Introduction
Everyday Life and the Making of Rural
Development in the HudsonValley
Nothing denotes the profound transformation of society in the mid–
HudsonValleyasplainlytoanobserveronthethresholdofthethirdmil-
lennium as the introduction of theword capital into thevocabularyof its
peoplearound1800.Thenotionneverappearsinrecordsofthelateeigh-
teenthcentury.Neitherdoesthesubstance,for‘‘money,asyet,wasascarce
commodity.’’
1
When the Hudson Northern Whig pondered the conditions
of economic development by the second decade of the nineteenth cen-
tury,itseditorhopedthatthecityof Hudsonontheeastbankoftheriver
would capture the commerce of ‘‘the almost boundless western country.’’
The problem was geography because ‘‘the Merchants of Athens [on the
Hudson’s west bank] will stop that trade on their side of the river. Have
theytheCapitaltodothis?’’thewriterwondered,onlytoprovideashort
answer. ‘‘No. But Capitalists may move there.’’ Still, his city held an ad-
vantage. ‘‘Merchants will rarely be induced to settle in Athens at all, as
the cityof Hudson must hold out greater inducements to capitalists.’’
2
As
lateas1836,when‘‘capitalistsha[d]purchasedanewsteamboat’’toplythe
river between Hudson and New York City, the concept of capital pos-
sessedatangiblequality.Itwaslinkedtomerchants,anditstoodfortheir
assets.3
Things were changing, however. George Holcomb, a farmer in
Stephentown, rushed to a bank in Pittsfield, Massachusetts,on which the
firstcheckheeverreceivedinhisfortyyearshadbeendrawnin1838.4
This
elusivemodeofpaymentinthewakeofaseverebankingcrisismadeHol-
combhurrytocommutepaperintohardcurrency.Thedissociationofen-
dorserand promissory note and the mediation of exchange bya financial
institution were signs of the movement toward less transparent and pro-
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