The Hudson River is known all over the world as the major waterway that runs by Manhattan Island and north into New York State. The Hudson made New York City and New York State what they are today. But Manhattan would never have become the center of power it is without another waterway.
When the Dutch established their settlements in New Netherland, one of the first sites they chose was near the spot where the Mohawk River empties into the Hudson 150 miles to the north of what became New York City. The Mohawk, which extended nearly all the way to the Great Lakes, was a main water highway through the lands of the five nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. The Mohawk Indians in particular traveled down it in their canoes, bringing furs to trade with the Dutch.
Crossing from the Hudson to the Mohawk was difficult and dangerous. The Cohoes Falls ,which tumble 70 feet as the Mohawk nears the end of its course, as well as many rapids and treacherous bends, kept the Dutch mostly content to let the Indians come to them. In the winter of 1634-35, however, a hearty young man named Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert, who had been hired as the surgeon of Fort Orange, led a small party of adventurers on a mission into Mohawk country. Their arduous journey, on foot through an icy wilderness, resulted in one of the earliest visits by Europeans to Mohawk villages. In a journal he made during his trip, Van den Bogaert also made a list of Mohawk vocabulary, the first of its kind.
One of the first European settlements along the Mohawk began when Arent Van Curler, who worked for the patroon Kiliaen van Rensselaer at his vast colony of Rensselaerswijck (now Albany), led a party of disgruntled tenant farmers 20 miles upriver from the Falls and began a community that would grow into the city of Schenectady. (The town's name comes from a Mohawk word meaning "near the pines.")
The major breakthrough, both for the Mohawk River communities and for New York City, came in the early nineteenth century, when the Erie Canal was constructed, connecting Albany with Buffalo on the shores of Lake Erie, more than 350 miles away. The great interior of the continent was open to settlers, and New York City became the nation's main hub.