New York State History

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General State History
Historic Figures

General New York State History

Less than a week after the Declaration of Independence was signed, the people of New York met in convention in Kingston to vote their support and form their own state government. Although their state was the scene of nearly a third of the battles fought in the American Revolution, and their major port and city was occupied, New Yorkers still managed to supply large quantities of food, clothing, lead and iron to General Washington, as well as to serve valiantly in the Continental Army. New Yorkers saw the christening of the American flag when the Stars and Stripes was first flown in battle at the defense of Ft. Stanwix in Rome.

The Colony of New York became a state on July 26, 1788 with the adoption of its first constitution - 12 years before the Federal Constitution. After the adoption of the Federal Constitution, New York City was chosen to be the nation's first capital and was the site of the inauguration of George Washington as President on April 30, 1789.

Giovanni da Verrazano, an Italian-born navigator sailing for France, discovered New York Bay in 1524. Henry Hudson, an Englishman employed by the Dutch, reached the bay and sailed up the river now bearing his name in 1609, the same year that northern New York was explored and claimed for France by Samuel de Champlain.

In 1624 the first permanent Dutch settlement was established at Fort Orange (now Albany); one year later Peter Minuit is said to have purchased Manhattan Island from the Indians for trinkets worth about $24 and founded the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam (now New York City), which was surrendered to the English in.

New York Historic Figures

Millard Fillmore
1800-74: Thirteenth U.S. president; born in Cayuga County, N.Y. Largely self-educated, he read law in an office and was admitted to the bar (1832). He became comptroller of New York State (1847) and served in the U.S. House of Representatives (1833--35, 1837--43) as a Whig. Elected vice-president in 1848, he ascended to the presidency on the death of Zachary Taylor in 1850. As president, he sent Commodore Matthew Perry to Japan and tried with little popular success to steer a moderate course through the threatening slavery issue. His support of the Fugitive Slave Law as part of the Compromise of 1850 cost him the Whig nomination in 1852. He ran for president on the Know-Nothing (American) Party in 1856, then retired to Buffalo, N.Y., where he devoted himself to local affairs.


Franklin D. Roosevelt
1882-1945: Thirty-second U.S. president; born in Hyde Park, N.Y. Born into the patrician family (of Dutch descent) that produced his distant cousin Theodore Roosevelt, as well as his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, he was educated in Europe and at Harvard and Columbia Law School. Admitted to the New York bar in 1907, he served as a progressive state senator (1911--13) and assistant navy secretary (1913--20) before running unsuccessfully as vice-president on the 1920 Democratic ticket. After a crippling attack of polio in 1921 (he would never again walk without assistance), he resumed his political career, becoming governor of New York (1929--33) and seeming to take on a new sense of purpose. With the country in a deep depression, he easily defeated Herbert Hoover in 1932. As president, he moved decisively and set the pattern for the modern liberal Democratic Party with a social and economic program called the "New Deal." An array of agencies and departments, many hastily created in his first months in office, were designed to stimulate the economy, put people to work, and simply to create hope - the Tennessee Valley Authority, Civilian Conservation Corps, Securities and Exchange Commission, Work Projects Administration, and the Social Security Administration, among others. Some of these organizations were short-lived; others became fixtures of the American way of life. While the nation's economy did not fully revive until wartime, his actions earned Roosevelt the gratitude of working people that outweighed the hatred of conservatives. In fact, he himself was not all that interested in either the details of his programs nor in any ideological theories; he was motivated largely by a desire to keep the U.S.A. a functioning and fair society, and to this end he surrounded himself with first-rate people; a person of ordinary intellect and tastes, his mixture of casual optimism and natural sympathies managed to appeal to everyone from artsy intellectuals to disenfranchised minorities. Reelected by a landslide in 1936, he won unprecedented third and fourth terms in 1940 and 1944. Having maintained neutrality in the face of European hostilities in the late 1930s, his administration began supplying arms to the allies by 1940 and then led the nation into World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (December 1941). Having seen the nation through the war, and helped plan, with other allied leaders, the postwar world and the United Nations, Roosevelt died less than four weeks before the German surrender. The object of constant attacks during his presidency - he was regarded as everything from "a traitor to his class" to a would-be dictator - he would suffer somewhat from posthumous revelations about an extramarital relationship and by charges that he conceded too much in negotiations with Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill, but most historians and informed people continue to regard FDR as one of the three or four greatest American presidents.


Jonas Salk
1914-95: Immunologist; born in New York City. He began his pathbreaking studies on viruses and immunization by starting with the influenza virus while at the University of Michigan (1942--47). At the University of Pittsburgh (1947--63) he developed the first vaccination against poliomyelitis, a killed-virus vaccine, introduced to the public in 1953. (By 1961, and after some resistance, Albert Sabin's simpler and stronger live-virus oral vaccine had supplanted Salk's injectable vaccine in the United States; Salk's vaccine is now used only in a few countries around the world.) He is the founder/director (1963) of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, Calif., and is on the board of directors of the Immune Response Corporation, which is pursuing treatment for AIDS and other diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Among his writings are Man Unfolding (1972) and Anatomy of Reality: Merging of Intuition and Reason (1983). Widely honored, he holds the French Legion of Honor (1955) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1977).


Norman Rockwell
1894-1978: Illustrator; born in New York City. Considered the most famous and popular illustrator in America, he studied at the Chase School of Art, Mamaroneck, N.Y. (c. 1908), the National Academy of Design (1909), and the Art Students League (1910), New York. He was an illustrator for major periodicals, such as St. Nicholas, Collier's, Life, Judge, Look, and most importantly, the Saturday Evening Post (1916--63). He produced calendars for Brown & Bigelow (1924--76), created advertisements, and illustrated such classics as Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Early in his career he lived in New Rochelle, N.Y., then moved to Arlington, Vt., and finally settled in Stockbridge, Mass. Using oils and an impeccable realistic technique, he idealized small town America and expressed a personal vision that occasionally rose above sentimentality, as in Breaking Home Ties (1954) and Triple Self Portrait (1960).


Vince Lombardi
1913-70: Football coach; born in New York City. A starting guard for Fordham's "Seven Blocks of Granite" line in the 1930s, he won great respect as a National Football League (NFL) assistant coach before being named head coach of the Green Bay Packers in 1959. He proved a driving, charismatic leader, winning five NFL championships in only nine seasons. His Packers were victors in Super Bowls I and II. His supposed maxim, "Winning isn't the most important thing; it's the only thing," is probably a misquote of his statement on making the effort to win.