Chapter 14 - Outline History of the State of New York



EARLY in June of 1779 Sir Henry Clinton conducted an expedition up the Hudson, and attacked two small forts, one at Stony Point, on the west side of the river, and the other at Verplank's Point, nearly opposite. The former had only about forty men to defend it, and they retreated on the approach of the British; but the latter, with its garrison of seventy men, resisted, and was captured. Washington much regretted the loss of these posts, and although they had been enlarged and strengthened after the British took possession of them he resolved to make an effort to regain them. Stony Point was surprised on the night of the 15th of July following, and after a short and fierce conflict the garrison, of more than five hundred men, together with the cannon and military stores, were captured, and the works demolished and abandoned.

In the spring of 1780 Brant was again upon the warpath, and with a band of Indians and tones destroyed Harpersfield in April. It was his design to attack the upper fort of Schoharie, but on his way he captured Captain Harper, who represented to him that the fort had lately been reinforced, and he returned to Niagara with his prisoners. Sir John Johnson, with a force of five hundred tories and Indians, very unexpectedly appeared at Johnstown on the night of May 21st, and the next day swept the country between that neighborhood and the Mohawk. Several persons were murdered, others taken prisoners, and all buildings not belonging to the tories were burned. On the following afternoon the party retreated toward Canada. On the 21st of August Canajoharie and the adjacent settlements were attacked by Brant, at the head of a large body of Indians and tories, who did even more damage than Johnson's party.

General Benedict Arnold, wounded at the last battle with Burgoyne and unable to take any active position, was appointed military governor of Philadelphia in the spring of 1778. Feeling the importance of his station, and fond of making a show, he began living in such an extravagant manner as to become pecuniarily embarrassed; and rather than retrench, and live within his income, he resorted to a system of fraud which brought him into unpleasant relations with the citizens of Philadelphia. By order of Congress he was tried before a court-martial, and sentenced to the mildest form of punishment - simply a reprimand from the commander-in-chief. He appeared to acquiesce in the sentence, but his pride was wounded and he thirsted for revenge. While in Philadelphia he had married the daughter of a tory residing in that place. She was accustomed to receive the attentions of British officers during their occupancy of the city, and through her intimacy with Major Andre a correspondence had been initiated between him and Arnold, by which means the latter's treacherous schemes were developed, and culminated in a most infamous treason. Still he was loud in his professions of patriotism and attachment to his country's cause, and pretended to be anxious to again join his companions in the field. He solicited the command of West Point, then the most important post in the possession of the Americans. Washington had assigned him to the command of the left wing of the army, but upon his repeated and earnest request the command of West Point was given him instead, on the 3d of August, 1780. He established his headquarters on the opposite side of the river, at the house of Colonel Beverly Robinson, whose property had been confiscated on account of his espousal of the British cause. Arnold well knew that Sir Henry Clinton would richly reward him for being instrumental in placing West Point in his hands, and hinted as much to Major Andre, between whom and himself letters passed in disguised hand- writing and over fictitious signatures. In order to settle the terms of this infamous treachery it became necessary for Sir Henry Clinton to send Major Andre for a personal interview with Arnold, not only to agree upon the conditions of his contemplated surrender but to guard against a counterplot. Major Andre sailed up the Hudson on board of the "Vulture," and a meeting was finally effected. Near the village of Haverstraw resided Joshua H. Smith, who was duped by Arnold to assist in carrying out his designs. It was he who brought Major Andre on shore, where Arnold was awaiting him, and concealed in a thicket they plotted the ruin of the patriot cause from about midnight until day began to dawn, and then repaired to Smith's house to complete their plans. Arnold was to receive ten thousand pounds and the office of brigadier-general in the British army, while West Point was to be given up on the approach of the English fleet. Major Andre was supplied with papers explaining the military condition of the fort, which were concealed in his stockings; while a pass was given him under the name of John Anderson. In the morning a cannonade was opened upon the "Vulture," and she was obliged to fall farther down the river, which reminded Andre of the fact that he was within the American lines. Smith's fears were 60 much aroused that he refused to convey him by boat to the "Vulture," but offered to accompany him a considerable distance by a land route. They crossed the river and proceeded toward White Plains. Near Pines Bridge they parted, and Andre continued his journey alone. When near Tarrytown he was stopped by three militiamen, who were watching for stragglers from the British lines. From what they said to him he was led to believe they were loyalists, whereupon he avowed himself a British officer, but upon discovering his mistake he presented Arnold's pass, and endeavored to explain his previous statements; they insisted upon searching him, and he was forced to submit, and the important papers were found. His liberal offers of money if they would release him were of no avail, and he was conducted to the nearest military post.

On the same morning that Washington arrived at Arnold's head-quarters from Hartford, where he had been to confer with some French officers, Arnold received intelligence of Andre's arrest, and hastening to his barge made his escape to the "Vulture." He was apprised that Washington would soon be at his quarters, and left orders to inform him that he had gone over to West Point, and would soon return. Washington arrived shortly after, and crossing over to West Point found, to his surprise, that Arnold had not been there. After spending some time in examining the works he returned, when the papers which had been found upon Andre were placed in his hands and the whole conspiracy revealed. An immediate pursuit to overtake the traitor was made, but it was too late to prevent his escape. Unfortunate Andre was tried by a court of fourteen generals, convicted of being a spy, sentenced, and executed. Arnold wreaked his malice on the Americans by devastating different parts of the country during the war. After its close, he went to England, where he was shunned and despised by all honorable men.

On the 15th of October, 1780, a large party of tones and Indians, under Sir John Johnson and Brant, invaded the Mohawk valley by way of Schoharie creek, destroying the settlements on the way to Fort Hunter, and thence up the Mohawk on both sides. As soon as intelligence of this invasion reached Albany General Van Rensselaer marched against them with a body of militia. Colonel Brown was stationed at Fort Paris, and receiving orders from Van Rensselaer to attack the enemy promptly obeyed, but his small force was dispersed, and himself and forty of his men slain. Van Rensselaer, after great delay, attacked and routed the invaders, who fled and succeeded in making their escape to Canada. The Mohawk valley continued to be devastated by the savage foe. On the 9th of July, 1781, Currytown was attacked by a party of more than three hundred Indians, commanded by a tory named Doxstader. They were pursued by Colonel Willett, and in a battle forty of their number were slain and the others routed. On the 24th of October Major Ross and Walter Butler, at the head of nearly a thousand men, consisting of British regulars, Indians and tories, made a sudden descent into the Mohawk valley and began a work of plunder and devastation. They were met by Colonels Willett and Rowley near Johnstown, and a sharp engagement ensued, lasting till dark, when the enemy fled. They were pursued, and at Canada creek another skirmish took place, wherein the cruel and infamous Butler was slain. Upon his fall their whole force fled in the utmost confusion. This was the final invasion of the Mohawk valley, and their flight the closing scene in one of the most terrible warfares on record.

While menacing an attack on New York, Washington carefully withdrew from the Hudson to attack Cornwallis in his devastating march through the South, and was far on his way to Virginia before Sir Henry Clinton was aware of the movement. Cornwallis was besieged at Yorktown, and compelled to surrender his whole army on the 19th of October, 1781. This virtually closed the war. Sir Guy Carlton was sent to take the command of the British forces in place of Sir Henry Clinton, with directions to open negotiations for peace. A provisional treaty was signed on the 30th of November, 1782, and a definitive treaty, recognizing the independence of the United States, was concluded at Paris September 3d, 1783. On the 25th of November the British troops took their final departure from the city of New York, and on the same day Washington entered it with his army, amid the joyous- acclamations of the emancipated people. Never, perhaps, was peace more welcome, for the long war had been a terrible ordeal for the patriots, and we who arc living in peace and plenty, so far removed by the wheels of time from that eventful period, are not likely to properly estimate their endurance of great and continued sufferings, nor fully appreciate the liberties they obtained at so great a sacrifice, and bequeathed to succeeding generations.

The United States having been recognized as an independent nation, it was early perceived that the powers conferred upon Congress by the Articles of Confederation were in many essential respects inadequate to the objects of an effective national government The States had been leagued together for a particular purpose, but retained their individual sovereignty, and Congress had no power to compel them to obey its mandates. The people were losing their regard for the authority of Congress; its recommendations for the liquidation of the debts incurred by the war were not promptly complied with, and financial and commercial affairs were falling into serious derangement Each State being independent of the others in the confederacy, jealousies would naturally arise, and without concerted action on the part of the States it was almost impossible to collect revenue. In view of these increasing evils the leading minds of the country desired a closer union of the States under a general government. A convention was held at Annapolis in September, 1786, to take into consideration the establishment of a general tariff on imports and a uniform system of commercial regulations. Commissioners were present, however, from only five States, among which was New York, represented by Alexander Hamilton. They recommended the calling of a convention of delegates from the several States in May following, and transmitted a report of their conclusions to Congress. Their recommendations were adopted by Congress, and that body deemed it expedient that the delegates should be instructed to revise the Articles of Confederation and report to Congress and the several State Legislatures such amendments and provisions as should seem adequate to the exigencies of the government. All the States except Rhode Island were represented in the convention, which was held at Philadelphia. Believing that the Articles of Confederation were so defective as to be wholly inadequate to the wants of the country, the delegates went to work to form a new constitution. Its plan was generally approved, but there were many in the convention who looked upon the preservation of State sovereignty as pre-eminently essential, and regarded the proposed change in this particular as an infringement of State rights. The delegates from New York upon their appointment had been restricted to the revision of the existing Articles of Confederation; and when the convention decided to provide a new constitution they, with the exception of Alexander Hamilton, withdrew. That body then proceeded to form a constitution, which was adopted and submitted to the several States for approval, the assent of nine being required for its ratification. A spirited contest ensued in the State of New York between its advocates and opponents, the latter being in the ascendancy; but having been adopted by the requisite number of States, it was ratified in convention by the State of New York by a close vote on the 26th of July, 1788, but with the recommendation of several amendments which, however, were not adopted. The city of New York was chosen for the seat of the federal government, and George Washington was elected President.

The difficulties relative to the New Hampshire grants still continued. A convention of the people in that disputed territory in 1777 declared it an independent State, and petitioned Congress for admission into the confederacy. New York thereupon sought the interposition of Congress in her behalf, and that body recognized her claims; but the people interested in the New Hampshire grants were determined to maintain their independence, and during the following year organized a State government This revived the discord, which had remained inactive since the breaking out of the war, and so great was the hatred of the New Hampshire people toward the State of New York, that rather than be subject to her jurisdiction they chose to return to their allegiance to Great Britain, and were secretly negotiating with the British to become a colony under the crown; but before the conspiracy was fully matured it was interrupted by the capture of Cornwallis. Hostile feelings continued after the war, but in 1790 the difficulties were amicably adjusted. New York, on receiving a stipulated sum for the extinction of land claims, relinquished her jurisdiction, and in the following year the disputed territory was admitted into the Union, under the name of Vermont.

Large tracts of wild land were in possession of the State of New York at the termination of the war. In 1786 the State granted two tracts to Massachusetts, to satisfy certain antiquated claims of that State; but retained her sovereignty over the ceded territory. The largest of these tracts, known as the Genesee country, embraced the western part of the State, and was designated by a line running south from Sodus Bay on Lake Ontario to Pennsylvania. The other embraced a portion of the present counties of Tioga and Broome. Land commissioners of the State, a few years later, authorized by an act of the Legislature, disposed of large tracts of land in the northern part of the State for very small considerations. The largest and most important of these was that granted to Alexander Macomb, containing upward of three and a half millions of acres, at about eighteen pence per acre.

In 1791 the Legislature ordered an exploration and survey to ascertain the most eligible method of removing obstructions from the Mohawk and Hudson rivers, with a view to improving their navigation by the construction of canals. The following year two companies were incorporated, styled the Northern and Western Inland Lock Navigation Companies, for the purpose of facilitating navigation by connecting by canals Lake Ontario with the Mohawk and Lake Champlain with the Hudson.

Governor Clinton in 1795 having declined to be a candidate for re-election, John Jay was chosen as his successor. The State was now rapidly gaining in population, and in 1800 had nearly six hundred thousand inhabitants. By an act of the Legislature a convention was called to amend the State Constitution in regard to the appointment of members of the Legislature. This body convened in 1801, chose Colonel Aaron Burr to preside over it, and fixed the number of Assemblymen at 100. In 1801 George Clinton was again elected to the governorship, which office he held until 1804, when he was chosen Vice-President of the United States, and Morgan Lewis was appointed his successor. At this time Aaron Burr was holding the office of Vice-President, and failing to receive the nomination for re-election was nominated by his friends for the office of governor of New York. Mortified and chagrined at his defeat, he sought revenge upon those who had been the most prominent and influential in causing it. He regarded the influence of Alexander Hamilton as having contributed largely to his failure, and in his desperation at his blighted political prospects determined to wreak his vengeance upon him. An excuse was presented by Hamilton's expressing political views antagonistic to his own, which having been reported to him in a distorted form he chose to consider as personal, and challenged him. The challenge was accepted and the duel fought, Hamilton falling mortally wounded at the first exchange of shots. His deplorable death produced a gloomy feeling throughout the country, as his brilliant talents and unexceptionable character had won for him the esteem of the whole community. After this occurrence Burr visited the Western States and engaged in treasonable schemes for detaching them from their present political associations, to form, in conjunction with Mexico, a separate government. He was arrested and tried for treason, but escaped conviction for want of sufficient proof. All confidence in his integrity, however, was lost, and the remainder of his life was passed in comparative obscurity. In 1807 Daniel D. Tompkins was elected to succeed Morgan Lewis as governor of New York. In this year Robert Fulton completed the "Clermont," the first boat that ever succeeded in steam navigation. It was launched in Jersey City, and made its trial trip up the Hudson to Albany.

Great Britain and France being at war, the former by a series of " Orders in Council " prohibited vessels of neutral nations from trading with France or her allies, and in retaliation Napoleon proclaimed the notable Berlin and Milan decrees, forbidding all trade with England and her colonies. The effects of these ordinances were very injurious to American commerce; and in consequence thereof Congress, on the 23d of September, 1807, laid an embargo on all vessels in the harbors of the United States, which bore heavily on the mercantile interests of the country, and excited considerable opposition.

SOURCE:  History of Wyoming County, N.Y., with Illustrations, Biographical Sketches and Portraits of Some Pioneers and Prominent Residents; F. W. Beers & Co.; 1880