The Minutemen in New York

In my last post, I referred in passing to the Minuteman Project's recent expansion into the Northeast with a border patrol in northern New York (check out this New York Sun article and this one from a TV station in Watertown). Since this discussion of immigration and border control is hot right now and my post sparked a debate on NYCO's blog, I thought I would comment again here.

To many, the Minutemen have become heroes willing to "do what Congress won't." However, there is a fundamentally violent and racist foundation to their rhetoric and techniques, regardless of their group's public lip service to harmonious multiculturalism. This foundation means that it has become a magnet for hate mongers. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a prominent opponent of organized hate has been carefully following the movement, here are some quotes from an article on it:

Numerous white supremacists have claimed in online postings to be registered as Minuteman volunteers. One who posted to the Minuteman Project forum on the major white power website Stormfront wrote: "While this project is not a White racialist event, per se, it's a project that deserves backing from the White Nationalist community in general."

A self-professed member of the white supremacist organization National Alliance posted to the same forum: "While Minuteman is not affiliated with 'Hate Groups' (like the ones you or I belong to), most of the volunteers smell smoke and know there's a fire that needs putting out. This is a good opportunity to reach out to people who are 'half
awake' and help them the rest of the way. I'm a missionary for racism and I see fertile recruiting ground!"

Here is another article on racists infiltrating the organization from the SPLC. This southwesterner has been collecting information on how members of anti-immigrant groups have assaulted non-whites, produce racist propaganda, burn crosses, etc. I have even been finding unconfirmed reports (here, here and here) of Minutmen murdering those they believe are illegal immigrants in the borderlands.

I myself once worked as a mountain guide in the southwestern mountains with young "cowboys" (a title of self-identification) from Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and New Mexico who bragged about knowing ranchers along the border who were hiring white ex-military men to patrol their lands, kill unauthorized Mexicans and bury them in the desert. They talked about the pay (great), the excitement of the hunt, the guns (most excellent in their eyes) and the intangible chance to "defend America." It was disgusting and eye opening. These young men that I worked with, I'm afraid, were not the only folk in the region to consider killing an illegal immigrant more of a game than a crime and that is what I fear the Minutemen bring to the table.

It troubles me as a York Stater that these people are extending their work to our great state. Here, however, they cannot claim to fight the "brown hordes" so instead talk about Arabs and Chinese, about how terrorists are going to use Chinese restaurants as a network to support their actions and other absolute absurdities. They don't recruit from our communities, but instead do their work in all-white bedroom communities around the City. I don't need folk from Long Island to come up here with guns led by hate mongers to tell us that our traditions of cooperation and friendship with the Canadians should be cause for fear and that we should hate those with dark skins despite our history of racial tolerance (which is impressive despite periodic intolerance). Their violence has no place in the North Country and I have no problem taking a strong stance against them and all they do.

-Posted by Jesse


Immigration, culture and New York

Lately, the issue of immigration has been in the news, especially prohibited immigration from Mexico. While our distance from the Mexican border has insulated York Staters from much of the effect of this social migration, we do border Canada and the debates have filtered into our area, often becoming intertwined in “Homeland Security” discussions. While this issue has many aspects, I would like to focus upon a single facet of the discussion: cultural survival. This is the argument in particular of the US’s most prominent far-right, anti-immigrant group, the Minutemen Project, which began to organize New York-based paramilitary border patrols last fall [1].

The far right has always been the self-proclaimed protector of “tradition” and “cultural values,” and the forces in this faction are particularly vehement in their desire to protect what they view as the American way of life from Mexican immigration. Since this website is one that seeks to preserve and celebrate Upstate history and traditions, I feel that it is necessary to differentiate my position from those of the xenophobes and fear-mongerers.

To begin, let me quote the website of the Minutemen Project:

“The Minuteman Project is not a call to arms, but a call to voices seeking a peaceful and respectable resolve to the chaotic neglect by members of our local, state and federal governments charged with applying U.S. immigration law.

It is a call to bring national awareness to the decades-long careless disregard of effective U.S. immigration law enforcement. It is a reminder to Americans that our nation was founded as a nation governed by the "rule of law," not by the whims of mobs of ILLEGAL aliens who endlessly stream across U.S. borders…

Future generations will inherit a tangle of rancorous, unassimilated, squabbling cultures with no common bond to hold them together, and a certain guarantee of the death of this nation as a harmonious ‘melting pot.’

The result: political, economic and social mayhem.

Historians will write about how a lax America let its unique and coveted form of government and society sink into a quagmire of mutual acrimony among the various sub-nations that will comprise the new self-destructing America.”

At the heart of their argument is the concept that somehow their traditions and their way of life is threatened by the presence of people that don’t practice the same traditions. In other words, Anglo culture will be destroyed by the mere proximity of non-Anglos, especially if they are outnumbered. But yet, by surveying history we can see that the survival of a cultural traditions has nothing to do with whether the possessors of that culture were a territorial majority, but instead on the cohesion between members and individual self-identification of those members. Didn’t the Jewish people survive thousands of year since the destruction of the last Temple without a state, a territorial majority or even any institutions larger than the local synagogue? In Eastern Europe, dozens of ethnic groups have weathered the rise and fall of many great empires without destruction. The Basques have kept their identity and traditions in Spain without a government or state since Roman times. These are not isolated examples, but a mere sampling of the world's history of diversity.

The reason that the Minutemen and their cohort cannot envision “American” (read: White Anglo) society surviving as a minority is because their ethnic identity is one founded upon the doctrine of white supremacy. To these people, white society is defined by control and dominance, especially over other peoples. White society is a separate entity which has created the “greatest nation in the world,” based upon European traditions and Protestantism. It is something that exists only in comparison and opposition to other traditions. If one accepts their view of America, it would truly cease to exist if whites could no longer dominate and oppress other peoples, if they were no longer the majority.

So how can we, here in Upstate New York, reclaim the banner of history and tradition from the white supremacists?

For one, I believe that we need to counter their “mythic”
[2] history of America as the great moral bastion of the white world by promoting counter history. We need to question racist and mythic interpretations of history, whether spoken to the media, taught to our children or written in stone memorials in our parks. We should explore how our local culture has been enriched by the infusion of outside influences. This is perhaps easiest seen in the area of food: without the German immigrants, would Buffalo have Beef on Weck? Without the Irish, would there be salt potatoes in Syracuse? What wonderful flavors, both literal and metaphoric, will the next generation of immigrants bring into our communities?

Secondly, I believe that we have to empower our own communities: when people live with strong bonds to their neighbors, fear-mongering by outside powers is not as effective. For example, if the white folk know the black folk down the road by name (and vice-versa) and see them at town meetings, picnics and other social events, they can no longer be scared by them and label them as outsiders. In healthy communities people are in general not as isolated and fearful, not as needing of national mythic histories to give meaning to their lives, as those who live in broken, estranged communities (like the bedroom towns ringing NYC).

Finally, we need to take steps to oppose and undermine the works of their organizations. If the Minutemen come here to “protect” us from the dangerous Canadians, we need to challenge them and proclaim solidarity with our neighbors. We should step forward to discuss our long and peaceful history of collaboration and cross-border creativity with the Canadians. The North Country would not be the same place without the Quebecois just to the north; western New York has long shared ideas and traditions with Ontario. York Staters probably have more in common culturally with the Rust Belt cities of Ontario than with the sprawling metropolis of BosWash, not to mention more distant regions of the USA. We need to announce that the racists and xenophobes are not welcome in Upstate New York, that we will not betray our true local history of tolerance and social justice for their manufactured mythic history of racial purity and intolerance.

-Posted by Jesse

[1] In reading that article from NYC and this one from Watertown, I notice a few things. First off, they seem to have expressed no desire in relating to Yorkstaters, recruiting from among us or developing any base here. Instead they travel to Babylon, a relatively well-to do, overwhelmingly white (92%) bedroom community of NYC. Their argument in the news for border control hinges upon fear of gangs and terrorist attacks. They even rave about terrorists possibly using Chinese restaurants as a base for attacks.

[2] By “mythic,” I am referring those who manipulate historical events to create a story arc where a heroic race of people lead by great leaders (inevitably men) battle against forces of outside oppression to create some form of societal ideal that has become threatened and corrupted in the modern age. The arguments of fascists must be recognized in the modern era and decried wherever possible. A Nazi in a red, white and blue bald eagle t-shirt is still a Nazi.


From the Depths of Lake George

Lake Champlain may have Champ the lake monster, but Lake George has it’s own one-of-a-kind creature resting deep beneath the surface of the water: the mighty Land Tortoise. The nearly 250 year-old Land Tortoise is no elusive beast, but is America's oldest shipwreck, resting quietly in 107 feet of water and remarkably intact. A relic of the French and Indian war, the Land Tortoise is only remaining vessel of its kind, a radeau, or floating gun battery.

The image of a shipwreck in the popular imagination is usually of a scooner of pirate vintage crashed against craggy rocks, or maybe a grand luxury liner. Usually the shipwrecks of our imagination are sent to the depths of the sea unexpectedly. Rarely are lakes the setting for the grand naval battles of our imagination, but inland waterways like Lake George played crucial strategic roles in the battle for control of the colonies. This particular ship was not struck down by enemy fire, but was intentionally sunk by the British forces to store it over the winter, fearing that it would be captured or destroyed by the forces of the French and their Native American allies. Sunk along with numerous boats and one other radeau, the Land Tortoise was filled with rocks, but did not sink immediately: it drifted and finally sunk in the night, and thus was not raised the following spring.* The Land Tortoise went unnoticed in the depths of Lake George for over 200 years.

In 1990, a group of divers using a sophisticated side-scan sonar, located the intact radeau. While the ship was never
fully outfitted with gear (it was being deliberately sunk, after all) the unique seven sided structure has been dubbed "America's Oldest Intact Warship" and is now a National Historic Landmark as well as a New York State Submerged Heritage Preserve.

The combined effort of three local organizations, a documentary about the history, discovery, and preservation of the Land Tortoise was released this past November. The Lost Radeau: North America's Oldest Intact Warship has already garnered several awards.* Thanks to reader Dawn T. Whitesel, wife of documentary co-writer and animater J.R. Whitesel for bringing to our attention this fascinating artifact of New York and national history and the important work of York Staters today to preserve and publicize the illuminating pieces of our heritage below the surface.

* The Land Tortoise was replaced by the much more fearsome sounding radeau, the Invincible.
* The DVD is available here, and though it's a bit on the expensive side, a portion of the proceeds goes to preserving and protecting the ship.

"Giant Land Tortoise, the last of its kind, rediscovered in New York"
Website of "The Lost Radeau"
The Lake George Historical Association
Press release at New York State Divers Association

Posted by Natalie

Tastes of the Region #7: Salt Potatoes

It's fascinating how something as simple as a locally prominent food item can tell a story about the history and character of a people. When I glance back through the previous articles in this series of "Tastes of the Region," such as Grape Pie, Wings and Weck, Brozetti's Polish Pizza and Spiedies, I can begin to see the sketch of a region emerge. Various ethnic groups, each with their own tradition of cuisine, met in this area. Many of their dishes are lost amongst their descendents, but others remain and still others are created out of the new environment; Brozzetti's polish pizza in Johnson City, for example, is a unique mix of an Italian traditional food made by a bunch of Polacks for whom pizza was a purely theoretical concept. The result is magic that can only be considered pizza in a purely technical sense, for it tastes nothing like Italian pizza . These new dishes often show a deep sense of pragmatism: buffalo wings were made of those little bits of the chicken that nobody could figure out what to do with and grape pie is made of the Concord grapes that are omnipresent in the Finger Lakes.

This edition of Tastes of Region features a food that meets all of these qualities and is a staple of mid-summer activities in Central New York: the Salt Potato. Growing up, I never realized that salt potatoes were not as common around the country as fried dough or Italian Ice. All of these foods I associated with summer: picnics, barbeques and especially fairs and festivals. My co-editor here at York Staters, Natalie, puts all of these foods (as well as pretty much everything fried) into the category of "State Fair Foods." I guess you can forgiver her, she did grow up in Syracuse.

However, the salt potato is not a widespread food, but is a regional dish centered upon the city of Syracuse. For those who have not enjoyed the Salt Potato it is, simply, a very small ("baby") potato that has been boiled in a salt brine and then covered in melted butter. They are absolutely delicious, and, like most Upstate foods, not very good for you.

Syracuse is famous for its salt mines and is today home to the Salt Museum, which tells the story of the salt potato:
"In the 1700s & 1800s, perhaps even earlier, this Salt plant produced almost all of the nations salt. Add the salt production to the Erie Canal and you can see what a prosperous location Syracuse was during that time. Water taken from the Onondaga Lake was boiled down, or set out in the sun for evaporation in huge bowls. As most of the workers were Irish they brought along their potatoes for their meals and would place the potatoes in the boiling vats to cook giving you the famous salt potatoes. Syracuse is well known for its salt potatoes to this day! (Nowadays all they are, are very small potatoes boiled whole with the skins on in very salty water. 4 lbs potatoes to 1 lb of salt). Eat these dipped in melted butter and you have a great treat. By the 1870s this way of making salt was obsolete and the factory folded. "

The Upstate food saga unfolds once again: an ethnic group takes their traditional foods with them to America and finds them subtely changed to adapted to the new environment. Subsquently, other peoples in the area recognize the pragmatism and deliciousness of one of the dishes and adopt it. The fact that only tiny potatoes are used adds to the thrifty nature of the dish; when I worked at an Upstate vegetable farm, we would pick potatoes, seaching for the biggest ones. The tiny ones (of which there were many) would have been left lying in the field except that the farmer knew he could sell them for salt potatoes. This same pragmatic, "use what you have on hand", of the age can still be seen in the hardy cobblestone buildings that dot Western New York and in unique structures like the Johnson City Pagoda. Perhaps echoes of this old philosophy inspired the two young women in Geneseo who built their own yurt.

The following recipie for Salt Potatoes is by Alton Brown of the Food Network and he calls them "Perfect Fingerling Potatoes." No credit is given to enterprising Central New Yorkers:

Salt Potatoes
1 1/4 pounds kosher or rock salt
2 quarts water
2 pounds small fingerling potatoes, cleaned
4 tablespoons butter, optional
Freshly ground black pepper, optional
1 tablespoon freshly chopped chives, optional

In a large pot, combine the salt, water, and potatoes and bring to a boil. Cook until the potatoes are fork-tender, approximately 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the pot to a cooling rack and let stand for 5 to 7 minutes. Serve as is or with butter, pepper, or chives.

However, most experts suggest buying pre-packaged potatoes that only need to be boiled, such as Hinderwadel's. For those who live outside the region and are looking to order some, check Taste of CNY. I hope you enjoy the tastes of our region!

-Posted by Jesse


Yurt Power, Part II

Better late than never, a visual to accompany Yurt Power!

Arrested in Uproar NewYork!

So yesterday I got arrested in Canandaigua, NY for "disorderly conduct" in front of the high school where bush was speaking to a "hand picked" group of supportive students and teachers. Chris Dean, C Powers, Michael and I made signs earlier that morning: one simply read "Pat Tillman", others were of the "military recruitors off campuses" type persuation.
For those of you who aren't from Arizona or aren't sports afficianados, Pat Tillman was a pro football star who gave up a millions of dollars contract to join the US army rangers after 9/11. He was used as a poster boy by the administration until he began seriously questioning the lies that got us into the War in the first place. Shortly before a scheduled interview with anarchist intellectual Noam Chomsky, Tillman got shot by fellow troops (not so friendly "friendly fire"). The government then lied about his death, claiming it to be at the hands of the enemy. The truth of the matter has since been made public. Now the same government who shot Tillman and tried to cover it up is doing their own investigation. Hmm.
Two towns over from Victor, practically my backyard, the small city of Canandaigua was transformed into (even more of) a police state. Picture CIA, FBI, Secret Service, the Ontario county sherrifs' department, town cops, Rochester cops, pigs on four-wheelers scooting around the country fields...it was very intimidating! It does not surprise me that most of the anti-war crowd did not feel it possible to walk up the street to the high school to demonstrate, but instead congregated over a mile away at Bella Larga, a local winery. (I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt that they were frightened, and not drunk...)
My three buddies and a small group of really cool middle aged dudes from Bath, NY, however, decided to venture through the police gauntlet to get to where both the president and the media were. About 40 neighborhood on-lookers, a small group of pro-bush folk and an equally small group of anti-bushers were gathered in front of the school. They were all eerily quiet, which was not surprising considering the overwhelming, intimidating presence of the po.
Silence in the face of a government that kills Pat Tillman, over 2,300 other americans and countless thousands of innocent Iraqi children, women and men is not really my cup of tea. When the cops told me to stay off the pavement, I told them what I thought about their police state. I asked the crowd what they thought. I asked them, why are you all so silent? I reminded them that our Upstate New York was once a hotbed of political activism. Have we forgotten Frederick Douglas, Susan B. Anthony and Emma Goldman all chose to live, protest and defy authority here? "Uproar New York is more like it!" Chris Dean joked.
When the first cop put his hands on me and told me he would arrest me for swearing, I told him what I thought about that. I asked the crowd what they thought. I reminded everyone that cops have low self-esteem. They started sassin' back to the pigs with me. A few minutes later, I must have accidentally let another profane word slip because 1.) the government is always right and 2.) all of a sudden there were four cops on me. The pigs slapped hand-cuffs on my now-bruised wrists and shoved me inside of an SUV. There was some wonderful footage of me screaming "This is bullshit! This is fucking bullshit!" that did not make it on the 5 o'clock news. Members of the crowd starting echoing "This is bullshit!" back. I am pleased to report that a short clip of me yelling "Free speech!" as the cops dragged me off was aired last night. I'm sadden to say one pro-bushie sneered at me and said she was glad I was getting arrested. She reminded me of the Germans cheering on the gestapo.
Even though they arrested me, I was never once read my Miranda rights. I could hear the cops on their transitor radio saying "Get all of the information you can on her." Yeah right, I said nothing. When they asked me for my name at the holding warehouse at the Ontario County jail, I asked "Can I speak with my lawyer?" The officer on duty said "no". Hmm.
To make a long story a little shorter, I cooperated with the pat-down (by the way, I think the only place one could sucessfully hide a weapon would be in one's vagina) The po said I'd probably only get a ticket and to please give them my name and date of birth. By this time I had charmed them so entirely, that both the female and male cops had little crushes on me. I honestly can't blame them for that. Two hours later I was released back onto the streets of Canandaigua with a "disorderly conduct" ticket and a stern talking to. The officer who issued my ticket asked what I had learned.
I have learned not to use potty language in Canandaigua.

Posted by Alia


Big Men and Hero-Myths: Observations from the FDR Home

Yesterday, I visited two great estates along the Hudson River: the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site and the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Sites, both in Hyde Park. The region is certainly a frontier zone between the sprawl of “BosWash” and Upstate society and especially in Hyde Park one can see the growing line of condos, strip malls and McMansions working their way north from New York.

However, my discussion today will not be on the creep of Sprawl or the border conflict between two ways of life, but instead on the observations that I had in the homes of “Great Men.”

American society, and we are not unique in this regard, seems taken with the idea of a single mighty hero-leader who shapes society to their will. According to this theory, history and society moves along with no major changes until the appearance of one or more of these hero-leaders: Napoleon, Lenin, Caesar, Alexander, Hitler, Churchill, Washington, FDR. These people, regardless of the moral value of their actions, are the same in the fact that they possess a vision of the future and the will and ability to see that vision enacted. History bends itself around them. This theory suffuses our view of history, all the way down to the local level (for more on this, take a look at my discussion of the Harry L. Johnson memorial in my home town). At the FDR house, the President was referred to as “the Big Man,” so I will use that term to sum up this concept.

A place like the FDR house is a monument to not only FDR, but also the concept of the Big Man itself. We come and stare at the minutia of his life, his stuffed birds, the ramp he used to maneuver and his favorite dressing gown, and somehow these things are important. In fact the house and its staff, in carefully preserving and interpreting these items, proclaim that these things are “history.”

History, in my eyes, is the story that a society tells about itself to give meaning to the present and to inform decisions on the future. When a society says that one particular 100 year old dressing gown is important history because a particular individual wore it while another one is fit for rags because only ordinary people wore it, that teaches a lesson to everyone that hears it: some people are so important that their used toothbrushes and mismatched socks should be preserved for posterity while the rest of the people, you and I, are worthwhile only to serve and admire these individuals.

These concepts are the antithesis of democracy and equality. They are the ideological foundations of hierarchy and oppression because they legitimize the idea that some folk (Big Men) deserve to control and dictate over the lives of other folk (you and I) because they are somehow more endowed with vision, will and ability. However, we cannot ever devise some method for truly determining who has these qualities so instead this philosophy is utilized to legitimize the position of those already in power and controlling others. Why is one man a President and another a shoe salesman? Because he has those three qualities. How do we know he has those qualities? Because he is the President and the other man is a shoe salesman. It is a form of cyclical reasoning that occurs on all levels of society. Why does the manager deserve more pay than the assembly line worker? Because he has proven himself a more valuable human being by demonstrating vision, will and ability. He has done this by becoming a manager.

The Big Man theory eliminates outside factors. It gives no place for racism, classism, heterosexism or sexism (for example), because the Big Man would “obviously” rise above those factors through his natural endowments. When the question is asked: why did FDR, the nephew of a President and the inheritor of great wealth and prestige, become President, isn’t that quite a coincidence? The answer is that he must have come from a family of strong-willed, able, visionary people.

I am not saying that President Roosevelt was not a titanic figure in history, that he did not have true compassion for poor folk, that he did not have incredible will to overcome disability and disease. But the man that was FDR has been dead for 62 or so years now and what we have at the FDR memorial is not an unbiased look at the man that was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but a carefully orchestrated shrine to the idea behind Roosevelt and to the hope for another hero-leader to emerge to take his place.

-Posted by Jesse


Workers of the Rochester Area: Call In Sick

"Terrible menstrual cramps" Pretty unrefutable.
"An embarassing case of diarrhea" They're not gonna investigate that one.
"Ate some bad Chinese food lastnight, been puking all morning" Classic.

Those are a few of my favorites. What are yours?

More info on bush in Canandaigua today (3/14/06):

-Activists meeting at 10:30 AM @ Bella Larga, 158 Lakeshore Dr. he's gonna be speaking in Ithaca around 9 AM, I have a premonition he'll be rolling into our neck of the woods in the 11 AM area. He'll be at both Canandaigua Academy and at the VA hospital this morning/afternoon.

-Organized demonstration located at where Routes 5 & 20 and Route 333 meet at 4:30 PM

See you there!

Posted annonymously


The York State Quote Board

I am pleased to announce the formation of the York State Quote Board! For some time, I have been collecting some of my favorite quotes from Upstaters about Upstate and I've created a subpage to display them. The link will soon be up on the right-hand side of the page, but I would like to put them up here as well:

"York Staters eat snowstorms for breakfast, spit on their hands, then go out and do what needs doing."
-Historian Phillip Maples on the WNY response to the terrible winter of 1823

"Everybody has to have a hometown, Binghamton's mine. In the strangely brittle, terribly sensitive make-up of a human being, there is a need for a place to hang a hat or a kind of geographical womb to crawl back into, or maybe just a place that's familiar because that's where you grew up... When I dig back through memory cells, I get one particularly distinctive feeling—and that's one of warmth, comfort and well-being. For whatever else I may have had, or lost, or will find—I've still got a hometown. This, nobody's gonna take away from me."
-Rod Serling, Upstate Filmmaker and creator of the Twilight Zone

"All that is within me cries out to go back to my home on the Hudson River."
-President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944, burdened by the pressure of war and near his death from illness.

"Ithaca is Gorges"
-T-Shirt Expressions, Ithaca

"As for me, I’ll be leaving New York when they chisel open the permafrost and throw my body into the cold, hard ground."
-NYCO, Upstate Blogger

"There's a part of the country could drop off tomorrow in an earthquake,/Yeah it's out there on the cutting edge, the people move, the sidwalks shake./And there's another part of the country with a land that gently creaks and thuds,/Where the heavy snows make faucets leak in bathrooms with free-standing tubs./They're in houses that are haunted, the with kids who lie awake and think about/All the generations past who used to use that dripping sink/...Sometimes Southern California wants to be Western New York"
-'Southern California Wants to be Western New York,' by Dar Williams, singer-songwriter from Chappaqua, NY

"No matter what our philosophies, the York Stater's manners should be above reproach"
-Natalie Franz, co-editor of the this blog when discussing how to deal with politically aggressive posting

"As a man tramps the woods to the lake he knows he will find pines and lilies, blue herons and golden shiners, shadows on the rocks and the glint of light on the wavelets, just as they were in the summer of 1354, as they will be in 2054 and beyond. He can stand on a rock by the shore and be in a past he could not have known, in a future he will never see. He can be a part of time that was and time yet to come."
-William Chapman White, Adirondack Country, 1954

"WHEREAS, Daniel Webster, That base and infamous enemy of the human race, did in a speech of which he delivered himself, in Syracuse last Spring, exultingly and insultingly predict that fugitive slaves would yet be taken away from Syracuse and even from anti-slavery conventions in Syracuse, and whereas the attempt to fulfill this prediction was delayed until the first day of October, 1851, when the Liberty party of the State of New York were holding their annual convention in Syracuse; and whereas the attempt was defeated by the mighty uprising of 2,500 brave men, before whom the half-dozen kidnappers were 'as tow', therefore, Resolved, That we rejoice that the City of Syracuse- the anti-slavery city of Syracuse- the city of anti-slavery conventions, our beloved and glorious city of Syracuse- still remains undisgraced by the fulfillment of the satanic prediction of the satanic Daniel Webster."
-Resolution written by abolitionist Gerrit Smith and passed by the anti-slavery Liberty Party the day after the Jerry Rescue, where the last Central New Yorker to be arrest for the purpose of being returned to slavery was rescued.

What are your favorite quotes by Yorkstaters or about Upstate?

-Posted by Jesse


York Stater of the Month, February: Everett Nack

"The tide and time don't stand still for nobody."

Plying the Hudson in a rowboat, the young shad fisherman Everett Nack cast into the river a net he'd spent all winter mending. A few years after leaving military service, he was now self-employed, largely relying on the river for his livelihood.

He had been working for another fisherman, and decided to go out on his own.

“I worked for him for two years, and my pay was the buck shad that he didn’t want. You know, I’d bring ’em home and my mother would can some and freeze some and I’d sell a few to the neighbors. And finally I thought, "This is ridiculous," so I swapped my uncle eight muskrat skins for an old linen gill net that he was going to throw away.” (source)

This scene, Everett Nack on the waters of the Hudson, could be any time from the colonization of what is now New York State forward, though I imagine few would envision him just fifty years ago, at the beginning of a long and meaningful career and life that spanned many fields and talents, but always inextricably tied him to the river.

Everett Nack was primarily a fisherman and bait shop owner, but he was a man who dabbled in many trades, sort of a living encyclopedia of folk knowledge, de-scenting skunks, trapping muskrats, rearing raccoons, the consummate riverman. Nack and his son were some of the last commercial fishermen on the Hudson, carving out a living from fish that had for many years been in decline because of PCB contamination from General Electric factories upriver, among other polutants.

Many York Staters from further north and west of the Hudson Valley think of the area nowadays as full of commuters and weekenders from the city, an area devoid of the grizzled outdoorsmen more commonly associated with the North Country. But rare though they may be, men and women still make their living from the land and the river, and provide much more to the local community than bait.

As a man of the land and the water, Nack was as knowledgeable as any scientist about shad populations. He was hired to tag sturgeon and track fish for several studies and was an outspoken environmentalist, even talking with the governor about the condition of the river. He and his son Steven were the first to discover zebra mussels in the Hudson. He was an advocate for the river's recovery from the standpoint of an environmentalist as well as from the perspective of a working man on the river. He believed you could not be a fisherman without being an environmentalist. Skeptical but passionate, he worked the river until his death and watched its changes over half a century.

I had been living in the Hudson Valley just three years, but I had heard tell of a man who still fished the Hudson, and after an article in AboutTown, knew his name. One night in August of 2004 I was driving through Claverack when I saw on the bulletin board of the old church that Everett Nack had died. And though never having met the man and at the time knowing little about him, it was hard not to feel a sense of loss for the community and the river.

Though few of us in today's New York hold onto the old ways, we often give reverence to those who do, for they can give us a unique perspective on the economy and ecology of our state. Everett Nack was a man who loomed large in the minds of the community, and whose memory will be treasured and respected.

Posted by Natalie


Goings on around the grand state of New York

I thought I might add some links to various websites that have interested me of late. All of them talk about Upstate in some capacity, but besides that, they run the gamut. Hopefully, there’s something for everyone here.

Wildrun: A blog dedicated to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Loose Cats.” The blogger, a woman named Susan Darling Greene operates out of Spencer and seems to have made it her mission to rescue wild cats and set them up for adoption. Good luck to you Susan.

Mordecai M. Noah and the Mormon Zion: This website discusses a historic event that has been referenced in earlier posts, namely, a plot to build a theocratic Jewish state on Grand Island in the 1820s. A bizarre and fascinating story, it’s worth taking a look. The author brings up excellent points on the effect that this failed idea had on the founders of Mormonism a few years later.

For the folklorists in audience,
I do? Northern New York’s Mock Weddings is a little jaunt into a captivating tradition of “spoof” weddings conducted in the North Country. Lots of gender-bending and satire. This article is from Voices, the Journal of New York Folklore.

New York State offers motorists a wide variety of
vanity plates for your cars. In particular, I noticed the regional plates (for example, the Adirondacks or the Finger Lakes) and those dedicated to causes and organizations (like agriculture in the classroom and the Erie Canal museum).

This website is one of my favorites. It has maps tracing the history of county formation in New York and census maps. Sounds boring, but in five minutes time you can have a fascinating lesson on the expansion and settlement of Upstate New York.

One last note: my timeline of Upstate History from 1779 to 1861 has been updated, refined and cleaned up. Hopefully I've got it right this time.

I suppose that’s enough for the time being. Cats, Jewish theocracies, spoofed matrimonies, Yankees plates and census maps… we live in a strange and wonderful state.

-Posted by Jesse


What's in a Name #4: Lake Bonaparte

Following the advice of our Upstate Reading List, I recently borrowed Upstate Echoes by Arch Merrill from the Johnson City public library. It seems that Mr. Merrill has travelled around the region collecting stories of people and places, some long gone and others a bit more recent.

Chapter 2 of the book is titled "A King in the Woods" and tells the story of Joseph Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon and former king of Naples and Spain, and his brief sojourn to the Great North Woods. I first heard of Joseph while studying Spanish history; he has gone down in Spanish history as "Pepe Botella" (Joe Bottle) and was famous for incompetence and drunkeness. After his conquest of the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily (1806), Napoleon put his trusted brother on the throne. A few years later (1808), Joseph was "promoted" to throne of Spain, a move of hubris to which Napoleon later traced his downfall.

Spain became Napoleon's soft underbelly as, for the first time, the Spaniards united to overthrow a common enemy. Known in Spain as the "War of Independence" and to the English speaking world as the "Peninsular War," the Spaniards and their English allies fought until 1814 against Pepe Botella's forces [1].

Finally, in 1814, Joseph fled Spain, to be replaced by Ferdinand VII "the Desired," of the old Bourbon dynasty. Soon the Napoleonic adventure would come to a close in 1815 with the battle of Waterloo. However, Joseph was still on the loose and seeking a place of refuge. Carting with him the royal treasures of Spain, the 47 year old ex-king decided to disappear off the face of the earth. He purchased 26,840 acres in northern New York for approximately $120,000.

Why New York? He probably pick America because of its pro-French stand in the War of 1812 and the Louisana Purchase and its status as a Republic (which technically France was for a while). As for why New York over the other states, we can only speculate. Perhaps it was an accident of history that the seller, a naturalized American citizen named James Le Ray de Chaumont, owned land in New York. But of course, New York at the time had a history of promoting the ownership of huge patents (land grants) by individuals on its frontier. In addition, New York had a unique history amongst the Northeastern states of landed aristocracy that Bonaparte would recognize.

Disguised as "the Count de Survelliers," Joseph spent the cooler months in Philadelphia and the summer in the foothills of the Adirondacks. He met, wooed and eventually lived with a young Quaker woman named Annette Savage.

In 1818, Bonaparte travelled for the first time to the North Country. To quote Merrill:

"The wild beauty of the land delighted him. He like to hunt in the woods and fish in the sparkling lake, which he named Diana, after the goddess of hunting. Later on, it became Lake Bonaparte. The natives called it 'Bony's lake'... In a cliff on the eastern shore of Lake Bonaparte near the present big hotel, Joseph built a sumptuous log hunting lodge. At Alpine near the outlet he cleared 30 acres and planned a summer residence, 'The White House,' there. It was never completed. He cut roads around the lake and he built a house of the native limestone for Annette..." (pg 18)
The mansion he eventually built in the village of Natural Bridge was a fortress, as he lived in perpetual fear of the Bourbons (perhaps for good reason, the Bonapartists eventually considered him the heir to the throne after the death of Napoleon's son). Though sturdily built, the mansion also had the first indoor plumbing in the North Country. [2]

Though he only spent a few summers in the woods, the locals would tell tales for generations of incredible gondolas on the lake, "hunting parties in velvet suits and cloaks and ruffles, eating off gold plate in the forest... of the portable library that accompanied Bonaparte on his travels..."

The 1830 Revolution in France called Bonaparte home. He abandoned his home which he sold in 1835 and left Annette (though with a considerable settlement). He would die in 1844 without ever returning to his home or lover. He left behind some descendents, though Annette, in the North Woods and in fact one of them, Annette's daughter Caroline Benton, was recognized by Napoleon III in 1859. She was ruined when the Bonapartists fell in the Franco-Prussian War and returned to the United States in 1871.

Today, the last remnant of her is a small stone in the cemetery of the Oxbow Presbyterian Church which reads: "Caroline C. B. Benton" ("B" stands for Bonaparte). The daughter of the King of two countries and the niece of the Emperor who almost ruled Europe sleeps in a quiet republican grave in Northern New York [3]. Truly, perhaps the only memory left is in the name of Lake Bonaparte and the township of Diana on her shores.

-Posted by Jesse

[1] This war was linked to the greater conflict of the Napoleonic Wars. One small, peripheral, part of this mighty conflict is today remembered as the War of 1812.
[2] It was razed in 1902
[3] Granted, the title of King was appointed in both cases and he was a spectacular failure at most everything. I'm guessing that if it hadn't have been for his brother, Joseph would have shared the fate of almost all the minor Coriscan nobility and fled during the Revolution.


Free Stuff!

Every metropolitain area or region has a different library of free publications available in the doorways of grocery stores, in street corner boxes, and on the shelves and stoops of local merchants. Many times these gratis periodicals are passed over, but more so than the local newspaper, they can speak to the character of a region, what a community is, and what a community is striving towards.

I'm interested in forming a comprehensive list of these publications, their content, and an estimation of their usefullness, everything from the Syracuse New Times to the local Pennysaver. I'm sure most of our readers can contribute at least one, so if you know a local periodical, and even better, if it has a website, email us at york.staters@gmail.com or post it as a comment, and we'll incorporate it into the uber-list.

I'll start with my personal favorite, which is also alphabetically at the top:

Area: One AboutTown covers Northern Dutchess and Southern Columbia Counties, the other serves Ulster County.
Format: Newspaper (As opposed to tabloid format [i.e. New Times] or magazine.)
Frequency: Seasonal
Content: Local history is featured prominently, as well as articles about sustainability, environmental concerns, food, and health in the Hudson Valley. AboutTown has a pleasing black, white, and one-color scheme, and its advertisers are primarily local business and includes a calander of community events. Not particularly youth oriented, and gracefully stradles the divide between weekenders, transplants, and area natives.
Website: http://www.abouttownguide.com/
Recommended Article: A History Not Quite Visible by Dorothy Dow Crane explores the hidden history of slaveholding in the Hudson Valley. Well-written and well researched.

What free publications are you reading?

Posted by Natalie