Originally the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, New York had a vital role in the early history of the Americas. Its central location, both along the coast and between Canada and the Atlantic Coast, gave it significant importance to trade in the region. The colony also saw its share of military battles, even before 1776.
New York began its existence as New Amsterdam. A Dutch colony, settlement began in 1624 by the Dutch West India Company, which would govern the colony until its transition to English rule. Dutch claims to the territory were based on the 1609 explorations of Henry Hudson up the river which now bears his name. Though an Englishman, Hudson had sailed for the Dutch East India Company on numerous occasions. In 1664 the English captured the colony from the Dutch, and it became New York, named after the Duke of York in England. From then until the outbreak of the American Revolution, when New York became a state, it was ruled by a series of governors appointed by the king of England.
The original territory occupied by the colony of New York extended beyond the current boundaries of the state. Stretching as far east as Maine and as far south as New Jersey, much of its borders were in contention among the various colonies--and even the French and English--until after the Revolutionary War. The two primary settlements were the capital at Albany on the upper Hudson River and New York City on the island of Manhattan. Important waterways in the colony include the Hudson and Mohawk rivers, while the Appalachian Mountains run through the center of the territory.
One of the larger colonies in terms of land, the colony of New Amsterdam began with just 30 Dutch families. By the mid-1700s, nearly 100,000 people called New York home. However, most of this population was centered into a few main cities, including New York and Albany. The rest of the state remained largely unsettled by Europeans, though it was home to a number of American Indian tribes. Relations with these tribes were not always friendly as the colony had been home to the Five Nations, a confederacy of tribes that had occupied the region for quite some time.
In 1683, New York was officially granted representative style of government, though this remained more theory than practice. However, by the mid-1700s New York, and in particular the capital of Albany, had become hubs in the growing independence of the American colonies. In 1754, for example, seven of the 13 colonial assemblies met in Albany to discuss coming together for mutual defense and government, though the proposal was ultimately rejected. The region was also noted for its "frontier" aspect, especially in the Mohawk Valley region which was the setting for some of James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking series of novels (including "Last of the Mohicans").
Manhattan had been bought from the Indians and established before the colony as a trading outpost. It continued in that vein for the rest of New York's colonial history, with the city of New York becoming an important port in the region. Because the colony sat between the St. Lawrence seaway and the Atlantic via an overland route and then the Hudson River, it was also an important location for north-south trade routes. This importance extended to military affairs as well, with many prominent events of the French and Indian War taking place in the colony. It was also the site of various protests and other stirrings of revolt prior to the American Revolution.