Summer 1998

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1789, 1790

New York City / State Timeline

from Eagles Byte by David Minor

Year-by-year tracing the growth of the early days of the Republic


In its article on the word eponymous, that which gives a name to anything, the Encyclopedia Britannica refers to cases where "a country or a city has been named after a real personage." In 1789 it was fairly obvious that Nathaniel Rochester was not interested in becoming an eponym. The Hagerstown businessman was involved in constructing a mansion—Mount Prospect—in Maryland. He may have needed larger quarters, because on January 29th, Sophie Rochester gave birth to a son, William. The infant would grow up to become a politician and a judge. One day he would literally vanish from history, but that's another story.

Most of the young nation focused its attention on downstate New York this year, where it's government was being forged. On February 4th George Washington was elected as the first President of the United States, with John Adams the first Vice-President. One month later the First Constitutional Congress met in New York City. Though lacking a quorum, they declared the U. S. Constitution to be in effect The House achieved a quorum on April 1st, and elected Frederick Augustus Muhlenburg as speaker. The Senate officially assembled on the 6th, counted election results and notified the two leaders of their election. Adams arrived fifteen days later, took his oath and began presiding over the Senate. Washington arrived on the 23rd and was sworn in a week later, standing on the front steps of Federal Hall. His statue stands there today, looking over the New York Stock Exchange, like the good businessman he was.

There were federal departments to create, shipping and customs to regulate, revenues to raise, an inaugural ball to plan. Appointments had to be made— Henry Knox at the War Department, Alexander Hamilton at Treasury, Edmund Randolph to become Attorney General. Thomas Jefferson, the new Secretary of State, had to be brought home from the tinderbox of France.

The rest of the city went about city business. While state Attorney General Richard Varick was becoming mayor, the siren song of power prompted new alliances. A Republican political club, the Society of St. Tammany, was formed. John Jacob Astor bought his first piece of real estate, on the Bowery Road. And an English textile worker named Samuel Slater arrived in the city. In his head Slater carried the closely-guarded mechanical secrets of British textile mills. He would move on to New England and found the U. S. cotton industry.

North of Albany, Gideon Putnam settled the area soon to be Saratoga Springs. Settlements were also founded at Corning and Ithaca. And further west, Oliver Phelps opened the first U. S. land office, in Canandaigua. Sales got under way.


In 1790 New York State continued to define its boundaries. It had built a lighthouse on the west side of New York Harbor at Sandy Hook, which was now part of New Jersey, so the beacon was transferred to the U. S. Govenment in February. In October the common boundary with Vermont was determined, with New York relinquishing some of the disputed land for a $30,000 payment Land sales at the other end of the state were not proving to be as profitable; Phelps and Gorham sold the land west of the Genesee River back to Massachusetts. It would be more than another decade before settlement would begin to pick up to any great extent. Middaugh's tavern at Lewiston would continue to be rather lonely for some time.

Meanwhile, back in lower Manhattan, the Federal Government continued to mind the country's business. Secretary of Treasury Hamilton proposed in January that the new government assume all state debts incurred during the recent rebellion. Congress received its first antislavery petitions (ironically it was on February 11th, the day before the future birthday of a yet unborn Abraham Lincoln). March 1st saw the enactment of the first Census Act. The count for the state showed a population of 340,120, making it the fifth largest in terms of population. Secretary of State Jefferson reported for duty on the 21st and was sworn in the next day. As the year progressed Congress also created the U. S. Coast Guard to suppress smuggling, passed a copyright act, a patent act (the first patent recipient lies buried in Pittsford), and, in August, signed a treaty with Creek Indian leader Alexander McGillivray, to preserve peace with the tribes of the South.

One piece of legislation was not having an easy time of it The House of Representatives defeated Hamilton's Assumption Act. Many southern states saw no reason why the Federal government should assume the wartime debts incurred by the states, especially since the northern states would benefit most But in the end Hamilton held an important bargaining chip. The southern states felt that the country's government should be at a more central location, at least in Virginia. Legislative give-and-take continued for the nation's capital. It was decided to have the President choose the final site. Nothing suggested itself, but it was agreed to move the capital to Philadelphia for a ten-year period, while plans for a new Federal City went forward. The nation's capital prepared to pick up and move on. Congress recessed on August 12th and New York City passed out of the national limelight.

Life went on across the state. Orange County farmer William Wickham and his family headed for the Finger Lakes that Fall, wintering over in northern Pennsylvania. And brothers James and William Wadsworth arrived in the Genesee Valley.

1998, David Minor
1703, . . . 1784, 1785, 1786, 1787, 1788, 1789, 1790, 1791, 1792, 1793, 1794, 1795, 1796, 1797, 1798, 1799, 1800, 1801, 1802, 1803, 1804, 1805, 1806, 1807, 1808, 1809, 1810, 1811, 1812, 1813, 1814, 1815, 1816, 1817, 1818, 1819, 1820, 1821, 1822, 1823, 1824, 1825, 1826 , 1827, 1828, Pt. 1
The Eagles Byte New York City / State Timeline is from David Minor's radio scripts for Simon Pontin's Salmagundy radio program on WXXI-FM (91.5). David can be heard every Saturday morning at 10:15 talking about various aspects of world history.
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