Scholar and author says those who greeted Hudson deserve notice too
GHENT–“History is never quite complete,” says Donald Shriver. But that knowledge has not deterred him from adding a little bit to the public’s awareness of Columbia County and the Hudson Valley. This weekend the fruits of a two-year odyssey through the state bureaucracy will culminate with the unveiling of a new historical marker along the Taconic State Parkway acknowledging that Mohican Indians greeted the first European here.
Though a public effort has been mounted this year to celebrate the quadricentennial of Henry Hudson’s voyage in the Halfmoon up the tidal river that now bears his name, little attention has been paid to the local inhabitants at the time, who paddled out in canoes to welcome him.
Few traces of the Mohican Indians, who lived in the Hudson Valley for centuries, remain today. But Mr. Shriver, a Spencertown resident, former president of Union Theological Seminary in New York City and author of 15 books including the recent Honest Patriots: Loving a Country Enough to Remember Its Misdeeds, was spurred to action on the Mohican marker after reading the plaque on Columbia County history that now stands at the northernmost overlook parking area on the Taconic State Parkway. The current marker cites famous historical and cultural figures in the county’s history, from the early Dutch settlers to Edna St. Vincent Millay, without a single mention of the Native Americans.
“Indians were here long before the Europeans,” says Mr. Shriver, whose research has confirmed that “every country has some version of neglect of certain groups.”
Determined to correct the record, Mr. Shriver began the Mohican Marker Project, raising $2,500 funds to create a companion marker. He was joined by Stephen Comer of Sand Lake, the only member of the Mohican tribe now living within the original tribal boundaries. The new marker, made possible by some 20 individual gifts from members of St. Peter’s Church in Spencertown, other community residents and the Albany Presbytery, will be officially unveiled at 11 a.m. this Saturday, October 24, at the first southbound overlook on the parkway by Mr. Shriver, Mr. Comer and Raeph Sanderson of St. Peter’s. The overlook is just north of the Philmont exit.
The new marker reads:
“On his 1609 voyage up river, Henry Hudson encountered the Mohican Indians, members of the Algonkian language family. Its related tribes covered much of the Northeast, Canada, and more. The Mohicans called this tidal river of the Atlantic Ocean the “Muhheakkanituk”– the Everflowing Waters. Before Dutch and English colonizers encroached upon them and their downstream relatives, the Munsee Delaware, they were a powerful tribe, occupying land from the southern shores of Lake Champlain down to the Catskill Mountains, and from west of Schenectady east to the mid-Housatonic Valley in Massachusetts. The Mohicans settled in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, a ‘praying town’ in 1736 and became known as Stockbridge Indians. They subsequently moved to east-central Wisconsin, their current residence.”
Mr. Shriver, who is retired and lives in New York City part of the year, says took on the project as moral obligation. “Christian ethics is my field,” he says. He didn’t anticipate the governmental inertia he and his collaborators would have to overcome to win permission to set up the marker, even though the state has long since transferred the responsibility for funding historic markers to local groups. “This was an education in petty bureaucracy,” he said. But he clearly believes it was worth the effort to correct the historical omission.
Mr. Comer, born in Kansas of a Mohican mother, came to this area almost accidentally, and only later appreciated the significance of his “return” to the land of his ancestors. Now a doctoral student in anthropology at the University at Albany, he is focusing on Mohican culture with the help of people on the tribe’s reservation near Green Bay, WI. The grandson of one of the last Mohican speakers, Mr. Comer likens his work and that of the reservation’s residents to gathering the shards of a broken clay pot and trying to fit them together; as the pieces are gradually reassembled, the shape of the pot emerges.
The Mohican Marker Project will culminate in a public gathering at the Spencertown Academy at 3 p.m. Sunday, November 8. The program, with refreshments, will include a brief film on Mohican history and a question and answer session with Mr. Comer and Mr. Shriver.