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Sinterklaas!

"The Roots of Sinterklaas"
About Town
by Jim Blackburn

For casual visitors the annual Sinterklaas celebration centered in Rhinebeck may be a brief eruption of early holiday festivities, but for Jeanne Fleming and her volunteers preparing each year’s celebration is a year-round undertaking. Having attended the last two Sinterklaas celebrations (and having a good time), I was curious about the history of the event, how it is all put together, and what we can look forward to this year. Ms. Fleming was kind enough to explain many aspects of the festival. Her enthusiasm and passion for the community of Rhinebeck shine through the Sinterklaas celebration she has tirelessly helped design and produce from its inception.

Sinterklaas is described as “an old Dutch tradition in the Hudson Valley,” which in many ways it is. But, like many holidays that transcend their original cultural boundaries, the modern Rhinebeckers have taken the Dutch tradition and made it their own.

The character of Sinterklaas is rooted in the legends of Saint Nicholas, combined with a dash of European paganism. The real St. Nicholas was of Greek origin and became the Bishop of Myra (the modern town of Demre on the southern coast of Turkey). He was known for his charity in the form of anonymous gift giving. One legend relates how he would secretly slip coins into empty shoes. This led to Dutch children setting out their empty shoes near the chimney at night, only to find them in the morning magically filled with candies and gifts, often surrounded by cookies made in the shape of various animals, chocolates in the shape of the child’s initials, and cakes baked in the shape of Sinterklaas or Charlemagne on horseback. The same spirit of gift giving is embodied in many aspects of the Rhinebeck celebration. An example: the Pocket Lady, who wears a specially made cloak with an inside lining containing 45 pockets, each holding a small wrapped gift for every child who approaches her.

Children are in fact the “stars” of the Sinterklaas celebration, honored as kings and queens at the closing ritual in which all celebrants bow down to them on one knee, holding illuminated stars. This pageantry celebrates not only the children, but the community as a whole, with the hope that the joy of the day will inspire a better tomorrow. The idea for the lighted stars came to Ms. Fleming in a dream (much of the festival does have a fantastic dream-like quality), while she was looking for a symbol that would reflect the non-denominational and all-inclusive nature of the ceremonies. This inclusiveness mirrors the spirit of Sinterklaas as it has been known in Holland, as the Dutch Republic was known for its high level of religious tolerance—an attitude that brought a diversity of population when religious refugees and emigrants flocked across its welcoming borders from around the globe. It is often thought that many of the founders of this country, especially Thomas Jefferson, drew inspiration from the tolerance prevailing in the Netherlands.

Many from this side of the Atlantic are surprised to learn that the Dutch Sinterklaas has nothing to do with the frigid North Pole, and that he spends most of his time in Spain and cruises up to the Netherlands on a steamboat (with no reindeer on board). The route of these travels can be traced to the Middle Ages’ obsession with relics and reliquaries: about a thousand years ago the remains of St. Nicholas were taken from his grave in the Mideast and split between the Italian cities of Venice and Bari (recent DNA tests show these remains are from the same person). Bari later came under the control of Habsburg Spain, and Sinterklaas has been associated with that country ever since. Also, St. Nicholas became a patron saint of sailors and ships, and in his Greek homeland was venerated as a modern day Poseidon—which explains why he travels by sea to Holland. Travelling across water is echoed in the Rhinebeck celebration when Sinterklaas arrives each year a week before the festival day by crossing the Hudson River from Kingston by boat. This year Sinterklaas arrives on November 29, and the holiday itself falls on December 6.

One point of controversy in today’s Dutch Sinterklaas celebration involves the characters known as Black Peters, the helpers/servants of Sinterklaas. Being traditionally “Moors,” they were usually presented in blackface. For Rhinebeck the idea of blackfaced servants was immediately rejected, and they were replaced by the now popular Grumpuses. Based partly on the German and Pennsylvania Dutch character of Belsnickel and the Alpine folkloric creature known as Krampus, they are in fact unique—as are many of the characters and rituals that make up the Rhinebeck festival. Today’s Hudson Valley Grumpuses are members of the local community (as are most participants) who work with a professional choreographer to put together a new Grumpus dance each year.

The switch or birch rod that many Sinterklaas sidekicks carry in Europe has been transformed in Rhinebeck into a wishing branch. A workshop open to all children who want to decorate and tie three wishes to their branch is always held before the festival day. The Wish Lady (another character unique to Sinterklaas) then records the three wishes: one for each of the children’s families, community, and the world. The wishing branches are carried in the Children’s Starlight Parade that includes Sinterklaas himself and all the festival characters.

In recognition of the first peoples of this region, every year the festival begins with a Native American blessing calling the community together. Following native tradition, an honored animal is also chosen. This year it is the hummingbird. Ms. Fleming and her creative partners have been busy creating one hundred hummingbirds and an equal number of colorful giant flowers for the children to animate, and these two groups will come together in a charming ritual of bird and flower interaction. The master puppeteers of Sinterklaas have also been working on a giant hummingbird for the parade, which will go up to every child holding a flower as it passes by in the parade. Some new characters this year will include a Polar Bear, who will be accompanied by a nervous trainer and a musician. When any child approaches the Polar Bear and starts to sing it a song, the bear will change from a wild creature into a delicate dancing bear. Both the interchange involving the hummingbird/flowers and the bear reflect Ms. Fleming’s wish to let the children play a more active role in the celebration-—child to child getting to meet one another in a new way. “The polar bear will allow the children to see the power of art, music and song to change the world—as they, through their song, transform the wild beast and create joy.”

The volunteers who make Sinterklaas happen participate in special workshops throughout the year. It is in many ways a labor of love; giving back to the community they are both a part of and care for. Other local groups benefit from Sinterklaas as well, as over $15,000 was raised for other projects during the festival last year. But as Ms. Fleming relayed to me, there is always a need for more volunteers and anybody interested is welcome. Donations are appreciated as well. All information concerning the Sinterklaas celebration, including volunteering and donations can be found on the event’s site.

sinterklaashudsonvalley.com

 

 

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“The Memory of the Mahican”
Hudson Valley Bookshelf
by Jim Blackburn

Few works have been as influential as James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans (1826) in creating a romanticized cultural image of eastern Native Americans, especially adding a mystique which still resonates today to the group after which the work of historical fiction is named. Myth and legend flourish, commented historian Marc Bloch, when “by a curious paradox, through the very fact of their respect for the past, people came to reconstruct it as they considered it ought to have been.” This phenomena no doubt has also affected the past histories of the Mahicans, as much of the pre-Columbian Exchange historical landscape of the Americas is still shrouded in a mystery that is slowly being unraveled by modern archaeology and ethnohistory. 

Even in the post-European contact period and through colonial times the historical record on the Mahicans is unfortunately thin. This has led to many educated guesses by past writers in creating a history, but at root speculation does not make solid history (as well intentioned as these interpretations often are). All this and more William A. Starna successfully confronts in From Homeland to New Land: A History of the Mahican Indians 1600-1830 (University of Nebraska Press, 2013).

The first question is Mohican or Mahican? Starna makes his case for the latter by pointing to “the earliest attested form being Mahican (1614),” and that Mohican “reflects the Anglicizing of Mahican, Mahikander, and Maikens.” A good rule of thumb is to check what the people actually call themselves, which this is their official modern title word for word – “the Stockbridge-Munsee Community, Band of the Mohican (Mahican) Nation.” So it seems either description is fine with the group themselves, and as Starna points out one name must be chosen for cohesion in the text. But both names are valid and not to be confused with the Mohegan of eastern Connecticut.

Borderlands

The book itself is a survey of the history of the Mahicans, as the title suggests, till most of the group had relocated to reservation land in Wisconsin by the 1830’s. Starna first locates the nation within the landscape and environment before Dutch interaction. A territory that stretched from the western side of the Hudson near the modern day town of Catskill across the river through the Berkshires to the Connecticut River (know earlier as the Fresh River), up to the foothills of the Adirondacks and down to the Roelof Jansens Kill. This last border is questionable and perhaps not as firm as Starna indicates.

There is compelling evidence that where the modern village of Rhinebeck is located a Mahican town named Sepasco once stood. The border between the Mahican and the Wappingers to the south was thought to be marked by the Sepasco trail, which can roughly be traced east to west down rt. 308 through Rhinebeck and down to the Hudson River following Rhinecliff Rd. But where Starna is looking for solid borders, it might be more appropriate to designate these geographic spaces as borderlands. Areas that were more porous rather than boundaries set in stone, as most borderlands are marked as spaces of overlapping interests to two or more groups that can be based on economic and cultural exchange as well as violence in contested spaces.

The study of borderlands has become central to understanding the history of Native American history, and the whole of early modern America in general. Two recent publications go much further (and better) in detail concerning this topic: The Memory of All Ancient Customs: Native American Diplomacy in the Colonial Hudson Valley by Tom Arne Midtrød, and Contested Spaces of Early America an essay collection edited by Juliana Barr and Edward Countryman. For a Dutch perspective on American Indians one of the best works is Innocence Abroad: The Dutch Imagination and the New World, 1570-1670 by Benjamin Schmidt, which surprisingly did not end up in Starna’s bibliography in a work that is otherwise incredibly well researched.

Mohawk and Mahican

The author in great detail brings to light the power dynamics of the Dutch, French, and English in relation to the Mohawk and the Mahican. The Mohawk-Mahican war of the 1620’s is deeply explored, bringing into better focus how the conflict marked the ascendance of the Iroquois League, while it explains the Mahican movement away from the Hudson Valley towards Connecticut. This is the main reason there is little documentation on the Mahicans but an abundance exists for the Mohawk, since they became the leading economic and diplomatic nation dealing with the Dutch and then later the English. And one of the challenges Starna takes on is repudiating attributes of the Mohawk that have been transposed onto the Mahicans. Over time these assumptions or distorted memories have worked their way into history.

Ultimately, it is not that Starna can give a better version of this history in From Homeland to New Land: A History of the Mahican Indians 1600-1830, rather he clears away the debris that has accumulated to fill a void in a people we know had a history, yet many aspects of which cannot be confirmed as true. At the end of the day, the goal for historians should be to open a field for further study, providing a solid base that can be built upon by future scholars. This new work then stands as a valuable introductory text for the study of the Mahicans.

 

 

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“FDR: The Original Game Changer”
The New York History Blog
by Jim Blackburn

The famous Riddle of the Sphinx asks, “Which creature has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and then two-footed, and finally three-footed?” To which Oedipus answered: “Man, who crawls on all fours as a child, then walks on two feet as an adult, and then as an elder uses a walking stick.”

This is what crossed my mind as I came across a small sculpture of Franklin D. Roosevelt as the Sphinx, with cigarette holder and all, at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum gift shop. I’d often find myself browsing the store during breaks from my research there, but the oddity of the sculpture stuck with me as I was unable to answer the riddle of FDR as Sphinx until reading Roosevelt’s Second Act: The Election of 1940 and the Politics of War (Oxford Univ. Press, 2013) by Richard Moe.

Moe, who was chief of staff to Vice President Walter Mondale and a senior advisor to President Carter, has since served as President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation as well as being a Trustee for the Ford Foundation – brings all his experience to bear as he writes a well-researched and enlightening text on the often overlooked but unprecedented election of FDR to a third-term in 1940. As Moe notes, “After George Washington had set the precedent there was an almost sacrosanct rule in American presidential politics that a chief executive should serve no more than two terms. Roosevelt never openly took issue with that precedent, and he was actively planning for retirement.” Well, yes and no.

Rule of Two?

It is true that the two term tradition was set by Washington, who was basically forced by the rivalry of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton into a second term, by which he was unanimously elected president. But, as Moe writes Washington “never expressed a principled objection to a third term in any document or elsewhere.” It would be Jefferson’s two term retirement in combination with Washington (no one took note of the one term precedent set by John Adams) that set an example for popular presidents like James Madison, James Monroe, and Andrew Jackson to do the same. Yet this practice was not set in stone, especially to Ulysses S. Grant who actively pursued a third term in 1880, but lost the GOP nomination to James Garfield. Then there is FDR’S distant relative Theodore Roosevelt, who after years of ruffling the feathers of both Republicans and Tammany Hall in his home state of New York was exiled to the political no man’s land of the Vice Presidency. An office that FDR’s own VP for his first two terms, John Nance Gardner of Texas, would call infamously “not worth a pitcher of warm piss.”

Theodore Roosevelt would become president when McKinley was assassinated six months into his term. TR would win the presidency in his own right in 1904 after serving as president for over three and a half years, what he considered his first term though technically he was only elected president once. But, Teddy would make a pledge in 1904 that he would one day regret, when he stated he would never be a candidate for president again. TR, never great at sitting still would come back for the GOP nomination in 1912, and when they gave it to Taft, he stormed out with half the delegates to run as president in his own newly created political party – the Bull Moose.

It was on this campaign that Roosevelt survived his own assignation attempt, the bullet that hit his chest slowed by the steel eyeglass case and a fifty page copy of his speech in his jacket. Because he was not coughing blood TR decided he was not fatally wounded and went on to give a full speech for over an hour, beginning with the statement “Ladies and gentleman, I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose!” The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism (Simon & Schuster, 2013) by Doris Kearns Goodwin centers on this time period. The split in the Republican party would pave the way for the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. And it would be in the Wilson administration that a young FDR would first cut his teeth in the federal government, serving as Assistant Secretary of the Navy through Wilson’s two terms and the Great War, known today as WWI (history buffs will have plenty to read on this subject in 2014 as it marks the centennial of the First World War).

So through this brief presidential history, we can see there was precedents both for and against a third term, but what Moe points out is that “the decision to gird for war with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan and the choice to seek a third term cannot be understood in isolation from each other.” In short, extraordinary times called for extraordinary measures, and as we see in Moe’s text FDR was by far the most extraordinary politician of his times.

Moe also puts forth a convincing argument that Roosevelt was planning on retirement. It is true that he broke ground on his presidential library in Hyde Park and was looking forward to resuming his own interest in local history, which FDR gave a room to the Dutchess County Historical Society and had been an active member in the 1920’s before becoming governor of New York in 1928. The president was also offered a generous contract to write regular articles for Colliers and was also considering penning an autobiography. Moe writes, “Retirement was on Roosevelt’s mind, and he enjoyed anticipating it.” But, he also chronicles how FDR was a master politician; letting circumstances and events play out as he kept his feelings on a third term close to his chest, hence the silence and secrets of the Sphinx.

Isolation versus Intervention

At the heart of Moe’s book is how Roosevelt was facing an international crisis as president of a country that was overwhelmingly isolationist. As the war drums started beating in 1936 “95% of Americans” opposed involvement in any sort of overseas war. Fresh still were the memories of WWI, as Moe writes “Pacifist sentiment in the country was wide and deep, stemming as it did from a belief that desperate powers in Europe aided by greedy financiers and munitions makers at home had lured America into the tragically unnecessary First World War.” The American of the 1930’s recognized that war was in part a business, and that it cannot be waged without bankers and the production of arms, a fact that was brought to light again recently in the two wars fought by America in the first decade of this new century.

In Roosevelt’s Second Act Moe charts how FDR slowly steers the unprepared country for a war that seems inevitable, as he pushes up against isolationist sentiment at every turn. This started with his attempts to navigate around the Neutrality Act of 1935, which forbade the sale of armaments to belligerents in foreign conflicts. Here I have to mention an oversight concerning many American history writers, who tend to completely overlook the importance of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). In contrast, many European histories often cite this conflict as an introduction to WWII, as it was in many ways a prelude to the larger war in miniature. And to the surprise of many, the United States was heavily involved though not officially, as it is often said that without American credit, oil, and trucks (Ford, GM, and Studebaker supplied over 12,000 vehicles to the Nationalists) Franco would not have prevailed.

On the other side almost three thousand Americans volunteered to fight in Spain, forming the Abraham Lincoln Brigade which joined the Republican forces against Franco’s fascist coalition. Some eight hundred of these men never returned home, and should be remembered as the first Americans to fight against Hitler and Mussolini well before the invasion of Poland in 1939. Homage to Catalonia is one of George Orwell’s better, yet less known works, and is a good introductory text into the often forgotten Spanish Civil War (another is For Whom the Bell Tolls by Hemingway). Moe though is great at portraying the national mood through one of the most controversial figures of those times – Charles Lindbergh.

By comparing the radio addresses of both FDR and Lindbergh leading up to the war, Moe reveals not only the debates of the day, but also the vile face of eugenics embraced by Lindbergh. The eugenics movement in America had crested in the 1920’s with the 1927 Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell, which supported the right of states to forcibly sterilize those they deemed undesirable. The Nazi’s would take eugenics and forgo sterilization in favor of euthanasia, i.e. state sanctioned murder.

I will not allow Lindbergh’s words the light of day here, as Moe does in his book, but I will repeat what FDR said concerning the aviation hero’s beliefs: “If I should die tomorrow,’ Roosevelt told Henry Morgenthau, ‘I want you to know this. I am absolutely convinced that Lindbergh is a Nazi.” In Lindbergh’s defense, after the traumatic events and media circus surrounding his child’s kidnapping he sought escape on a tiny island off the coast of Brittany. Unfortunately, Lindbergh ended up spending most of his time there with an Alexis Carrel, a controversial French scientist who was an admirer of Mussolini and a proponent of eugenics. Lindbergh also undertook three information gathering tours for the U.S. to Germany in the late 1930’s, and fell under the spell of Goring and the Luftwaffe’s impressive aircraft.

It would be the backlash to Lindbergh’s form of isolationism that would pave the way for the internationalist leaning Wendell Willkie to secure the nomination to run as president against Roosevelt in 1940. Willkie was a political unknown, and it came as shock to FDR that he received the GOP nomination. Roosevelt would say to Eleanor that “Willkie was a crook who reminded him of the sleight of hand fellow at the Dutchess County Fair,” but he also appreciated that Willkie shared many of his views, even wanting to expand the New Deal farther than Roosevelt to cover health care (something that has only taken place some seventy years later).

That might sound strange, but the political lines were not drawn as strict or simplified as they are today, Roosevelt himself had four Republicans serving in his cabinet by 1940: Secretary of War Henry Stimson, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, and Henry Wallace the Secretary of Agriculture who would go on to become FDR’s Vice President during his third term (replaced by Truman in Roosevelt’s fourth term as president). But most important, FDR saw Willkie as a “Godsend to the country” because both he and the Republican candidate supported all out aid to Britain, and the isolationist versus interventionist debate would not be a factor during the campaign (and somewhere across the Atlantic at this time Winston Churchill breathed a sigh of relief as well).

The Sphinx

Moe writes about the two term precedent and the isolationist hurdles FDR had to face in greater depth and clarity than I can relate here. He also uses his own years of political experience to bring impressive levels of insight into the conventions, campaigns, and election of 1940. It is an election and time in history that has often been lightly passed over, with the focus either on Roosevelt’s two terms during the New Deal or his leadership during the war in his third and fourth terms, not the bridge election that connects the two. Moe through examining Roosevelt’s interactions with various individuals, such as Churchill, Joe Kennedy, Cordell Hull, George Marshall, Eleanor Roosevelt, Frances Perkins, Missy LeHand, Jim Farley, Lindbergh, and Willkie among others, act as minor characters who illuminate the main elusive one – FDR.

Georges Duby in his introduction as editor to the five volume historical work A History of Private Life, states “that at all times and in all places a clear distinction is made between the public and private life.” With Roosevelt, we have a person that treated his personal life as if it were public. He studied history and knew that what he left behind would become studied as history in the future. For example, he built and stocked his own presidential library, building a monument in which to shape his own legacy. A Sphinx? There are of course rumors and conjectures about his private life, but the true Franklin Delano Roosevelt will probably always remain something of an enigma. It is a testament to Moe’s skill as a writer and researcher that he draws such a full figure of Roosevelt during this period. It is through the varied perspectives that a larger, more coherent image of the man appears.

The answer to the riddle of FDR as the Sphinx is provided by Moe: “One of the annual highlights was the winter dinner of the Gridiron Club, to which the capital’s leading journalists invited its political elite. This evening President Roosevelt was in attendance. Reporters and cartoonists had begun to depict him as the sphinx for his secrecy. Onto the stage rolled an eight-foot papier-mâché sphinx with a broadly grinning FDR face, his signature cigarette holder clenched firmly in his teeth. The gathering broke into uproarious, knee-slapping guffaws, and no one laughed more heartily than Roosevelt himself. He enjoyed the performance so much that he soon arranged to have the prop sphinx secured as an eventual exhibit for the presidential library in Hyde Park, where it remains – silent – to this day.”

Ultimately, Roosevelt’s Second Act: The Election of 1940 and the Politics of War by Richard Moe details what an ingenious politician FDR was, the kind that comes along once in a lifetime, if that. A man who lost the use of his legs but convinced the world he could walk. An original game changer.

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Book Review: Poor Jane’s Almanack by Jim Blackburn

Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore
Knopf, 464 pp., Hardcover $27.95|Paperback $16.95|eBook $13.99

“Poor Jane’s Almanack”
published in the Journal of the American Revolution
by Jim Blackburn

“One Half of the World does not know how the Other Half lives,” wrote Benjamin Franklin in his popular Poor Richard’s Almanack. It is a phrase that is open to many interpretations. Jacob Riis co-opted it to highlight the gap between the tenements and townhouses in late nineteenth century New York, while Jill Lepore uses Franklin’s saying as the epigraph to her work focused on the founding father’s sister, titled Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin. Lepore’s other half includes the millions of sisters, daughters, and wives that lived in America during the eighteenth century. She writes, “History is what is written and can be found,” and in a time when “3 in 5 women in New England could not sign their names,” we have often been left with half the history of colonial America. At heart, this book reads like a well-researched biography, but it is more than the story of Jane Franklin, it also represents in many ways the lives of women who toiled, sacrificed, and served no less than their male counterpoints in the making of America.

Jane Franklin (1712-1794) was born the last child of Josiah Franklin’s seventeen, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) being born the last son. Benjamin Franklin would famously run away from his home in Boston at the age of seventeen to seek his fame and fortune in Philadelphia, but he always kept in contact with Jane Franklin starting from a young age, first writing to her on his twenty-first birthday when she was fourteen:

Dear Sister,

I always judged by your behavior when a child that you would make a good, agreeable woman, and you know you were ever my peculiar favorite… I am, dear Jenny, your loving brother.

B. Franklin

Only one earlier written letter by Benjamin Franklin survives before this one addressed to his sister in 1727. They would continue this correspondence for the rest of their extraordinarily long lives. Unfortunately, three decades of Jane Franklin’s end of the correspondences are missing from this early period. Her first known surviving letter to her brother is dated from 1758, during the height of the French and Indian War (1754–1763). She does not mention the conflict in it nor did it enter into Benjamin Franklin’s letters often, though Jane would become more involved politically, as many American women would, during the period of the Intolerable Acts that would lead to the Boston Tea Party and the Revolutionary War. In this letter, as with many from this time period, she signs off apologizing for her poor writing skills:

Pardon my Bad writing & confused composure & acept it as coming from your Ladyships affectionat Sister & most obedient

Humble Servant

Jane Franklin

In comparison to her famous brother, whose letters were prized, circulated, and printed in newspapers, Jane clearly struggles with her writing. She often spends half her letters apologizing for the state of their composition, and she feared that her bad spelling and “my Blundering way of expresing my self,” made her correspondence hard to understand. In short, she was embarrassed of her letters, insecure in her only way to communicate with her brother, family, and friends outside of the Boston area. But, it is the three decade gap of letters early in Jane’s life that Lepore uses to reconstruct her world, and the conditions of the majority of women who lived close to poverty most of their lives, as even Benjamin Franklin’s sister did. It is also a perfect opportunity for Lepore to explore how two siblings could be so divergent in the art of letters, and she does so with great depth to the various cultural and social currents running through the colonial time period.

This difference in writing skill between brother and sister brings forward questions of education and gender in the eighteenth century. As Lepore points out, “Jane Franklin learned to read. Everyone needed to learn to read, even girls. But that didn’t mean they needed to learn to read well.” And beyond reading, educational opportunity was divided by gender: “there was no need for a girl to learn to write. Massachusetts poor laws required boys to be taught to write and girls to read. For most girls, book learning ended there. At home and at school, when boys were taught to write, girls learned to stitch.” Though Jane’s writing was poor, her prose was better than that of most women of her time, except the privileged few who had access to a tutor. Benjamin Franklin makes the same observation when responding to one of Jane’s many apologies: “Is there not a little Affection in your Apology for the Incorrectness of your Writing?’ he teased her, “Perhaps it is rather fishing for Commendation. You write better, in my Opinion, then most American Women.” This was also a self-compliment to Benjamin Franklin himself, because he is the one that taught Jane Franklin to write.

Benjamin Franklin believed in a level of gender equality, especially concerning education, and he was definitely in the minority but not alone in his views. One of his favorite books in his father’s library was Daniel Defoe’s Essay on Projects in which Defoe argued for the establishment of an academy for women, writing that “I have often thought of it as one of the most barbarous Customs in the world, considering us as a Civilised and Christian Countrey, that we deny the advantages of Learning to Women.” The only country in the early modern Atlantic world to offer girls primary education universally was the Netherlands, and the Enlightenment of the latter half of the eighteenth century would open once barred doors to women both educationally and legally. But, as Lepore explores in exceptional detail, the rise of women’s literacy in that century was in direct relationship to the rise of fiction in the form of the novel.

Jane Franklin would do most of her reading later in life, as she was married at the age of fifteen, and would give birth to twelve children in the next twenty-two years. She was either nursing or pregnant continuously until the age of thirty-six. The average age of marriage for women in the colonies was twenty-four, and most of Jane’s sisters married in their twenties. It is quite possible that pregnancy rushed the marriage; it was not uncommon for brides to be pregnant when they married in the eighteenth century. And Lepore adds, as she does throughout the text, a quote from Poor Richard’s Almanack on the subject, that “Neither a Fortress nor a Maidenhead will hold out long after they begin to parly.” Jane’s first child would die young; one in four children born in her time did not live to the age of ten. After almost forty years of marriage, Jane became a widow at fifty-three, and when her husband passed away it also became the age at which she was finally considered legally an adult.

I have only skimmed the surface of a book that brings Jane Franklin to life, and adds another perspective in which to view one of the most enigmatic of founding fathers. The most interesting letters between the two are during the Revolutionary War, as Jane chronicles living through the end of the empire in which she had grown up and spent most her life, and the birth of a republic, which both siblings were proud to support and spend their twilight years peacefully reminiscing. The text though is more than a biography; it offers many levels of insight like much of Lepore’s published work. Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin join her other books, The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity and New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan as must reads for anyone interested in understanding the textured tapestry of early American history.

 

 

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The Lost Speech of Ebenezer Tucker by Jim Blackburn

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       Patriot Privateer: The Life & Times of Ebenezer Tucker, a biography                                              Forthcoming Spring 2015


“The Lost Speech of Ebenezer Tucker to Congress”
published as a four part series in The Asbury Park Press
by Jim Blackburn

Part 1

It has been almost 170 years since Ebenezer Tucker passed away in 1845, a few years shy of ninety, in the town that bears his name and in which he spent a majority of those many years. Being born during the French and Indian War, he lived a long life by early American standards, fighting in the Revolutionary War as a young man, and then serving civically with other founding fathers in the early years of the fledgling republic they had helped forge. Mr. Tucker served as postmaster of Tuckerton, county freeholder, judge of the court of common pleas and for the orphan’s court, and was elected to Congress twice (1825-1829). He was also a successful merchant, land speculator, and shipbuilder. He was by all his accomplishments in various fields a renaissance man of the American enlightenment, a category that many a founding father falls under.

Though he was such a prominent citizen locally and nationally, exchanging letters with George Washington in 1790 during his first term as the first president of the United States, the historical paper trail relating to Mr. Tucker is unfortunately slim. It is then fortune that a speech made by Ebenezer Tucker has been found in the Miscellaneous Pamphlet Collection at the Library of Congress. The document is 8 pages of then Representative Tucker speaking on the floor of Congress, and is titled “Remarks of Mr. Tucker, of New Jersey: House of Representatives, May 7, 1828.” There are also other sources from which to gain a better understanding of the person he was, and the times in which he served as a member of Congress.

Ebenezer Tucker’s father, Reuben Tucker, moved down from Orange County, NY to Little Egg Harbor in 1745 purchasing what was known then as Short Beach, which would later be renamed Tucker’s Island. A place that would turn into the first resort area on the New Jersey shore, but would unfortunately sink into the sea in the early half of the twentieth century. It was on Tucker’s Island that Ebenezer Tucker was born in 1758. It has been rumored that he fought at the Battle of Long Island in that famous year of 1776 with General George Washington, though Mr. Tucker was definitely a patriot privateer out of Little Egg Harbor, an area the British called a “Nest of Rebel pirates!” His letter of marque issued directly by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia to operate his ship the “Kitty.”          

Ebenezer Tucker is described by nineteenth century historian Leah Blackman in her book The History of Little Egg Harbor as “a handsome man and was distinguished for his sociality and gentlemanly deportment, having the style of manners and address peculiar to the old school of aristocratic gentleman.” This no doubt reflects Reuben Tucker’s ability to afford his son a good, albeit provincial education for the times. Meaning, he did not study in Europe, particularly in England for law which was one of his many professions. But most likely he attended the common schools and was also privately tutored, before being apprenticed to a lawyer or law firm in the Philadelphia area. His education remains truly unknown, but he was a successful lawyer and judge, and his remarks to Congress show a highly intelligent and reasonable character.

“The Journal of Sarah Thomson” which is housed in the Special Collections and University Archives at Rutgers University, describes the vacation of a young woman who came with her mother and brother in the summer of 1809 to visit the family of then Judge Ebenezer Tucker. It also confirms first hand many of the details Leah Blackman relates. On Thursday, June 22, 1809 Sarah Thomson describes having dinner with the Tucker family, and sits near the “Judg” himself which she mentions as “monstrously polite.” The word monstrously did not have as much of the negative connotation as it does today; in the time of Sarah Thomson it meant Mr. Tucker was immensely polite or extraordinarily great in his manners. The journal also depicts the Tuckerton celebration of the Fourth of July in 1809, as well as a trip to Tucker’s Island, and is generally insightful to the everyday life of that era. Sarah Thomson also mentions the dancing that often took place at night, and relates how “the Judg can tire us all out at dancing.”

From these sources can be drawn an outline of who Ebenezer Tucker was, who in both healthy body and mind at the age of around seventy slowly but confidently walked up to the podium to address Congress on May 7, 1828. In the audience could have been future presidents James K. Polk and James Buchanan who were House members, as well as Davy Crockett representing Tennessee. It does not seem as though Mr. Tucker planned to give a speech that day, as he was not an outspoken member of Congress, and before finding this transcript it was thought that he never spoke on the House floor.

 (Letter of Ebenezer Tucker to George Washington - January 18, 1790)

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Part 2

The following is directly from the “Remarks of Mr. Tucker of New Jersey to the House of Representatives.” Anything spoken by Ebenezer Tucker himself is in italics to highlight his speech: “The bill on the floor was for the relief of the surviving officers of the Revolutionary War being under consideration in Committee of the whole on the state of the Union – Mr. Tucker, of N.J. addressed the Committee, as follows:

I did not intend to say a single word upon the subject before the Committee, inasmuch as the cause of that illustrious band of heroes, the Revolutionary officers, has been so ably and zealously portrayed by honorable gentleman, at the last and present session, that little remains for the most intelligent to add. It may therefore be thought arrogant in me to attempt to advocate or elucidate their claim, after such displays of eloquence in their most righteous and just cause. I shall therefore only briefly touch upon a point… It is the case of Captain Cyrus Dehart, of New Jersey, who served during the Revolutionary war—and for the sake of argument, I will admit that he was settled with and paid every thing that was promised him by the various resolutions of the Confederation, down to the year 1783, when the army was disbanded.

I shall lay out of the question too, all losses by depreciations of the currency and certificates with which he was paid; unparalleled sacrifices and sufferings of hunger and cold, and privations of every sort, during a seven years’ doubtful and sanguinary war, and proceed briefly to the basis on which, as matter of legal right, the claim rests.”

What Ebenezer Tucker is describing here is that in lieu of being paid in the unstable currency available at the end of the War for Independence, the Continental officers agreed to be paid in “a certificate for their respective dues, bearing interest at six percent, payable annually.” The problem being that there was no federal government to pay the interest. This was due to the often overlooked period from 1783 to 1789 when the states were loosely held together by the Articles of Confederation. The lack of stable currency and basic government in general, would lead to the writing of the Federalist Papers in a push for a centralized federal government and bank, which culminated in the ratification of the Constitution. The First Bank of the United States would not be chartered till 1791, which Mr. Tucker cites the “6th article of the Constitution of the United States reads as follows: All debts contracted, and engagements entered into before the adoption of this constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this constitution as under the confederation.” In short, what Mr. Tucker is arguing for is the payment of lost interest due the Revolutionary War officers that was not paid them for about eight years, a period from the end of the war to the founding of the first national bank.

 (Original text of the Federalist Papers, also known as The Federalist)

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Part 3

Many Revolutionary War veterans were already receiving some sort of benefits by this time, as the Pension Act of 1818 provided lifetime pensions at half pay of the rank held during the war, provided they had served at least nine months in the Continental Army. By 1828, nearly forty-five years after the end of the war there were only “240 officers now living” that would receive the late interest payment supported by Mr. Tucker. Also, the cost overall subsequently being low due to the fact that many of the surviving officers were young and a majority were of a low rank during the war.

Captain Cyrus Dehart, who is cited as an example in the speech, was one of three brothers who all served in the Continental Army from Elizabethtown, New Jersey. Cyrus Dehart was born the same year as Ebenezer Tucker in 1758, and enlisted in the 1st New Jersey as an ensign. During the war Mr. Dehart would be promoted from ensign to lieutenant, then paymaster, Captain-Lieutenant, and before the end of the war reaching the rank of Captain. Mr. Dehart would pass away three years after he was included in Mr. Tucker’s speech in 1831. As it is stated in Ebenezer Tucker’s own obituary, “He represented New Jersey in Congress with great ability and fidelity,” and he does so in this instance by representing the interests of a veteran from his home state. But, the speech also gave Mr. Tucker an opportunity to speak with fidelity, meaning loyalty to a cause, on the American Revolution of which he as well as many in the town named after him, took an active role.

How then, I ask can you escape paying this balance? Will you tell me, that this vast empire is unable to pay her legal and just debts? This you cannot say, inasmuch as your resources are ample: and will you under all the circumstances of the case, submit to the humiliating dilemma, and establish the fact, that the high minded sons of Revolutionary heroes of your country, shall suffer those aged heroes to pine in penury, in want, and depart from the stage of action, creditors of the United States? Surely not…

But permit me to remind the honorable gentleman of the lowering times that tried men’s souls; when the States hung upon those officers for years, in awful suspense; when the fate of this empire was suspended as it were by a brittle thread; and had it been severed as was intended by the British ministry, and their hordes of mercenary troops, and subsidized Hessians which infested your shores, your fate was inevitably sealed; and you must have again returned to Colonial bondage and degradation, while your Hancocks, your Adams’s, your Franklins, your Carrolls, and your Jeffersons, with your Washington and his brave compeers, according to General Gage, were destined to the cord [the punishment for treason to the Crown was death by hanging, and anyone who supported the American cause was considered a traitor to the British]. But those undaunted heroes, with Washington for their leader, though menaced with the halter, laid their sabres at the root of the tree, and with a hard stroke, and a heavy stroke, and a stroke altogether, they fell the royal oak, and snatched from the British lion the brightest gem of his crown.

(map - “The American Revolution in New Jersey”)

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                                The Capitol Building, circa 1828

Part 4

Southern New Jersey is often not mentioned in the histories concerning the Revolutionary War, but the area between the patriot capital of Philadelphia and the British headquarters in New York was ground to a hive of activity during the conflict for both sides. And the patriot privateers played just as vital a role in helping win the war for America, as no coast was more dangerous to British ships then that of New Jersey. The hub of privateering in the state was Little Egg Harbor, which was much larger then as it contained Tuckerton, Bass River, and stretched out even to Tucker’s Island.

Leah Blackman writes in another of her works, Old Times: Country Life in Little Egg Harbor Fifty Years Ago, that “Little Egg Harbor, during the Revolution, was the resort of a large number of privateersmen, and often there were as many as thirty or more of their armed vessels with their anchors resting in the water of the harbor at a time; and as it is said, these men did great service in the cause of liberty, by capturing merchantmen, and intercepting the transports of the British.” Often the captured property was brought up the Mullica River, and then taken by wagon to help supply the American cause in Philadelphia.

This would lead the British, with the aid of loyalists, to the Battle of Chestnut Neck in 1778, in an attempt to strike back at the privateers. The British effort failed, but part of this battle is called the Affair at Little Egg Harbor, where 50 sleeping Americans soldiers were given no quarter by the bayonets of 250 British and loyalist troops. Pulaski’s Monument, erected by the Sons of the Cincinnati (a society made up of descendants of Continental Army officers), marks the spot of this massacre in Little Egg Harbor. Loyalist groups and soldiers were often more violent than their British allies, and their participation made the conflict both a civil war as well as one for independence.

It was the Associated Loyalists headed by Benjamin Franklin’s son, William Franklin, who hung Joshua Huddy without trial in 1782. This was especially cruel since this was after the surrender of the British at Yorktown, and the inevitability of American independence was being recognized by both the British and American leaders. Benjamin Franklin would disown his only son, who had acted as royal governor for New Jersey before the start of the war, stating in his will that “the part he acted against me in the late War, which is of public Notoriety, will account for me leaving him no more of an Estate he endeavored to deprive me of.”

Loyalists were a very real danger during Mr. Tucker’s time as a privateer in Little Egg Harbor, and the story of the son of Benjamin Franklin highlights how the war divided families as well as nations. Ebenezer Tucker’s only brother, Stephen Tucker, was a loyalist and at the end of the war took refuge in Nova Scotia, never to return. One can only guess at the personal price paid by the Revolutionary generation. The following are the closing remarks of the speech made by the honorable Mr. Tucker, representing his home state of New Jersey and always the town that bears his name.

I venture to predict that, although the splendid flinty-marble columns which support that lofty dome, and ornaments this hall, may fall into decay, the sweet and cheering recollections of their meritorious services and brilliant achievements will live forever. It is an old adage, that although justice may sleep, she is always sure. I can only say that as it respects the Revolutionary officers, she has slumbered for a long time; but I trust the hour is at hand when she will start from her slumbers… Sir, so well am I satisfied of the justice and equity of this claim, that rather than record my name against it, I would adopt the language of one of old, let me be anathema maranatha [this is a biblical term, which is a mixture of ancient Greek meaning cursed by God].

Although the bill before you does not give the officers that which is justly their due, yet I will take it as the man takes his wife, better for worse. Inasmuch as any amendment will be death to the bill; I hope, therefore, that no amendment will be agreed to. One word more and I have done: what little you do then, in behalf of those aged veterans, now bending under the hand of time, do quickly: time is flying, and life is on the wing. Do you not, almost weekly, hear the death-knell of one and another of those saviors of your country? And believe me, you will not long have the opportunity of refunding any part of their just dues to the relief of their wants, inasmuch as in a few years they will, each and all, be cut down by the all devouring scythe of time, and landed at that bourne from whence no traveller returns.

A few days later the “Act of May 15, 1828” was passed in Congress, which did not pay back the interest argued for by Mr. Tucker but instead went beyond. The act granted full pay by rank to those who were on half pay pensions, not to exceed the pay of a captain, which would have probably been agreeable to Captain Cyrus Dehart.


(Complete transcript - Remarks of Mr. Tucker, of New Jersey: House of Representatives, May 7, 1828)
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Obelisk marking Ebenezer Tucker’s grave, 
Old Methodist Cemetery, Tuckerton NJ.

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“Turning the Data of Today into the History of Tomorrow”
featured on The New York History Blog
(available as PDF)
by Jim Blackburn

Big Data is a controversial subject featured in the news almost daily, from the NSA spying programs to the rise of corporate data brokers. For better or worse this data exists, and the high value of information to both governments and private interests alike, make it look as though the practice is here to stay in one form or another. But, it is not the entry of data collection into the many aspects of our lives that I am exploring here; rather it is how this data can be mined in the future by historians.

Though the emergence of metadata is no doubt unprecedented, in the study of history it is not completely foreign, just a different and much denser form of an archive. A vast digital archive of the everyday, one which could allow this profusion of data to be viewed through a historical lens, turning numbers into human narratives. In short, I would like to raise the possibility of a new historiography – Data history – which would be the study of the past through the mining of data.

The challenges though may arise not from the size of the researchable data, but with the almost endless possibilities of new historical approaches. Since the times of Herodotus and Thucydides there have been different methods of history. The German School of the nineteenth century ushered in the age of academic research based on documental evidence. Jacob Burckhardt, who wrote The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy published in 1860, studied in Berlin under the influential Leopold von Ranke, and is an example of the turn of history to the written records of the past. Burckhardt was also one of the first modern practitioners of cultural and art history.

The Progressive Era brought with it the rise of statistics, and there use most prominently in sociology and history. The work of W.E.B. Du Bois is a prime example of this period, whose use of graphs and footnotes revolutionized serious social science and history writing. Fernand Braudel would surface from the archives of three continents with his epic The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II in 1949. Leading the Annales School to the foreground of twentieth century historiography, with its focus on the longue durée and on a history based from the bottom of society up. And since the majority of those who were literate in the past were both male and elite, statistics concerning economic and criminal records shone light on those who had been hidden in the darkness of the past.

In contrast, many modern historians can still illuminate past lives and events with limited archival material, the works of Jill Lepore and Natalie Zemon Davis come to mind, just to name a few. This draws an obvious conclusion that the amount of information that could be available in the future through metadata does not alone translate into better practices of history. And in putting forward the idea of a tomorrow where the study of Data history may exist, I recognize that I am raising more questions than answers here. But, one window I’d like to explore into this vast digital landscape may be found through genealogy.

There has always been an interest in ones ancestors, but as I mentioned before, the paper trails into the past were for the most part open to the minority that were privileged. Today, with Ancestry.com and other genealogical sites and societies, the doors to those we descend from have opened wider than ever before. The largest genealogical company, Ancestry.com, offers over 11 billion historical records to its subscribers. In comparison, Alice E. Marwick in her article “How Your Data Are Being Deeply Mined” for the NY Review of Books writes that: “The industry of collecting, aggregating, and brokering personal data is known as ‘database marketing.’

The second largest company in this field, Acxiom, has 23,000 computer servers that process more than 50 trillion data transactions per year.” As Acxiom is the second largest collector, that means well over 100 trillion pieces of data are being collected a year, with this number set to rise exponentially. This is not even factoring in whatever the NSA and other government agencies around the world are collecting. That is why it is called Big Data. It is less daunting when you imagine in the future your descendants being able to view your Facebook or other social media profile, and having access to the pictures, posts, and comments of a bygone era. In this sense, to genealogists and the historians of tomorrow this information is priceless.

Outside of history this genealogical data could be valuable as well. Michel Foucault in his essay “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” states “the body is molded by many distinct regimes; it is broken down by rhythms of work, rest, holidays, and eating habits. Genealogy, is thus situated within the body and history.” Foucault’s argument is of course more epistemological, but it relates perfectly to genetics. Our genes bare the imprints of how others lived in the past. The mining of historical data could then bring a family tree not only to life, but could improve the lives of those who will precede us. The mining of medical records as data could be used to both treat individuals or to gain a better understanding about diseases that affect whole societies.

The field of medicine is just one example outside history, many more questions I believe will be raised by the study of data, especially those concerned the three C’s of culture, class, and consumption.

Ultimately, I think that an archive for this data should be established, one where governments, business, and the individual can donate their data for the higher purpose of studying the human condition in the future. Of course these data donations could come with research restrictions, some records not to be opened till a certain date to protect sensitive information as an example. But, if we are serious about leaving a better world for those who will inhabit it after us, our data from today could create a better tomorrow. Data history will be the study of the past through the mining of data, the depth of which is our legacy to decide.

 

Copyright © 2013 Blackburn Book Review

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"The Forgotten War"
First Published in Green Door Magazine
Republished on The New York History Blog
by Jim Blackburn

This year marks the 350th anniversary of the Second Esopus War, which was fought primarily between the Munsee Esopus and the New Netherland colonists in 1663. The image of an “Indian” war most often conjures up scenes of the American West, yet this conflict took place right in the proverbial backyard of the Hudson Valley. The Esopus Wars were centered around the settlement of Wiltwijck, a place we know today as Kingston. The conflict completely changed the power dynamic of the region, from one dominated by American Indians to European colonists. While from another angle, a look at the war’s participants offers a view of the diverse population that composed Dutch New York.

Little today is left of the Hudson Valley as it was in 1663. But two artifacts offer a window into that distant time and place. One is an account of the war written by Captain Martin Krieger, and the other is the Kingston Stockade District. The Journal of the Second Esopus War written in 1663 by Captain Krieger is a detailed text of some twenty-five thousand words. Many of those words describe a series of military expeditions, while others give insight into the everyday life and unique culture that was the New Netherlands. The journal is more of what today we would call a report or an account, as the personal inner musings that we associate with a journal or diary did not take shape till the nineteenth century. Though the journal is not intimate in an individual sense, it does shed light on the individuals involved in the Second Esopus War and the historical landscape they inhabited.

Settled by New Netherlanders in 1652, Kingston at that time was the only sizable settlement between Albany and New York, and the area surrounding the settlement was controlled by the Esopus nation. The Esopus were a branch of the Delaware Indians known as the Lenape, and spoke the eastern Algonquin language Munsee. They are sometimes referred to as the Esopus Munsee and their territory before the Esopus Wars encompassed much of today’s Ulster County.

The stockade was a result of the growing animosity and violence between the two groups. In 1658, Director-Governor Peter Stuyvesant surveyed a bluff that offered natural protection on three sides, and he and his carpenter Fredrick
Philipse oversaw the erection of a fourteen foot palisade built with tree trunks pounded directly into the ground. The new stockade came with new rules; the villagers would now go out during the day to their varied labors and fields, and return to the stockade to spend the night in their new village homes. During the Second Esopus War Captain Krieger was continuously sending groups of soldiers to protect the settlers going out to work on various tasks, the most prominent being the maintenance and harvesting of crops, and the continual gathering of fire wood. Another challenge for Captain Krieger was the need to escort those using the Strand Road, which ran for three miles over some rough terrain, connecting the stockade of Kingston to the Rondout Harbor that led to the Hudson River. The road provided a vital link to the supplies of the outside world that the young settlement could not survive without.

The First Esopus War started on September 20, 1659 as the villagers of Kingston attacked a group of Esopus, who after working the day as hired hands paid unfortunately with brandy, were most likely highly intoxicated and celebrating around a fire outside the stockade walls. There is no record of provocation on the part of the Esopus that led to two unarmed celebrants being shot dead, only that the settlers were fearful, and that fear acted upon manifested itself into violence. The Esopus, who were outraged by the unprovoked attack, returned the next day in force and virtually destroyed everything of the settlement outside the stockade, which was now locked up tight.

The First Esopus War came to an end the following summer of 1660, with little loss of life, though the sale of twelve young Esopus captives into slavery to the far off island of Curacao was neither forgiven nor forgotten. And the subsequent peace treaty, brokered by the Susquehannok and Mohawk between the Esopus and Dutch seemed more a ceasefire than a lasting agreement. After the uneasy peace of 1660, the Esopus refused to cede or sell any additional land to the settlers. Regardless, the ever growing population of Wiltwijck continued to encroach farther into Esopus territory. Repeated attempts to peacefully mollify the situation failed; the Esopus decided to declare war first this time.

The journal includes a prelude of sorts not written by Krieger himself, but is an account of the massacre at Kingston on June 7, 1663. The document signed by the various members of the Court at Wiltwijck to the Council of New Netherlands offers an introduction to the environment Krieger was about to enter into, and also that this war would be more violent than the one three years ago as each side would pursue a scorched earth strategy against the other.

Around mid-day on June 7, 1663 the Esopus put into action a devastating surprise attack inside the stockade of Kingston. The report states that the Esopus started “Entering in bands through all the gates, they divided and scattered themselves among all the houses and dwelling in a friendly manner, having with them a little maize and some few beans to sell to our Inhabitants.” Unbeknownst to the settlers of Kingston that day, the Second Esopus War had already started earlier that morning.

The document continues, “And after they had been about a short quarter of an hour within this place, some people on horseback rushed through the gate from New Village (this village was located at the present town of Hurley) crying out: ‘The Indians have destroyed the New Village!” It is unknown when the Esopus were planning to strike, but news of the attack on the New Village set their plans immediately into action. The recounting of events written only a few weeks later still bear the shock and trauma inflicted on that day: “And with these words, the Indians here in this Village immediately fired a shot and made a general attack on our village from the rear, murdering our people in their houses with their axes and tomahawks, and firing on them with guns and pistols.” The Esopus, though almost seemed more intent on taking hostages, as “they seized whatever women and children they could catch and carried them prisoners outside the gates, plundering the houses and set the village on fire to windward.” And as fast as it all happened the Esopus were gone, but not before twenty villagers lay dead and forty-five were taken hostage, mostly women and children.

The lists provided of those killed at Kingston bring home the reality of the numbers. Some are completely heartbreaking, entries such as “Jan Albersen’s wife, big with child, killed in front of her house” or “William Hap’s child burnt alive in the house.” Other entries shed light on those who are often overlooked in the historical record, “Thomas Chambers’ slave murdered on the farm.” This highlights the fact that slavery was practiced probably from the founding of Kingston, and would be tolerated in New York for almost two-hundred more years till full emancipation was reached in the 1820’s.

The large number of hostages taken in this initial attack, besides their value in ransom, makes it seem as though maybe the Esopus were waging some sort of mourning war. Mourning wars are thought to have been the primary practice of warfare conducted before the arrival of Europeans in North America. The point of a battle against another community was not to inflict casualties, but to take hostages. Some hostages would be tortured to death as revenge for those lost in previous battle, while others would be adopted into families to help restore population levels. With such close contact between the Esopus and those at Kingston, it is most likely that disease took a toll on the population. As well, the twelve young Esopus sold into slavery after the First Esopus War might have been a consideration for the taking of so many children as captives. As Krieger’s journal relates, most of the hostages were finally recovered unharmed by the end of the war. The war might not have been completely over land boundaries as it is often portrayed.

This was the world of violence and uncertainty that Captain Krieger found himself as he stepped off the ship that brought him as well as a small army from Manhattan to Kingston on July 4, 1663. The first entry from Krieger reads, “We entered the Esopus Kill (a creek named for the Esopus Munsee) in front of the Rondout with two yachts, and sent Sergeant Pieter Ebel with 40 men up to the village Wiltwijck to fetch wagons; he returned to the river side about 2 in the afternoon accompanied by Sergeant Christian Nyssen, 60 men and 9 wagons; they loaded these and departed with them to the village where I arrived towards evening. Saw nothing in the world except three Indians on a high hill.” The first few weeks would continue in this fashion, with Krieger overseeing the transfer of supplies from the harbor to the village, sending out escorts to protect workers in the fields and sending groups of soldiers to lay in ambush.

While preparing for an assault on the Esopus strongholds later that fall, the individuals whom Krieger comes into contact speak to the diversity of the people, both American and European, who inhabited the future state of New York. In the everyday running of the village and in negotiations for the release of hostages, Krieger comes into contact with Mohawks, Mohicans, Catskill Munsee, Wappinger, Hackensack, and Minqua peoples. He is also aided by “Lieutenant Couwenhoven with 41 Indians” from Long Island in his campaign against the Esopus. Krieger also notes the origins of those he meets in his journal: “August 5th Thomas the Irishman arrived here, August 17th Gave three Englishmen leave to go to and return from the Manhatans, September 25th Domine Blom had arrived in the Spaniard’s yacht, October 10th Louis the Walloon went to fetch his oxen, and October 15th Hans the Norman arrived at the Rondout with his yacht from Fort Orange.” In addition to the Dutch, French Huguenot, and others from the German principalities like Krieger himself, there were also “7 of the Honorable Company’s slaves” in Krieger’s force. These slaves of the Dutch West India Company most likely represented people of various Caribbean and African background. All these people of various origins highlight the diversity of Dutch New York, as much of Colonial America was multicultural from the start.

Captain Martin Krieger’s journal goes on to relate in a somewhat cold businesslike manner the scorched earth campaign he would lead against the Esopus nation. In May of 1664, the few surviving sachems of the Esopus signed a peace treaty with Stuyvesant, which ceded all claims of land in what was now formerly Esopus territory. A belt of wampum was given as a token of peace, and is kept today in the Ulster County Hall of Records in Kingston. Martin Krieger would go on to spend his last years upstate, settling near Niskayuna on the Mohawk River. The date of his death is unknown, though some records indicate to as late as 1712. The journal he wrote lives on as an important document of not only the Second Esopus War, but also of the variety of individuals and peoples that history would know less of without his writings.

The Stockade Area in Kingston is now a National Historic District. Much of the history and stone architecture now found there represent a later period than that of the Esopus Wars. Of the original wooden houses, barns, and palisades nothing remains, yet the original street layout of the Stockade Area is as Stuyvesant planned in 1658. Walking on these streets 350 years later, one doesn’t get the feeling that Kingston was at one time a frontier town or that it was the setting for a fiercely fought “Indian” war, but there was a time when the United States did not exist and the American West was located right here in the Hudson Valley.


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