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A Brief History of Washington County, NY

The area now called Washington County played a significant role in the development of the United States of America as a nation. It was also a temporary stop for many families on a migratory path from the New England colonies into the Midwest and on to the West Coast. Therefore, the vital records of its citizens offer a treasure to be mined by genealogists.

Two famous European explorers first laid eyes on upstate New York in the summer of 1609.

Samuel Champlain
Henry Hudson
On July 4th of that year, Samuel Champlain discovered and entered the northern end of the lake which honors him today, Lake Champlain. He and a party of Huron Indians paddled up the lake from Canada. Their encounter with the Iroquois occurred on the lake's western shores after two days of swift paddling. Some historians place this encounter in the present Town of Putnam in Washington County, NY. A few weeks later in the same summer, Henry Hudson sailed his ship Halfmoon up the great river that now bears his name until he reached the impassable rapids, just north of Albany. The claims of these two explorers ignited the flames of hostility that would continue for the next 150 years, the skirmishes and all-out battles between the French and British and their Indian allies known as the French and Indian Wars.

In 1683 the province of New York was divided into counties; the northern most was called "Albany". In 1772 a new County was carved from Albany County by act of the Legislature and given the name "Charlotte" in honor of Queen Charlotte. The long struggle of the Revolution left its toll. Once predominantly inhabited by Tories, the conditions of war caused many to sympathize with the Patriot cause. The name of Queen Charlotte became disagreeable to those whose farms and homes were destroyed by the troops of her husband, King George. On April 2, 1784, the Legislature passed an act changing the name to "Washington".

Settlement was rapid after the Revolution, with many soldiers returning with their families to take advantage of the rich land and abundant game and waterways they had observed during their military service. These settlers were mainly of English and Scots descent who had first established themselves in the New England colonies. During the mid to late 1800s many French, Irish, Welsh and Italian immigrants found work and established homes in the county.

Washington County
is bounded on the west by the Hudson river and Lake George and on the east by the state of Vermont and Lake Champlain. During the colonial wars, the region was called the Great War Path because many hostile expeditions crossed the territory, but only minor conflicts actually took place within the boundaries of the present county. In peace time the Champlain valley continued to be the major transportation route connecting New York City and the Middle Atlantic states to the south with Montreal and Quebec City, the great Canadian cities to the north. The completion of the Champlain Canal in 1823, from the Hudson River at Fort Edward to Lake Champlain in Whitehall, played a large part in Washington County's economy and continued population growth. It provided a swift water route to New York City, to eastern Canada, and, connecting with the Erie Canal near Albany, to the developing cities to the west.

When the interior of America opened up, the canal system made it possible for a great number of Washington County families to move westward. Because of this major migratory route, the cemetery records of Washington County, New York are an invaluable tool for genealogies across the nation!



Historical Data Services, 2010