The History of New York State
Book 12, Chapter 18, Part 1

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam



The industries of New York, using the term in the largest sense, had their roots in Europe, and for the first centuries were fed from abroad. The discoveries of land to the west in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries aroused the interest of the unhappy peoples just wakened from the slumber of the dark ages. The European continent had been the battleground of national, with the result that impoverishment, disease and famine held sway. Europe was hungry, desperately so; not only had great areas of land gone out of cultivation, but such as was being used was losing its fertility. The forests, the chief source of fuel and building material, were also becoming exhausted; wood to cook and heat with had become luxuries. Manufactures, as that wood is now understood, were practically unknown; clothing was of the crudest, the skins of animals being one of the main sources of supply. The craving for something to eat, the desire t be clothes and to be warm, are great stimulants to enterprise. The instinct of self-preservation was one of the great elements leading to the settlement of America, whether this instinct inspired kings, adventurers, merchants or people.

The fishing banks east of Newfoundland received the attention of all the European Nations long before there was any great interest in the land lying west of them. When dried fish came to be a valued commodity, places onshore had to be secured for the drying racks. New England with its strategical position, geographically, became a fishing community. France from very early times devoted its colonizing efforts in the interests of the fur trade. Virginia, after it was realized that gold was not to be picked up everywhere, went about solving the food problem. New York was founded by a Nation which was shrewd in trading and skilled, beyond the average of the time, in agriculture. The founders hoped to profit from the fisheries, the fur trade, lumbering and good growing, it is noteworthy that the Dutch West Indies Company strictly forbade the colonists which it sent over to New Amsterdam to engage in any other occupation than farming. Not only were they expected to supply good for themselves, but must grow enough for export and trade. It is quite evident that this early Dutch company wanted its colony to be self-sustaining not only in the matter of having enough to eat, but to furnish a commodity which was better than money for use in barter. The Dutch company wanted fish, particularly in the dried state, and, as the fisheries were controlled by England and France, they must be secured by exchange. It desired furs from the Indians, ships from the New Englanders, tobacco from the Virginians, and all manner of things from the European Nations. Foodstuffs were, after all, the universal need and staple commodity in trade, hence the emphasis upon the production of edibles when the New Amsterdam colony was promoted. That the actual settlers straightway became involved in other industries than farming does not effect the fact that great as is the State in manufacturing and commerce, it was begotten in agriculture, became the leader in agriculture, and agriculture was its principal industry during the larger part of its career.

It is but just to note that the introduction of agriculture in New York was not the principal purpose of the Dutch company to which reference has been made. For that matter the settlement of New Amsterdam was a side issue, colonization not entering into its scheme except as an aid to trade. The Dutch were after furs, and the memorable trip made by Hudson up the river which bears his name, in 1609, showed the way to the fur yielding section of Eastern America. It was not until 1623 and later, that any definite attempt was made to establish permanent settlements. The first cabins built in the State were erected in 1613, when Adrian Block had one of his two ships laden with furs burned off the lower end of Manhattan Island, and remained with half his crew to build another vessel, and collect a new stock of skins. Hendrick Christiansen, desiring to reap the advantages of the fur trade with the Iroquois in the northern regions of New York, built a trading post on Castle Island, near the present Albany in 1614, and garrisoned it with a few men. Fort Orange, built in the southern part of Albany, and a similar settlement on Manhattan Island started about the same time (1623) marked the real attempt at permanent colonizing by folk who were supposed to till the soil, while others cared for the fur trade. Chronologically, then, the fur trade was the first industry of New York, and one that was carried on with more or less success long after the English had taken over the country in 1664.

The fur trade proved exceedingly profitable, particularly when considered from the value of the product in relation to the number of men required to secure it. the State was exceedingly well located as regards the fur district, with a climate favorable to the existence of fur-bearing animals, with streams by which these regions might be reached, and with a large and superior class of Indians with whom to trade. It is not strange that the Dutch neglected almost everything else in their search for pelts. They went everywhere within close limits, being wise not to extend their journeys to such distances that the transportation of their furs used up too much time, and too large a proportion of the profits. The Dutch traded as far south as Georgia; came in contact with the Pilgrims about Cape Cod; but mainly they moved up the navigable waters of New York and depended upon the Five Nations for their furs. They competed with the French of the North, and by business rivalry added to the antipathies of the two Nations, although it was the later contact of the English with the French which led to open enmity and war. The methods used by all fur traders were open to criticism, but those of the Ditch were somewhat better than most. The Netherlanders gave trifles for valuable pelts, but the Indian was selling his surplus and getting luxuries. Beads were as pleasing to the aborigines as the diamond is to white of today. A metal pot was an exceedingly valuable possession; Captain John Smith traded such a pot for forty skins worth $250, and both parties to the transaction felt they had the better of it. Credit must be given to the Dutch for not introducing the dealing in illegal commodities, this being left to the English who followed them. All were dishonest in trade, the advantage always being with the one who was familiar with the methods of trading which were the secrets of the white. Irving defines humorously the manner in which the traders overreached the Indians. "The Dutch," wrote he, "were scrupulously honest in their dealings and purchased by weight, establishing it as an invariable table of avoirdupois that the hand of a Dutchman weighed one pound and his foot two." The Dutchman was successful, whatever his method of trade. One of their ships, the "Nieu Nederlandt," took from Albany at the end of its first season, 1,500 beaver and 500 otter skins. In 1658 the number exported reached 57,640 beaver and 300 otter skins, a beaver skin then being worth about $3.25 of our present currency. This was the high-water mark in the fur trade of the Dutch while they remained in possession of New York.

Under English rule, while the fur trade ranked high among the industries of the colony for a century, it gradually drifted away from its primacy. Historically, it was of the greatest importance, for much of the early history of the State has to do with the results of its citizens of the fur trade as it affected the Indian and through him the French. The Iroquois was the buffer between New York and French Canada, the friendship of the tribes proving valuable in many respects. The Five Nations not only occupied a large territory, but controlled many subject tribes; and what was of more importance, they controlled the best of the fur trade. The fight for years between the French and the English was as to whom should manage the Indian of New York State to the better advantage. Champlain had antagonized the Iroquois, and before the breach was repaired, the English had stepping in and proven the better diplomats. The French brought himself down to the level of the Indian; the English held himself aloof, but appealed to the pride of the aborigine. Both debauched the Indian with rum and fire-arms. At the critical time, however, when it was uncertain as to which side the Iroquois would veer, Colonel Thomas Dongan was the Governor of New York, and by his skill in the handling of men and of questions of State, won the Iroquois to the side of the English, and prevented the French from ever gaining possession of the western slopes of the Alleghenies. All this is a matter of history, and accounts of it have been given in the early chapters of this work. What had not been emphasized is, that so thoroughly was the compact sealed between the English and the Five Nations, that New York was able to continue in the fur trade down to the time of the Revolution, long after it had ceased to be an active industry in most of the other colonies. The fur trade eventually spread to all parts of northern America, and with the end of the Revolution, the larger share went into the hands of the English. There were a number of efforts made by New Yorkers to hold a place in the organized fur business, the most import of which was that of John Jacob Astor. It cannot be said that any of them were successful, even that of Mr. Astor, and the War of 1812 put an end to his activities, his plant being sold to the British.

As has been indicated in an earlier paragraph, the fur trade was indirectly responsible for the introduction of that which was to be for many years, the chief industry of New York, agriculture. Food was required for the sustenance of the fur trades, and for trading purposes, for the Indian was inclined to forget to conserve his food supplies an d was glad to barter pelts for something to eat. After trading posts had been established at points along the Hudson River, notably at Albany, Rondout, (Kingston) and on Manhattan island, encouragement was given to permanent settlers who would plant crops. A decade was given over to the successful pursuit of the fur trade, after which there came a change in the policy of the Dutch company. Walloons, French speaking Protestants were induced to come to the new country and clear the land, or occupy older districts used by the Indians for farming. Some of these settled outside New York State, but the greater number were taken up the river to create the chief Walloon settlement, Fort Orange, or Albany. They were forbidden to engage in the fur trade, and may of them became interested in the lumber business in its various forms. Later came the patroon type of settlement by which great amounts of land came into the possession of an overlord, his grant being proportionate to the number of families he could persuade to live on it. Some of these areas were of tremendous size, such as Van Rensselaerwyck, founded in the same year as Boston, 1630, which included the whole of the present Rensselaer County and the land surrounding Albany. Then there were the Palatines who, in the early 1700's, established themselves, or were settled along the Hudson River and neighboring sections. They were expected to make naval stores, pitch tar and turpentine, for Queen Anne's navy, a futile project since the pine tree of New York was not suitable to such uses, and the Palatines not interested. Many of them went into the Mohawk Valley, and became valued farmers. There now followed an ever increasing number of colonists which spread in constantly widening circles over the eastern part of the State, who, whatever may have been the original purpose of their coming, devoted themselves to agriculture, thereby laying the foundations of New York's second greatest industry, agriculture. By 1700, farming was of greater importance to the State than the fur trade, or any other industry.

The newcomers were fortunate in finding themselves in a region admirably suited to productive cultivation, and with Indian teachers on the spot who could teach them the arts of agriculture, with many tested crops which might be raised with a minimum of labor. New England had a hard and stony soil, a harsh climate, and only a brief growing period. The natives were few and of a somewhat inferior type. The South offered a fertile soil, a warm climate, but unfortunately one which encouraged inactivity. The colonists were of the class unaccustomed to manual labor. Indians were few and workers had to be imported. New York provided a wide variety of coil types, a medium climate, rainfall and sunshine in sufficient quantity, and streams on which to transport their productions and returning supplies, as well as means of keeping in contact with other settlements. The Iroquois were no mean farmers, knew how to clear land and to fertilize what already was in use to increase the yield. The "long houses" of the Five Nations, their cultivated fields and orchards, were the amaze of the early visitors. They had plants which by long cultivation had adapted themselves to the country, and eminently tasty to the English palate, for example maize or corn. The Indian proved willing teachers, and the wiser colonists adopted aborigine methods of farming, and the native seed before branching out largely in the cultivation of plants and trees which came from the homeland. It was found, eventually, that many of the English vegetables and fruits did better in the virgin soil of New York than they did in the old country. This was most especially true of apples, peaches, melons, potatoes, and peas. Most of the grains of foreign origin failed to do well under New World conditions.

Agriculture in New York State is, however, the subject of another chapter, and is only introduced here because of its relation to all other early industries. Until nearly a century ago five-sixths of the people in the State were interested in some phase of farming. As England held, and proposed to hole, the monopoly of manufacturing even after the Revolution, such things as were those immediately connected with the needs of the farmer, or such few articles as could not be produced abroad. Some of the first industries were ones which merely coincided the clearing of land for cultivation, and ceased, in any given locality, when the forest has been depleted. Such, for example, were the ash and small lumber products which were a source of profit to the intended farmer. Settlement proceeded along the water courses into which smaller streams led, many of them with something of a fall. Under such conditions a water-power saw or grain mill might be built. Material for houses, and some products for export might be manufactured, if the distance from the port of New York City was not too great. Of the latter products, timbers for spars, if of great length and straightness were in great demand abroad; clapboards and barrel staves were also readily salable; split shingles and hardwoods suitable for use in the making of furniture were also shipped. It is not to be forgotten the shipbuilding became quite an industry, beginning with the Dutch and reaching its height in the year the Erie Canal was opened. New England early took the lead in the ship construction, however, and never released its until after metal ships replaced the wooden ones.

More important than this export trade in lumber products was that supplying home needs, and this was done best by erecting a mill upon some little stream, usually with a saw and grist mill combined, the saw mill section being abandoned as the forest was cut in the immediate vicinity of the mill. The demand for lumber was limited, so that much of the timber cut by the farmer in clearing his land was burned. The ashes were in great demand for soap-making purposes, and, being reasonably compact, could bee shipped with profit. Asheries spread all over the State as different parts of it were opened to sale and cultivation. As a result the ash trade survived until long after the Revolution, although one of the first rural industries to be started. Another business closely affiliated with farming was tanning. Tanneries were few until after the early years of the eighteenth century, for the spread of cattle to districts outside of the Hudson River region was slow and hides were few. It seems strange that the cow--although brought to New York by the Dutch, and accounts of the difficulties met in pasturing kine where the Indian could not drive them off are to be found in early documents--should have been imported in such few numbers, and that so little effort was made by the early colonists to multiply their numbers. Other meat was too easily obtained, and a cow running wild in the half cleared fields and uncleared forests, probably gave too little milk to be worth the bother of hunting them up.

Leather eventually became greatly in demand. Cattle became numerous, and aboriginal methods of curing the skins proved unsatisfactory. Old World methods of tanning were introduced, which led to the creation of tanneries in many of the districts within reach of the Hudson wherever the hemlock grew. As this was used up, the tannery was abandoned, or removed to a district where the needed bark could be found. The height of his industry was reached in Civil War days, but has never ceased from being one of the valued industries of the State. With the exception of the northeastern part of New York, the many tanneries of the State are no longer dependent upon local supplies of tanning materials.

As agriculture improved and grain growing became a leading occupation, two effects were produced upon manufacturing; flour was produced in quantities larger than were needed to supply local demand, and distilleries multiplied. Some of the flour had to be exported, and it is one of the strange facts of history, that the monopoly of the export of flour led to the rapid development of New York City, leading to the first real estate boom of the many which have come to that metropolis. The first English Governor, Sir Edmund Andros, saw to the passing of the "Bolding Acts," by which all flour had to be inspected in New York village. Later the law was made to read that export flour had to be bolted there. The dual act gave the settlement a strange hold on the grain industry, which was at the time a close rival of the fur trade. Distilleries became numerous about 1750 and on, because liquors were easier to transport than whole grain, and the farmer could get more for this grain the that form than for the raw product.

To the above meagre list of the industries in New York prior to the Revolution, must be added the home weaving of textiles, soap and candle making, the construction of the simple agricultural tools, and the furnishings of the house. These are all "manufactures" in the literal meaning of that word, the making of things by hand. The clay strata of the Hudson Valley were utilized in the making of brick and to a limited extent of pottery as well. Hatmaking seems to have been quite an occupation; there is an act of 1732 permitting the export of hats made of beaver fur. Fish was cured for export from the earliest days, but never to the extent that was true of New England. Beef and port packing developed slowly from a few years before the Revolution, but received its greatest impetus after the discovery of the Onondaga salt springs in 1790, which made it possible to sale down the cattle where they were raised. Iron was mined for the first time to any large extent only after 1750, and its production was by primitive methods, principally from bog-iron ore. It was only possible where the forest growth was heavy, for the amounts of charcoal required were enormous.

The industries of New York were, indeed, few during the first half of its history. There is nothing surprising in the statement made by the Board of Trade for the colonies in 1731 that there were then "No manufactures in the Province of New York, worth speaking of." Three facts should be recalled, however: First, the mercantile policy of England was to sternly repress any attempt on the part of its colonies to make anything that could be produced in the mother country. Second, manufacturing, as we now understand that word as implying the use of machinery in a factory, owned by a company, and employing a large force of hands, is a development of very modern times and dates, in this country, from little more then a century ago. Third, the New York of Pre-Revolutionary days was a most sparsely settled area, whose people under the most primitive pioneering conditions were arriving to produce food for themselves and to exchange for the plainest necessities of life. After forty years under the Dutch the colony had a population numbering only about 12,000, and forty years late (1704) had increased to but 20,000. Easier conditions of living and added privileges of self-government led to a rapid growth after this; but seventy years (1773) the population of the whole State was only about 182,000.

War sometimes stimulates industry and the Revolution was no exception. When the people are cut off from outside supplies and have to provide almost everything for themselves, they are not slow in doing it. In New York, as in the other colonies, great strides were made, particularly in the weaving of textiles. This was still a home and hand process; Samuel Slater had to wait until 1 790 before has able to set up and operate the machines needed for the factory production of cotton goods. The war opened the eyes of the colonists to the fact that agriculture was not the only proper occupation for Americans. With its end, the people continued their progress in manufacturing, and began the making of a variety of articles.

There are no statistics of manufactures collected until 1810. By way of showing the variety of articles manufactured in New York City--and most of the population of the State was located there at this time--mention will be made of the Constitution Parade of July 23, 1788. The professional and business men seem to have turned out in full numbers, and the list of the trades represented is interesting if not illuminating. Among those represented in the parade were bakers, brewers with their attendant coopers, tanners and curriers, skinners, breeches makers and glovers, cordwainers or shoemakers, who numbered 340, carpenters, furriers, hatters, cabinet makers, chair makers, ivory turners, musical instrument makers, coach and harness makers, whip makers, coppersmith, tinplate makers, tobacconists, dyers, brush markers, chandlers or candle makers, pewterers, gold and silversmiths, potters chocolate makers, saddlers and artificial flower makers.

A better picture of the capabilities of the young republic may be gained from some figures taken from the census of 1810, they being for the whole United States.




Manufacture of Leather




Iron Manufactures


Manufactures of Wood




Manufactures of Precious Metals


Soaps & Oils




Cables and Cordage








These reports are supposed to be fifty per cent too low. In other words the total value of manufactured goods was probably nearly $180,000,000, a very large figure when we consider the numerical weakness of the country, the few and crude tools they possessed, as compared without present population and what is now used in the making of more than $25,000,000,000 worth of manufactures.

1800 to 1825.--The nineteenth century marked the rise of manufacturing and the wane of agriculture as the principal occupations of the people of New York. Both these industries made remarkable advances during this period, and agriculture traveled so speedily that it was not until the last quarter of the hundred years that manufacturing was able to overtake it. But, on the other hand, there was really very little manufacturing done in factories by machines until after the century had slipped beyond the first quarter. The value for the State of specified manufactures in 1811 was given as $30,000,000, but of this sum household labor is credited with $12,000,000, and much of the $18,000,000 remaining was produced in tanneries, distilleries, asheries, forges, saw and grist mills, and the like, none of which required much machinery or any degree of elaborateness of layout, nor used power to any great extent. The early census taken counted in as manufactured good all the home-made products, and totaled their values whether sold or used by the makers. New York, in the above mentioned year, wove more then 3,000,000 yards of textiles, but it was done principally by girls and women in their homes. The people of New Hampshire claimed that the average family in that State turned out 300 yards of cloth a year. England was using machinery in the making of textiles and other goods, and selling these in the States, but there was only four cottons mills in the whole of our country in 1803. These mills were quite unlike the sort set up by Lowell in Waltham in 1814, and removed a few years later to the Massachusetts city which bears his name. The story of the introduction and the factory use of textile machinery, prior to 1826 has nothing in it of New York. In that year the metropolis, then the largest city of the republic, saw the organization of its first textile company, and the setting up of a mill of many spindles.

The spinning of textiles was the first of the modern type of manufactures introduced in New York, or elsewhere in this country. Manufacturing, as the machine making of articles as opposed to the hand making of them, was born with the cotton mills. The child was lusty and there were many favorable portents at its birth. James Watt had built a steam engine some years before this (1769), but it was only towards the end of his century that he was able to pay it down on its side, control its speed, and thereby make it useful for something more then pumping water. Hargreaves had invented the spinning jenny; Crompton, the mule; Cartwright, the power loom and improvements in printing and bleaching. Yankees copied these inventions, and improved them. Whitney had his cotton gin ready the very year the first strong firm of cotton manufactures was established. Steam-power and textile machinery had come into being almost simultaneously. The time was at hand for a great change in the affairs of man, and political conditions were such as made Americans ready to take advantage of this change.

The country was on the verge of another war, and had suffered for some time previously from interference with its commerce. If foreign difficulties with shipping were not enough, President Jefferson added to them by shutting up our vessels in their home ports, evidently with the object of starving the nations abroad into a more reasonable attitude. Unfortunately, this embargo on shipping reacted upon New York in two way: The commerce of its principal city was rotund; and the agricultural districts, which, comprised practically all sections of the State were shocked into a realization that they could produce more than was salable. The natural result of these twin conditions was to turn the attention of its citizens upon the home market. Not only must this be depended upon to absorb the supplies from the farms, but it must have on sale articles manufactured in this country. In other words this country must depend upon itself to grow and make what it needed without being dependent upon unfriendly Nations. The lesson was thrust home with unpleasant force from 1789 to 1820, for the foreign countries practiced the dumping of products into the State when plentiful and withholding all supplies when it so suited them. In like manner grains were purchased in a time of famine, but "corn laws" passed to shut out imported foods when they were reasonably plentiful.

All of these things gave an impetus to manufacturing in this country, and at the same time interfered with its establishment until after a quarter of a century had passed. New York, the future industrial State of the Union, was particularly backward in the early years of manufacturing. It depended still upon its commerce; was too much engaged in the opening of new areas to agriculture; natural resources were too great to be passed over in the present manufacturing from materials from else where, such as cotton. There were several exceptions, however. New York had gone heavily into the growing of wool, and woolen goods were manufactured by ever-improved processes from before the Revolution. By 1820 the State was second only to Massachusetts in the amount of woolen goods produced. In 1809 a woolen factory was chartered at Oriskany, under the auspices of DeWitt Clinton, Stephen Van Rensselaer and other prominent men, being the initiation of the policy of making the State able to make up the deficiencies of importation. It is one of the interesting sidelights upon history that the eminent founders of this mill and of the policy, were responsible for another policy, one that became national in its scope, that of the protection of infant industries by means of a tariff. In 1827, at the State convention at Utica, the wool growers and woolen manufacturers declared that Congress ought to pass laws to protect home manufactures and wool growing, and sent delegates to the national convention at Harrisburg instructed to advance these views. Hemp, flax, and iron manufactures were included at that convention. Without going into the political details, or may we say, political chicanery, it is enough to note here that the Tariff of 1828 resulted, and the game of tinkering with "protective" tariffs was started.


The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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