Cover image provided by HVA Press
Journalist Francis Whiting Halsey writes about the valiant efforts of New York’s early heroes and heroines along the frontier.
New York’s Hudson Valley region has an incredible history, full of recognizable American heroes. Many of the events that led to the foundation of this country transpired right here along the Hudson River. Aside from the many presidents and founding fathers that have deep roots in the area, the people here have always had a part to play in history.
In his book, America’s First Frontier, the now-deceased journalist and historian Francis Whiting Halsey details the immense influence and heroism of locals along New York’s “frontier.” As he explains in the book published by the Hudson Valley’s HVA Press, a publishing firm which spotlights deceased authors and historians, 17th century pioneers traveled out into the wilderness in search of new resources and a new life. Early immigrants in New York faced many challenges in an unfamiliar and, at times, hostile place. Famine and disease were threats to be feared, but not as dangerous as the different factions of enemies these freedom fighters faced.
Halsey was the first editor of the New York Times‘ book review, and studied early American history with great detail. Through his writing, he shined a light on the Hudson Valley and upstate New York, painting a fuller picture on what this region was like in its infancy. From the diverse terrain to the many small conflicts, Halsey sunk his teeth into the area’s storied history. Just for Hudson Valley readers, HVA Press shared a few highlights from the book’s detailed account of early life in the region.
View this post on Instagram
What Challenges Did Early Hudson Valleyites Face?
Settling in the Northeast United States was no small task for the pioneers of this region. “Never was the resourcefulness and courage of Americans more apparent than at the very edges of civilization in an untamed land,” Halsey writes. Frigid temperatures, turbulent weather patterns, and a completely foreign wilderness presented many pitfalls for their survival.
Despite the low odds of success, the Hudson Valley’s pioneers cleared their own land and grew their own food. Unfortunately, those who survived harsh winters and low crop yields faced three separate enemies along the frontier. British loyalists, French mercenaries, and the mighty Iroquois nation all fought with these brave men and women.
“When the men volunteered for militias and marched off to battle, to fight and perhaps die, pioneer women were left alone to guard their homes and children,” Halsey writes.
The Iroquois posed an especially challenging threat. The Iroquois and the Five Nations were at the height of their power during this time, and were extremely advanced in their organizations. Their political structures were early examples of self-government in America.
“They founded independence. In diplomacy they had self-control, knowledge of human nature, tact and sagacity, and they often became the arbiters in disputes between other peoples. Convinced that they were born free, they bore themselves always with the pride which sprang from that consciousness,” Halsey writes. Their ideas inspired important fundamental concepts upon which the American Constitution was written.
View this post on Instagram
The Vital Role of New York’s Capital
Albany was not always the grand capital city that it is today. In the days of the frontier, Albany was nothing more than a small military fort surrounded by a small village. Early settlers of the upper Hudson Valley built tiny houses with spare boards and thatched roofs. The hard work of these residents built up a capital that grew in influence, so much so that the very idea of a United States was born here.
Founding Father Benjamin Franklin proposed the radical new idea of government from the city he called “the cradle of the union.” Later nicknamed the Albany Plan, Franklin’s ideas were instrumental in developing a new nation from the ground up.
“In 1754 a great council was called at Albany, in reality a congress, to which were invited delegates from all the colonies in America. At this congress was brought to official attention the famous Plan of Union, mainly drawn up by Ben Franklin, which in an organic sense marks the beginning of the history of the United States,” Halsey writes.
Of course, this plan was rejected by England. But the seeds of the Revolution were planted, and Americans wanted united freedom.
View this post on Instagram
Creation of the Flag
At the dawn of the revolution, young freedom fighters first flew America’s stars and stripes in New York State. Before Betsy Ross’s iconic design reached upstate New York, a battle erupted at Fort Schuyler (now Fort Stanwix National Monument). Just west of the Hudson Valley, this fort saw an early version of the flag flying boldly against the British.
“A rude specimen was therefore constructed in the fort, one tradition being, that the red material came from a flannel shirt, the white from a cotton shirt, and the blue from the petticoat of a soldier’s wife. Above the ramparts this flag was hoisted, and it seems to be the first instance in history in which the Stars and Stripes were ever raised in the face of an enemy,” Halsey writes.
It was once a British fort that was abandoned, and the early Americans seized the opportunity to cut off important routes to Canada by occupying it. In honor of General Philip Schuyler — yes, that Philip Schuyler, Alexander Hamilton’s father-in-law — it was named Fort Schuyler. The Americans also made key allies with the Oneida nation, a group which offered vital aid during the war. Without victories here, and east at Saratoga, America may not have become the free nation it is today.