Mauritz de Haas – Hudson Under the Moonlight
It’s not difficult to be a romantic in the Hudson Valley. The area lends itself nicely to those types of thoughts.
How can you not be? The stimulus is there! Great vistas, legends and myths that play on the imagination, historical figures and places everywhere, the gilded crowd and their great estates, and in every corner of the valley the quaint and rustic reminders of times gone by.
Truth be told, the romanticism is to a great extent an illusion of sorts. For the average inhabitant the Hudson Valley of the past was generally not much different than most of the country and not as romantic a place as the artist’s canvas conjures up.
The rich and privileged were a visible and well known minority. The rest were common folk, tradesmen, merchants, farmers, laborers and homemakers who shared the daily struggle of surviving and providing.
The Hudson River and every stream worthy of exploiting had a number of factories and mills planted on its banks which made work for nearby inhabitants. In many cases however, it was just that, work. The pay received for hard labor and long hours often went back to the employer whose company store extended just enough credit on overpriced goods to keep you going and just enough to keep workers always indebted to the boss man. Pay was forthcoming after debts were deducted and more credit was extended to get a worker by. Some companies even paid their labor in their own minted money that was good only in the company store. You couldn’t quit because you owed, and you couldn’t skip because that would quickly land you in debtors prison, the poorhouse, or at best the almshouse. If it wasn’t indentured servitude it was as close as you can come.
The Hudson Valley economy of the past to a greater extent than at present was fueled by agriculture. Farmers who owned their own land were not all that common when you consider the debt they owed on their farms or the shares they paid out to farm it. Bringing in a crop or filling your milk cans didn’t mean you had money. It meant only that you had product, and the sale of that product was often limited and manipulated by those who stood to gain from its purchase. Added to that was the threat of being forced off your land by the economic powers that be and their grand plans of the day.
The social scenario also swayed with the winds of those times. Going back, there was slavery, bigotry, prejudices of every kind, religious intolerance, race riots, rent rebellions, vigilante justice, and every other social distress that plagued the rest of the nation at various times in its history.
Hey, I’m not trying to turn you off on the Hudson Valley at all. Just my pointed way of taking some of the moonlight on the Hudson River and having it shine on the people of the Hudson Valley. They were a tough bunch in a tough world. People who planted themselves in the Hudson Valley and said, “I will survive. I will provide, and I will make this my home.” Now that’s romantic.