Mirror for Gotham: New York as Seen by Contemporaries from Dutch Days to the Present

By Bayrd Still | Go to book overview

3. RESISTANCE, REVOLUTION,
AND RECONSTRUCTION (1765-1789)

CONTEMPORARY COMMENT reflects the tension, the physical dislocation, and the efforts at reconstruction which in turn affected life in New York City during the generation in which the thirteen colonies won their freedom from Great Britain. In the course of these volatile years, New York was a seedbed of revolution, a Patriot bastion, an occupied city, a Tory haven, and finally the capital city of the newly emerging United States. Always a city of transients, New York was plagued in this period with a more fluctuating and transitory population than at any other time in its municipal career. Its population dropped from 25,000 to 5,000 as its residents fled in the face of the British occupation; rose to some 33,000 with the influx of Loyalist refugees, British soldiers, and the motley ingredient that attaches itself to a garrison town in time of war; and momentarily declined again as it changed from Tory refuge to American city. Commentators on this confused and ever changing scene included royal administrators, proponents of revolution, Patriot soldiers, resident Loyalists, Tory refugees, and, in time, visitors from the sister states and inquiring Europeans bent upon observing the transformations of the postwar years. 1

Visitors of the early 1760's detected signs of the unrest that prevailed as a result of revenue measures passed by the British Parliament after 1763. The Sugar Act of 1764 threatened the profits of the merchants who trafficked in rum and molasses with the Dutch and French West Indies. The Stamp Act was especially offensive to the lawyers and newspapermen. Artisans, tradesmen, and mechanics, irked as much by local inequalities as by Parliamentary innovations, were easily encouraged to resist. The rising tension was observed by Lord Adam Gordon, Army officer and member of Parliament, who traveled in America and the West Indies in 1764 and 1765. "People here, live . . . very Comfortably, did they chuse to be contented,"

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