Theme essay entitled 'The Last Days Of Colonial Albany'

* During the summer of 1770, local lawyer and sometime surveyor Robert Yates made a map to help the Albany common council resolve a dispute over the city's northern and southern boundaries. Although it encompassed virtually the same terrain as previous city maps, this "Plan of the City of Albany" represented a striking departure from those made by British army engineers during the seventy years past. The Robert Yates map documented changes in the community since the end of the Great War for Empire and also serves as a canvas for illustrating Albany's evolution during the critical decades that followed.

Robert Yates Map

Like earlier representations,the Yates map featured a street grid set against the hillside on the western bank of the Hudson. A shaded core area covered nine blocks along the river and reached about six blocks up the hill to the west. Outstanding features included the city hall, market house, churches, and other newfeatures. But missing from this version was the log stockade that had encircled the central city for more than a hundred years and was the most prominent feature of all previous cartography. The disappearance of that proscriptive palisade was significant for it depicted an emerging city for the first time without its military makeup.

The Yates map unveiled a budding urban center and clarified the fact that Albany's streets had been laid out for access to the river. On a typical day, more than two dozen sloops moored at the docks or riding at anchor and many more lesser craft tied-up or beached along the shoreline underscored the fact that the Hudson River was Albany's lifeline and that its economic vitality was closely connected to commerce and trade. In 1766, the city government had underwritten construction of three large, earth-filled docks and the beginnings of a seawall. Those improvements were the first municipal commitments to reclaiming the muddy riverbank that had severely inhibited commerce in days past.

The fort, first built by the English in the 1670s and garrisoned by European-born soldiers for many decades after, was drawn by Yates but in an outlined form that made it appear much less ominous than in earlier cartography where its presence dominated the community. Erected two-thirds of the way up the hill and in the middle of the main street, the now obsolete stone and wooden structure stood as an impediment to the development of the western parts of the city. In 1770, the fort had no garrison, needed work, and was being vandalized for its stones, lumber, and furnishings. The large hospital and barracks, built on the bluff north of the fort, still had some utility and were the last remnants of the substantial alterations made by the British army just a decade before. But they too had fallen into severe disrepair!

& the
American Revolution



This excerpt is taken from an introductory chapter in in-progress monograph The Other Revolutionaries, called "The Edge of the Frontier on the Eve of the Revolution: The Last Days of Colonial Albany." Parts of this large and rambling work appear on this website.

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first posted: 1999; last revised 7/14/09