On October 6th 2016, the Hudson River Valley Institute hosted the 5th annual Handel-Krom lecture at Marist College. This year the speaker was local historian to Vassar College Dr. James Merrell. This blog presents the reactions of two students of New York State history who attended.
James Merrell, History professor at Vassar College, presented a lecture at Marist College for the Fifth annual Handel-Krom Lecture in Hudson River History last Thursday, October 6, 2016. His lecture was based on his studies of local Native Americans in the early colonial era. His lecture included just the right amount of humor to bring these historic facts out of the books and into our minds. His enthusiasm on the matter of relationships between Native Americans and the colonials sparked an interest in even students who do not major in History. I have an increased awareness of the realities Native Americans faced with the establishment of New York State. In my opinion, a history textbook cannot give you the same experience that a lecture can. Being able to hear, see, and imagine life of the colonials and Natives gave me a higher understanding of what really went on during the 1700’s in the Hudson Valley. I applaud Merrill’s use of descriptive sensory terms in that his lecture accurately portrayed the realities that a textbook will fail to mention. I look forward to attending another lecture by Merrell. I believe that in order to understand the present day world around us, we must look to history to help explain the reasoning of why things are the way they are.
On October 6, Marist College hosted Dr. James Merrell for the Fifth Annual Handel-Krom Lecture in Hudson River History. Professor’s James Merrell lecture was called “Mob Men” & Wappinger Warriors: Revisiting the Battle for Dutchess County, 1766.” One of his upcoming books will focus on the tensions between Native Americans and the settlers in the Mid-Hudson Valley in the late colonial era. In this post, I will be discussing two factors that stood out from Dr. James’ lecture.
In the Fall of 1763, there was a petition going around to tenants on large local farms that addressed the fact that they were farming on lands they didn’t own, but have worked on over many years, even generations. This seems to have led some to feel a sense of ownership on those lands. As such, an angry mob gathered to get control or possession of the land. As these men started to form as a group, there were certain men that wanted to take control of these group of men. As a matter of fact, this group of men came to be named as the “Mob Men”. One striking example was when in November of 1763, James Covey Jr was one who was taken out of his house by his own father for supporting the Mob Men movement.
The other point of note from Merrell’s lecture that caught my attention was his discussion on the local native peoples and how they fit into this movement. In 1765, a delegation of local Indians, and a tenant farmer, tried to convince the government in New York City that there was no one person who paid for their land. However things didn’t work out so well for them. They were told that if they were to continue to pursue this theory, that they were going to get thrown into jail. Despite the potential consequences of continuation, the farmer would not halt his course of action. However this did not end well for him. He was later on thrown into jail for stirring trouble among the natives.
Dr. James Merrell’s lecture was very interesting and thought provoking. Especially so because he engaged the audience with funny jokes or connect the past to something that is related or similar to today. I was particularly interested in his discussion on how the Dutchess County became to exist. The way his lecture was delivered made it more engaging and had the audience very attentive.
Dr. Merrell’s presence at Marist College was an honor and it was a pleasure to hear his lecture.
Visit the Hudson River Valley Institute website and blog for more upcoming events. They are always free and open to the public.
Jasper Francis Cropsey was a painter in the late 1800s who created works based off English and American landscapes, scenery and landmarks. One of his most popular pieces was titled The Spirit of War created in 1851. It was part of a two piece collection the other painting was called The Spirit of Peace. This work was the exact opposite and counterpart of The Spirit of War displaying the two very different sides that split the country’s feelings towards war. Some of this painting’s characteristics are: the dimensions being 3’ 8” x 5’ 8” it is an oil painting supported on a canvas in the landscape genre. Jasper Francis Cropsey created this painting to display swirling dark clouds, the looming castle on the jagged rocks, and soldiers riding on horseback into battle.
Jasper Francis Cropsey’s painting The Spirit of War gives viewers the immediate feeling of stress and angst for the battle awaiting beyond the dark, looming castle. This piece of art was created to remind its viewers of the foundational tensions experienced in mid19th Century America with war and depression looming over the country like a specter. Jasper Francis Cropsey describes this painting himself as “promising naught but the uncertain and gloomy future of warlike times.” He gave a distinct eerie feeling of war with the dark colored shadows and jagged rocks, there are even soldiers clearly painted on horseback heading up into the looming castle touching the dark clouds, symbolizing their march into battle. The war that specifically struck a chord of memory with spectators was the one that had just finished, the Mexican War.
This painting was created in the few years directly after the Mexican War which occurred from April 25, 1846 to February 2, 1848. This war began with the president of the time James K. Polk, believing that the United States had a “manifest destiny”. By this he meant that the United States had the right and was justified in spreading and expanding across North America all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Fighting was stopped, on Feb. 2, 1848, when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was finally signed thus, ending the war once and for all. However, by this point the United States had taken almost all of present-day California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico from Mexico, which was about one-third of its territory. Leaving the United States in a time of tension that was being felt across the nation. This tension was due to the fact that even though the war was technically over, there was still an impending uneasiness on whether the western territories would be free or slave states.
This work of art painted by Jasper Francis Cropsey did a wonderfully perfect job of capturing how people felt in the aftermath of a difficult war. It was admired by many and since received great critique such as: “the earnest young artist created a powerful and lasting image of the fear and hopelessness brought about by war, eerily foreshadowing the bloody conflict that would envelop his country in the following decade.” 
– Meghan La Guardia, Marist College
 “The Spirit of War.” Art Object Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2016. Retrieved from http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/art-object-page.56598.html