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Greatest Heroes of the Hudson Valley

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What is a hero? A hero is someone who put others before themselves, making sure that despite their stature or class they were making a difference to the less fortunate. A hero is someone who changed the country, their world, forever. Who brought on a new age, made things better or easier. At the core a hero is someone, a good person, who made a difference, somewhere, sometime.

e1Eleanor Roosevelt

It would be incredibly easy to discuss what made President Franklin Roosevelt a hero; he overcame polio, set up a new economic policy for the United States, led the United States through the Great Depression and World War II, and he was so beloved he was elected to four terms. However behind every great man is a powerful woman, and Eleanor Roosevelt was a woman ahead of her time. Kind, caring, and educated; she was a great leader who helped her husband, the country and the world work towards peace and tolerance. As a major advocate and fighter against oppression and sexism, Eleanor was one of the greater humanitarians of her day. Her efforts to promote equality made her incredibly popular not just in the United States, but around the world; later described by President Harry Truman as, “The first lady of the world”  Mrs. Roosevelt believed all people should be treated fairly and worked on a number of projects to promote fairness and equality throughout the world. She worked with the Red Cross, the Navy, she formed an organization of world peace, and she worked on a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which she presented to the United Nations. Eleanor Roosevelt could have taken the path of many of her predecessors and used the position of first lady to make herself out to be an elegant socialite, but instead she overcame personal strife and fought tirelessly to better the lives of people, not just in her own country, but around the world. She is a hero because she cared more about the world than herself, nothing she did was for her own personal benefit, but because she truly wanted to make the world a better place and to help others.

Someone once asked me what I regarded as the three most important requirements for happiness. My answer was: “A feeling that you have been honest with yourself and those around you; a feeling that you have done the best you could in your personal life and in your work; and the ability to love others.”

e2.jpgRobert R. Livingston Jr.

There are numerous brave people to celebrate for the founding of the United States of America, the most notable have been lionized as the founding fathers of America. However there are many unsung heroes to thank for making this country what it is today, one of which is Robert R. Livingston, Jr, known as “The Chancellor” who was a lawyer, politician, and diplomat from New York. Although largely forgotten over time he played an enormous role and had a major impact on the political course of early America. Before the nation was solidified Robert Livingston was a part of the Committee of Five that drafted and wrote the Declaration of Independence, unfortunately for him he never had the chance to sign the document he helped create, nonetheless his doing helped solidify America as an independent power. In 1777 Livingston became the Chancellor of New York, a position which he held for 25 years, during which he administered the presidential oath to George Washington. He accomplished many more feats throughout his life including negotiating the Louisiana Purchase while serving as the ambassador to France. Livingston’s work helped to define what the United States would be during its beginning years and historically transformed the United States into what it is today.

“We have lived long but this is the noblest work of our whole lives … The United States take rank this day among the first powers of the world”

e3Sybil Ludington

Nearly everyone has heard the tale of Paul Revere and the midnight ride which saved the revolutionaries from the encroaching British Army, but not many people have heard of a young girl named Sybil Ludington. A heroine of the American Revolution, Sybil completed her own ride, which would make Revere’s look like a petty favor. In 1777 when she was just a mere 16 years old, Sybil road her horse 40 miles, more than twice the distance of Revere’s ride, to alert the American colonists of the approaching British forces. Her ride began around 9pm and ended at dawn. She rode through forests, hills, and rain, and escaped a highwayman who attempted to stop her; when she finally returned home, exhausted and worn out, more than 400 soldiers were ready to march because of her calls. Her ride had a significant effect on the Battle of Ridgefield, which with the help of the soldiers she rallied, was a strategic win for the American Army. Sybil’s heroism was celebrated by friends and family alike, she even received a person thanks and congratulations from George Washington.

e4.jpgJohn Paulding, Isaac Van Wart, & David Williams

It would be unfair to give credit to just one man for an act that essentially saved the Revolutionary War. Three men: John Paulding, Isaac Van Wart, and David Williams in 1780 captured Major John André of the British army. Andre had been plotting with traitor Benedict Arnold to cut New England off from the rest of the rebellious colonies by betraying West Point to the British. These militiamen were smart enough to catch André in a tangle of lies, refuse his bribes, realize he was a spy, and take him to the Continental Headquarters. Without this move it would never have been realized that Arnold was a traitor to the American army, New England could have very well been cut off from between the colonies a British victory could have prevailed. These three men, unbeknownst to the rest of the war, played a huge role in the success of the revolution.

 

e5.jpgSojourner Truth

In 1799 New York began to legislate the abolition of slavery. Isabella Baumfree was a slave in Ulster county, she was promised her freedom by her master, who later went back on his promise claiming that she had not been productive due to injury. Luckily she managed to escape with her youngest child during the 1820s. When her emancipation finally went into effect in 1927 she began to go back for her other children, only to find out her youngest son had been illegally sold to a new master in Alabama. Baumfree took her prior owner to court over the matter and won her son back. With this victory she became the first black women to go to court against a white man and win the case, and so her career as an abolitionist and women’s rights activist began. In 1843 Isabelle Baumfree legally renamed herself Sojourner Truth, ridding herself of her slave name. She became a forceful advocate of Civil Rights and Women’s Rights, speaking throughout the country, she sought political equality for all women, and spoke against the abolitionist community for failing to advocate for black women as well as men. Truth was one of several escaped slaves, to become a prominent respected abolitionist leader and demonstrate the humanity of enslaved people. Sojourner Truth fought for many reforms and causes throughout her life; she recruited soldiers to the union army during the civil war, rallied for prison reform, women’s rights, abolitionism, property rights, universal suffrage, and so much more. For an illiterate woman she was truly a radical revolutionist who brought hope and change to the world.

 

e6Margaret Sanger

One of the great women’s rights activists of her time, Margaret Sanger propelled the women’s movement to new heights and fought for social reforms that would better the lives of women. She was 1 of 11 surviving children born to an Irish, working class family. Her mother had gone through 18 pregnancies in 22 years, and Margaret spent a majority of her youth helping to take care of her younger siblings. This life in part inspired her to become a nurse. Sanger met women who underwent frequent childbirth, miscarriages and self-induced abortions for lack of information on how to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Sanger became a birth control activist, founding the American Birth Control League, and opened the first birth control clinic. She was prosecuted and threatened for her work for women.

 

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Jason “Jay” Gould & Cornelius Vanderbilt

The industrial revolution spawned a whole new wave of changes throughout the world, one of the greatest being considered the railroad system. Never before had places been connected to efficiently; people could now travel to different areas in a matter of hours, not days. In the 19th and 20th centuries, those who controlled the railways, controlled America. Jay Gould and Cornelius Vanderbilt were competitors. Both men were leading railroad developers. For a long while they were competing for control of the railroads in the northeast, specifically the Erie Railroad, and while Gould eventually got pushed out of the Northeast by Vanderbilt he continued his legacy on in the west. While the Vanderbilts are certainly the better known masters of the railroads, Gould did make a name for himself, as one of the worst CEOS in history as well as the 9th richest man in US history.

-Caroline Pisarchuk

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“Jay Gould Biography.” Notable Biographies. 2015.

“Cornelius Vanderbilt.” history.com.

Dew, Diane. “Margaret Sanger, Founder of Planned Parenthood, In Her Own Words.” Dianedew. 2001.

“People & Events: Margaret Sanger (1879-1966).” PBS. 2001

Butler, Mary. “Sojourner Truth A Life and Legacy of Faith.” Sojourner Truth A Life and Legacy of Faith.

Brown, Richard. “Three Forgotten Heroes.” American Heritage. 2011

“National Women’s History Museum.” Education & Resources

“National Women’s History Museum.” Education & Resources

Beaumont, Dayna. “Woman Hero: Eleanor Roosevelt.” myhero.com.

“Biography of Eleanor Roosevelt.” Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum.

“Eleanor Roosevelt on Happiness, Conformity, and Integrity.” Brain Pickings. November 16, 2012.

“Livingston, Robert R.” West’s Encyclopedia of American Law. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. (November 9, 2015). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3437702746.html

Glass, Andrew. “The Louisiana Purchase Treaty Is Signed, April 30, 1803.” POLITICO. April 30, 2012.

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