Land Acknowledgment for Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson
In the spirit of truth and equity, it is with gratitude and humility that we acknowledge that we are gathered on the sacred homelands of the Munsee and Muhheaconneok people, who are the original stewards of the land. Today, due to forced removal, the community resides in Northeast Wisconsin and is known as the Stockbridge-Munsee Community. We honor and pay respect to their ancestors past and present, as well as to future generations, and we recognize their continuing presence in their homelands. We understand that our acknowledgment requires those of us who are settlers to recognize our own place in and responsibilities toward addressing inequity, and that this ongoing and challenging work requires that we commit to real engagement with the Munsee and Mohican communities to build an inclusive and equitable space for all.
This land acknowledgment, adopted in 2020, required establishing and maintaining long-term, and evolving, relationships with the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians. The Mellon Foundation's 2022 Humanities for All Times grant for “Rethinking Place: Bard-on-Mahicantuck” offers three years of support for developing a land acknowledgment–based curriculum, public-facing Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS) programming, and efforts to support the work of emerging NAIS scholars and tribally enrolled artists at Bard.
Land Acknowledgement: Putting Theory into Practice
The College acknowledges that its origins are intertwined with slavery, which has shaped the United States and American institutions from the beginning. Starting in the 16th century, European traders trafficked approximately 12 million Africans to the Americas, where they were held as property and forced to work as enslaved laborers. Their descendants were also held as slaves in perpetuity. The exploitation of enslaved people was at the foundation of the economic development of New York and the Hudson Valley, including the land now composing the Bard College campus. In the early 18th century, Barent Van Benthuysen purchased most of this land and was a slave owner. Later owners of the property also relied on Black workers they held in bondage for material gain. Montgomery Place, which became part of the College in 2016, was a working farm during the 19th century that likewise profited from the labor of enslaved people.
The founders of Bard College, John Bard (1819–99) and Margaret Johnston Bard (1825–75) inherited wealth from their families and used it to found the College. That inheritance was implicated in slavery on both sides. John’s grandfather Samuel Bard (1742–1821) owned slaves. His father William Bard (1778–1853) was the first president of the New York Life Insurance Company, which insured enslaved people as property. Margaret’s fortune derived from her father’s commercial firm, Boorman and Johnston, which traded in tobacco, sugar, and cotton produced by enslaved labor throughout the Atlantic World. Other early benefactors of the College, such as John Lloyd Aspinwall (1816–73), also derived a significant proportion of their wealth, which they donated to the College, from commercial ventures that depended on slavery. John and Margaret Bard devoted their lives and monies to educational pursuits. In his retirement John Aspinwall redirected his fortune and energies toward humanitarian pursuits.
Recognition and redress of this history are due. As students, teachers, researchers, administrators, staff, and community members, we acknowledge the pervasive legacy of slavery and commit ourselves to the pursuit of equity and restorative justice for the descendants of enslaved people within the Bard community.