The Leadership Role of Municipal Historians

19120822As the new year gets underway, it is appropriate to pause and reflect on open issues from years gone by. I am referring now to the role in 2013 of the county historian as a custodian for New York State history as we forge ahead with our Path through History Project.

The starting point for this investigation is an article which appeared on September 12, 2012 just after the summer launch in August entitled &#8220New York State’s Curious, Century-Old Law Requiring Every City and Town to Have a Historian&#8221 by Amanda Erickson in The Atlantic Cities. Read more

Orange County: St. George’s Cemetery in Newburgh

When I lived in Boston, I discovered that cemeteries are truly historical treasures to be protected and maintained. While living there, I spent many hours at the Park Street Burying Ground admiring the unusual headstones and looking at the old names which appeared on them.

Usually I was not alone, as other people, many of them tourists, were doing the same. Early on, Bostonians learned a valuable lesson that these final resting places could also be a source of tourist revenue. Read more


The New York State Museum will celebrate the Adirondacks and Lake Champlain on Saturday, November 3 with “Adirondack Day,” an inaugural daylong event that will complement the Museum’s exhibition on iconic Adirondack photographer Seneca Ray Stoddard.

The free event, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., will include a concert, lectures, displays, tours and films presented by theNew YorkStateMuseumand many of theNorth Country’s leading educational and cultural institutions.  Participating are theNew YorkStateMuseum,AdirondackMuseum, Adirondack Life magazine,FortTiconderoga, Great Camp Sagamore, John Brown Lives, Lakes to Locks Passage,MountainLakePBS, Paul Smith’s College, The Wild Center, and the Trudeau Institute. 

The highlight of the day will be a 2 p.m. concert by award-winningAdirondack folk musician, educator and story teller Dan Berggren. Berggren’s roots are firmly in the Adirondacks where he was raised, but he has entertained audiences across the country and overseas in Belgium, Bulgaria, Romania andCentral Africa. Hearing stories and songs from local friends and neighbors, he has developed a style that captures the spirit of the mountains. He has produced 14 albums and has won awards from the NYS Outdoor Education Association, the Association for the Protection of theAdirondacks, the Adirondack Mountain Club and SUNY Fredonia.

Guided tours will be offered of the Seneca Ray Stoddard: Capturing the Adirondacksexhibition. Stoddard’s photographs provide a visual record of the history and development of theAdirondacks. His work was instrumental in shaping public opinion about tourism, leading to the 1892 “Forever Wild” clause in the New York State Constitution.

The exhibition includes over 100 of Stoddard’s photographs, anAdirondack guideboat, freight boat, camera, copies of Stoddard’s books and several of his paintings. These and other items come from theStateMuseum’s collection of more than 500 Stoddard prints and also from the collections of the New York State Library and theChapmanHistoricalMuseum in Glens Falls. An online version of the exhibition is also available on theStateMuseum website at

The events are presented by theNew YorkStateMuseum with the support of sponsors Paul Smith’s College and Stewart’s Shops.

TheStateMuseumis a program of the State Education Department’s Office of Cultural Education. Located on Madison Avenue in Albany, the Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. except on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission is free. Further information can be obtained by calling (518) 474-5877 or visiting the Museum website at


Beatrix Farrand Gardens Centennial Celebration

The Beatrix Farrand Garden Association is presenting a Centennial Celebration for the Beatrix Farrand Garden at Bellefield on the property of the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site in Hyde Park.

The Beatrix Farrand Garden Association is a not for profit organization dedicated to showcasing the environmental and design legacy of  America’s first female landscape architect,  Beatrix Farrand (1872-1959). The Association partners with the National Park Service to preserve and maintain the
Beatrix Farrand Garden at Bellefield as an outstanding example of Farrand’s work.

An afternoon garden party will be held on Saturday, June 2, 2012 from 4pm to 7pm at Bellefield at the Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site, 4097 Albany Post Road, Hyde Park, NY. Advance purchase of tickets is required. For tickets and more information go to
or call 845-229-9115 ext. 2023.


Jehudi Ashmun, Founder of Liberia (Part 2)

In 1822, three months after Champlain, New York, native Jehudi Ashmun’s colony of freed slaves landed on Africa’s west coast (and two months after losing his wife), the group faced impending hostilities from surrounding tribes. The attack finally came on November 11. Ashmun, a man of religious faith but deeply depressed at his wife’s death, was suddenly thrust into the position of impromptu military leader.

Approximately ten kings of local tribes sent 800 men to destroy the new settlement, which held only 35 residents, six of whom were younger than 16 years old. Many among them were very ill, leaving only about 20 fit enough to help defend the colony. By any measure, it was a slam dunk.
The results are now legendary: against incredible odds, the settlers routed their attackers. It was a great victory, but the fight wasn’t over. Immediately, and for days after, Ashmun worked to improve their defenses, fearing another attack. A confidant informed him his suspicions were warranted, and on November 30, via a foreign ship, Ashmun sent a desperate message to the American Colonization Society, sponsors of the new settlement.

“All the tribes around us are combined in a war against us. Their principal object is plunder. We are surrounded by only a slight barricade and can only raise a force of thirty men. … We endeavor to make God our trust. I have no idea but to wait for His deliverance—or to lay out our bones on Cape Montserado.”

The second assault, which came on December 2, was made by an even larger force, estimated at more than 1,000 warriors. Furious attacks were mounted, including at least four in one location, but all were repulsed. Within 90 minutes, and at great loss to the enemy, the settlement stood intact. Ashmun and his band of colonists had once again achieved the impossible.

It was truly the stuff of legend, marking the beginning of an incredible journey. Jehudi became the settlement’s de facto leader. As per the Society’s instructions, he assisted the new colony in establishing a constitution and code of laws based on those of the United States. Having negotiated deals with several kings before they had decided to turn against him, Jehudi now dealt with the task of mending fences and forging a peace agreement with his enemies.

During the next several years, he successfully navigated through myriad problems, daunting hardships, and frequent illness, leading the colony to success. A working economy was established and new territory was acquired, making for a promising future.

In a treaty signed with five kings, he once traded “500 bars of tobacco, three barrels of rum, five casks of powder, five umbrellas, ten iron posts, ten pairs of shoes,” and other items in exchange for land and certain rights. (See the illustration. At the bottom of the treaty are the kings’ names with their marks (X), and Jehudi’s signature near the bottom right.)

Ashmun was present for the birth and initial growth of the settlement, guiding the way to legitimacy. But in 1828, another serious illness struck, and on July 18, the great dismay, sadness, and appreciation of the entire colony was expressed when he returned to America for treatment.

Writing to his parents in Champlain, he expressed the hope and desire to return to the village in the coming months, but it wasn’t to be. On August 25, at the young age of only 34, Jehudi Ashmun died in New Haven, Connecticut, where he was buried.

The colony he established had become known as Liberia (“Land of the Free”), and its capital, originally Christopolis, had been renamed Monrovia after President James Monroe. Within a decade of the colony’s birth, those first few dozen settlers had grown to nearly 1,500 citizens- a daily newspaper had been established- a self-governing system of laws was in place- and the economy was supported by trade with other countries, just as Ashmun had envisioned.

In 1847, the Liberian colonists declared their land an independent republic, receiving official recognition from nearly all the world’s countries, with one notable exception: the United States. American recognition was withheld for a familiar reason—southern states refused to accept a black ambassador in Washington.

The US finally came through with recognition of Liberia in 1862, when the southern voices in Congress were silenced by their secession from the Union.

A century after Ashmun’s tiny group of colonists repelled those two initial attacks, Liberia was about the size of Kentucky and had a population of more than two million, which exceeded that of thirty US states. Oddly enough, as noted in 1919 by the National Geographic Society: “Of these two million or more inhabitants, only about 50,000 [12,000 of whom were of American origin] may be considered civilized and take part in government.” That’s only about 3 percent.

It’s rather ironic that a colony of former slaves, established to encourage freedom and provide a voice in their own governance, would one day restrict the freedom and rights of 97 percent of its own population, placing them at the whim of the other 3 percent. Sound familiar?

Further irony is found in Liberia’s constitution, which contains a clause carried forward for generations. It still exists today in Chapter IV, Article 27, Section b): “In order to preserve, foster, and maintain the positive Liberian culture, values, and character, only persons who are Negroes or of Negro descent shall qualify by birth or by naturalization to be citizens of Liberia.”

And so it is that in Liberia, directly translated as “the Land of the Free,” non-blacks are denied citizenship. Perhaps they became more like America than Jehudi Ashmun intended.

Still, there’s no denying the fact that, in light of its most humble of beginnings, and the changes we’ve seen to the globe even in the past 50 years, it’s amazing that Liberia still survives nearly two centuries after Ashmun first landed on Africa’s shores.

He was smart, tough, and wise, but another side of Ashmun that stayed with him throughout life is revealed through his own writings. Consider this self-assessment from 1819: “I am now 25 years of age- almost three years from college- have no profession &#8230- I am involved in debt, possess neither books nor money, and have a delicate and beloved wife to provide for.

“I am wearied with the same daily round of dull employment … of studying in circumstances forbidding the exercise of half the strength of my mental powers- of sleeping immoderately because I have nothing to do or to enjoy sufficiently interesting to keep me awake. … The future is a dreary expanse of storms and clouds, pervaded by a few faint gleams of hope.

“I am broken with disappointments- have been robbed by the perfidy and ignorance of supposed friends and the malevolence of enemies. &#8230- The frown of Heaven is upon me. My hopes for eternity are clouded.”

If at times you feel a deep hopelessness like that once expressed by Jehudi Ashmun, remember what he accomplished in the next few years of his life. Not bad for a North Country boy—or any boy, for that matter.

Photos? Top: Location of Liberia on Africa’s west coast. Bottom: Treaty signed by Ashmun and several African tribal kings.

The Jehud
i Ashmun story is one of 51 original North Country history pieces appearing in Adirondack Gold: 50+ New & True Stories You’re Sure to Love (352 pp.), a recent release by Lawrence Gooley, who has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 20 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


War of 1812 Bicentennial Event in Prescott, Ontario

The War of 1812 bicentennial is a big deal in Canada, and our neighbors in Prescott, Ontario, will kick off their commemorations May 19-21 at Fort Wellington.

In the spirit of international cooperation members of the Fort La Presentation Association and Forsyth’s Rifles will be there to support the Garrison Weekend Re-enactment.

“In the community of War of 1812 re-enactors, there has been a cross-border exchange for nearly 20 years,” said Forsyth’s Vice President Tim Cryderman. “We look forward to re-enacting battles on the Canadian side to mark 200 years of friendship.”

Re-enactors from Canada and the United States portraying British and American soldiers will set up separate camps on the fort grounds. Civilian heritage interpreters will have their own demonstration area.

“I am really looking forward to exploring the new Fort Wellington Interpretation Center,” said Barbara O’Keefe, President of the Fort Association. “We plan to build a similar structure on Lighthouse Point, so I want to take in as much information and as many ideas as I can during my visit.”

The remains of the 1812-era gunboat Radcliffe are the centerpiece of the new interpretive center. Mr. Gord Brown, Member of Parliament for Leeds-Grenville, will officially open the interpretive center at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 19.

The weekend promises a number of activities: soldiers living in the blockhouse barracks- historic weapons demonstrations- battle re-enactments- and Saturday beginning at dusk, a fiery artillery demonstration followed by spectacular fireworks.

The three-day event will be the biggest celebration in Prescott since the town’s own bicentennial events in 2010.


Volunteers Headed to State Parks, Historic Sites

&#8220Our parks are one of the hidden treasures of our state,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said today, inviting New Yorkers to participate in the first ever I Love My Park Day, a statewide event to enhance the state’s parks and historic sites and bring visibility to the entire park system and its needs.

Thousands of New Yorkers are expected to turn out on Saturday, May 5, to volunteer to help improve our state parks. Volunteers will celebrate New York’s state park system by cleaning up park lands and beaches, planting trees and gardens, restoring trails and wildlife habitats, removing invasive species, and working on various site improvement projects.

There are more than 35 participating state parks and historic sites. Bring your friends and family to your favorite park this Saturday and help preserve the beauty of this great state. You can click here to find a park or historic site and sign up, or just show up!


NYC Municipal Archives Makes Nearly One Million Historic Photographs Available Online

In a great bit of news for lovers of New York City history (and everyone else, for that matter), the New York City Municipal Archives recently announced that its new online gallery, featuring a staggering 870,000 plus historical images of New York, is now open and accessible to the public. In addition to historic photographs, many of which have never been released before, users are also able to access maps, moving images, and audio recordings through the online gallery.

Through this project, which took four years to complete, the Municipal Archives has done us all an indispensable service by enabling unprecedented access to New York’s documentary record and appealing to a wide variety of historical interests (social, cultural, political, architectural, industrial, environmental, economic, criminal, etc.!).

Deservedly, the unveiling of its online gallery has brought the Municipal Archives some generous media coverage (including pieces in The Gothamist and The Atlantic, as well as on CBS and Yahoo), which in turn has helped make the digital gallery immensely popular since its introduction. So popular, in fact, that the Municipal Archives has had to temporarily suspend access to the gallery in order to ensure that its infrastructure will be able to accommodate such an overwhelming response.

The gallery’s site is still down as of this writing, but be sure to check it frequently for the gallery’s re-launch (in the meantime, Alan Taylor’s coverage in The Atlantic provides over 50 great images from the gallery to give you a sense of what to expect once it returns in full form). This tremendous achievement, as well as the overwhelmingly positive response that has greeted it, is a testament to the crucial service that the Municipal Archives provides to the New York City community and beyond. It also, unfortunately, comes at a time of uncertainty for the future of the Archives itself.

The New York City Council’s recent legislation proposing to revoke the autonomy of the Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS, of which the Municipal Archives is a part) and merge it with the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) is still pending and, if passed, threatens to drastically undermine DORIS’s professional resources and its ability to provide public access to the historical record of New York City.

If such valuable initiatives as the Municipal Archives’s digital gallery are to continue, it is imperative that DORIS remains an independent agency within the New York City government. Please refer to the website of the Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York (or the Round Table’s earlier post on this blog) for more information on the legislation concerning the future of DORIS.


Thomas Cole Historic Site Opens Mignot Exhibit

Louis Remy MignotThe Thomas Cole National Historic Site has opened a new exhibition: Worlds Between: Landscapes of Louis Remy Mignot. Curated by Katherine E. Manthorne, this is the first major solo show of Louis Remy Mignot (1831-1870) in over two decades. The exhibition will offer an intimate look at the work of this young, Charleston-born artist who painted in the style of the Hudson River School – and whose tragic life story is as captivating as his landscape paintings.

In this exhibition the Thomas Cole National Historic Site offers a rare chance to see a full range of Mignot’s work. The catalogue produced for the exhibit includes full-color reproductions of the paintings and an essay by Dr. Manthorne. Guest Curator Katherine Manthorne brings her expertise on traveler artists to the exhibition and accompanying catalog, which offers a fresh look at Mignot as a painter whose global journeying fed his unique artistic creativity. 

Specifically, at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site one may view Mignot’s early Dutch landscapes, subtly nuanced snow scenes, coloristic Tropical landscapes, and painterly European pictures. To celebrate the legacy he inherited from Thomas Cole, the exhibition highlights Mignot’s distinctive views of upstate New York and the Hudson River Valley. In many ways, the gallery at the Cole Site offers the perfect venue for this artist living between worlds. 

 Louis Remy Mignot (1831-1870) lived between many worlds: he was a Southern artist living in New York City in the years leading up to the Civil War- a French-Catholic, he worked within a predominantly Anglo-Protestant community of artists- he traveled from the American South to South America, and painted both subtle snow scenes and fiery tropical pictures. He belonged to the inner circles of polar opposites &#8211 Frederic Church and James Whistler- and in his all too short career, his style moved from Hudson River School realism toward Aestheticism. 

His art and life embodied the mobility that characterized the 19th c. Atlantic world, as he moved from one busy, cosmopolitan port to another. Mignot grew up in Charleston, S.C., where the slave-holding Low Country planter elite frequented his father’s coffee house and confectionary on King Street. At age 17 he traveled to The Hague in the Netherlands for artistic training, and then moved to New York City. From there he visited tourist sites from New York’s Hudson Valley to the White Mountains in New Hampshire. In 1857 he explored South America, painting the steamy lowlands and lagoons that rivaled the Andean panoramas of his traveling companion Frederic Church. 

With the outbreak of Civil War, his southern identity and world experiences made it difficult for him either to remain in the North or to return home to Carolina, and he took up his travels again. Mignot never reached his intended destination of India, but got as far as London. Ever restless, he spent summers in the Swiss Alps and headed for Paris in 1870, where he was trapped during the Commune and contracted small pox. He died at age 39, leaving behind one of the most diverse and sophisticated bodies of work of any American landscapist. 

This is the 9th annual presentation of 19th century landscape paintings at the Thomas Cole site. The exhibition program seeks to foster discussion and understanding of the influence of Thomas Cole on American culture through a generation of artists known as the Hudson River School. Worlds Between &#8211 Landscapes of Louis Remy Mignot will be on view until October 28, 2012. 

DIRECTIONS: The Thomas Cole Historic Site is located in the scenic Hudson River Valley, at 218 Spring Street in Catskill, New York. Located near the western entrance to the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, with easy access from the New York State Thruway exit 21 or Amtrak train service in Hudson, detailed directions and more information can be found at or call 518-943-7465. 

HOURS: Starting May 3rd, the Main House and Old Studio are open for tours from 10 to 4pm, with the last tour at 3pm, Thursday through Sunday, through October 28th. Admission to the grounds is free and open dawn until dusk.