New York City / State Timeline
from Eagles Byte by David Minor
Year-by-year tracing the growth of the early days of the Republic
UP A LAZY RIVER
In 1807, the year the British man-of-war Leopard removed four seamen from the U. S. frigate Chesapeake off the coast of Virginia, after firing on her, killing three seamen and wounding her captain, two New York residents were focused on interior waterways, one imagined, the other real. The first was being hatched in a prison cell in Canandaigua. It was here Jesse Hawley, imprisoned for debt, spent his enforced isolation writing thirteen essays under the name Hercules, proposing a canal across New York State, from the Hudson to Lake Erie. His dream would take awhile. Down in New York City another dreamer was abou t ready to turn his into reality.
The rest of the state continued its steady growth. At the far western end the Churches were keeping busy in Angelica, named like their infant daughter, for Philip's mother. They began construction on Belvidere, a mansion in the wilderness. Land sales were profitable, he could afford it. It was also this year he was elected first judge of Allegany's County Court of Common Pleas.
But it was on the Hudson River where history was truly being made. Albany in the north and New York at the southern end, continued their rapid growth. The State House at Albany was just built (the cost had exceeded the original estimate of $120,000) but now the state government had a home.
Today we're used to entering a bookstore and seeing dozens of guide books about the world's major cities lining the travel shelves. The granddaddy of them all, Dr. Samuel L. Mitchill's The Picture of New York was first published in this year of 1807. It described a growing city of 4 hospitals, 5 banks, 6 markets, 1 theater, two major public gardens and 19 newspapers. A fortification, Castle Clinton, was built at Manhattan's lower tip. It would later become the precursor of Ellis Island as immigration center. Manhattan, by the way, began growing in size, politically if not geographically, when it was granted a northward extension of its underwater land rights along the Hudson and East rivers, 400 feet out from shore.
Travel between the two cities was slow; the Hudson had become an obstacle. Our other dreamer, Robert Fulton, would speed the journey. On August 17th, after trial runs in New York's harbor, he set out for Albany in his newly-completed steamboat. Zipping along at 4 ½ miles an hour he made the round trip in four days, returning to New York on the 21st. The following month he began regularly scheduled service between the two cities, in spite of two successful attempts by rivals to ram his boat. The attacks were in vain. New York-Albany stage coach lines began cutting back their schedules. Fulton had his triumph. Hawley's was several decades away.
WHERE IS THAT GIRL?
In 1807, the year Britain's 1807 attack on the frigate Chesapeake called for a strong response and President Jefferson didn't hesitate long. He slapped an embargo on U. S. ports that year, forbidding any trade with the English. The possibility of war had become stronger now, in 1808. Strong enough to cause New York City, divided into ten wards this year, to refortify Governors Island, rebuilding the dilapidated Fort Jay, renaming it Fort Columbus. The embargo, increasingly unpopular at home, was harming the U. S. as badly as those it was intended to punish. This may help account for the fact that the number of debtors in the city rose from 300 las t year to 1300 now. In Jefferson County, at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, the government stationed a party of militia to enforce the embargo. Smuggling by both sides would often defy attempts at restraint, right on through the War of 1812, and immense quantities of potash were sneaked into Canada without restraint. This product was invaluable to frontier economies. Along with pork, wheat, and whiskey shipped from the mouth of the Genesee River, it accounted for $100,000 in sales.
Upstate New York lost one of its prime movers in 1808. Former land agent Charles Williamson, sailing on a trade mission for the British government, failed to recover from his annual bout with Genesee Fever this time and was buried at sea in the Caribbean. One of his former projects, the bridge across the northern end of Cayuga Lake, also succumbed to the forces of nature, but it would be rebuilt. Western New York needed its transportation and communication systems. Stagecoach service was inaugurated between Batavia and Canandaigua. Daily mail service between Canandaigua and Utica was also begun.
A number of events in 1808 would bear fruit down the road. In March, Saratoga County physician Dr. Billy J. Clark read Dr. Benjamin Rush's An Inquiry Into the Effect of Spirituous Liquors on the Human Body and Mind. A few weeks later he founded the Union Temperance Society, the state's first. The legislature introduced a bill for a feasibility study for a canal, and engineer and judge James Geddes surveyed routes across the state, reported the project could work. In Wyoming, New York, settlers Michael and Cynthia Loomis erected a log cabin and began farming. Their great-grandson would grow up to be a journalist and a beloved teller of New York tales, newshound Arch Merrill. Several towns were renamed in 1808. From this point on, New Amsterdam was to be known as Buffalo. And down on the Chemung River the town fathers of Newtown recalled a sound from their past when they looked for a new name for their village. It was believed locally that innkeeper's wife Polly Teall had a voice that could peel bark off a healthy tree as sixty paces. Many citizens would never forget apparently, the many times she would call her young daughter home, belting out her name, "Elmira! Elmira!!"
© 2000, David Minor
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.