Rip Van Winkle's Neighbors

The Transformation of Rural Society in the Hudson River Valley, 1720-1850

By Thomas S. Wermuth

Subjects: Economic History
Series: SUNY series, An American Region: Studies in the Hudson Valley
Paperback : 9780791450840, 198 pages, September 2001
Hardcover : 9780791450833, 198 pages, October 2001

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Table of contents



1. "A Very Beautiful and Fertile Wheatland"
The Seventeenth-Century Settlement of the Hudson River Valley

2. "One Body Corporate and Politique"
Politics, Society, and Community in the Eighteenth-Century Valley Towns

3. "A Comfortable Subsistence"
Rural Economic Culture in the Eighteenth Century

4. "We Are Daily Alarmed, and Our Streets Filled with Mobs"
The Revolution in the Valley, 1775-1785

5. "The Farmer Now Sells for Money"
Hudson Valley Farmers and the Market Revolution, 1785-1820

6. "The Harbingers of Commerce"
Mid-Hudson Valley and the Creation of a Market Society, 1820-1850

"A Diversified Economy and Society"
The Mid-Hudson Valley and the Mid-Nineteenth Century


Explores the social and economic transformations of the mid-Hudson River Valley during the key expansionist period in American history.


Although Rip Van Winkle was a fictional character, his community in the mid-Hudson Valley of New York State was very real. Thomas S. Wermuth's book shows that the popular view of Hudson Valley farmers as self-sufficient, independent, and free of governmental authority is as fictional as the character of Rip Van Winkle himself. In fact these mid-Hudson farmers lived in villages where economic practices and behavior were regulated by civil authorities as well as neighborhood concerns, and where acquisitive practices that were believed to endanger the public good were forbidden.

Based on extensive research into previously unused town records and commercial accounts, this book challenges the belief that the early valley was a capitalist society, arguing that the beliefs and practices associated with modern capitalism developed slowly and unevenly, and were not always welcomed by valley families.

Thomas S. Wermuth is Dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Director of the Hudson River Valley Institute at Marist College. He is also Associate Editor of the Encyclopedia of New York State.


"What is perhaps most rewarding about Rip Van Winkle's Neighbors is the way that it evokes the everyday life of time and place for the reader, and recognizes at every turn the ways in which the economic, social, political, and cultural are intertwined. " — New York History

"Thomas Wermuth presents a fine instance of the importance of studying large questions in small places. Though I have worked many of the same sources I learned a great deal worth knowing from this book. " — Edward Countryman, author of The American Revolution

"Wermuth's analysis of economic and social relations in the Hudson Valley is excellent. " — George Rappaport, Wagner College