People in the New York Colony

The Great Families

The many negro slaves and the lordly families who kept them made the social life of New York before the Revolution far different from that under the republic. The lords of the manors had vast tracts of land, which, like the Dutch patroons, they rented to their farmers and over which they had almost kingly power. Among them were the Livingstons with their 160,000 acres in the present Columbia county, the De Lanceys and the Morrises. In the winter the feudal lords betook themselves to New York city, where they mingled with the families of the rich merchants and of royal officers. New York city was " a nest of families:" many of their names, as Beekman, Van Cortlandt and Lispenard are given to the streets of the city. They were all intermarried, but were not prevented thereby from having frequent family quarrels.

Such aristocratic families were found in no other American colony, except Virginia; and in Virginia the great planters were Englishmen, while the lords of New York were of various nations; the Schuylers and Van Rensselaers were Dutch, the De Lanceys were French, the Livingstons were Scotch. As a result these families were often found siding with people against the royal governors of England.

The Governors

Towards the middle of the 18th century the feeling towards the governors became such that the people had no regard for one who tried to do as nearly right as he could. The position was little sought for; the changes were frequent. " While Virginia had 20 governors in the century before the Revolution, Massachusetts 21, and Pennsylvania 25, the executive authority in New York underwent 33 changes." Many of these were lieutenant-governors. From the administration of Admiral Clinton to Tyron, the last English governor, the colony was most of the time in charge of Lieutenant-Governors James De Lancey and Cadwallader Colden. Eight governors died in office; one, of a despondent mind, finding after a few days residence in the colony how the assembly would oppose him, hanged himself to his garden wall.

The Ruler of Interior New York

Sandy hook lighthouse, New YorkWhile the governors were losing ground, there was in the Mohawk Valley a feudal lord who was coming to be, in his influence over men, the most powerful man of New York. Sir William Johnson, who obtained fame and his title from his victories in the French and Indian war , came to New York when a young man, to look after his uncle's lands along the Mohawk. He gained the love of the Iroquois, learned their ways, was made a chief, bought their land by the square mile, built a stone house, called his settlement Johnstown and became the monarch of the Mohawk.  In this favored valley the making of the Empire State went rapidly on. For it was the farmers of the State, the great middle class, who gave us the New York of today. It was indeed the very countrymen of this Mohawk Valley, who in the critical moment of the revolution turned back the tide of British invasion.