Have you ever wondered how Rockland County and Clarkstown came into existence? It is an interesting topic and given that this Thursday, February 23, 2023 marks the 225th anniversary of the founding of Rockland County, I thought it would be interesting to explore these questions. Many may not realize, despite a number of our towns being incorporated from before this date, that currentday Rockland County existed as a part of Orange County throughout the early history of our nation. Thus, when Clarkstown was founded on March 18, 1791, it was actually a town within Orange County!
The story of the European settlement of the metro New York area begins with the Dutch in the 1600’s, who called the area New Amsterdam. The famous story of the selling of Manhattan Island for $24 in trinkets and beads is well known. Lesser known is what happened afterwards. Eventually the Dutch, who were successful in establishing themselves here, spread their settlements further out in the area. This expansion was bolstered by a number of French Huguenots coming over along with a smattering of additional Dutch migrants and some expatriates from other colonies. The Dutch were surprisingly accepting of outsiders, including a broad approach to religious tolerance not found in other colonies. History records that the first synagogue was built in New York in 1654.
In 1664, the Dutch lost control of the area and gave way to the English who promptly renamed it New York in honor of the Duke of York. In 1683, the English divided up New York into counties, establishing twelve of them, inclusive of Orange County, (which includes what is today Rockland and Orange.) The first mention of Rockland and Clarkstown would not come until much later. In 1716, a gentleman named Daniel De Clarke, along with four others, purchased a large swath of land known as the lower portion of the Kakiat Patent. This area included much of Rockland, including all of modern day Clarkstown. In 1764, a portion of this property was sold with a description in the deed as being located in “Clarke’s Town,” which is believed to be the first recorded mention of the name that would later become our town. The Town was formally established on March 18, 1791 and thus we are 232 years old next month.
Rockland came into existence on February 23, 1798 when it was separated from Orange to become its own county. This was done to make it easier for residents to handle jurisdictional matters and allowed for the creation of our own courthouse. The distance to the courts and government seats in Goshen from Rockland was considerable, and it only made sense to have our own county. The 1800 census demonstrates that nearly 6,400 people called Rockland home, thus justifying the creation of a new county.
It is interesting, and indeed important, to recall our history. We live in a Town and a County that is among the oldest in the nation. Rockland was said to be the crossroads of the American Revolution, with many important people and armies passing through during the war. After the war, the County grew primarily with the establishment of numerous farms. It is unknown who actually came up with the name Rockland, the apt description is likely a nod to the rocky terrain that colonial farmers encountered. As a lifelong resident, my own gardening endeavors have proven that our county is named quite appropriately! All kidding aside, we are fortunate to live in such a memorable town with a long and rich history. In future columns, we will seek to explore our celebrated history a bit further.
So, this Thursday, February 23rd, 2023 pause and wish your neighbors here in the County a Happy 225th Birthday!
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