Colonial farming in New York ranged from subsistence to commercial agriculture. In the early period of New York's colonial history, European settlers grew crops that were necessary for food and clothing, as they were far away from markets that could supply such goods. Later in the colonial period, farmers concentrated on commercial products that they could ship to other colonies or even to England for a profit.
New York Under Dutch Rule
The Dutch initially settled the area that the English later named New York, in 1624. Known as New Netherland, this colony included modern-day New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Connecticut. The primary Dutch interest in the region was the fur trade with the Iroquois Indians. In exchange for various European goods such as clothing, guns and tools, the Iroquois provided the Dutch with beaver pelts, which were shipped to Europe, where they were fashioned into hats. The Dutch encouraged settlement of the area to support the fur trade, and farmers grew crops such as wheat and corn to supply the colony.
New York Under the English
In 1664, the English conquered New Netherland to prevent the Dutch from trading with their colonies, which was causing them to lose profits; by trading directly with the colonists, the Dutch had bypassed English duties on their colonies' goods, such as tobacco. The English carved New Netherland into several colonies, including New York. By the time the English took over the region, the fur trade was in decline because of over-hunting of beavers. Under the English, the New York economy was more diversified.
Types of Farms in Colonial New York
After the English conquest, colonial New York farms fell into three categories. Some farmers practiced subsistence agriculture, which means they raised cattle and grew crops only to support their families. Other farmers banded together, creating communities among themselves, which allowed them to trade with one another.
Large plantation-style farms existed in colonial New York as well. New York was a royal colony, and the crown granted manors, or large tracts of land, to wealthy colonists who proved themselves valuable to the English colonial enterprise. The "lords" of these manors leased land to tenants who grew crops for commercial purposes. Chief among the crops that tenants grew for export were wheat, corn and oats.
Slavery on Colonial New York Farms
Slavery existed in New York throughout the colonial period. The Dutch introduced slaves to New York as early as 1626. Slaves built the infrastructure of New York and were an important source of labor on Dutch farms. Under the English, enslaved Africans continued to be used as farm labor, although never to the extent as in the South. Most slaves in the colony of New York lived in New York City, where they worked as servants or for craftsmen.
Examples of Colonial New York Farms
The Historic Hudson Valley network maintains two colonial-era manors in New York. An Anglo-Dutch merchant owned the Philipsburg manor, located in Sleepy Hollow. The heyday of this manor was in the mid-18th century, which is the time period that the Historic Hudson Valley network re-creates on the estate. The Philipses leased land to tenant farmers who grew crops and raised livestock for export. Slaves also worked on the estate, and visitors to Philipsburg Manor can see what life was like for a slave working on a colonial New York farm.
The Historic Hudson Valley also has preserved the Van Cortlandt Manor. Situated on the Hudson and Croton Rivers, the Van Cortlandt Manor similarly hosted tenant farmers during the colonial period. Though the Historic Hudson Valley portrays the post-revolutionary period in its re-creations on the Van Cortlandt manor, visitors can enjoy the colonial-era buildings, which date to the 1700s, before the Revolutionary War.