New York State

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NEW YORK STATE Location, Geography, and Climate

New York State is located in the northeast region of the United States. New York City and Long Island border on the Atlantic Ocean, and the state stretches westward to the Great Lakes of Ontario and Erie. These lakes, along with the St. Lawrence River, form the northern border of the state with Canada. To the east, New York borders Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut; to the south, New Jersey and Pennsylvania; to the west, a short stretch of the state borders Ohio. The topography of the state is made up primarily of mountains, hills, woodlands, valleys, and fertile meadows. Ancient glacier formations and movements created rivers, gorges, and waterfalls that are among the most spectacular in the world. Niagara Falls, for example, which straddles the border with Canada in the northwest section of the state, is one of the most notable of the state's outstanding geographical features and is considered one of the natural wonders of the world.

Mountain ranges include the Adirondack and the Catskill Mountains, running north to south in the eastern portion of the state, and the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains in the southwestern area of the state. In addition to the Great Lakes, which border Canada to the north, notable lakes include the Finger Lakes in the center of the state, which is also the location of many gorges, and Lake Champlain, which forms part of the border with Vermont to the east. Noteworthy rivers in New York State include the Hudson River, which travels along the southeastern border to New York City, the St. Lawrence River, which separates the state from Canada on the eastern portion of the northern border, and the Mohawk River, which cuts through the center of the state on the eastern side.

New York has four distinct seasons every year. Winter lasts from approximately November through February and can see temperatures ranging from several degrees below zero Fahrenheit to averages in the forties and with several inches of snowfall. Spring can arrive in March or as late as May, with temperatures ranging from forty to sixty-five degrees. June, July, and August are the summer months, with temperatures ranging from an average of sixty to ninety degrees. Autumn is particularly spectacular in New York, with colorful foliage that begins turning in late September through mid-October, and sunny days and moderate temperatures in the sixties and seventies.

Peoples, Pre-1664

The area of North America that would come to be known as New York State was first populated by a Paleolithic culture from as far back as 5000 b.c., followed by Archaic cultures lasting until around 1000 b.c. Woodland native peoples arrived about the time of the fall of the Roman empire and lasted until about the time of the First Crusades, or about a.d. 1100. The Algonquin and Iroquoian cultures that flourished in the region when the first European settlers arrived had been there since about the twelfth century.

The Algonquin peoples, including the Raritans and the Delawares, lived near the coastal plains and shallow river valleys of the eastern regions. Algonquins usually lived near water, either the coastlines or rivers and streams, and ate fish and mollusks, with some plants in their diet. They collected shells, which they made into beads and sewed into ceremonial and historical keepsakes such as belts, known as wampum. Later, Europeans confused wampum with currency because it was valuable to the natives.

The Iroquoians lived along hills, in woodlands, along lakes, and in meadows in the interior of the state. They grew crops such as beans, squash, and corn, and hunted and fished in the forests and lakes. The Iroquois had an organized system of government made up of six member nations: Senecas, Onondagas, Cayugas, Mohawks, Oneidas, and later Tuscaroras. Each nation took its name from some physical aspect of its homeland or its place within the Iroquois League. The Senecas, for example, were "Keepers of the Western Door" because of their homeland at the western end of Iroquois territory, which would become western New York State years later. The Cayugas were called the "People of the Mucky Land" because of the marshy land around Cayuga Lake, one of the Finger Lakes. The Onondagas were the "People of the Hills" and the "Keepers of the Council Fire" because they ran council meetings and were located near the center of Iroquois lands. The Oneidas were the "People of the Standing Stone" and the Mohawks were the "People of the Flint." Within each nation, a system of self-government involved clans of families, which were headed up by the elder women of each clan and appointed leaders, or chiefs, called sachems. Clans, such as the Bear Clan, the Beaver Clan, etc., derived their names from the natural creatures or habitat where the nation of clans lived. When war broke out among nations threatening the way of life of all in the fourteenth century, a peace agreement was drawn up among them, forming what would come to be called the Iroquois League. This league would later become a model for the establishment of the U.S. Constitution.

Native legends described the formation of the league when a mythic figure and prophet, Deganawidah, sent Hiawatha to walk among the Five Nations and spread a message of peace, proposing an alliance. Fifty representatives from the nations were sent to a meeting called the grand council. Matters of interest and concern to all nations were discussed at the council meetings, and votes were taken to make decisions that would be binding on all parties. Sachems could only be removed from their responsibilities if they were provedto be incompetent by the elder clan women.

The Iroquois League is still in existence among the Native peoples who occupy reservations in New York State and Canada. Until the American Revolution, the League was a formidable force of military, political, and social resistance against European incursion.

First Europeans and Africans

In 1524, the Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazano, under commission of the king of France, sailed his ship the Dauphine near the coastline of what is now New York. He was the first European to see its shores. Although he dropped anchor off what is now Staten Island, he did not stay or claim the land for any colonizing power. A year later, the Portuguese explorer Esteban Gomes also sailed near, but did not make any claims. By 1540, fur traders were making their way up the Hudson to trade with the Native peoples in beaver fur; however, it was not until 1609, when the explorer Henry Hudson came to the area, sailed up the Narrows, and continued up the river to what is now Albany, that it was claimed for the Dutch. Later, the area was named New Netherland.

In 1624, the Nieu Nederlandt anchored in the East River, bringing the first European colonial settlers to New York State. Settlement, trade, and war with the Indians continued for some time. The Dutch brought new animals and diseases to the New York environment and fought many violent battles, particularly against the Algonquins and the Mohawks, for control of land. By 1650, under the leadership of Peter Stuyvesant, New Netherland had established itself as a growing and prosperous colony, which attracted more European settlers to New York's shores. Settlers from Portugal and many other countries left Europe for New Amsterdam, later called New York City, creating an early society of mixed cultures and backgrounds. By the middle of the seventeenth century, the Dutch had also brought African Americans to the area as slaves.

Events, 1664 to 1825

King Charles II of England authorized his brother, James, duke of York, to sponsor an expedition to seize New

Netherland as a prize for England against the Dutch as well as for the promise of the colony's potential prosperity through trade. This was accomplished fairly easily, given the military superiority of the British, but for long into the eighteenth century, New York remained the least British in composition of all of the British American colonies. New Amsterdam became New York City and very quickly grew in prosperity as a port, even as early as the mid-1700s. At the arrival of the British, expansion moved westward, venturing into more of the Iroquoian territory. By 1775, clashes with the Mohawks were tempered by occasional treaties that aligned the British and the Mohawks against the revolutionaries.

New York experienced the Revolutionary War with perhaps the most violent and active engagements on many fronts and for a longer period of time than any other colony. The war in New York began 10 May 1775, when Ethan Allen, Benedict Arnold, and the Green Mountain Boys took Fort Ticonderoga; the war was also marked by important battles at Saratoga and General John Sullivan's invasion of Iroquois territory from the south. New York State ratified the United States Constitution on 26 July 1788 at the Dutchess County courthouse. The war brought to the attention of the British, New Englanders, and other Europeans the fertile wilderness of western New York, which changed quickly in character and settlement in the decades following the Revolutionary War. In 1825, Governor George Clinton's idea for a canal that would join the Great Lakes to the Hudson River and the sea and would move westward expansion even beyond the lands of New York State was realized when the Erie Canal was opened for trade.

Nineteenth Century: Abolition, Women's Movement, Civil War, and Immigration

While trade boomed with the opening of the Erie Canal, and New York City continued to increase in population, wealth, and power as a metropolitan and cultural center, New York State was also a focal point for social change including abolitionism, the women's movement, and the effects of the first massive influx of immigrants.

As the final stop for many runaway slaves before reaching Canada, Underground Railroad routes flourished throughout the state, particularly in the central and western regions, such as the Finger Lakes area. After escaping slavery, Frederick Douglass founded his newspaper The North Star in Rochester, and that city and other New York cities and smaller towns became hubs of discourse and activism against slavery. Harriet Tubman also settled in Rochester.

Not too far south of Rochester, in Seneca Falls, in July 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the first convention dedicated to women's rights. Adopting the Declaration of Sentiments they had written, modeled after the Declaration of Independence, the men and women who gathered at Seneca Falls advocated equal legal rights, property ownership, educational and employment opportunities, and voting rights for women. Meetings and speeches continued throughout the state, involving and elevating many women to national prominence in relation to the issue. Included among these were Susan B. Anthony and Amelia Bloomer, the editor of The Lily, a monthly temperance paper that also dealt with issues of importance to women. Bloomer also popularized a style of more healthy and convenient women's clothing comprising baggy pantaloons and overblouse, hence the later term "bloomers."

New Yorkers fought for the Union in the Civil War, most notably at the Battle of Gettysburg, some 200 miles south of the state line in Pennsylvania. Although most New Yorkers favored keeping the Union intact and supported President Lincoln, New York City became a hotbed of protests and speeches both supporting and opposing the war. Perhaps one of the most notable contributions New York made to the Civil War was the formation of the only entirely black Union regiment.

The great potato famine of the 1840s in Ireland resulted in a massive increase in Irish emigrants coming to the United States through the port of New York City. The influx grew and continued through the beginning of the next century, when millions of immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Germany, and the countries of Eastern Europe poured into the United States through Ellis Island. From the late 1800s through the early twentieth century, Ellis Island processed millions of immigrants into the country. Ellis Island was allowed to decline after limits were placed on immigration, but in the late twentieth century it was restored and opened to the public.

Twentieth Century

The rise of the stock market caused unprecedented wealth and power to emanate from New York City, resulting in what has been called the Gilded Age in the early twentieth century. Millionaires such as the Vanderbilts and the Roosevelts built mansions along the Hudson River the size and likes of which have rarely been seen since. As the upper class was gaining in wealth and political power, the lower classes were falling further into poverty, and the gap between the classes widened.

Industry thrived in New York State in the early twentieth century. New York City had major markets in finance, clothing, publishing, entertainment, and commerce. Institutions such as Madison Avenue's advertising center, Times Square, and Broadway's theater district took firm hold during this time. Ironically, skyscrapers and landmarks in New York City such as the Empire State Building and the Brooklyn Bridge were built in large part by descendants of the Mohawk nation that had been adversely affected by European incursion. The Mohawks had become skilled steelworkers, building bridges across the St. Lawrence River and other locations in the 1800s. Upstate, exploiting the railroad system as an active connection to the "Big Apple, " as New York City was called, factories of glass and machinery grew and thrived. The state continued a significant agricultural business upstate as well, primarily in apples, beef, dairy products, and winemaking. The Great Depression hit New York State hard, as weaknesses in New York City's economy spread across the state. After World War II, the railways decreased in use, and this severed tie between upstate and New York City caused many smaller upstate towns to decline financially in the 1950s and 1960s. Politically, the divide widened even more as New York City became more liberal in its thinking and Democratic in its voting, while upstate dug in as a conservative, Republican stronghold.

By the end of the twentieth century, New York State was losing some of its political clout nationally. The 2000 national census resulted in the demotion of the state from second in electoral votes behind California to third, behind Texas as well. High state taxes drove many companies out of New York and kept many new ones from locating there. Family farms suffered from high costs and lack of federal support and many were forced to close. The suburban sprawl of chain stores and shopping malls drove commerce away from locally owned Main Street shops in upstate small towns. Tourism across the state remained strong, from Niagara Falls to Manhattan. The financial district in Manhattan also remained strong at the end of the century, enjoying an economic boom due to record-breaking stock market highs driven by hopes and prospects of the computer age.

In the final senatorial election of the twentieth century, New York State once again made women's history by electing Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former first lady of the United States, to Congress as its junior senator. This was the first time in the nation's history that a former first lady had been elected to public office.

Early Twenty-First Century

Nostalgia for the golden days of New York City and what the city has meant to the history and development of the United States on a national scale increased after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001. Two commercial jet airliners full of passengers on their way from Boston, Massachusetts, to Los Angeles, California, were hijacked and piloted by members of the Al Qaeda terrorist network into the sides of both Trade Center towers. (The Pentagon was also attacked, and a plane bound for the White House was downed by passengers in a field in Pennsylvania.) With nearly 3,000 dead in New York City alone, the attacks caused the most casualties of American civilians due to foreign action on American soil in the history of the United States. The terrorists clearly felt that the World Trade Center was a visible symbol of American financial strength and power throughout the world.

Visitors poured into the city to help first with the recovery and the rebuilding of the World Trade Center area in particular, then the economy of the city in general. The state economy continued to suffer as resources had to be diverted to rebuild the affected areas and support the affected families. Thus the cuts for education, libraries, and other social services throughout the state that had started in the 1990s continued into the start of the new century.


Klein, Milton M., ed. The Empire State: A History of New York. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2001.

Snow, Dean R. The Iroquois. Cambridge: Blackwell, 1994.

Connie AnnKirk

See alsoAlbany ; Catskill Mountains ; Empire State Building ; Erie Canal ; Hudson River ; Lake Erie, Battle of ; Leisler Rebellion ; Long Island ; Manhattan ; New Amsterdam ; New Netherland ; New York City ; New York Colony ; Niagara Falls ; 9/11 Attack ; Patroons ; Saint Lawrence Seaway ; Saratoga Springs ; World Trade Center .

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New York State