Viola Bausman’s oration from her 1912 Scales Mound High School Commencement

My great-grandmother, Viola (Bausman) Davis Hickman, was a teacher and educator.  I discovered the oration that she gave at her Scales Mound, Illinois, commencement on June 7, 1912.  She had written her speech in her graduation memory book.

The Tercentennial of Henry Hudson
by Viola Edith Bausman

There was a time when Americans lacked distinction. It was traditionally assumed that the people of the United States had suffered the spirit of commercialism to rob them of their noble instincts and to stunt their intellectual development.

Now, however, the American captain of industry is the man of the hour. His achievements have excited universal wonder and admiration. The world has come to recognize the fact that the victories of peace are no less honorable than those of war. It has learned too that the truly great industrial leader must have the intellectual power, the courage, the indomitable will, and the mastery of detail that has gone to wake a Napoleon, a Cromwell, a Frederick of Prussia. The discovery of the Hudson River is a great industrial achievement that has given way to greater progress for in that September of 1609, when Henry Hudson sailed up the “river of mountains” to where the shadows of the Catskills falls, he fixed the date of our of the most momentous events in American chronology. It was a cardinal fact in American History, and one of the principal points of view from which to picture the scenes and happenings that time has worked upon the years of a great nation.

Viola Bausman 1912 High School Graduation
Viola Bausman H.S. Graduation

Strange sights met the eyes of the men on that gallant little vessel, the Half Moon, as she felt her way through the mists of morning that hovered over the wide waters of an unknown land.  She pushed her prow past frowning, rocky cliffs, up broad bays thronging with savages, and by glorious stretches of virgin forests where the torches of autumn flamed. They found it “a land as pleasant with grass and flowers and goodly trees as any that they had seen.”

Henry Hudson, the bold navigator of the Half Moon, was one of those heroic figures who unveiled the secrets of a western world. His name is linked with the great discovers who first made American History rich with the stories of splendid achievement. He possessed the same spirit of action and adventure which sent Columbus, Magellan, Cavendish, Frobisher and Davis in quest of an ideal goal. He had the fearless energy and dauntless daring which made him the type of the coming American.

His exploration of the great river which today bears his name not only enclosed a magnificent region, but also gave to the Dutch in whose employ he was, their claims to one of the fairest portion of the American continent. As a stimulus to Dutch enterprise his discovery was of deep significance, for it suggested colonization to the region so clearly marked as “an imperial center for trade.” As a sequence to Hudson’s voyage, the settlements of the people of this world had a cash shaping influence on the course of American History.

The Dutch were at that time the foremost colonizing and commercial power in the world. While the impulse that brought them to America was originally the desire for commercial gain, a more complete knowledge of the new formed continent created the demand for permanent possession.They brought in their coming those elements of industry and thrift that made them a factor in the development of America. Their settlements were located with a judgment which has commended itself to later generations.

The colonies of France were north of them on the St. Lawrence. Those of England were south of them on the James. The ocean was their front door; the stately river with its tributaries leading to a remote west, at their back. Trade made the Hudson a path of progress: for in those early days the waterways offered the means of communication between distant points and were the only highways of commerce. But none of these great natural pathways, not even the St. Lawrence or Mississippi, has given so splendid a chapter to the story of the new world’s development as the river which Walt Whitman called “The Masculine Hudson.” History, Legend, song and romance has woven a spell about it. Three centuries of memories and associations have mellowed its beauty and charm.

Once the canoe of the savage was the only disturbance upon the waters of the river. This give way to the boat of voyager and fur trader, the promoter of the first great commercial effort of the United States – the fur trade. There the sloops of the Dutch settlers and merchants whitened the river with their sails. Later, progress again found its impulse on the Hudson and Robert Fulton’s steamboat struck the keynote of the march of rapid transit. Men called the invention “Fulton’s Folly.” Thousands gathered at the wharf to laugh at the unexpected failure of the invention. But in a few years Fulton’s great invention made a complete change in modes of travel.

The feudal estates of the Dutch patroons that once lined the great rivers banks have given place to stately houses that stand on the height above, and green lawns and woodlands slopes down to the waters edge. Over on the West side the palisades, cold cruel and forbidding, a reminder of the savage who once possessed the land, the Indian whom we have driven westward to the Rocky Mountains and barren deserts. For up where the cool waters come down from their birthplace in the mountains, Frenchmen and Indians fought with the Englishmen and Americans for the right of way. Down where the peaks of the Highlands lift their rocky crests, the signal fires of the Revolutionary was burned. Upon the heights of West Point, treason whispered its sinister temptation to Benedict Arnold. Across the river on the road to Tarrytown, Andre was captured with the evidence in his possession that convicted him as a spy. About that time, Champlain had come almost as far South as that, on an exploring expedition from Quebec. He gave his own name to the lake, known ever since as Lake Champlain, and claimed the country for France.   Over on the Eastern shore, Washington met Rochambeau and from at point on the West these two great generals started their armies on the sweep of that glorious march which ended in the battle of Yorktown and the freedom of the nation. Upon the banks of this river the first American literature found expression in the appeal of the Hudson to the imagination of Washington Irving, Joseph Rodman Drake, and Fennimore Cooper. Each of them read the romance in locality, the character in place, and gave it its form.

Every fool of the rivers way is rich in historic significance. In that September of 1609 when Henry Hudson anchored the deep waisted Half Moon close by the sight of the Albany of today, he had traversed the main length of a river glorious in nature’s gifts. Here and there, Indiana caught the explorers eyes as they [unreadable] past in their primitive canoes; but for the most part the scenery lacked human interest to give it atmosphere and background. It was silent and savage.

Today its dreams of development is found in the three centuries that have passed since Henry Hudson gave it a name and place in History, and only the pen of Shakespeare or the music of a Wagner could interpret its stirring themes and magnificent motifs. Flowing past quaint hamlets, busy towns, rocky steeps, mountain heights and stately houses, the shining waters slip rapidly down to the magnificent city whose progress they have so materially promoted. It is the river that has made New York’s wealth, her power, her glory and her proud position as the first city of the Western world.

Looking backward to the year of 1909, the tercentennial of Henry Hudson’s discovery, the mind is impressed with the importance of the occasion. As an event of the first importance in American History, Hudson’s voyage up the river to which he gave a name assumes national interest, and demands universal recognition.

If education has shown us aught, it has taught us that it is worth while to celebrate our anniversaries which mean much to us. Under favorable circumstances these commemorations may be made an attempt to fresh endeavors, a tie to bind the people of the widely scattered sections and a power to form and develop the national sense in the fact that our past history is not the heritage of our place but of the nation.

~ finis~

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