Sailing down the river that would later bear his captain’s name, explorer Robert Juet described the Hudson River Valley in 1609 as a “drowned land” submerged by a “great lake of water.”
Over the next two centuries, this drowned landscape would be the site of a truly historic flowering of art, literature, architecture, innovation, and revolutionary fervor?drawing comparisons to another fertile cultural haven built around a might mighty river in Western Europe.
As historian Vernon Benjamin chronicles, the Hudson River Valley has been a place of contradictions since its first settlement by Europeans. Discovered by an Englishman who claimed it for the Dutch, the region soon became home to the most vibrant trading outpost for the New World colonies?the Island of Manhattan?even as the rest of the valley retained the native beauty that would inspire artists from James Fenimore Cooper to Thomas Cole. Because of its unique geography and proximity to Canada, the Hudson Valley became the major theater for the battle between empires in the French and Indian War. When the colonists united in rebellion against the British several decades later, conflict came to the region once again, with decisive military engagements from Saratoga to West Point to the occupied New York Harbor. In the aftermath, New York emerged as the capital of a new nation, and wealth from the city flowed north to the burgeoning Valley, leading to a renaissance of culture and commerce that is still evident today.
Richly illustrated and scrupulously researched, Vernon Benjamin’s magisterial new history will be the definitive text for years to come.