Item of the Day: The History of the Province of New-York (1776)

Full Title:  The History of the Province of New-York, From the First Discovery, To Which is Annexed a Description of the Country, An Account of the Inhabitants, Their Trade, Religious and Political State, and the Constitution of the Courts of Justice in that Colony by William Smith A.M.  London: Printed for J. Almon, opposite Burlington-House, Piccadilly, MDCLXXVI.


Whoever considers the number and extent of the British colonies, on this continent; their climates, soil, ports, riches, and numberless advantages, must be convinced of their vast importance to Great Britain; and be at a loss to account for the ignorance concerning them, which prevails in those kingdoms, whence their inhabitants originally sprang.  The merchants, indeed, by  profitable experience, have not been altogether unacquainted with our trade and our growth; and some gentlemen of an inquisitive turn, by the help of their correspondents, have obtained the knowledge of many other particulars equally important.  But the main body of the people conceive of these plantations, under the idea of wild, boundless inhospitable, uncultivated deserts; and hence the punishment of a transportation hither, in the judgment of most, is thought not much less severe, than an infamous death.  Nay, appealing to facts, we may safely assert, that even the public boards, to whose care these extensive dominions have been more especially committed, attained, but lately, any tolerable acquaintance with their condition.  This is the more to be wondered at, as it is natural to imagine, that the King’s governors have statedly transmitted full accounts of their respective provinces.  The case has been quite otherwise.  Governments were heretofore too often bestowed upon men of mean parts, and indigent circumstances.  The former were incapable of the task, and the latter too deeply engrossed by the sordid views of private interests, either to pursue or study or common weal.  The worst consequences have resulted from these measures.  Perpetual animosities being engendered between the governors, and the people subjected to their authority; all attempts for conciliating the friendship of the Indians, promoting the fur trade, securing the command of the lakes, protecting the frontiers, and extending our possessions far into the inland country, have too often given place to party projects and contracted schemes, equally useless and shameful.  The conduct of the French has been just the reverse:  in spite of all the disadvantages of a cold climate, a long and dangerous navigation up the river of St. Lawrence, a rough, barren, unsettled country, locked up from all communication with the ocean, the greatest part of the year; I say, notwithstanding these difficulties, they have seized all the advantages which we have neglected.  The continent, for many hundred leagues, has been thoroughly explored, the main passes fortified, innumerable tribes of Indians, either won over to their interest, subdued, or bridled, the fur trade engrossed, a communication maintained between the extremes of New-France, the British colonies restricted to scant limits along the sea shore, and nothing left remaining for the establishment of a vast empire, but to open a free water passage to the ocean, by the conquest of the province of New-York.

If the governors of these plantations had formerly been animated by the same generous and extensive views, which inspired Mr. Burnet, the long projected designs of our common enemy might, with the aid of Great Britain, have been many years ago supplanted, or at least defeated, at a trifling expence.  But, alas! little, too little, attention has been had to these important affairs, till the late encroachments on the river Ohio, in the province of Pennsylavania, gave the alarm, and the ministry were apprized of the French machinations, by the seasonable representations fo General Shirley; and if the colonies have now attracted the notice of his Majesty and his parliament, their grateful acknowledgements are due principally to the noble Lord, to whom these sheets are dedicated, for his laudable enquires into their state, and his indefagatible zeal and industry for their defence and prosperity.

At present our affairs begin to wear a more similar aspect.  We are under the guardianship of a Sovereign, who delights in the welfare of his people; are respected by a Parliament, affected with a generous sympathy for the distresses of their fellow subjects, in all their dispersions; and by a wise improvement of the British aids, it is hoped, we shall be able to retrieve the ill consequences of our long, reproachful, and insensible security.

Formerly the colonies were at home disregarded and despised, nor can any other reason be assigned for it, than that they were unknown.  This is, in a great degree, to be imputed to ourselves.  If our governors with-held those informations, which their duty required them to have given, persons of private characters ought to have undertaken the useful and necessary talk.  But, except some accounts of the settlements in the Massachusetts-bay and Virginia, all the other histories of our plantations upon the continent, are little else than collections of falsehoods, and worse than none.  That this charge against those published concerning this province, in particular, can be fully supported, I persuade myself, will incontestably appear from the following summary, concerning which I shall say a few words.

Having been formerly concerned, according to an appointment by act of assembly, in a review and digest of our provincial laws, it was the duty of myself, and my partner in that service, to peruse the minutes of the council, and the journals of the general assembly, from the glorious revolution, at the accession of King William, to the year 1751: and as an acquaintance with our public transactions, was a branch of instruction, of which a student for the profession of the law ought not to be ignorant, I have since re-examined those entries, beginning with the first minutes of the council, and read over many of the records in the secretary’s office.  From these authentic materials, the following pages were in a great measure, compiled.  For many of those parts, which concern our affairs with the French and the Indians, antecedent to he peace of Ryswick in 1697, I am bound to make liberal acknowledgements to Dr. Colden, the author of the History of the Five Nations. . . .

When I began to frame this digest, it was only intended for private use; and the motives which now induce me to publish it, are the gratification of the present thirst in Great Britain after American intelligences; contributing, as far as this province is concerned, to an accurate history of the Biriths Empire in this quarter of the world; and the prospect of doing some small service to my country, by laying before the public a summary account of the first rise and present state. . . .

June 15, 1756.


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Filed under 1750's, Colonial America, Great Britain, New York, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

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