Columbia Rising: Civil Life on the Upper Hudson from the Revolution to the Age of Jackson, by John L. Brooke, is getting a lot of much-deserved attention. Published for the Omuhundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Columbia Rising earned the 2010 SHEAR Best Book Award from the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic. It also received the 2010 Dixon Ryan Fox Manuscript Prize from the New York State Historical Association. Recently, Brooke sat down for a Q & A with American Talleyrand, a blog devoted to Martin van Buren. An excerpt:
AT: Van Buren says almost nothing about his childhood in his autobiography. Give us a snapshot of Kinderhook in the late 18th century and explain how this town and its values shaped his political views. Do you think Van Buren’s status as a minority—ethnic and religious—played any significant role in his political outlook? What kind of political activities took place in his father’s tavern? Were these experiences formative for Van Buren?
JLB: Van Buren is pretty typical in gliding over the details of his childhood and hometown of Kinderhook, but very clearly it had a powerful influence on him. His father’s family was part of a diaspora of relatively poor families moving south from Albany in the late 17th century, and there is a good possibility that they might have been supporters of Jacob Leisler, the rebellious governor and hero to the Dutch, who was deposed and hanged by the Anglo faction in 1691. The experience of being an ethnic outsider in an English-speaking world of power was a deep undercurrent in Van Buren’s life. Dutch communities throughout the Hudson Valley remained relatively sealed off from the English domain, and notable men emerged during the 18th century to serve as mediators between the two, especially in the area of law: it has been convincingly argued that Van Buren’s mother, Maria, saw his potential and pushed him to start clerking with a local lawyer at an early age.
Read the complete interview at American Talleyrand.
In Columbia Rising, Brooke looks at the United States’ political growth as it relates to President van Buren’s influence over early political party formation, as well as his close ties to the upper Hudson Valley region. The Columbia County Historical Society has even developed a bus tour based on the book. On September 18, an all-day tour led by historian Ruth Piwonka will take guests to various sites significant to the events and places mentioned in Columbia Rising. The Columbia Rising Bus Tour is part of the Hudson River Valley Ramble event that takes place throughout the month of September. A brief description of the tour:
Brooke’s book closely inspects some events occurring in the county between about 1783 and 1840, and considers their impact on the future President Martin van Buren and also considers how many diverse individuals across Columbia County played some role in the civil life of that era. The tour visits some of the towns, giving a full sense of the landscape in which they worked, lived, traveled, and became players in public life.
Pre-registration for this bus tour is required. You can register and get more information at the Hudson River Valley Ramble website. A tour like this is a unique, fun, and informative way to bring history to life and show how important place can be to the major events in the development of the United States.