A Landing a Day

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Posts Tagged ‘Copake NY’

Copake, New York

Posted by graywacke on January 22, 2010

First timer?  In this (hopefully) once-a-day blog, I have my computer select a random latitude and longitude that puts me somewhere in the continental United States (the lower 48).  I call this “landing.”  I keep track of the watersheds I land in, as well as the town I land near.  I do some internet research to hopefully find something of interest about my landing location.  To find out more about A Landing A Day (like who “Dan” is and what the various numbers and abbreviations mean), please see “About Landing,” (and “Abbreviations” and “Cryptic Numbers”) above.

Dan –  Today is one of those relatively rare visits to the Northeast.  But wouldn’t you know it, I landed in a solid OSer . . . NY; 37/30; 5/10; 8; 153.0.  Actually, when I look a little closer, the Northeast is generally OS.  Here’s the Northeast States rundown:

OSers:  CT (5/3); NH (10/6); NY (37/30); RI (2/1); VT (8/6)

USers:  ME (19/21); NJ (3/5); MA (4/6)

Doing the math, and the region is 88/78 – rather OS, eh?

Anyway, here’s my landing map, showing that I landed out in the country, not near any larger towns (just a bunch of Copakes).  The state boundary triple point you see is between NY, MA and CT.

I landed in the Noster Kill watershed; on to the Bash Bish Brk; to the Roeliff Jansen Kill (I have deigned this to be a new river; more about this in a moment); on to the Hudson R (13th hit).

Here’s my broader landing view:

And this, my GE shot, showing that I landed in a farm field, between an island of woods and a peninsula of woods.

I wonder about such islands (and peninsulas).  Why wasn’t it cleared for farming?  A rocky patch?  A wet patch?

Anyway, using GE Street View, here’s a shot that almost shows my landing.  The photo is taken from the road east of my landing (near the buildings), looking SW.  The island of woods mentioned above is the woods you see in the distance from this photo.  My landing is just behind them:

OK – back to my new river – the Roeliff Jansen Kill.  So you probably know that “kill” is Dutch for “river” or “water channel.”  Kind of like with “bayou,” I take it upon myself to decide if a given bayou or kill should make it into ALAD’s “river” category.  Well, the Noster Kill is obviously a little creek (and it flows into a brook!).  But the Roeliff Jansen Kill is clearly more substantial.  It’s over 40 miles long, and the lower reaches are shown on StreetAtlas with with a mappable width (as opposed to just a line).  Enough for me.

Truth moment:  I just remembered that the Hudson is tidal, and the lower section of the Roeliff Jansen Kill is probably also tidal (resulting in an wider stream than would otherwise occur).  Therefore, the “mappable width” argument holds less water, so to speak . . . (but I’m still calling it a river!)

So the towns near my landing (the various Copakes) don’t have much to write about.  But I suspect that you noticed two interesting stream names:  Bash Bish Brook and the afore-discussed Roeliff Jansen Kill.

I’ll start with the Bash Bish.  From skyweb.net:

-Quote from “Haunted New England, A Devilish View of the Yankee Past, by Mary Bolte, 1972

Before the white man came to North America, many Algonquin tribes populated the northeast, among them the Mohicans of western Massachusetts. Within their society, polygamy was not uncommon and divorce was frequently countenanced. Adultery, however, was an intolerable offense and was punishable by death. This legend revolves around a beautiful Mohican woman named Bash-Bish who was accused of this gravest of crimes, found guilty, and condemned to death as prescribed by tribal law, despite her persistent protestations of innocence. For the execution of her sentence, Bash-Bish was to be lashed to a canoe in the swift water upstream from a waterfall, which was then to be released and drawn by the current over the fateful cataract.

At the appointed hour, the Indians, including the woman’s infant daughter, White Swan, solemnly gathered for the ceremony. Suddenly a curious thing happened. A fine mist began to slant in from the sun while, simultaneously, a ring of bright butterflies circled Bash-Bish’s head. As the Mohicans fell back in awe of the unexplained phenomenon, the condemned woman broke away, dashed to the edge of the falls and flung herself over the cruel shawl of water, the butterflies spiraling downward behind her. The pool below has never given up her body.

Here’s an alternate explanation of the name:

-Quote from “The Book of Berkshire, by Clark W. Bryan, 1886”

Bashbish has been said to be an Indian onomatopoetic name, suggested by the sound of the falling water.  Miss Sedgwick [whoever that is] thought it to be of Swiss origin.  These are both errors, for the name is undoubtedly of vulgar origin, coming to its present form from the Dutch corruption of English.

I don’t really understand.  Could bish be a bastardization of bitch?  (Do you like the way I put bastard and bitch in the same sentence?)  Bash Bish isn’t very nice, in that case. . .

I couldn’t find anything else about the name origin.  I think I better vote for the Indian Onomatopoetic falling water theory.  Bash . . Bish . . . Bash . . . Bish . . . goes the water over the falls.  What falls , you may ask . . .

Well, you can see Bashbish Falls State Forest on my landing map, just over the State Line in MA.  It turns out that there is a very lovely waterfalls here which is, I assume, the waterfalls mentioned in the story about the Mohican maiden.  Here are some photos, showing the different moods of the falls:

Here’s a GE shot, (looking SW towards my landing) that shows the falls (in the steep mountain valley) relative to my landing (the yellow peg is just visible):

So, moving on to Roeliff Jansen Kill.  The definitive article that addresses the issue is way too long for ALAD, so I have copied some, skipped over some, and distilled some.  It’s still a little long, but hey, my readers need to know about how the Kill got its name, right?:

A Legend Gives A Community Its Name
by James Polk
from A History of the Roeliff Jansen Area
Used by Permission
The Roeliff Jansen Historical Society
Copake Falls, New York

Roeliff Jansen, the man for whom this area of New York State is named [the “Roe Jan” area, and after whom the Kill is named], was a sometime sailor, sometime farmer, and sometime government official.  By myth a man whose influence extended through the whole colony of New Netherlands, by legend a pioneering explorer and by local folklore the first European resident of this area.  Jansen was really none of these things.  Instead, he seems a fairly average individual whose life saw successes and failures in about equal measure and whose passage is marked by nothing so much as the plain ordinariness of it all.

My distillation:  Jansen was dispatched to New Amsterdam in 1630 by his “patroon,” Kiliaen Van Rennsalaer, to farm about 10 acres near Fort Orange (the first Dutch settlement in the New World), near Albany.  I never realized that the first Dutch settlement was in Albany, not New York City (New Amsterdam).  Anyway, in about 1632, Roeliff had been given some authority, and was named a “schepens” who served as an agent between the patroon and his tenants.  However, Roeliff caught some negative attention from his patroon (back to the article):

In April 1634, the patroon wrote Wouter Van Twiller, the director general (governor) of New Netherlands, and displayed the beginnings of disappointment:

“I see that Roeloff Janssen has grossly run up my account in drawing provisions,
yes, practically the full allowance when there was stock.  I think that his wife,
mother, and sister and others must have given things away, which can not be

My distillation:  So, Roeliff decided enough was enough, and he decided to take up farming on an island downstream a bit from Albany – Manhattan Island.  He moved to Manhattan, worked for someone else for a couple of years, and saved enough money to buy a 62-acre plot of farmland on Lower Manhattan.  (Imagine – working for a couple of years is enough to afford 62 acres of Manhattan real estate!)  Back to the article:

On what was decidedly mediocre farming land the new owner apparently planned to raise tobacco and perhaps some varieties of grain, but before he was able to do much beyond clearing the land, Roeliff Jansen died.  Behind him he left his widow, Anneka, still in her early thirties, her mother, four or perhaps five surviving children – and the 62 acre farm.

I skipped a bunch of less-relevant details about the Mrs. and the kids.    Back to the article:

So far this brief history has not come anywhere near the Roeliff Jansen Kill, much less the Roe Jan area.  The man never lived here, was never that important to the record of his times, so why has his name been plastered with such unconcern through the region?  For the answer we must rely on a typical mixture of myth, legend, folklore, possible invention and of known historical fact, none of which is definitive in itself but whose sum is the closest we shall ever come.

According to this story, the post of schepens required some travel, at least as far as New Amsterdam, to report on conditions upriver and to receive instructions in return.  Again according to one version of events, Jansen embarked on one such trip in late winter or early spring of one year, probably 1633.  He made his report to the authorities, received his orders and began his return voyage, probably in the company of settlers and supplies.

At that time of year travel on the Hudson was uncertain for the flimsy wooden krags and, while still fifty miles short of their goal, the ice closed in and held the little vessel fast.  As the freeze grew harder, the passengers were able to walk to the nearby shore where they encountered a small and fortunately friendly encampment of Indians as well as the mouth of a fairly prominent stream which until that time had somehow remained undiscovered and unnamed by passing traders and settlers moving upriver.

The ice held the party in its grip for a full three weeks during which time they had frequent and altogether pleasant encounters with the Indians and made some tentative explorations of the land nearby.  Finally, the boat was released and their long captivity came to an end.  Before setting off on the voyage home, however, the members wished to memorialize their adventure somehow and since the stream by which they had been stranded for lo these many weeks was still virgin territory so far as Dutch cartographers were concerned, what better monument to their passage than a name for the creek?  The name of one of their number perhaps?  The government official?  Roeliff Jansen?

So that, and until someone comes along with a better story, is how the Roeliff Jansen Kill, and by extension the Roe Jan area got its name.

Well readers, was it worth it?  Anyway, I’ll close with this shot of the upper reaches of Roeliff Kill (by mudder_bbc on Flickr):

That’ll do it.



© 2009 A Landing A Day


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