Brief History of New York State

Three men , Columbus, Cabot and Hudson, introduce the history of New York State. One found the West Indies; another discovered the mainland and coasting southward may have seen the low-lying land of Long Island ; while Henry Hudson, one hundred and seventeen years after the first voyage of Columbus, sailed into the bay of New York. It is possible that an Italian in the service of France , nearly a century before, found this bay and looked upon the river; it is certain that the Frenchman, Champlain, two months before the arrival of Hudson's Dutch crew, stood on the soil of the State; but the fame of Hudson is none the less. He may well be called the discoverer of New York; he first made known to the world the advantages of the ample harbor, the harbor that makes New York city the commercial capital of America.

The Land and the People

But it is not upon this harbor alone that the importance of the State rests; its soil and its geographical position fit it for an empire. Within its boundaries the white man found the Iroquois, the conquering Indians of America. These red men were superior to other Indians; they lived in houses, had fields of corn, beans and tobacco, made earthenware, baskets and ropes, and the five tribes, Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas and Senecas were joined in a rude republic. These people were known and feared all east of the Mississippi; but they chose a place for their corn fields and log houses in central New York, and near the present site of Syracuse they had their council-fire or capitol. From this advantageous centre they could go north by Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence, east by the Mohawk, south to the Atlantic by the Susquehanna, south to the inland by the Allegany and Ohio, west by the great lakes. "New York", says Bancroft, "united richest lands with the highest adaptation to foreign and domestic commerce."

The Iroquois occupied the Mohawk valley and central and western New York, while they left the eastern and south-eastern parts to weaker Algonquin tribes, among whom were the Mohegans on the east bank of the Hudson and the Delaware along the river of that name. To the north and in Canada were other bands of Algonquins who long waged unsuccessful warfare with the Iroquois. These weaker Indians implored the help of the French; for French adventurers and traders had built forts along the St. Lawrence seventy years before Hudson's ship anchored off Sandy Hook.

Samuel Champlain

Samuel Champlain, the "Father of New France," was finally persuaded by the neighboring friendly Indians to join in an expedition against the Iroquois. He went up the Sorel, found the lake to which he gave his name, and on the banks in Essex county met the Iroquois. Here on a July morning of 1609 the Indians of New York first saw the white man and heard the noise of his gun. They ran. For Champlain it was an easy victory; but it was a fatal blunder. Without knowing it he had made lasting enemies of the fiercest warriors of the continent. Again Champlain tried to penetrate the State from Lake Ontario, and getting as far as Madison county went back defeated. Again other Frenchmen tried to gain a foothold in New York State and failed because of the enmity of the Iroquois. Thus on the north the French were kept from New York while on the south the feeble colonies of the Dutch and the English grew strong and held the land.