the canal were felt most strongly in foreign trade—by 1831, 50% of US imports and 27% of US exports passed through the state—and in the canal towns of Utica, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo, where business boomed.
Commercial progress during this period was matched by social and cultural advancement. New York City became a center of literary activity during the 1820s, and by the 1840s was already the nation's theatrical capital. A new state constitution drafted in 1821 established universal white male suffrage, but retained the property qualifications for blacks. Slavery was abolished as of 4 July 1827 (few slaves actually remained in the state by this time), and New Yorkers soon took the lead in the growing antislavery movement. The first women's rights convention in the US was held in Seneca Falls in 1848—though women would have to wait until 1917 before winning the right to vote in state elections. Also during the 1840s, the state saw the first of several great waves of European immigration. The Irish and Germans were the earliest major arrivals during the 19th century, but before World War I they would be joined—not always amicably—by Italians and European Jews.
New Yorkers voted for Abraham Lincoln in the presidential election of 1860 and were among the readiest recruits to the Union side. Enthusiasm for the conflict diminished during the next two years, however. When the military draft reached New York City on 11 July 1863, the result was three days of rioting in which blacks were lynched and the homes of prominent abolitionists were burned. But New York was not a wartime battleground, and overall the war and Reconstruction were very good for business.
The decades after the Civil War ushered in an era of extraordinary commercial growth and political corruption. This was the Gilded Age, during which entrepreneurs became multimillionaires and New York was transformed from an agricultural state to an industrial giant. In 1860, the leading manufactures in the state were flour and meal, men's clothing, refined sugar, leather goods, liquor, and lumber; 90 years later, apparel, printing and publishing, food, machinery, chemicals, fabricated metal products, electrical machinery, textiles, instruments, and transportation equipment had became the dominant industries.
The key to this transformation was the development of the railroads. The boom period for railroad construction started in the 1850s and reached its high point after 1867, when "Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt, who had been a steamboat captain in 1818, took over the New York Central. During the 1860s, native New Yorkers like Jay Gould and Russell Sage made their fortunes through investment and speculation. Especially during the century's last two decades, corporate names that today are household words began to emerge: Westinghouse Electric in 1886, General Electric (as Edison Electric) in 1889, Eastman Kodak in 1892. In 1882, another native New Yorker, John D. Rockefeller, formed the Standard Oil Trust; although the trust would eventually be broken up, the Rockefeller family would help shape New York politics for many decades to come.
The period immediately following the Civil War also marked a new high in political influence for the Tammany Society (or "Tammany Hall"), founded in 1789 as an anti-Federalist organization. From 1857 until his exposure by the press in 1871, Democrat William March "Boss" Tweed ruled Tammany and effectively dominated New York City by dispersing patronage, buying votes, and bribing legislators and judges. Tammany went into temporary eclipse after the Tweed Ring was broken up, and Republicans swept the state in 1872. The first result was a series of constitutional changes, including one abolishing the requirement that blacks hold property in order to vote. A new constitution approved in 1894, and effective in 1895, remains the basic law of New York State today.
During the Union's first 100 years, New York's political life had projected into national prominence such men as Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, George and De Witt Clinton, Martin Van Buren, and Millard Fillmore. The state's vast population—New York held more electoral votes than any other state between 1812 and 1972—coupled with its growing industrial and financial power, enhanced the prestige of state leaders during the nation's second century. Grover Cleveland, though born in New Jersey, became mayor of Buffalo, then governor of New York, and finally the 22nd US president in 1885. Theodore Roosevelt was governor of New York, then became vice president and finally president of the US in 1901. In 1910, Charles Evans Hughes resigned the governorship to become an associate justice of the US Supreme Court; he also served as secretary of state, and in 1930 was appointed chief justice of the US. By the 1920s, Tammany had rebounded from the Tweed Ring breakup and from another scandal during the 1890s to reach its peak of prestige: Alfred E. Smith, a longtime member of Tammany, as well as an able and popular official, was four times elected governor and in 1928 became the first Roman Catholic candidate to be nominated by a major party for the presidency of the US. That year saw the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt as governor of New York.
The 1930s, a period of depression, ushered in a new wave of progressive government. From 1933 until 1945, FDR was in the White House. Roosevelt's successor in the statehouse was Herbert H. Lehman, whose Little New Deal established the basic pattern of present state social welfare policies that had begun on a much more modest scale during Smith's administration. The Fusion mayor of New York City at this time—propelled into office by yet another wave of exposure of Tammany corruption—was the colorful and popular Fiorello H. La Guardia.
The decades following World War II saw extraordinary expansion of New York social services, including construction of the state university system, but also an erosion of the state's industrial base. Fiscal crises were not new to the state—reformers in the 1920s railed against New York City's "spendthrift" policies—but the greatly increased scale of government in the 1970s made the fiscal crisis of 1975 unprecedented in its scope and implications. The city's short-term debt grew from virtually zero to about $6 billion between 1970 and 1975, although its government reported consistently balanced budgets. Eventually a package totaling $4.5 billion in aid was needed to avoid bankruptcy. The decreasing pace of population and industrial growth during the 1950s and 1960s, and the decline during the 1970s, also led to a dimming of New York's political fortunes. The single dominant political figure in New York after World War II, Nelson A. Rockefeller (governor, 1958–73), tried and failed three times to win the Republican presidential nomination before his appointment to the vice-presidency in 1974. Unable to overcome the hostility of his party's conservative wing, he was not renominated for the vice-presidency in 1976. In 1984, however, US Representative Geraldine Ferraro of Queens was the Democratic Party's vice-presidential standard-bearer, and Governor Mario M. Cuomo emerged as an influential Democratic spokesman. After serving for 12 years, Cuomo was replaced in 1995 by State Senator George Pataki, the first Republican elected New York governor since 1970.
From the late 1970s through the late 1980s, New York enjoyed an economic boom, particularly in finance, insurance, real estate and construction. The state budget increased in constant dollars by 20%. While much of that increase compensated for cuts in federal aid to states and was directed at education, municipalities, schools and prisons, some went to meet new needs such as homelessness and AIDS victims. Prosperity did not reach all sectors of the economy or the population, however. In 1984, 25% of the residents of New York City lived below the poverty line. The collapse of the stock market in October of 1987, in which the market plunged 36% in two months, not only forced a retrenchment on Wall Street but also signaled the end of the boom and the beginning of a recession that was quite severe in New York, exacerbated by the curtailment of federal funding by the Reagan and Bush administrations. Unemployment peaked in 1992, and by 1994 a recovery was under way.
The boom economy of the late 1990s boosted Wall Street, with the bulls dominating the stock market despite some historic losses, particularly in the technology sector, which analysts later categorized as "market corrections." In 1998 New York had the 4th-highest per capita income in the nation ($31,679) but it also had more people living below the poverty level than 45 other states, again indicating prosperity had not reached into all sectors.
The 1990s witnessed the settlement of the lawsuits surrounding Love Canal in Buffalo, where leaking chemical wastes in the 1970s and early 1980s had prompted the state and federal governments to pay to move families from the area. In the largest legal settlement in New York's history, in 1994 Occidental Petroleum Corp. agreed to pay $98 million in damages for the dumping of hazardous wastes at Love Canal, ending 16 years of litigation.
The state, which dropped from the nation's 2nd to 3rd most populous in 1994, retained the ranking in 2003. According to Census Bureau estimates, the state had over 19 million people in 2001—surpassed only by California and Texas. New York's Hispanic population was estimated to be roughly the same in number as its African American population (African Americans 15.9%; Hispanics 15.1%).
In mid-1999, in the midst of a budget impasse in the state legislature, the government determined it would sell state facilities. A resulting deal, reached in 2000, saw the state selling two nuclear plants for a total asking price of $967 million. It was the largest privatization of state assets in New York history.
Transportation in and around New York City was the focus of the statehouse and legislature in 2000. Governor George Pataki and New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, a fellow Republican, had squared off over issues surrounding the Port Authority, which the states jointly control. The governors resolved their differences in June 2000. They cleared the way for the construction of a $200-million cargo hub for the world's largest ocean carrier (Maersk Sealand) and reopened the possibility that the World Trade Center, which the Port Authority still controlled, could be turned over to a private developer. Meanwhile, lawmakers heard arguments for and against a proposed $17-billion project to be undertaken by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). Advocates argued the public works plan, which would result in the largest sale of municipal bonds in US history, was necessary to build a new generation of subways, buses, and trains to serve the greater New York area. Opponents believed the project would pose disaster for the MTA, burying the agency under a mountain of debt and rendering it unable to maintain the existing transportation systems.
New York City was one site of the nation's worst terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, when hijackers from the al-Qaeda terrorist organization flew two passenger airliners into the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center, destroying them. Another aircraft hit the Pentagon building in Washington, D.C., and a fourth crashed into a field in Stony Creek Township, Pennsylvania. Officials estimated that as of 2002, 3,066 people had died, were missing, or presumed dead as a result of the attacks. The city and the nation went into a long period of mourning.
Berlin-based architect Daniel Libeskind's design for rebuilding "Ground Zero" (the site of the demolished World Trade Center) was accepted in 2003; New Yorkers had expressed dissatisfaction with the original designs, which were thought to be uninspiring. Construction at the site was not to begin until 2005 at the earliest. Libeskind's design features a complex of angular towers and a spire that would be among the world's tallest structures.
New York was one of the states affected by the 14 August 2003 massive power blackout in Canada, the Northeast and midwestern states. The largest electrical outage in US history affected 9,300 square miles and a population of over 50 million.
Following the decline of the stock market on Wall Street and the US recession in the early 2000s, New York in 2003 was plagued with economic woes. The state faced a budget deficit of $10 billion in 2003.