No, I don’t claim that this is a finite resolve to hundreds of years of debating the origin and spelling of the name “Poughkeepsie”. I am merely a Hudson Valley sojourner and casual student of local history and lore who has found the spelling of Poughkeepsie enigma to be fun.
Most archival information indicates that there have been 42 different spellings dating back to those used by indigenous dwellers, the Dutch and English settlers, and in more modern local vernacular.
I have entered a few of the early spellings but there’s plenty more on this topic for when I have time or you feel up to it.
The names below were commonly found on early documents such as deeds, land grants, land gifts, and mortgages that were rightfully filed with churches, courts, and Dutch and English authorities. Keep in mind that the original name(s), which were Native American, have surely been tempered or tampered with by settlers who were Dutch, English, German, Huguenot, and others.
Some early spellings derived from native names are below. These are likely phonetic renderings of the day by people who spoke any one of a handful of languages.
Some Dutch and English spellings that were probably further morphed from the native and earlier phonetic version:
After this early period Poughkeepsie spellings also changed based on easier spellings that eventually took hold in popular vernacular. You’ll see spellings like Pokeepsy, Poukipsie, Pokipsy and many more cropping up and being used regularly at different times.
Poughkeepsie was incorporated in 1854 which settled the name/spelling issue in a legal sense, but the public being what they are, they often went their own way.
Here’s the reality on all of this- Many older American cities and areas that have names originating from Native American languages and that have had multiple cultures residing there over long periods of time have gone through the very same thing- The co-mingling of histories, cultures, and languages. This social melding can easily cover facts with an almost impenetrable cloud of smoke. Ask the folks up in Schenectady. Research in 1905 turned up 79 different spellings up to that time, making Poughkeepsie’s 42 spellings look like a give away in a middle-school spelling competition.
Late 19th and early 20th century area historians debated more the meaning of the name for purposes of identifying where the original location was. Many felt the name described a specific landmarked location rather than a concept such as the popular “Safe Harbor” or “Resting Place” or even the more contemporary “the reed-covered lodge by the little-water place” meanings. Most thought the meaning (of any of the early Poughkeepsie names) was likely referencing either the Fall Kill and its falls and basin or the Casper Kill that straddle the present day City of Poughkeepsie.
Personally it doesn’t matter to me. It’s more fun just adding to the confusion. However I do think the Fall Kill is a much more dramatic creek.
Many scholars did not support the translation from the supposed native phrase “U-puku-ipi-sing”. It appears to have been a popular concept of one researcher back in the 1800s that happened to catch on. Then again he may have been right. Yet another researcher and native language expert of those times claims that the “U-puku-ipi-sing” and similar names were commonly used in much the way we would say “Hey, this looks like a good place to stay”, and that these native terms have referenced many places in southeastern NY State from Long Island through the Hudson River Valley.
A researcher quoted below (c1905), thought he put it to rest but it is still up for grabs today.
“In Conclusion, I think it may be said that the evidence of the Indian and other early deeds, and Mr. Tooker’s definition of Pooghkepesingh as a name properly given to the waterfall at the mouth of the Fall Kill, settle the derivation of our city’s name.”
Ok, so what do we know for sure. Well, there have been quite a few different spellings almost all kicked into play by indigenous people and twisted and tortured thereafter. There is the mouth of the Casper Kill on the south end of Poughkeepsie and the Fall Kill on the north end and both are candidates for being the birthplace of Poughkeepsie. And there was a native village alongside the Fall Kill falls and basin long before the Dutch sailed into town. There you go. After that it is hundreds of years of deed upon deed and mis-spellings over mis-spellings further confused by phonetic interpretations by people who did not speak the native language.
That’s pretty much where it is today. Right where it was a hundred and more years ago. I for one think it should remain there. The confusion in spelling, pronunciation, and origin of Poughkeepsie has added to the areas mystique. Yes, sometimes at the cost of a few guffaws, but nonetheless the name has helped set the city apart. Anyway, many locals take great pleasure in correcting people when they misspell or mispronounce the name. What fun!
Want to know more about local history?
Go to a local library and dig in.
Take trips to local museums and historical societies.
And please- Immerse your children in your new discoveries. It’s so easy. History is all around us in the Hudson Valley. You don’t have to go far or spend a great deal of money to connect with it. It’s probably right down the street.
We miss so much by not knowing our local history and cultures. The future gives us hope. The past defines who we are. Who are you?