The Spirit of New York, Second Edition

Defining Events in the Empire State's History

By Bruce W. Dearstyne

Subjects: New York/regional, American History, General Interest
Series: Excelsior Editions
Imprint: Excelsior Editions
Paperback : 9781438487144, 482 pages, February 2022

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Table of contents



1. April 22, 1777: New York State Begins

2. February 4, 1826: Fiction Trumps History

3. July 4, 1839: The Farmers' Rebellion

4. July 20, 1848: A Demand for Equal Rights

5. October 1, 1851: Striking a Blow for Freedom

6. March 30, 1899: Pollution and Politics

7. April 15, 1903: Intervening for the Children

8. May 29, 1910: First in the Air

9. March 25 and 29, 1911: Fires Change History

10. February 14, 1924: Leading into the Information Age

11. April 15, 1947: Breaking the Color Line

12. June 24, 1954: A New Enterprise for Moving around New York

13. April 22, 1964: The World's Fair Opens in New York

14. August 2, 1978: Environmental Crisis and Citizen Activism

15. September 11, 2001: New York's Resilience

16. January 15, 2009: Miracle on the Hudson

17. September 17, 2011: Occupy Wall Street

18. October 29, 2012: New York Confronts a Superstorm

19. February 17, 2015: "Hamilton: An American Musical" Opens in New York City

Selected Bibliography
About the Author

A celebration of New York State's history through 19 key events from the state's founding to today.


In this lively and engaging book, Bruce W. Dearstyne presents New York State history through an exploration of nineteen dramatic events. From the launch of the state government in April 1777 through the debut of the musical play Hamilton in 2015, Dearstyne puts the fascinating people who made history at the center of the story: John Jay, the lead writer of the first state constitution; Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the irrepressible crusader for women's rights; Glenn Curtiss, New York's aviation pioneer; Jackie Robinson, the first Black man to play baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers; and Lois Gibbs, an environmental activist. This new edition is updated with four recent significant events, including the stories of New Yorkers who joined the "Occupy" protests and those who struggled through Superstorm Sandy. The stories in this book illustrate the "spirit" of New York—the elusive traits that make New York State unique—and the complexity of its history.

Bruce W. Dearstyne is a historian specializing in New York State history. He is the author of several books, including Leading the Historical Enterprise: Strategic Creativity, Planning, and Advocacy for the Digital Age.


Praise for the First Edition

"Bookended by chapters that are meant to exemplify defiance (the drafting of the State Constitution and the resilience epitomized by the aftermath of 9/11), Professor Dearstyne's argument focuses on largely overlooked events that were transformative or emblematic of the state's distinguishing characteristics, among them, its geography, its inventiveness and the diversity of its population." — New York Times

"…a daisy chain recording recounting some of the most compelling moments in New York's history along with new looks at some of my favorite personalities, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton who celebrated her 200th birthday in November … it marches readers into New York's checkered and storied past – told through the narratives of 16 key events, beginning in April 1777. Dearstyne's book zips right along, tackling a wide range of events and topics…" —New York Daily News

"Readers interested in state history, especially that of New York, will definitely enjoy this examination of the most influential incidents. Dearstyne succeeds in writing in a concise manner while always keeping readers engaged." — Library Journal

"Relying on a wide array of well-cited sources, Dearstyne also sheds new light on individuals’ dramatic reform efforts in labor, child welfare, race relations, and environmental stewardship." — Hudson River Valley Review

"His work powerfully connects local, state, and national history in a way that is engaging and moving to all readers." — American Association for State and Local History Leadership in History Award of Merit 2016

"In its heyday, New York State influenced the rest of the country as a leader in business, transportation, and agriculture, among other areas. Dearstyne … chronicles the Empire State through several 'defining events.' His approach is a smart one. Readers see how experiences throughout the past 250 years have shaped the character of the state and the qualities of its residents … The author looks at the important players and places surrounding these episodes and then moves on to their consequences and significance in the course of the state's history." — New York History