The Dutch first settled along the Hudson River in 1624 and established the colony of New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island. In 1664, the English took control of the area and renamed it New York. One of the original 13 colonies, New York played a crucial political and strategic role during the American Revolution.
Between 1892 and 1954, millions of immigrants arrived in New York Harbor and passed through Ellis Island on their journey to becoming U.S citizens. It is estimated that up to 40 percent of Americans can trace at least one ancestor to that port of entry.
New York City, the largest city in the state, is home to the New York Stock Exchange and is a major international economic center.
New York’s Native American History
Semi-nomadic Indigenous people have been living in the area now known as New York for at least 13,000 years, settling in the space around Lake Champlain, the Hudson River Valley and Oneida Lake.
The Haudenosaunee Native Americans arrived in the Adirondack region of New York between 1,400 and 4,000 years ago. They created an alliance of Iroquoian-speaking nations including the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca tribes. Named the Iroquois Confederacy by the French, this democratic alliance created the Great Law of Peace, which promoted reason instead of force to ensure the principles of justice, health and righteousness. This inspired America’s Founding Fathers, including Benjamin Franklin, and influenced the U.S. Constitution.
Algonquian people, which include the Mahican and the Lenape nations, also inhabited parts of the Adirondacks and the Hudson River Valley, including Manhattan island. They occasionally battled with the Mohawk over territories.
As the French and Dutch arrived in the 17th century, they traded guns and ammunition with the Algonquians in exchange for fur. They also brought deadly diseases and encroached on Indigenous territories, forcing them to migrate. Some Indigenous people raided European property and captured women and children. During the American Revolution, the Mohawks aided the British. Many Mohawks moved to Canada at the end of the war, and others were driven out by the Oneida, who had sided with the Americans.
There are eight federally-recognized Native American tribes in New York today, including the Cayuga Nation, Oneida Nation, Onondaga Nation, St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, Seneca Nation of Indians, Shinnecock Indian Nation, Tonawanda Band of Seneca and Tuscarora Nation.
New York’s Colonial History
The Dutch, English and French were the first Europeans to explore and colonize the area now known as New York. Voyaging for the French, Italian-born explorer Giovanni da Verrazano became the first European to explore the east coast of America when he landed in New York Bay in 1524. In 1609 and 1610, the English-born explorer Henry Hudson navigated the river now known as the Hudson and other parts of New York seeking new routes to Asia for the Dutch and British. Around the same time, French explorer Samuel de Champlain visited the east coast of North America, including New York, and founded the city of Quebec as the capital of New France.
Following Hudson’s voyages, the Dutch established New Netherland as a fur trading outpost and their first colony in the New World. Dutch merchants soon began sponsoring trips to the new colony, and the first 31 Dutch colonists' families arrived in 1623. They established New Amsterdam—now known as New York City—in 1624. The area diversified as people from all over Europe fled religious persecution, war and natural disaster to settle in New Netherland.
The English, however, believed they had claims to New Netherland, as they had sponsored explorer John Cabot’s voyages to the New World in 1497 and 1498. They waged three wars against the Dutch between 1652 and 1674, and in 1664 New Netherland passed to the British. The British renamed the area New York after James II, Duke of York, the son of King Charles I.
Between the early 17th century and the mid-18th century, France sponsored Catholic missions to New France, including areas that are now part of New York state. French merchants in the area also competed with the English to dominate the fur trade and create alliances with Indigenous peoples. Conflicts over land and trade led Britain and France to the French and Indian War. Also known as the Seven Years' War, the confrontation included several major battles fought in New York and ended with the French ceding New France to the British in 1763.
New York's Role in the Revolutionary War
New York was one of the 13 original colonies that battled for independence from England during the American Revolution. Nearly a third of all Revolutionary War battles were fought in New York. The Battle of Saratoga was considered a turning point in the war. The colonists’ defeat of the British forces convinced French King Louis XVI to ally with the Americans against the British. France’s military and financial support for the Americans was a critical contributor to the colonists’ victory at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, marking the war's end.
After the Constitution was ratified in 1788, New York City became the first capital of the United States. On April 30, 1789, George Washington was inaugurated as the nation’s first president at Federal Hall, located on Wall Street.
Immigration in New York
Starting in the 1850s through the end of the 19th century, millions of European immigrants came to the United States to flee religious prosecution, famine and rising taxes on the promise of freedom and economic prosperity. Over 70 percent of these immigrants arrived through New York City, entering through lower Manhattan until a new federal immigration processing center was opened on Ellis Island in 1892.
Many immigrants who arrived in New York settled there, making the state the most populous in the nation. New York’s population increased from 3 million in 1850 to 9 million by 1930. A majority of early New York immigrants were from Ireland and Germany, although the Chinese settled in smaller numbers between the Gold Rush in 1849 and the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. Italians began arriving in large numbers between 1880 and the 1920s, while the turn of the 20th century saw the arrival of Jewish people from Eastern Europe. These immigrants were often poor and lived in tenement slums on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. They toiled in sweatshops until the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire led to new labor and safety laws and the growth of unions to protect workers’ rights.
Following more than 40 years of strict immigration quotas, the 1965 Hart-Celler Act reopened immigration in the U.S. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants poured into New York City, coming from the Caribbean, India, Africa, Mexico, Greece, Turkey and many other parts of the world, making the city diverse and culturally vibrant.
WATCH: America: Promised Land on HISTORY Vault
Black Americans and the Harlem Renaissance
Black Americans have been an important part of New York’s population since the colonial days when they were brought to America as enslaved people by the Dutch. New York later became home to leaders of the Abolitionist Movement, including activists Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.
Many more African Americans arrived in New York during the Great Migration of the 1910s to the 1970s. They came mainly from southern farming states including Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia and moved to large northern cities including New York City for factory jobs and to escape Jim Crow laws. Around this time, Black immigrants also arrived from Jamaica and the West Indies. More than 175,000 African Americans landed in the Harlem area of Manhattan, including many artists and scholars, leading to the explosion of poetry, art, music, philosophy and dance known as the Harlem Renaissance. Famous residents included W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday.
Women's Suffrage and LGBTQ Movements
The Seneca Falls convention, held in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, kicked off the women’s suffrage movement. The effort was led by famous New Yorkers including Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Their work culminated in the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote.
A vibrant LGBTQ community formed in New York City during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although gay rights activism began nationwide in the 1920s, New York City became the “birthplace” of the LGBTQ movement following the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Greenwich Village, which inspired a new wave of gay rights activism.
Cultural and Business Center
A diverse and eclectic business and cultural hub, New York City has housed countless entrepreneurs, businesspeople, financiers and inventors, including Thomas Edison, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan. The city attracts more than 65 million tourists annually and nearly a third of all international visitors to the U.S. who come for its Broadway shows, museums, galleries and restaurants, as well as monuments such as the Empire State Building and Brooklyn Bridge.
Date of Statehood: July 26, 1788
Population: 20,201,249 (2020)
Size: 54,555 square miles
Nickname(s): Empire State
Motto: Excelsior (“Ever Upward”)
Tree: Sugar Maple
- The name “Manhattan” comes from a dialect of the Lenape Native Americans and roughly translates as “a place where we gather wood to make bows and arrows”—tools they relied on for hunting.
- The Haudenosaunee Native Americans were organized into matrilineal clans. These extended families lived together in longhouses and were guided by a clan mother, who made all major decisions for the clan.
- New York City was the first capital of the United States after the Constitution was ratified in 1788. On April 30, 1789, George Washington was inaugurated as the nation’s first president at Federal Hall, located on Wall Street.
- The popular tabloid New York Post was initially established in 1801 as a Federalist newspaper called the New York Evening Post by Alexander Hamilton, an author of the Federalist papers and the nation’s first secretary of the treasury.
- The Statue of Liberty was a gift from the people of France in honor of the United States’ enduring dedication to freedom and democracy and of the alliance held between the two countries during the American Revolution. Erected in 1886 on Bedloe’s Island (later renamed Liberty Island) in New York Harbor, the statue stood as a welcoming symbol to the 14 million immigrants who entered the United States through New York until 1924.
- After the towns of Woodstock and Wallkill refused permission to host what ultimately became the country’s most renowned musical festival, a dairy farmer in nearby Bethel agreed to provide access to his land for “Three Days of Peace and Music.” With musical acts kicking off on August 15, 1969, the Woodstock Music Festival attracted more than 400,000 attendees—most of whom were admitted for free since the event organizers were unprepared to control access for such a large crowd.
- Adirondack Park in northeastern New York contains roughly 6 million acres of protected land. Comprised of public and private areas, the park is larger than Yellowstone, Glacier, Everglades and Grand Canyon National Parks combined.
- New York City contains roughly 660 miles of subway track connecting 468 subway stations—the lowest of which is located 180 feet below street level. In 2011, more than 1.6 billion people rode the subway.
- Comprised of three waterfalls in the United States and Canadian territory, Niagara Falls attracts 12 million visitors each year. The American Falls, in New York, is nearly 180 feet high and 1,100 feet long. The Niagara River produces enough hydroelectric power to supply more than a quarter of all power used in the state of New York and Ontario.
- The National Baseball Hall of Fame is located in Cooperstown, New York.
Fact Sheet: Ellis Island - Statue of Liberty NM, NPS. gov
Exhibitions: First Peoples, nysm.nysed.gov
"Adirondacks: Native Americans," NPS. gov
Haudenosaunee Guide for Educators, americanindian.si.edu
"Manahatta to Manhattan Native Americans in Lower Manhattan," k12.wa.us
Federal and State Recognized Tribes, NCSL.org
Giovanni da Verrazzano, Verrazzano.com
Discovering the Past: Henry Hudson, Albany.edu
Samuel de Champlain, PBS.org
American Journeys, americanjourneys.org
"The Rise and Fall of New Netherland," NPS.org
"What Was New Netherland?" nysm.nysed.gov
Colonial New York Under British Rule, history.nycourts.gov
"Who was John Cabot?" JohnCabot.edu
Missions in New France, heritage.bnf.fr
Jesuit Mission Years in New York State 1654 to 1879, jesuitonlinelibrary.bc.edu
"The story of New France: the cradle of modern Canada," Nationalgeographic.com
New York State K-8 Social Studies Framework, NYSED.gov
Revolutionary War, Parks.ny.gov
Saratoga: Freeman's Farm/Bemis Heights, Battlefields.org
The Nine Capitals of the United States, Senate.gov
George Washington's First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789, Archives.gov
Immigration to the United States, 1851-1900, LOC. gov
A People's History of New York City, historynyc.commons.gc.cuny.edu
U.S. Census Bureau History: The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911, Census.gov
Immigration to New York, 1900-2000, PBS.org
"A New African American Identity: The Harlem Renaissance," nmaahc.si.edu
The Great Migration, macaulay.cuny.edu
'See 100 years of LGBTQ history mapped out across New York City," Nationalgeographic.com
"The Origin and Meaning of the Name 'Manhattan,'" repository.si.edu
"How New York Was Named," Newyorker.com