New York State's original inhabitants were Native Americans, with the two largest groups the Algonquins and the Iroquois. The Six Iroquois Nations -- the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, Senecas, and Tuscaroras -- formed the Iroquois Confederacy in 1570 at a meeting of the Great Council in Onondaga, in upstate New York and established joint rule of the area west of the Hudson River and east of Lake Erie.
France commissioned an expedition by the Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazano in 1524, and he is credited as the first European to sail into the New York Harbor. Henry Hudson, under contract to the Dutch East India Company, was searching for the fabled Northwest Passage to the Orient in 1609 when he sailed the great river that would later be named for him. The enterprising Dutch claimed the new lands and called the area New Netherland, though the Frenchman Samuel de Champlain, exploring the region around the same time, claimed the same land for France.
Colonial History & Revolutionary War -- In 1624, Dutch settlers established a colony in Fort Orange (now Albany), the first permanent European settlement. The governor of the Dutch colony purchased Manhattan Island from the Algonquins, for the bargain sum of the equivalent of about $25 in skins and furs, and called it New Amsterdam. The colony, under constant threat from Native Americans, existed solely for trade but did not exactly flourish. Four decades later, in 1664, the Dutch surrendered the colony to the English with no resistance. The new English colony was named New York, for the Duke of York (later King James II).
France and England would battle for control of North America for the better part of a century. The French and Indian War, declared by England in 1756, allied the Iroquois with the British and ended in the Treaty of Paris in 1763, effectively ending the French threat to British sovereignty in the colonies.
New York was the crown of England's American empire. With the Hudson the principal highway for transport of goods and men, New York was of pivotal strategic importance during the Revolutionary War, which began in 1776. The New York colony was divided, with many Patriots rebelling against British policies and rule, and others, Loyalists, supporting the crown. New York was the principal battleground in the Revolutionary War; about one-third of all battles, including some of the fiercest and most important, such as the tide-turning Battle of Saratoga in 1777, took place on New York territory.
Independence & the Empire State -- On July 9, 1776, New York approved the Declaration of Independence and established an independent government; the New York Senate met for the first time in Kingston in 1777. New York ratified the Constitution and became the 11th state of the Union on July 26, 1778.
British troops evacuated New York City, their longtime stronghold, November 25, 1783, and England recognized the independence of the United States. General George Washington famously bade farewell to his officers 10 days later at Fraunces Tavern in Manhattan.
After ratification of the Federal Constitution, New York City became the first capital of the new nation, a title it would hold for five years. President George Washington was inaugurated in New York on April 30, 1789. The state's economic and industrial progress prompted George Washington to nickname it the Empire State -- "the seat of our Empire." The New York Stock Exchange, founded in 1792, transformed New York into a center of global finance.
Industrial Growth -- The Erie Canal, an engineering marvel completed in 1825, opened the west of the state, linking New York City to Buffalo, and transformed the port of New York into the world's busiest commercial port. New York State quickly became the gateway to the west and the economic engine of a rapidly industrializing nation.
New York played a pivotal role in growing political consciousness. The Underground Railroad that carried slaves to freedom in Canada had many supporters and important stops in New York, and Frederick Douglass published the abolitionist paper The North Star, in Rochester in 1847. In 1848, the first Women's Rights Convention -- the origin of the women's suffrage and civil rights movements in the U.S. -- was held in Seneca Falls.
By the mid-1800s, New York was the capitol of capitalism, with great fortunes amassed in trade, shipping, and railroads. The United States' industrial growth attracted millions of poor immigrants from Europe during the 19th century, transforming New York City into a "melting pot" of cultures, races, and religions. The Statue of Liberty, a gift from France, was placed in the New York harbor on Ellis Island and dedicated in 1886, its famous inscription, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," a testament to the country's new global position. New York was by then the most populous state in the nation. By 1925, more than 12 million immigrants had passed through Ellis Island.
In October of 1929, the New York Stock Exchange crashed, leading to the Great Depression. New York Governor Franklin Roosevelt was elected President and initiated the "New Deal" jobs program.
New York City became the epicenter of the art world in the 1950s and 1960s. However, the state gradually lost population to the growing exodus south and west. New waves of immigrants, though, have continued to flock to New York City, predominantly from Latin America and Asia, and filter out across the state and country.
New York's global stature was tragically reaffirmed on September 11, 2001, when two large commercial airplanes hijacked and piloted by terrorists destroyed the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, killing nearly 3,000 people. The symbolism of striking New York was certainly not lost on the terrorists, nor was it lost on the rest of the world.
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