New York

Rethinking French and Indian War Profits

Albany-map-1758-1050x700How much money did the merchants of Albany, New York realize from the French and Indian War? In this post you will discover the exciting new information I found during a recent research trip to the American Antiquarian Society and why I am rethinking French and Indian War profits.


Charges of Great Profits

New England merchants and soldiers, New York City merchants, and traders from abroad complained that the merchants of Albany had discriminated against them during the French and Indian War (1754-1763).

They charged the Albanians with excessive taxation and with creating an unwelcome environment. They also claimed that the merchants of Albany had reaped great profits from the war.

Secondary sources about the war contextualize and moderate these assertions. The secondary sources claim that the profits of the war began in London and trickled down to merchants in major American seaports like Boston, Philadelphia, and New York City before they reached inland cities like Albany.


The Business of Military Supply

The War Department requisitioned supplies and contracted with large London mercantile firms to provide them. In turn, the London firms engaged large American houses, like those owned by the DeLanceys of New York City and the Franks of Philadelphia, to receive, acquire, and disperse those provisions.


Often provisions contracts between London merchants and large American firms charged American merchants with acquiring perishable foodstuffs closer to the front. Sometimes the American firms engaged trusted contacts in settlements closer to the front lines to fulfill their agreements for perishables and to deliver London-sent goods to locally stationed commissaries. More often, they sent factors (usually junior partners) inland to facilitate their military contracts.

John Bradstreet 1764Available records make it impossible to quantify how much profit Albany merchants made during the French and Indian War.

Scattered documents show goods that some Albany merchants imported during the war. They also provide a glimpse of how much money the British Army spent in Albany to hire laborers, build bateaus, and provide other services. For example, in 1758, John Bradstreet needed 1,500 bateaus for the campaign against Ticonderoga. He infused £19,251:15:1/2 into the Albany economy by purchasing lumber, naval stores, and labor to build them.


How Much Did Albany Merchants Profit from the War?

Although available documents make it impossible to quantify how much Albanian merchants profited from the war, I have never doubted that some of them must have made a fortune.

However, a recent research trip to the American Antiquarian Society has prompted me to rethink my assumption. My trip to the AAS put me into contact with the letterbooks of Cornelis Cuyler, one of Albany’s wealthiest merchants.

Cornelis Cuyler made his money the old-fashioned way: inheritance, marriage, and business.

The eldest surviving son of Johannes Cuyler and Elsie Ten Broeck, Cuyler inherited both the family fur trade business and the elite status that came with the “ancient” Albany-based names of Cuyler and Ten Broeck. He became a third-generation fur trader, a trade that required him to interact with Mohawk and other Haudenosaunee or Iroquois peoples and travel into “Indian Country.”

Plan of Ft William HenryCuyler’s efforts and keen sense of the trade enhanced the family business and wealth, as did his marriage to Catharina Schuyler, the youngest daughter of Albany Mayor Johannes Schuyler and Elsie Staats Wendell Schuyler. (Schuyler, Wendell, and Staats are also surnames that belonged to elite Albany families.)

Cuyler’s letterbooks provide ample evidence that he understood the fur trade and how to leverage his familial connections to trade in Albany and abroad; Cuyler knew how to buy (or trade) for furs, where and when to sell those furs (London or Amsterdam), and how to use the proceeds to purchase English and Dutch manufactured goods, or goods from the West Indies, who to contact to smuggle the Dutch goods into New York, and how to sell them at a profit in Albany.

Cuyler's letterbooks reveal that knowledgeable and established Albany merchants profited early in the war, but not after 1756.

In 1755, Cuyler purchased £100* worth of textiles, clothing, and metal goods to sell to British soldiers, colonial militiamen, or for use in the fur trade. Additionally, Cuyler discussed how he provisioned sick and wounded soldiers at Lake George, advanced money to representatives from various colonial war committees, and rented property to an out-of-town commissary.

Fort FrederickI have not been able to locate Cuyler’s account books, but his letters show someone with few complaints until April 1757.

On April 7, 1757, Cuyler wrote to his relative and factor in Boston, Jacob Wendell, “Every thing here is @ Present Stagnated.”

On the same day, he wrote to his eldest son Philip in New York City, “Everything here is Stagnated with us” and that all of the profit went “to the People from New York” who “Supplys the Regulars Troups.” Cuyler commented on the unfairness of the situation: the merchants of New York City made all the money “& we have all the Burdon. I have at present 6 men & an Officer Billeted upon me that is Besides the Officers Servant.”

Cuyler’s letters reflect frustration at the military supply system. Unable to make money in military supply, Cuyler and his son invested in risky privateering ventures. Cuyler disliked the risk associated with privateering, but he invested in one or two ships anyway; he held a 1/16th share of one privateer.



Cornelis Cuyler’s letterbooks provide evidence that the people of Albany profited from the war, but not necessarily to the extent that the accounts of New England and foreign merchants have led us to believe.

Albany merchants who wanted to get rich from the war invested in risky schemes like privateering because partnerships with New York City firms did not always work out.

Cuyler’s letters indicate that more often than not New York City merchants like the DeLanceys removed Albany merchants from the profit chain. They hired New York City men or sent their sons to handle the supply contracts.

Cuyler’s letterbooks represent just one source. I plan to look for others, but few account and letterbooks from Albany during the French and Indian War period remain thanks to time and the New York Capitol fire of 1911.

Still, Cuyler’s letters provide insight into why the Albanians resorted to enforcing the ancient practice of “freedoms” (a license that all persons not born in Albany had to purchase in order to conduct trade in the city) and why they petitioned the New York Assembly, Governor, and Council to enact a law that would permit them to tax transient merchants. (The New York Assembly, Governor, and Council passed the requested law.)

Cuyler's letterbooks also suggest that the Albanians guarded their chances to profit because the trials and tribulations brought on by living in close proximity to British Regulars year-round caused many Albanians to feel entitled when it came to profiting from the war. Any profits the Albanians earned came at the price of hosting and housing the British Army.

* relates that £100 sterling in 1755 was worth approximately $13,500 in 2013.

Drawing of Fort Frederick courtesy of the Albany Institute of History & Art



The American Revolution Comes to Albany, New York, 1756-1776

On Thursday, August 14, 2014, the Journal of the American Revolution posted "The American Revolution Comes to Albany, New York, 1756-1776." This article began as a conference paper, which came out of my dissertation. The Albanians' experiences with quartering will appear in much more detail in my future book AMERICA'S FIRST GATEWAY. I wrote "The American Revolution Comes to Albany" not only to share this great story with a wider audience, but also to experiment with how an historian could re-purpose their conference papers into other formats. I incorporated some of the feedback I received on my conference paper and added a bit of explanation for a non-specialist audience to this piece.

At some point I may repurpose the story of how Albany became revolutionary for an academic article--although I also like the idea about an article on loyalism in Albany.


The American Revolution Comes to Albany, New York, 1756-1776 

"The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world…He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation: For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us.”Declaration of Independence

On June 11, 1776, the Second Continental Congress appointed its Committee of Five to draft a declaration of independence from Great Britain. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston composed a document that proclaimed why the thirteen colonies had no other recourse but to separate from the British Empire. They declared that “The history of the present King of Great Britain [George III] is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states.” The committee added weight to the colonists’ claims by providing a long list of specific examples of the king’s injustices towards them. Among the enumerated grievances: King George III had given his “assent” “For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us.”

The colonists experienced the king’s unjust quartering throughout the French and Indian War (1754-1763). It all started when John Campbell, Earl of Loudoun assumed command of the British forces in 1755. Loudoun lamented how the British soldiers had lost the 1755 campaign to the French because his predecessor William Shirley could not find winter quarters for them near the front lines. Loudoun sought to rectify this situation by ordering the governors of Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania to erect barracks in Boston, New York City, Albany, and Philadelphia. The governors either refused or informed Loudoun that their colonial assembly would provide only some of the funds needed to build barracks or rent rooms in inns and public houses within those cities. Eventually, each city built at least some of the barracks Loudoun had demanded, but only in Albany, New York did Loudoun resort to forcibly quartering his troops in private homes.

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Book Revisions: What Went Wrong with Chapter 1?

EditI am revising my dissertation into a book called America's First Gateway. I began my work in earnest at the end of February 2014. Now it is July 2014 and my first chapter is still not quite done.

What’s taking so long?

In this post you will learn about the problems I have encountered with Chapter 1 and what I have done to fix those problems.


MistakeWhat Went Wrong with Chapter 1

Problem #1: Ambitious Outline

Chapter 1 is a brand new chapter. It needs to tell the story of how Beverwyck and its community developed into a geographic and cultural gateway to North America.

Unfortunately, I began my work in late February/early March with an outline that had me attempting to research and tell the WHOLE story of Beverwyck in one chapter, which can’t be done.

On some level I knew this couldn’t be done as it took me until early June to start writing the chapter. Even then, I only started because my writing buddy Liana Silva-Ford told me that I had to start writing.

I wrote at least 500 words a day throughout June and produced a 43-page, unfinished draft. It took me 43 pages to realize that my plans were too ambitious.


Problem #2: Project Fatigue

My dissertation did not cover the history of New Netherland in any meaningful way. It focused on the legacy of the Dutch in Albany, New York between 1750 and 1830. Likewise, the majority of my book will also focus on the period between 1750-1830.

With that said, my book needs to strengthen my claims about why a majority of Albany's Dutch-descended community embraced the American Revolution and participated in the formation of New York State and the United States. To accomplish this, I must show how and why Albany appeared to be “Dutch” as late as 1750.

I love my topic, but I have been working on it for over 10 years!

My project fatigue caused me to lose focus. Without consciously realizing it, my brain latched on to Chapter 1 as an opportunity to study something new: New Netherland.


Problem #3: Information Overload

My ambitious outline combined with my excitement to learn about something new led me to read too much about New Netherland.

For three months, my brain feasted on books about the Haudenosaunee, Mahican, and Munsee peoples. It enjoyed multiple, general tomes about the colony and it indulged in reading books and articles about Dutch foodways, religion, women, slaves, poor relief, wampum, and the use of kettles in the fur trade.

I would have continued my intellectual feast into June, but Liana intervened and told me to start writing.

The realization that I had gathered way too much information did not occur to me until I reached page 43 of my draft. At that point I admitted that I had a problem. I stepped away from my computer and took an afternoon to reassess what I needed to accomplish in Chapter 1.


MistakesHow I Have Attempted to Fix What Went Wrong

Fix #1: Self-Evaluation

I stepped away from my draft as soon as I realized that I was trying to tell the whole story of Beverwyck in one chapter.

I spent 2-3 hours thinking through why my chapter was too long, why I hadn’t finished my draft, and how I had become so lost.

I evaluated my situation with free writing as I think better when I write.

Once I realized where I had gone wrong, and what I had done right, I created a more focused outline.


Fix #2: Focused Outline

I used the invaluable advice that Liana gave me to create a more focused outline: Write down the 1-3 points you must get across in your paper and write to those points.

Chapter 1 needs to show my readers:

1. How Beverwyck developed into and functioned as a physical and cultural gateway. 2. How Beverwyck formed as an adaptable community and what an adaptable community looks like. 3. How Beverwyck formed as an autonomous, self-governing community and what that autonomy and self-governance looked like.

Underneath these points, I listed ideas and examples that will help me make and demonstrate them.


SuccessFix #3: Continue Using Techniques that Worked

Although a lot went wrong with my approach to Chapter 1, I found 2 tactics that really worked for me.

1. Writing at least 500 words a day

Sometimes writing 500 words seemed like an arduous task, other days I blew passed this goal. For the most part, 500 words allowed me to write a minimum of 1.5-2pages per day, meaningful and tangible progress, while still allowing me time to pursue my other projects.

2. Ignoring my internal editor

I tend to edit as I write; this is not a good tactic. Sometimes I lose a brilliant thought because I edit it before I type it into my document.

I worked hard to ignore my internal editor as I wrote my first draft of Chapter 1. Although it proved difficult to ignore her, my efforts ultimately helped me get my thoughts on the page, good thoughts that I will be able to edit for clarity later.



A lot went wrong with my initial approach to Chapter 1. I lost a lot of time, but I have gained several valuable lessons that I will carry forward.

I also hope that by writing about what I did wrong, I will help you avoid similar mistakes with your own work.


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What is the most valuable lesson you have learned from your approaches to research and writing?