Journey to The Archives and Special Collections at Marist College

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I’ve been looking forward to today for two weeks!

Two weeks ago I contacted John Ardsely, the Special Collections and Archives specialist at Marist College in Poughkeepsie. This past June Beth and another WHS volunteer spent time there going through the archive and had a flash drive made with digital scans of documents pertaining to the homestead. We are having some technical difficulties accessing the information that was originally put on the flash drive, so I decided to take a trip there myself to see what Marist holds in their collections.

If you don’t take it upon yourself to visit an archive, you are missing out. There is nothing more interesting than carefully pulling papers and books from boxes and unearthing the mysteries they contain. The musty smell, the still quiet, and the stark cold all add to the ethereal-like experience of being so intimate with history.

Thus, I spent over five hours there looking through box after box of original indentures, correspondence, deeds and agreements that date as far back as the 1750s. I found an abundance of information on our Mesier Family, but the best part was reading letters written in their own hand and stamped with their personal seals.

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From the indentures it is pretty clear that the Mesiers had a good amount of wealth. They ran businesses, owned flour mills, and rented/mortgaged/leased their properties in Wappingers. Also they apparently hired/owned anywhere from 7-15 servants/slaves at various points of time – this is something we are extremely interested in and I want to find more information on this aspect of the home’s history. We already knew that the Mesiers had slaves/servants for the slave quarters and separate staircase leading to it are very much preserved and seems to represent its original condition.  Here are pictures of the room:
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Isn’t that intriguing?

My two favorite findings from the archives are Joanna Mesier’s poetry notebook and Maria Mesier’s short history of the family, Old Homestead. Joanna’s poetry notebook is fantastically intact. It was an awesome experience to hold and read her poems written in her own hand, especially since Joanna seems to be an dearly loved and respected member of the Mesier family (according to Henry Suydam’s account of the Mesier family history – he knew her personally). Her portrait hangs in the parlor, and surprisingly, though we have her’s, we do not have a portrait of her husband, Mathew Mesier. Here is one of the poems written in the notebook:

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The Deserted Village

Sweet Auburn! Loveliest village of the plain

Where health and plenty cheered the laboring swain

Where smiling spring its earliest ___ paid

And parting summers lingering blossoms delayed

Dear lovely ____ of innocence and ease

Seats of my youth, when any spark could please

Have often have I ____ over thy green

When humble happenings ______ each scene

How often have I focused on every charm

That sheltered cob, the cultivated farm

[This poem is not Joanna’s own, but copy work of the first 10 lines of Oliver Goldsmith’s “The Deserted Village.” (thank you, Professor Higgins, who realized this!)]

Finally, I could not have been more happy to find Maria’s short written history of her family. This may be the most important bit of information I found at Marist, because the short book is a secondary source written by someone who would have been directly familiar with the Mesier Family. Maria Mesier was one of the daughters of Mathew and Joanna. She was born in 1808 and died just before the homestead was given to the town in 1890. What Maria’s account does is give us a personal sense of who the Mesiers were as she describes their characters and personal lives. I really love this piece; I’m so thankful that it’s been preserved and kept. Here it is! Behold such valuable, wonderful information on our dear Mesiers (thank you, Maria!):

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Thanks John Ardsley and the Archives/Special collections staff for pulling the boxes for me! I found lots of invaluable information that surely will help complete my Mesier research. I’m sure I’ll be making more visits in the near furture.

Hope you all enjoyed!

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