Monday, February 21, 2011

Pondshiners & Eaglenesters

Spent the past weekend at an old farmhouse (at a retreat with some friends) with no TV, phone, internet, or computer.  Missed the computer the most.  Typical later winter/early spring weather too, went from walking outside in shirtsleeves on Friday (mid-60s) to bitterly cold and windy on Saturday (single-digit windchill when I went for a walk where I was staying).  Only four weeks to the vernal equinox!

One interesting thing I learned this past weekend was that there have been isolated communities of people in the Hudson Valley that I had never heard of before.  The old farmhouse where I was staying was loaded with an eclectic collection of dusty books and a couple of us there found a fascinating picture book called Great river of the mountains: The Hudson; by Crosswell Bowen and published in 1941.  It had some great pictures of the area from the early 20th century but also some stories about people still living in very isolated communities.

One group of people were called the "Pondshiners" and they lived in the hills around what's now Lake Taghkanic State Park over in Columbia County.  The supported themselves by hunting, subsistence farming, and basketmaking.  They were regarded with scorn by those in the nearby towns - a State Police sargent once stated: "After all they’re just animals. They’ve slipped so far you couldn’t bring them back. Better if the Flu had wiped them out.” (their community was hit hard by the influenza epidemic of 1918).

Here's an interesting article about the Pondshiners.

One of the things I found interesting about them is that everyone who wrote about them in the past mentioned their lack of religion and practice of "superstition".  Many of their "superstitions" seem akin to traditional Wiccan-type practices.  The picture below shows Fran Ingals, circa 1941, a Pondshiner "witch" who reportedly could sour the neighbor's milk and send pitchforks flying through the air toward her enemies.

Another group of people mentioned were the Jackson Whites, a perjorative term applied to mountain people in the Ramapo area of New York/New Jersey.  They often had Dutch surnames but were racially mixed with Native American and Black ancestors.  Read more about them here.

Then there were the Eaglenesters.  They were described as living west of Kingston and, like the Jackson Whites, a reclusive mixed-race mountain community with Dutch surnames like Hasbrouck.  Supposedly their ancestors were pre-Revolutionary Dutch settlers, Native Americans, and blacks (slaves?) brought up from the South to work on the Delaware and Hudson canal.

I do know there's an Eagle's Nest Road off Hurley Mountain Road west of Kingston, but I have no idea if that's related to the Eaglenesters.  Anyone know anything about them?  Here's a book I plan to pick up at the local library which talks about Eagle Nester legends: Old Eagle Nester: The Lost Legends of the Catskills.

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