Mount Gulian Boasts a Meaningful History in the Hudson Valley

A former headquarters during the Revolutionary War, Mount Gulian now serves as a museum and education center.

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Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus was George Washington before George Washington even existed. In the fifth century B.C., Cincinnatus—an aristocrat and farmer—was called upon to lead Roman armies to defend the republic—not once, but twice. Both times, he could have become emperor but refused, preferring to return to his farm. Washington, and the other founding fathers, had studied the classics. They took note of a man who put country over self and turned his back on absolute power as they planned for the future of the new nation at an old homestead in the middle of the Hudson Valley.

One of the earliest families to settle the Valley were the Verplancks; Dutch entrepreneur and merchant Abraham Isaac Verplanck came to New Amsterdam in the 1630s. In 1683, his son Gulian Verplanck, along with his business partner Francis Rombout, bought 85,000 acres of land from the local Wappinger tribe for about $1,200 worth of trade goods. Two years later, the Deed of Sale (known as the Rombout Patent) was approved by King James II of England, giving this vast territory to the Rombout, Verplanck, and Van Cortlandt families (and forcing the Wappingers to relocate).

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Military officers, like Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben and the Marquis de Lafayette, spent time at Mount Gulian.
Military officers, like Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben and the Marquis de Lafayette, spent time at Mount Gulian.

In 1730, another Verplanck descendant, also named Gulian (roughly, Dutch for William), built a colonial-style fieldstone house at Fishkill Landing, and named the surrounding plantation Mount Gulian. When the Revolutionary War erupted, this home became a headquarters for the Continental Army because of its strategic location on the Hudson and proximity to Washington’s headquarters in Newburgh. It served as the base camp for general Friedrich von Steuben from late 1782 through the summer of 1783.

The war was over by then, and many of the Continental Army’s top generals and officers gathered at Mount Gulian to plan for what came next. One of those plans was to create an organization “to facilitate fellowship, friendship and recognition for war veteran officers of the Continental Army,” according to Mount Gulian history. It also intended to collect funds from every member to help fellow officers in financial need.

On May 13, 1783, Washington, Steuben, and 34 other officers signed the founding document of the Society of the Cincinnati, written chiefly by General Henry Knox, at Mount Gulian. It is the nation’s oldest patriotic organization. Washington, who followed Cincinnatus’ lead and declined absolute power to return to farming, was the first president general of the Society (from 1783 until his death in 1799), followed by Alexander Hamilton from 1800–1805.

To be a member, you had to be a direct male descendant from an original officer member. “Within months of its formation, critics charged that the Society’s real purpose was to impose a hereditary aristocracy on the new republic,” the Society notes. “Members and non-members rushed to the defense of the Society, which experience proved was not a threat to liberty.” The Society was successful in lobbying Congress for financial support for its early members, and the organization “became a model for other fraternal groups in America,” according to Mount Gulian Historic Site’s records.

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The original home at Mount Gulian burned down in 1931. It was reconstructed and opened in time for the Bicentennial in 1976, and is now a museum, education center, and the headquarters of the New York Society of the Cincinnati. The Society is a nonprofit educational organization devoted to preserving the history of the American Revolution through its various state chapters and its library and museum in Washington, D.C.

To learn more of its history or to schedule a tour, visit mountgulian.org.

David Levine is the author of The Hudson Valley: The First 250 Million Years (now in paperback).

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