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Hudson History: Inside the Columbia County City’s Whaling Past

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Photos courtesy of Historic Hudson Valley

Formerly Claverack Landing, Hudson was once a hub for the whaling industry — and it very nearly became New York’s capital city.

Of all the many cities and towns in our region, only one was named after Henry Hudson, the Valley’s first European visitor. How the designation came to be is, well, a whale of a tale.

Until 1784, the city of Hudson was known as Claverack Landing. It was a farming community of 10 or so families—around 150 people. But that was about to change.

In the years during and right after the Revolutionary War, the Royal Navy clamped down on American whaling— one of the biggest industries of the 18th century (especially in New England). In 1783, brothers Seth and Thomas Jenkins from Nantucket set sail for a new beginning. They found a home base in this unlikely locale—100 miles from the ocean— on a deep and safe harbor with plenty of land. Claverack Landing presented an opportunity to build a company town from scratch… which they did.

claverack landing

The Jenkins brothers and 28 other whalers, who became known as the Proprietors, formed a company and bought the land from Dutch families (who had previously purchased it from the native Mohicans). They laid out a city grid and put into place everything a whaling enterprise would need: ship builders, rope and sail makers, coopers, and more than a few saloons. Within three years, the city had several wharves, four warehouses, plus “a covered rope-walk, spermaceti-works, one hundred and fifty dwelling-houses, shops, barns, one of the best distilleries in America, and fifteen hundred souls,” according to the New York Journal.

On November 14, 1784, Claverack Landing became the first city to be incorporated in the brand-new United States of America. However, according to an 1862 chronicle, Historical Sketches of Hudson, the Proprietors wanted a new name. They unanimously agreed that “it should be called by the name of Hudson.” There is no record as to why they insisted on the name change, but according to the book, at least one person wasn’t happy: New York’s first governor George Clinton. He wanted Hudson named after himself.

In 1797, Hudson was one vote short of becoming the capital of New York State. Nevertheless, the city has survived and thrived, and today represents a true gem of the Hudson Valley.


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