The lands of New York state have been inhabited for thousands of years and its history includes the rise and fall of civilizations, marvels of statecraft, engineering and architecture, and the lives of dynamic activists and artists.
Native American Civilizations
Before the arrival of European colonists, several Native American tribes, including the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Mohican, Seneca and Cayuga, made their homes in what we now call New York state. Around the 15th century, a powerful alliance of five tribes joined what would come to be called the Iroquois Confederacy. The self-described 'League of Peace' largely controlled the land and trading in the area, and when British, Dutch and French colonists began to pour into the state, they quickly realized the importance of their relationship with the confederacy. Some historians believe that the United States Constitution may have been influenced by the tenets of the Iroquois Confederacy.
Ongoing conflicts that often boiled over to war with the European newcomers eventually led to the breakup of the confederacy, and the ravages of colonialism led to a decline in population and influence of New York's native inhabitants. Presently there are eight federally recognized tribes in New York state.
America's First Capital
New York saw dozens of battles during the Revolutionary War. Once the British had been defeated and America began to transition to self-governance, New York City functioned as the nation's capital from 1785 to 1790, a responsibility that included hosting the inauguration of George Washington, first president of the United States of America.
Since the 19th century, New York has been a hotbed of civil rights activism across a spectrum of causes. Sojourner Truth was born a slave in Ulster County in 1797 and, after escaping to freedom, spent the rest of her life as a women's rights activist and abolitionist, traveling the country giving speeches. Thanks to its proximity to Canada, New York became integral to the efforts of the underground railroad and was the late in life home to the most famous abolitionist of the 19th century, Harriet Tubman. Around the same time, the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention saw women's rights activists declare that '...all men and women were created equal.' Figurehead of the suffragette movement, Susan B. Anthony, did not attend that first conference, but her friend, the abolitionist and activist Frederick Douglass did, as the only African American attendee. Anthony and Douglass worked together (and had disagreements with each other) on many causes from their homes in Rochester, and are both buried in the city's Mt Hope Cemetery.
That spirit of activism carried over to the 20th century. The modern LGBT rights movement was kickstarted in 1969 at New York City's Stonewall Inn, when drag queen Marsha P Johnson fought back against police officers harassing patrons at the gay bar. In the '80s and '90s, the NYC HIV/AIDS activist group Act Up! fought tirelessly to stop a disease that was decimating their friends and family and being ignored by politicians at the time. They helped change the tide of the battle against the epidemic, saving thousands of lives in the process.