New York City / State Timeline
from Eagles Byte by David Minor
Year-by-year tracing the growth of the early days of the Republic
A popular slogan several decades back was , "Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came?" In the beginning of 1815 it was more a case of "Suppose They Called the War Off and Didn't Tell Everyone?" Or more accurately, couldn't tell everyone. By the time news of the peace treaty reached Louisiana, the Americans under Andrew Jackson had thoroughly trounced Sir Edward Pakenham's British forces. A great morale booster, it turned out to be otherwise meaningless, as peace reasserted itself.
New York State had some winding down and some building up to do. Several ships being completed at Sackett's Harbor were mothballed and remained under wraps for decades. During the dismantling of one, the ship New Orleans in 1884, half the vessel broke off and toppled, killing one workman and injuring two others, victims of a war fought 69 years before. But back to 1815. A number of British officers, including Commodores Owen and Yeo came down the Hudson from the Great Lakes unmolested and passed through Manhattan, taking a private ship back to England. Some wounds healed more quickly when the prospect of profits was held out. By May steamboat service between Sackett's Harbor and Kingston, Ontario, was on a regular schedule.
Other projects, unrelated to the war, moved along. A steamboat navigated the rapids of Hell's Gate in Manhattan's East River and launched the crude beginnings of the New Haven Line. That December, both the East and the Hudson froze completely over. And at about the same time mayor De Witt Clinton was invited to present a proposal to the state legislature regarding his ideas for canal to link Albany with Lake Erie. On the eastern shores of the latter, the village of Buffalo was rising rapidly from its own ashes. This same year Colonel Nathaniel Rochester continued to edge closer to the village that would bear his name, moving from Dansville to East Bloomfield.
If war's aftermath preoccupied New York's citizens in 1815, so did legal matters. Governor Tompkins granted a pardon to our geologist friend Amos Easton. Just one stipulation. Don't show your face in New York State. Ever again. Eaton agreed and headed to Massachusetts. He'd be back. Not so lucky were Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Whittlesley. And this was related directly to the war. Lawyer Whittlesley, a militia paymaster, arrived in Watertown with his wife and news of a bold robbery. The two of them had been forced to hand over $8700 in military funds. Actually the Missus had stolen the money, and when caught by her husband, persuaded him to join the scam. Certain details of his story didn't ring true to some, though. Several of his bondsmen got him alone in the woods, dunked his head under water several times for lengthy periods and got a confession. His wife learned the jig was up, walked down to the river, threw herself in, and drowned. She gained some fame however, they named the spot Whittlesley Point.
GETTING ON WITH IT
By 1816 the people of New York were beginning to put the second British war behind them. At the mouth of the Hudson River, Gotham, Anglo-Saxon for Goat-Town, a name for New York City borrowed from English fables by Washington Irving nine years previously, reached a population of 93,634 people. The nation's largest city, it wasn't about to sit on its laurels. Brooklyn, later a city in its own right, became a village on April 12th. In Manhattan the American Bible Society was founded on May 8th. Worshipers of a secular god were also keeping busy. Plans were being considered for a revolutionary institution--the savings bank--but it would be a few more years in coming, and New York would not have the first. New construction was under way, with a new penitentiary near Bellevue Hospital replacing the Newgate prison where businessman-scientist Amos Eaton had spent the last few years. A new industry also sprang into being as five shiploads of ice were sent to the American South, and as far away as South America and Asia.
Another event on the other side of the world may have had something to do with that new industry. Last year when Sumatra's Mount Tambora volcano went ka-boom, weather around much of the world underwent changes lasting for sometime. This year, as spring approached, the temperatures remained quite cold. Schenectady provides a good example. On June 9th ice formed, sleighs were still being used and leaves dropped from the trees. Eight days late a blizzard left between 12 and 18 inches of snow, and on Independence Day, ice formed as "thick as window glass." Ocean currents kept Long Island close to normal, but the rest of the state, as well as parts of Europe, huddled around the fire this year, a year known as the one without a summer. Many crops were ruined; flour advanced from six to fourteen dollars a barrel.
Agriculture was only one source of work, of course. Industries were popping up all over, especially along major waterways. Up on the Mohawk, in the town of Ilion, a local gunsmith knew a growth industry when he saw one; Eliphalet Remington set up a factory and began turning out rifles. By now the production of salt in the nearby Onondaga country was producing revenue for New York State. This year economy measures were put in place.. The superintendent of the works lost his assistant, but had his salary increased a bit, still yielding a net savings, and the legislature had a use for it. (Surprise! Surprise!) In the spring they authorized the construction of a canal and appointed commissioners for the project. De Witt Clinton was one, along with Stephen van Rensselaer, Samuel Young, Joseph Ellicott and Myron Holley.
Finally, New York wasn't the only community to consider building new prisons. Upstate, Auburn began work on a new one. Other construction was underway, as well. On a nearby street Judge Elijah Miller was having a house built. One day a U. S. Secretary of State would live there. It was not to be the home's first brush with history, however. One of the work crew was a carpenter named Brigham Young.
© 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.