History of New York City (1665–1783)

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The history of New York City (1665–1783) began with the establishment of English rule over Dutch New Amsterdam and New Netherland. As the newly renamed City of New York and surrounding areas developed, there was a growing independent feeling among some, but the area was decidedly split in its loyalties. The site of modern New York City was the theater of the New York Campaign, a series of major battles in the early American Revolutionary War. After that, the city was under British occupation until the end of the war, and was the last port British ships evacuated in 1783.

Early English/British period[edit]

Settlers of New Amsterdam blended into new English colony. The Rapalje Children, 1768, children of trader of early New Amsterdam descent

The English had renamed the Colony the Province of New York, after the king's brother James, Duke of York and future King James II of England and James VII of Scotland and on June 12, 1665 appointed Thomas Willett the first of the Mayors of New York Town. The city grew northward, and remained the largest and most important city in the Province of New York and became the third largest in the British Empire after London and Philadelphia.

The Dutch regained the Colony briefly in 1673, renaming it "New Orange", then finally ceded it permanently to the English in 1674 after the Third Anglo-Dutch War.

Leisler's Rebellion, an uprising in which militia captain Jacob Leisler seized control of lower New York from 1689 to 1691, occurred in the midst of England's "Glorious Revolution" and reflected long-standing colonial resentment against King James II, who in the 1680s decreed the formation of the provinces of New York, New Jersey and the Dominion of New England as royal colonies, with New York City designated as the capital. Many people included Dutch who against King James II were captured and executed ( beheaded, mutilated, hanged etc. ). This unilateral union was highly unpopular among the colonists. Royal authority was restored in 1691 by English troops sent by James' successor, William III, (the former Dutch prince from the House of Orange, who ruled with his wife, Mary II Protestant daughter of James II by his first marriage) after a short civil war and invasion by William's forces into England and Ireland forcing King James II to flee to the Continent in the so-called "Glorious Revolution" of 1689. The event introduced the principle that "the people" (represented by Parliament) could replace a ruler they deemed unsuitable; uprisings against royal governors thereby sprouted throughout the English North American colonies.

New York was cosmopolitan from the beginning, established and governed largely as a strategic trading post. One visitor during the early revolutionary period wrote that "the inhabitants are in general brisk and lively," the women were "handsome," he recorded—as did others new to the city—though, he added, "it rather hurts a European eye to see so many Negro slaves upon the streets."[1] There were numerous marriages of people from different ethnic groups. "Joyce Goodfriend's study of colonial New York City, for instance, suggests that many interethnic marriages occurred more because of a lack of opportunity to marry within their own group than a desire to marry outside it. ...over 60 percent of Englishmen in the New York capital in the late 1600s married women of non-English origins." However, by the 1730s over three fourths of the Dutch men and women married within their oun groups. Though, by this point there were already a generation of children of mixed European backgrounds.[2] Freedom of worship was part of the city's foundation, and the trial for libel in 1735 of John Peter Zenger, editor of the New-York Weekly Journal established the principle of freedom of the press in the British colonies. Sephardic Jews expelled from Dutch Brazil were welcome in New York.

The New York Slave Insurrection of 1741 raised accusations of arson and conspiracy. Many slaves were executed on unclear charges.

The Irish celebrated St. Patrick's Day at the Crown and Thistle Tavern as early as 1756. This holiday has since become a yearly city-wide celebration that is famous around the world as the St. Patrick's Day Parade.


A drawing of New York City, created in the 1770s. Trinity Church (Anglican) on Wall Street is visible in the distance.

The city was the base for British operations in the French and Indian War (the North American theater of the Seven Years' War) from 1754-1763. That conflict united the colonies for the first time in common defense, and moreover eliminated the main military threat that the colonists had relied upon Britain to defend them from. When two years after the conclusion of that war in 1765, the British Parliament imposed a Stamp Act to augment local expenditures for defending the colonies, delegates from nine colonies met to protest at what would later be known as Federal Hall on Manhattan for the Stamp Act Congress.

The Sons of Liberty, a secretive and sometimes violent revolutionary group, was founded in the city, and in Boston immediately thereafter. The "Sons" engaged in a running conflict with British authority in the City over the raising of liberty poles in prominent public locations (see Battle of Golden Hill), from the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766 until rebel control of the city in 1775. The poles, often when a signal device such as a red cap was placed atop the pole, served as rallying points for public assemblies to protest against the colonial government. The city was the main location of organized political resistance in the form of the Committee of Sixty and then later the New York Provincial Congress. Though the Sons of Liberty were active in the city and the lead statue of King George III in Bowling Green was torn down and melted into musket balls in a celebration of the Declaration of Independence for the new United States of America, the city however was a hotbed of Royal fervor and probably held a larger proportion of Tories than any other place in the colonies before hostilities - though likely still short of a majority.

Washington and his men moved in to defend Manhattan and New York Harbor in 1776, and their letters provide a rare behind the scenes look at the city during the revolution. Prior to roughly 1/3 of New York City's population fleeing the expected combat, the Continental soldiers came upon a grand city of wealth, a bustling center of commerce, shipbuilding and maritime trade. This was a city built for seafaring transit and trade, Manhattan's only connection to the mainland was the narrow, wooden King's bridge over the Harlem River, nearly 11 miles north of the city, and ferries across the North (Hudson's) River; most of its population of 20,000 was crowded into an area of less than a square mile near the East River wharves and the sprawling natural New York Harbor of the Upper New York Bay and Lower New York Bay.[1]

The city's sharp-elbowed traders, stock brokers, and mariners brought with them great wealth. Henry Knox wrote his wife admiring New Yorkers' "magnificent" horse carriages and fine furniture, but condemning their "want of principle," "pride and conceit," "profaneness," and "insufferable" Toryism.[3] Manhattan's free-wheeling ways did create an environment of loose tongues and loose women. A young Presbyterian chaplain "worried what the consequences might be to the American cause of so many of all ranks so habitually taking the name of the Lord in vain." "But alas, swearing abounds, all classes swear," he lamented.[4]

The abundance of prostitutes in New York City—an estimated at 500 women plying "their trade" in 1776[5]—was particularly distressing for many of the Continental soldiers of a puritan-bent, George Washington included. From Lieutenant Isaac Bangs of Massachusetts comes one of the most complete accounts of prostitution in revolutionary America; he had a medical degree from Harvard, and took it upon himself to tour the brothel district to inspect the health conditions of the neighborhood and investigate the seedy side of the city that so worried General Washington. He was absolutely appalled by the women of the bawdy houses, who, he thought, "nothing could exceed them in impudence and immodesty," but "the more I became acquainted with them, the more they excelled in their brutality."[5]

April 22, barely a week after the "Continentals" arrived in the city, two soldiers were found dead hidden in a bordello, one corpse "castrated in a barbarous manner," Bangs reported. Soldiers went on a rampage in the brothel district "in furious retaliation." General Washington condemned all such "riotous behavior" and ordered military patrols in the district, a strict curfew, and other restrictions.[6] General Washington understood the crucial strategic importance of New York and its waterways to the war effort, but "...had seen enough of New York on prior visits to dislike and distrust the city as the most sinful place in America, a not uncommon view."[1]

American Revolutionary War[edit]

General Washington correctly surmised that after their defeat at the Siege of Boston, (April 1775 - March 1776) the British strategy would be to divide the colonies by capturing the strategic port and waterways of New York City. He then began to fortify the city and took personal command of the Continental Army at New York in the summer of 1776.

Five battles comprising the New York Campaign were fought around the city's then limits in late 1776, beginning with the Battle of Long Island in Brooklyn on August 27—the largest battle of the entire war. A quarter of the city structures were destroyed in the Great Fire on September 21, a few days after the British Landing at Kip's Bay and the Battle of Harlem Heights - the lone American victory in this part of the campaign, but doing much to improve morale and keep the army together. Following the highly suspicious fire, British authorities apprehended dozens of people for questioning, including Nathan Hale, who was executed a day later for unrelated charges of espionage. The British conquest of Manhattan was completed with the fall of Fort Washington and the evacuation of Fort Lee (on the Hudson River western shore in New Jersey) on November 16, 1776, and thereafter they held the city without challenge until 1783. Major General James Robertson, commandant in charge of the city confiscated houses of rebels who had left and distributed them to British officers.

Manhattan and environs, late in the war

Early British military success resulted in military occupation of the city, and the exodus of any remaining Patriots combined with a large influx of Loyalist refugees from throughout the former colonies, making the city solidly Loyalist for the remainder of the British occupation. The city became the British political and military center of operations for the rest of the conflict. For this purpose the map now known as the British Headquarters Map was drawn in 1782, the best map of Manhattan Island's largely natural, unengineered condition.[7]

The city's status as the British nexus made it the center of attention for Washington's intelligence network. American prisoners were held under deliberately inhumane conditions on rotting British prison ships in nearby Wallabout Bay on the East River between New York and History of Brooklyn (future Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument in Fort Greene Park) for much of the war. The policy of making prison conditions unbearable was ostensibly to encourage the soldiers to volunteer to join the British navy as an alternative. More American soldiers and sailors died on these ships from deliberate neglect than in every battle of the Revolution, combined.

The anniversary of Evacuation Day, in which the last British troops and many Tory supporters and collaborators departed in November 1783, was long celebrated in New York.


  1. ^ a b c McCullough 2005, p. 122
  2. ^ Template:Daily Life in the Colonial City - Krawczynaski
  3. ^ McCullough 2005, pp. 122–123
  4. ^ McCullough 2005, p. 123
  5. ^ a b McCullough 2005, p. 124
  6. ^ McCullough 2005, p. 125
  7. ^ The Mannahatta Project British Headquarters Map of Manhattan Island


Further reading[edit]

  • Archdeacon, Thomas J. New York City, 1664-1710: Conquest and Change (1976)
  • Bridenbaugh, Carl. Cities in the Wilderness-The First Century of Urban Life in America 1625-1742 (1938) online edition
  • Bridenbaugh, Carl. Cities in Revolt: Urban Life in America, 1743–1776 (1955)
  • Burns, Ric, and James Sanders. New York: An Illustrated History (2003), large-scale book version of Burns PBS documentary, New York: A Documentary Film an eight part, 17½ hour hour documentary film directed by Ric Burns for PBS. It originally aired in 1999 with additional episodes airing in 2001 and 2003.
  • Burrows, Edwin G. & Wallace, Mike (1999). Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195116348. 
  • Carp, Benjamin L. Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution (2007)
  • Countryman, Edward. "The Uses of Capital in Revolutionary America: The Case of the New York Loyalist Merchants," William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 49, No. 1 (Jan., 1992), pp. 3–28 in JSTOR
  • Krawczynaski, Keith T. "Daily Life in the Colonial City" (2013)
  • Goodfriend, Joyce D. Before the Melting Pot: Society and Culture in Colonial New York City, 1664-1730 (1994)
  • Harris, Leslie M.. "Slavery, Emancipation, and Class Formation in Colonial and Early National New York City," Journal of Urban History, March 2004, Vol. 30 Issue 3, pp 339–359,
  • Jackson, Kenneth T., ed. (1995). The Encyclopedia of New York City. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0300055366. 
  • Jackson, Kenneth and Roberts, Sam (eds.) The Almanac of New York City (2008)
  • Tiedemann, Joseph S. Reluctant Revolutionaries: New York City and the Road to Independence, 1763-1776 (1997) excerpt and text search; Online edition

Primary sources[edit]

  • Jackson, Kenneth T. and David S. Dunbar, eds. Empire City: New York Through the Centuries (2005), 1015 pages of excerpts excerpt
  • Still, Bayrd, ed. Mirror for Gotham: New York as Seen by Contemporaries from Dutch Days to the Present (New York University Press, 1956) online edition
  • Stokes, I.N. Phelps. The Iconography of Manhattan Island, 1498-1909 compiled from original sources and illustrated by photo-intaglio reproductions of important maps plans views and documents in public and private collections (6 vols., 1915-28). A highly detailed, heavily illustrated chronology of Manhattan and New York City. see The Iconography of Manhattan Island All volumes are on line free at: