Winter 1998

Home Index Museums Blog Authors Site Map About


1784, 1785, 1786

New York City / State Timeline

from Eagles Byte by David Minor

Year-by-year tracing the growth of the early days of the Republic


The Treaty of Paris has been signed, in September of the previous year. Washington has disbanded his army, the British have evacuated Manhattan. It's time to attempt a return to normal life.

Most of the state's population is settled along the Hudson River between New York and Albany, in towns such as Kingston and Poughkeepsie. The Six Nations of the Iroquois have signed the Second Treaty of Fort Stanwyx in October, surrendering all claims to the Northwest Territory, west of the Niagara River. Veterans of Sullivan's campaigns which introduced them to the rich agricultural possibilities of central and western New York, have faraway looks in their eyes. They will soon have a crack at some of this now-empty land, as recompense for their recent services. Sadly for them, many of these military grants will end up in the hands of the speculators. Hard cash is difficult for a veteran to come by.

Up and down the Hudson corridor things are pretty quiet. Albany's Lutheran Church is reorganized.

Colonial government records, moved upriver to Poughkeepsie for safekeeping during the recent war, are loaded aboard ship and sent back to New York City, which has just been designated as the new state capital.

Life in Manhattan picks up its pace a bit, now. After legislators get settled into their new home they turn to education, founding the University of the State of New York. They also discuss a plan of Christopher Colles to improve navigation on the Mohawk River. Nothing results. This is the state legislature.

The focus of the city government returns to peaceful concerns. The office of mayor, an appointive, one-year position, is filled by lawyer James Duane, newly retired from Congress. He will be reappointed for the next four terms. In mid-March the Bank of New York is organized, opening for business early in June. And on October 5th, Dr. John Henry Livingston is appointed professor of theology by the Dutch Reformed Church Synod, establishing the first theological seminary in America.

No longer do the masts of warships dominate the port of New York. Commercial activity begins returning.

Immigration from Europe gets under way again. On February 22nd the Empress of China sails with a cargo of ginseng, seeking to open trade with China. The cargo will sell there for $230,727. And in March, a young trader arrives from Germany. His stock consists of seven flutes. He will soon be dealing in more than wind instruments. His name is John Jacob Astor.


The United States had a new capital in 1785—our own New York City. Fraunces Tavern, still standing in lower Manhattan today, became home to the U. S. departments of Foreign Affairs, Treasury, and War. Congress sat in New York for the first time on January 11th, and settled down to the business of the nation. One of the first concerns was to try and settle the currently flexible boundaries of its adopted state.

Surveyors were dispatched across the top of New Jersey, over to the west, to work on the boundary line with Pennsylvania. The Massachusetts border had been in contention since colonial times, and Congress appointed John Ewing, Thomas Hutchins and David Rittenhouse to survey a final boundary.

Water transportation being important to the settlement of the new state, Congress granted Christopher Colles $125 in April, for further study of his plan to convert the Mohawk River into a canal. For this sum, Congress and the public got a pamphlet with the title of "Proposals for the Speedy Settlement of the Waste and Unappropriated Lands of the Western Frontiers of New York, and for the Improvement of the Inland Navigation Between Albany and Oswego. " Settlement may have been speedy; titles certainly weren't.

Actually, development wasn't that speedy. A few tentative forays began into the interior, away from the Hudson and Mohawk valleys. The northern end of Seneca Lake experienced the first development. Horatio Jones, a former captive of the Seneca (named by them Handsome Boy), married a Schenectady woman and moved to a site on the Seneca River where the water dropped over 24 feet in a short distance, the area that will become the village of Waterloo 39 years later. And the first settlers moved in a few miles to the west—the beginnings of the city of Geneva.

The New York State government began disposing of lands seized from Loyalists after the Revolution.

James DeClark, Jacobus Dyckman, George Fisher, and tavern keeper Peter Post purchased four farms along the Hudson River once belonging to the Philipse family. Their purchase would one day become Hastings-on-Hudson, familiar to many a commuter today.

Back in civilization, everyone was keeping busy. In the state and national capital, Secretary of Foreign Affairs John Jay and lawyer and former congessman Alexander Hamilton set out to organize the New York City Manumission Society. Mindful of last year's successful voyage of the Empress of China, the backers of the Hudson River sloop Experiment, sent Captain Stewart Dean out of Albany on a trading voyage to Canton, China, the second U. S. vessel to trade with the little-known Asian nation.


Our Federal government, settled into its New York City home in the year 1786, was still poking its way around in the murky waters of Nationhood. In September, delegates from its adopted home state, met with representatives from Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia, at Annapolis, Maryland. They wanted to discuss interstate commerce but lacked a quorum. New York lawyer and Revolutionary War veteran Alexander Hamilton proposed that they schedule another meeting in Philadelphia the following year, to replace the deeply flawed Articles of Confederation. This was agreeable to all.

The State of New York was also eager to settle the question of its boundaries. Early in the year the New York - Pennsylvania survey was completed and in October, Simeon DeWitt and James Clinton met with Andrew Elliott of Pennsylvania to certify and sign off on the project. Two months later another set of commissioners met in Hartford, Connecticut, to settle the Massachusetts claims to former Iroquois lands in New York. Egbert Benson, James Duane, John Haring, Robert R. Livingston, Melancthion Smith and Robert Yates sat down with Massachusetts commissioners Rufus King, John Lowell, Theophilus Parson and James Sullivan. A rather strange compromise was cobbled together. Massachusetts would own the land, referred to as the Boston Ten Towns, but New York would have political control over it. You just know that couldn't last.

Speaking of "rather strange"—the name Egbert is odd enough today, but even rarer are the names Theophilus and Melancthion. A York Stater with a still odder name had been born on February 4th, in Marlborough, Connecticut: Epaphroditus Bigelow. (The given name is mentioned once in the Bible, at the end of Philippians. Epaphroditus would grow up to become an early schoolteacher in Geneseo.) Horatio and Sarah Jones also had a son this year, the first white child born west of Utica. And future governor William Learned Marcy was born in Massachusetts.

Pioneers continued to spread out from the Hudson and Mohawk valleys. Judge William Cooper, father of future novelist James Fenimore Cooper, founded the village he modestly named Cooperstown. Followers of evangelist Jemima Wilkinson, the Universal Friend, engaged a three-man party to scout the area of the future Yates County, for a site where they could build a New Jerusalem. Traders Ephraim Webster and Benjamin Newkirk traveled from Schenectady to establish a trading post among the Onondaga, on the east bank of Onondaga Creek, near the lake of the same name. And Israel Stone arrived a few miles to the south of Irondequoit Bay and built a cabin there. The area would soon be named Boyle, then Smallwood.

We know it today as Pittsford.

1998, David Minor
1703, . . . 1784, 1785, 1786, 1787, 1788, 1789, 1790, 1791, 1792, 1793, 1794, 1795, 1796, 1797, 1798, 1799, 1800, 1801, 1802, 1803, 1804, 1805, 1806, 1807, 1808, 1809, 1810, 1811, 1812, 1813, 1814, 1815, 1816, 1817, 1818, 1819, 1820, 1821, 1822, 1823, 1824, 1825, 1826 , 1827, 1828, Pt. 1
The Eagles Byte New York City / State Timeline is from David Minor's radio scripts for Simon Pontin's Salmagundy radio program on WXXI-FM (91.5). David can be heard every Saturday morning at 10:15 talking about various aspects of world history.
CLR Blog | Site Map | Contact CLR