New York City / State Timeline
from Eagles Byte by David Minor
Year-by-year tracing the growth of the early days of the Republic
1811 saw feelings between Britain and the U. S. enter a period of relative calm. True, the War Hawks in Congress were rattling sabers, but James Madison wasn't about to be coerced into declaring war. The U. S. did renew the Non-Intercourse Act at the beginning of March. England kept up some almost perfunctory, small-scale jabs, impressing a seaman from the brig Spitfire on May 1st. The frigate President struck back, battling the British corvette Little Belt and killing 9 crew members. But apart from these scattered incidents things were fairly quiet.
On the domestic scene there was some commercial squabbling, as Fulton and Livingston urged the courts to protect their steamboat monopoly against Albany and New Jersey interests. Not having a lot of luck they pressed on, building Manhattan workshops in November, two months after John Stevens began steam ferry service to Hoboken, New Jersey. Collect Pond, site of some of John Fitch's early steamboat experiments, had been filled in and hosted the city's first outdoor circus.
A gridiron plan was introduced to guide the future development of Manhattan. One of the first to make use of the new plan was merchant Peter Schermerhorn who built a row of joined brick houses on the East River perpendicular to South Street. If you know the Seaport Museum you've perhaps visited some of the shops in the buildings. Other waterways saw action this year, including one as yet unborn. On April 8th the state legislature created a group to study the feasiblity of a trans-New York canal, appointing Fulton as one of the commissioners. Over on Chautauqua Lake, a ferry between Bemis Point and Stow was put into service, powered by oxen. To the north, on the Niagara River, Captain Sheldon Thompson launched the schooner Catherine, for the firm of Townsend, Bronson & Company.
Other people we've run into before, and will again, were pursuing their own interests this year. Angelica land agent Philip Church was off to Europe on business. Developments would keep him there through much of the upcoming war. At home, his family was startled when a small party of Indians dropped by. His wife Anna fed them while her visiting sister entertained them on the piano. Chief Shongo reciprocated the hospitality by adopting Anna into the tribe, naming her Ye-nun-ke-a-wa (first white woman). Maryland transplant Nathaniel Rochester was making frequent trips between Dansville and the Falls of the Genesee, selling his first lot to Enos Stone for $50. Stone Street is still there today. Mason Street, named for another early pioneer, is not. It became Front Street and was demolished during the architectural slaughter (urban renewal, officially) in the 1960s. Other real estate speculation was not as successful. Lawyer Amos Eaton, future state geologist, had made some legally unwise choices and was given a life sentence in Manhattan's Newgate State Prison. It was in Greenwich Village which, obviously today, escaped the planners' gridlock.
What's in a Name?
Former U. S. vice-president George Clinton, first governor of New York State, died in Washington, D. C. on the 20th of April. But it was his nephew De Witt Clinton, mayor of New York City, who would monopolize the spotlight across New York this year. His city had been a major focal point of the previous war with Great Britain, and it was supposed that it would figure largely in the upcoming conflict. Which kept hizzoner busy, strengthening the defenses of the city and harbor. But after war was declared by President Madison and Congress on June 18th, the conflict erupted primarily to the north, where the St. Lawrence River met Lake Ontario, and across from the western end of the state on Canada's Niagara frontier. But the war is not our subject here.
It was an active political year for Clinton. At the end of May, a state caucus nominated him for the presidency. In August the Federalist Party convened in New York City and chose him to run against incumbent president James Madison. The following day a group called the Friends of Liberty, peace and Commerce, met there to stage an anti-war meeting. Three months later Clinton was picked to run for the governorship. But he'd have to wait another five years for that one.
Back in January, the Fulton-Livingston workshops in New York City were destroyed by arson. Robert Fulton bought a house on Bowling Green in lower Manhattan and moved up from Washington. Never one to relax, he continued promoting his business interests, putting a steam ferryboat into service on the North and East Rivers, agreeing to convert a canal across lower Manhattan into today's Canal Street, and exposing a charlatan's perpetual motion machine.
Another traveler from the south never made it. Discredited former vice-president Aaron Burr, recently returned from four years in Europe, waited in vain for the arrival of the packet ship Patriot, out of Georgetown, South Carolina. His planned reunion with his daughter Theodosia was not to happen. The ship, and Theodosia, vanished from history during the voyage. For others in the city it was business as usual. A new City Hall, begun in 1803, was finally completed. The Bank of America was chartered. And the section of the city surrounding Chatham Street was destroyed by fire.
Up in Albany the foundation of the state's educational system was laid down by Governor Daniel Tompkins. In Syracuse, merchant John Gridley, fearing a British invasion, had a Masonic emblem carved into the keystone over the front doorway of his new house. And the village on the Genesee took shape, gaining a settlement named Rochesterville, a courthouse square, a bridge crossing the river, and newcomers such as Hamlet Scrantom, postmaster Abelard Reynolds, and Francis Brown, all names to become prominent locally. Speaking of which, we're not done with the name Clinton just yet. (Looks like we may never be.) Hamilton College was founded this year--in Clinton, New York.
© 2001, David Minor
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.