Exploring American Identity
The story of New Paltz is a multicultural one, comprising the experiences of Native American, French, Dutch, and African peoples.
Historic Huguenot Street acknowledges that it is located on lands of indigenous peoples. These lands have been home to Esopus Munsee people for thousands of years, and are still culturally significant to Native Nations today.
Archaeological excavations on the site, which take place every summer, have unearthed hundreds of thousands of artifacts from Native habitation dating as far back as 7,000 BCE. According to the late 18th century Mohican historian Hendrick Aupaumut, the first people who actually discovered America, including the Hudson River Valley, traveled from the north and west, creating settlements in rich river valleys. Those who settled this region called the river the Mahicannituck, or “the river where the waters are never still,” and called themselves Muh-he-con-ne-ok, meaning “the people of the waters that are never still.”
Upon European contact in the early 17th century, the Esopus Munsee Native Americans had villages in the valley. The Esopus, meaning the “small river” or “creek,” were a band of the Munsee, and a sub-group of the Lenape Nation. Major disruption to their society happened when Dutch colonists arrived in the Hudson River Valley. In 1677, French Protestant colonists (the “Huguenots”) who had previously settled in the local Dutch villages, presented a written land agreement the Esopus Munsee by which they would trade European goods. In this agreement, the Huguenots gave the Esopus permission to continue to hunt and fish on this land; however, the local tribe was expected to vacate the patent. As New Paltz evolved, so too did the lives of many, with the Esopus-Munsee forced north into Ontario, Canada, and ultimately west. Some individuals also stayed in region.
The Lenape people are proud of their heritage, and Huguenot Street continually increases its efforts to consult with these affiliated Native Nations and achieve common goals of cultural preservation through archaeological excavations, research, and educational programs. Descendants of the Esopus Munsee can learn more about about the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians today and their preservation work in their Hudson Valley homelands by visiting these online resources:
The first European settlers are understood to have been a combination of Huguenots (French-speaking Protestants from France) and Walloons (French-speaking Protestants from present-day Belgium). A group of Huguenot families led by Louis DuBois and Abraham Hasbrouck, among others, decided to create a community of their own, one where they could exercise more authority over their worship and their way of life. They arranged the purchase of approximately 40,000 acres of land from the local Esopus Munsee tribe, and a land patent confirming it was issued by the new English Governor of New York, Sir Edmund Andros, in 1677. By 1678, the families had moved to the banks of the Wallkill River and established the village of New Paltz.
Descendants of the Huguenots can learn more about the families by visiting these online resources:
Many of the individuals who were enslaved in the region were taken from their homes and put on slave ships from West Africa to be sent to the colonies. They were from many different ethnic backgrounds, spoke different languages, and in many cases, were skilled laborers, farmers, and artisans. When the Huguenots arrived in the Hudson River Valley in the 1660s, they entered a slave-owning society. The Huguenots did not enslave people in France or Germany, but they soon took up the practice in their new homes. The most detailed account that Historic Huguenot Street has of an enslaved person’s life in the area comes from the early 19th century, from the famed abolitionist Sojourner Truth, who was born into slavery in Ulster County.
As New Paltz evolved, so too did the lives of the Black community making their own marks, such as Jacob Wynkoop, who served in the 20th Colored Infantry during the Civil War and who went on to build several New Paltz residences, and John Hasbrouck, manumitted in 1827, who as a property owner would become the first African American in the community to vote. Descendants of the Black families in New Paltz can research their heritage by visiting these online resources:
Historic Huguenot Street has become a gathering place for New Paltz and the greater Hudson Valley. Two celebrations—Trick or Treat on Huguenot Street and the Community Tree Lighting— draw thousands of residents annually. The historic site collaborates with other organizations such as Local at Heart and the Reformed Church of New Paltz to undertake projects that serve local families. SUNY New Paltz archaeology students and professor Joe Diamond conduct research on the original Huguenot settlement every summer, and high schoolers from the American Museum of Natural History’s Lang Scholarship program participate in the field school on the museum’s grounds. Children attending Camp Huguenot discover, explore, and learn about all the families who have called Huguenot Street home.