Ulster County History

Located in New York State’s Hudson Valley, Ulster County is one of the state’s oldest counties, rich in history, culture, and natural beauty. The county was one of the original subdivisions of the colony of New Netherland in the 17th century. First named Esopus by Dutch settlers, the region was subsequently renamed after the province of Ulster in the north of the island of Ireland. The history of this storied region must be viewed through the perspectives of Natives, Dutch patroons, and colonists who ultimately became subject to the expanding British Empire. These three groups of “Americans” forged a path for the county and the lives of its future inhabitants. Just as can be seen in the 21st century, the landscape in this region is not lacking of stunning, if not breathtaking, moments. In addition, the strategic location of Esopus, and later Ulster County, proved to provide the people with a front row seat at the making of American history. From the French and Indian War, to the war for American independence, to heroic young men fighting for the preservation of the Union in the mid-19th century, Ulster County represents the American story; the advance of liberty, economic opportunism, and the quest for a more perfect Union define the Ulster County of the past, the present, and the future.

Ulster County was first inhabited by Esopus Indians. Then, the region was settled by Dutch colonists who relinquished control of the area to the English when the latter country seized its possession in the mid 1660s. The county was named after the region of Ulster in Ireland. As time went on the English influence on the people, and names, of the region augmented. The Colony, and ultimately, State of New York were formed in the subsequent decades. Place names, histories, and destinies were further changed after the capitulation of the leadership of Peter Stuyvesant on the island of New Amsterdam. However, the quintessential nature of the county has remained largely unchanged since its early years of European settlement. Many towns resemble those of Dutch ones, most prominently Wallkill, Fishkill, Kinderhook, and the Catskills. The Dutch influence on the surnames of the people has also survived the centuries. While these seemingly large transformations have exerted themselves on the region and the people who call it home, the brilliant landscape, sense of community, and cultural impact on the state and the country has failed to become erased from the annals of American history.

One final aspect that should be noted is the political climate of a county, dissimilar to many of its neighbors, that stands out as what many have identified as a political outlier. The politics of Ulster County could be incorrectly understood at a first glance. Nevertheless, geography, socioeconomic realities, and growing diversity have altered this county to remain, as it were in 2016, an island of blue in a sea of republican red. The history of the summer of love, liberal New York City politicking, and the influx of like minded university students and traveling progressivists have contributed to this state of politics. Looking forward, Ulster County will be regarded as a beacon of hope, and bridge among walls, and a bastion of an open-minded American exceptionalism, the likes of which this nation’s counties should strive to emulate.