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Early Dutchess County History

Market Street, Poughkeepsle, New York

When, in 1682, Colonel Thomas Dongan was appointed Governor of the Province of New York, he was instructed to form a council of not more than ten of the “most eminent Inhabitants” who were to assist him in the making of “fit” laws. One of the first acts authorized by this council was the erection of twelve “counties,” of which Dutchess was one (November 1, 1683). The boundaries of Dutchess, as then defined, included the present county of Putnam, set off in 1812 and the towns of Clermont and Germantown, now in Columbia County. Dutchess, with an area of 810 square miles, is situated on the Hudson about midway between Albany and New York City. Its terrain is hilly, but with much that is splendidly fitted for cultivation. A large number of streams drain the surface, and it was the latent water power of these streams that brought about its early settlement. The southern end of the county almost reaches the Highlands of the Hudson, while on its eastern border are the Taconic (Taghkanic) Mountains.

Slate is plentiful, and was once quarried in quantity. Marble and lime stone, several minerals of minor value, and a varied and fertile soil, make up the natural resources of the region. The Hudson was for a century the main means of transportation, and one of the early railroads had its tracks through the western part of the county. The agriculture of the district has always been diversified, following the natural changes in demand for its products. There has been much of the acreage of the section taken by men of wealth for the creation of large estates. Horticulture has been prominent along the river valley, apples and small fruits doing exceedingly well. The larger part of the county is interested in dairying, in which its proximity to great markets gives it a marked advantage. Manufactures play a large part in the prosperity of Dutchess, Poughkeepsie being the center, with the smaller towns along the river having many local specialties.

There had been a very early establishment of trading posts on the island of Manhattan, Fort Orange (Albany) and at Rondout Creek, Esopus (Kingston) which decided the location of the first settlements in the State. But when immigrants began coming in greater numbers, water powers such as those provided by the Fishkill, Wappingers, Fall Kill, Crumb’s Elbow and other creeks in the area that is now Dutchess, together with the fine fertile valleys of these streams, led a number to start homes in this region. The Indian titles had, for the most part, been extinguished just before the erection of the county. Nicholas Emigh is credited with being the pioneer, the date of his settlement at the mouth of Fishkill Creek being in doubt, but he was certainly there in 1685. To his wife was born the first white child of the county.

The settlements at Poughkeepsie were nearly contemporaneous with those at Fishkill, probably by Peter Lasinck, ancestor of a numerous family which spells its name in many forms, Lansing and Lawson being more usual. There were too few inhabitants of Dutchess at its erection for it to be represented separately in the General Assembly, so that it was provisionally attached to Ulster until 1713. This fact had made it difficult to trace the early settlers of Dutchess. There was no large development of this region until after 1720.

Along the Hudson, the first settlements were predominating Dutch, with a few Huguenots, fugitives from European persecution. The eastern part of the county was filled by people of New England, all that side of the State being claimed by the New England colonies. Quakers came in the southern part of Dutchess at an early date, while many of the Irish soldiers who had been stationed along various parts of the Harlem Valley homesteaded after the Revolution. It is said that in early times there were more creeds and denominations with churches in Dutchess than there were races, which is but another indication that Dutchess was one of the most cosmopolitan counties in the colonies.

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