A History of New York - British Rule to the American Revolution (Part 2 of 3)


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After the British took the New Netherlands colony from the Dutch, first in 1664 and again in 1674, New York as it was now known was in British hands for over one hundred years. Certain actions by the British, and also a growing desire on behalf of the colonists to forge their own future and make their own decisions, resulted in a rising tide of feeling against British rule that ultimately culminated in an uprising against it.

Two Acts of Parliament was to have a profound effect on the British colony, and ultimately contribute to its downfall. The Navigation Act of 1660 and the Staple Act of 1663 combined to require all goods intended to be landed in British colonies to be shipped to England and Wales first, where they would be inspected and taxed. Furthermore, the goods had to be carried in English ships, so any foreign ships holding the goods were emptied, and the cargoes transferred.

Not only that, but there were certain listed products on which tax had to be paid before carrying on to the intended destination. The result of these laws was that the cost of importing goods by colonies was increased, and it took a lot longer for the goods to be delivered to the colonies. Naturally, this created a great deal of dissatisfaction and unrest. As time went by, the acts were amended in a number of ways that frequently increased the taxes and trade restrictions, and that also allowed Scotland and Ireland similar rights.

The 1733 Molasses Act also fomented unrest by placing heavy taxes on sugar originating from the French West Indies such as Martinique and Guadeloupe, and forced them to import the more expensive products of the British West Indies.

The formation of the Dominion of New England was created in 1686 as a means of enforcing the Navigation Acts and of strengthening the defense against the French. This angered many colonialists and was yet another nail hammered into Britain’s coffin that would ultimately end in the Revolutionary War. The Dominion itself did not last long because James II was overthrown by William of Orange in 1688, the colonists rebelled and the Dominion was overthrown.

The effect of the so-called Glorious Revolution of the people of England against the Catholicism of James demonstrated to the colonies that the people could be successful in rising up against rulers and governors they no longer wanted, and this type of uprising became common. Consequently, the governor of New England was arrested and sent back to England thus effectively ending the Dominion.

The history of New York City for the next few years was fairly quiet, though some events were significant in that they demonstrated a general resentment of authority. While the first printing press in the city was set up in 1693 and the New York Gazette founded as the first newspaper in 1725, an immigrant called John Peter Zenger first published a local newspaper, The New York Weekly Journal, in 1733.

At that time there was a corrupt New York governor called William Cosby who was abusing his position. Zenger published remarks condemning him for his abuse of power and Cosby took libel action against the publisher. The case was vigorously defended, and in spite of the judge favoring Cosby and in effect instructing the jury to find Zenger guilty, the verdict cleared Zenger. This indicated in no small way that the people were no longer willing to be walked on by people such as Cosby, and was on of the first cases that underlined the freedom of the press. It was a very significant verdict that likely bolstered the sense of freedom and human rights that was the driving force of the American revolution.

One incident that occurred in New York in 1770 was a portent of what was to come. The British parliament passes a Stamp Act in March 1765, introducing the necessity of stamped paper for such items as newspapers, legal documents and even playing cards. In order for the stamp to be made, a tax had to be paid. The stamp indicating that this had been done. Without the tax, and hence the evidence of the stamp, the documents and playing cards were illegal. This Act was effective in the colonies, and the revenue was used to finance British soldiers involved in protecting the colonies.

Although many Americans accepted this as a reasonable tax, Benjamin Franklin among them, the population of the American colonies regarded it as yet another infringement on their liberty. Opposition against the Stamp Act grew among the educated of the colonies, but in spite of efforts to deal with the matter in political terms, the Stamp Act riots of 1770 resulted in British soldiers shooting American citizens, and made their mark on American history. The so-called ‘Sons of Liberty’ were the strong arm of the protesters, and were headed by Samuel Adams and Paul Revere in Massachusetts. After protests in which more than one death was involved, the Stamp Act was repealed in March 1776, long after the revolt had begun.

BY now, however it was too late, and the Boston Tea Party of 1773 set the scene for general revolt. The paradox of this is that the Tea Act of 1773 was passed by the British parliament to reduce the price of tea to colonists by cutting out the middleman. It was, however, presented by merchants as being another tax on the American colonies, and the Boston Tea Party was repeated in New York Harbor in 1774.

A cumulation of all of these Acts, which were regarded as infringements on human liberties, resulted in the first shots being fired at Lexington on April 19, 1775. Thus began the beginning of the American Revolution and what was to become the USA, and the history of New York had not only played its part, but had more to play.

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