ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Think this New York vs. New England thing is a product of the modern sports era? Prithee, fuggedaboudit.
“It doesn’t quite go back to the glaciers, but it’s close,” said William Fowler, author and history professor at Northeastern University in Boston.
The regional rivalry long predates the Super Bowl matchup, Giants vs. Patriots, or baseball’s Yankees vs. Red Sox. New York and its neighbors to the east have bad blood stretching all the way back to Colonial America, when New England militiamen viewed “Yorkers” as blasphemous, profane drunks, while their counterparts next door considered the men of the Massachusetts Bay colony to be Puritan-raised prudes who didn’t know how to have a good time, even going so far as to ban Christmas in Boston during a 22-year period in in the 1600s.
“New Englanders, even by middle of the 18th century, are so strictly religious that you find them picking fights for cursing in military camps and ganging up on people and beating them up for not following the Sabbath. That certainly didn’t help relations,” said Stuart Lilie, director of interpretation at upstate New York’s Fort Ticonderoga, near the Vermont state line.
The disdain the colonies held for each other actually had its roots in the 1600s, Fowler said. That’s when the Dutch established their neighboring New Netherlands colony, and from there the profit-driven, liberal-minded Dutch competed with strait-laced New Englanders for dominance of the fur trade with Native Americans, with the two sides backing rival tribes.
Even after the English took over the Dutch colony for good and renamed it New York in the 1670s, the Dutch influence remained strong for generations, especially in the provincial trading outpost the English renamed Albany. Dutch traders sold guns and tomahawks to France’s Indian allies, who used those weapons in raids against New England settlements.
The New England troops carried those bitter memories with them when they mustered by the thousands in Albany during the French and Indian War (1755-63). With its numerous taverns and “camp followers,” the old Dutch settlement along the Hudson River was viewed as a veritable Sin City by pious New Englanders, especially those in Massachusetts, which assigned chaplains to each militia regiment.
“These chaplains were descendants of Puritans, and they were not loathe to condemn sin when they saw it, and they saw it in Albany,” Fowler said.
The regional rivalry even played a role in inspiring the song, “Yankee Doodle.” Historians credit a British physician with writing the lyrics in the late 1750s after he witnessed the comic efforts of some of the ragged New England recruits to perform military drills while mustering outside Albany.
After marching north to British forts, tensions between provincial soldiers stuck in the isolated, squalid conditions of the frontier encampments sometimes boiled over into outright violence, with brawls breaking out between New York and New England regiments.
One such episode rivaled some of the dust-ups known to erupt in the stands at Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium whenever the rival teams are visiting. According to the account of a New England officer serving at Fort William Henry, New York and Massachusetts troops clashed over who would pay for a glass of beer. The Massachusetts officer described the Yorkers swarming from their tents armed with swords and clubs “like hornets out of their nests, swearing and cursing!”
“If the devil and all he could raise had been let loose, it wouldn’t look more dreadful,” the officer wrote.
Two decades later, New Yorkers and New Englanders were able to set aside their differences — most of them, anyway — and go to war again, this time against the British. In the winter of 1775-76, New York aided American Col. Henry Knox’s effort to haul dozens of artillery pieces seized at British-held Fort Ticonderoga to Boston’s Dorchester Heights, a feat that forced the redcoats to evacuate the city on March 17, 1776.
New Englanders returned the favor the following year, when thousands of militiamen from Massachusetts and Connecticut rushed to northern New York to block a force of redcoats and German mercenaries advancing on Albany. The reinforcements played a major role in the American defeat of the British at Saratoga in October 1777.
“There are times when regional rivalries are put aside in favor of survival,” said Joe Craig, a ranger at Saratoga National Historical Park. “They realized it was in their best interest to do it.”
Good luck finding a Giants or Patriots fan willing to forget about the rivalry this Sunday.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)