Richard Nicolls, the first English governor of the colony, enforced a group of laws known as the Duke’s Laws, initially designed for the Long Island and Westchester settlements. The laws’ main components did not allow for an elected assembly or town meetings, but they did mandate religious toleration and kept some Dutch political systems in place.
Meanwhile in Albany, settlers sought to maintain their position in the fur trade. Therefore, they were not as interested as the rest of the colony in antagonizing the French to the north, with whom they traded. Albany residents further resented the privileges granted to New York City merchants, such as a 1678 law that gave these merchants a monopoly over the export trade and a 1684 law that made New York City the single entry port of the colony. Colony officials appeased Albany merchants by granting them a monopoly over the fur trade in 1686.
In 1688, a royal decree by James II made New York part of the new Dominion of New England, whose central headquarters was Boston. When word reached the colony of King James II’s overthrow in 1689, the colonists, already anxious because of a rumored French-Native American conspiracy against them and the diminished power of their colony, reacted by rebelling against Lieutenant Governor Nicholson.
After Nicholson fled to England, Jacob Leisler eventually became the commander in chief of the colony. When the English sent a new governor in 1691, Leisler’s refusal to immediately step down for the new governor led the Crown to charge him with treason, a charge for which Leisler was executed. Between 1691 and 1710, English colonists were cautious in their relations with their French counterparts. New Yorkers had chosen not to engage in the English-French wars King William’s War from 1689 to 1697 and Queen Anne’s War from 1702 to 1713 because of the colony’s poor fortifications and the heavy costs that would be involved. The French, in turn, sent no military expeditions of their own against the English for fear of antagonizing their Iroquois allies. Around 1701, the Iroquois negotiated treaties with the British and French that maintained the Iroquois’ neutrality in any British-French conflicts. The British did attempt to send expeditions to fight against the French in Canada in 1709 and 1711, but both expeditions were unsuccessful. Politically, two factions dominated the colony around the middle of the eighteenth century. In 1709, Lewis Morris organized an interest group consisting primarily of Hudson Valley farmers, New York City artisans, and small traders in Albany and New York City. Morris was able to unite these various interest groups by promising better roads, land laws, and cheap money to farmers; he also offered traders import protection, subsidies for local production, and peddler restrictions. Finally, he agreed to impose more taxes on the wealthy.
Robert Hunter, governor from 1710 to 1720, sided with Morris’s faction, granting artisans, shopkeepers, and yeoman farmers special rights, as well as protection to religious dissenters and the Dutch population. In 1720, Adolph Philipse and Peter Schuyler began organizing wealthier merchants in New York City and Albany, large landowners, prominent Anglicans, and poorer freemen. William Burnet, Hunter’s successor, also formed a coalition with Morris’s group, which led to tense relations with the Philipse-Schuyler group.
Fort Ticonderoga, dating to 1755, commanded a strategically important water route in upstate New York. It was the object of bloody fighting during the French and Indian War and became a vital Northern defense for colonial forces in the American War for Independence. (Library of Congress, HABS, NY, 16-FOTI,1-2) These two factions came to be referred to as the Court (Philipses) and Country (Morrisites). The Court party was known as a cosmopolitan interest, involved in overseas, intercolonial, and slave trades and in political dealings with native peoples. Conversely, the Morris group was known as provincial and interested in creating a strong intracolonial economy. Although other political parties existed, these two were the most influential in their time. In 1734–1735, colonial politics shifted with the arrest of John Peter Zenger, printer of the New York Weekly Journal, a newspaper that Morrisites had recently established. Governor Cosby, political enemy of the Morrisites, had Zenger arrested for libel and the newspaper burned. A jury acquitted Zenger; his landmark case helped establish the idea of a free press and the legitimacy of the public’s right to criticize their government officials.
Once the British had defeated the French in the French and Indian War in 1763, white settlers began encroaching even more on Native Americans’ lands. In 1768, a meeting between 3,100 native peoples and several intercolonial delegations granted the English most of central and southwestern New York. In turn, the native peoples received goods valued at 10,460 pounds, recognition of tribal lands located within the territorial domain granted by the English, and an agreement that the boundary line separating British from native lands would be respected. The treaty ultimately provided the native peoples little protection, since British government officials could not control the westward expansion of white settlers and speculators.
When the British government decided to impose new imperial policies on its North American colonists in the 1760s, many became incensed at the lack of consideration of their rights. Artisans and mechanics, in particular, began speaking for their own interests instead of relying on elites to do so. Eventually, they formed a group known as the Sons of Liberty, whose goal was to promote a united colonial front against the mother country’s harsh policies. In 1777, after the colonists had won their independence, New York’s congress created a constitution that granted common men more rights than had been granted them under the English. Some of the major components of this constitution included abolishing manorial assembly seats, but with an assurance that royally granted lands were still legal; keeping the political system of a governor, lieutenant governor, and bicameral legislature, but allowing the popular election of the executive and upper houses; and lowering the property qualifications to vote in assembly elections.
Throughout the colonial period, the residents of the province of New York constantly experienced social, economic, and political upheavals. For native peoples, the increasing European presence meant a greater loss of land and autonomy, especially after the French were driven from the area. The black slave population in the province was never as large as that in the Southern colonies, yet slaves formed an important part of the province’s labor force, especially in New York City. While the Dutch and English were the only European powers to establish governments in the colony, the colony’s population came from many other European countries, including France, Germany, Sweden, Scotland, and Ireland. The story of colonial New York, then, is one in which these different groups sought to maintain their distinct cultures as much as they sought to adapt to new cultures, economic opportunities, and political systems.
Lisa Y. Ramos See also: Fort Orange; New Amsterdam; New Netherland; New York and New Netherland (Chronology); New York City. Bibliography Bonomi, Patricia U. A Fractious People: Politics and Society in Colonial New York. New York: Columbia University Press, 1971. Kammen, Michael. Colonial New York: A History. New York: Scribner’s, 1975. Kierner, Cynthia A. Traders and Gentlefolk: The Livingstons of New York, 1675–1790. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992. Klein, Milton M. The Empire State: A History of New York. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001. Lustig, Mary Lou. The Imperial Executive in America: Sir Edmund Andros, 1637–1714. London: Associated University Press, 2002. Richter, Daniel K. The Ordeal of the Longhouse: The Peoples of the Iroquois League in the Era of European Colonization. Chapel Hill: Published by the University of North Carolina Press for the Institute of Early American History and Culture in Williamsburg, Virginia, 1992. Rink, Oliver A. Holland on the Hudson: An Economic and Social History of Dutch New York. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986.