On August 5, 1837, Professor Ebeneezer Emmons led the first recorded ascent up the tallest mountain in the state of New York. While standing atop the summit at 5,344 feet in elevation, Emmons named the peak in honor of his friend and patron William L. Marcy, the governor of New York from 1832 to 1838. A Massachusetts native, Marcy graduated from Brown University and practiced law in Troy, New York before serving in the War of 1812. In 1829, he was appointed as associate justice of the New York Supreme Court, and two years later, he won a seat in the U.S. Senate. He later resigned to become governor, where he was deeply devoted to New York’s public school system.
Emmons explained both his authority to name the peak and his reasoning for the name Mount Marcy with these words:
“It is not surprising that names have not been given to the highest points of land in the state. This privilege belongs by common consent to the first explorers… As this tour of exploration was made by gentlemen who were in the discharge of their duties to the state, and under the direction of the present executive, whose interest in the survey has been expressed both by public recommendations and private counsel and advice, it was thought that a more appropriate name could not be conferred on the highest summit of this group than Mount Marcy” (Carson 56).
Emmons’s decision to name the peak after Governor Marcy generated almost immediate controversy. While many have criticized Emmons for replacing the Native American name, “Tahawus,” with Marcy, Carson argues that Mount Marcy was the original name of the peak. Writer Charles Fenno Hoffman adopted the Seneca-Iroquois word meaning “cloudsplitter” to describe the peak starting in September of 1837, a month after Emmons had already named it. Even though the name “Tahawus” was bestowed on the mountain by white settlers, it is nevertheless regrettable that the high point of New York was named after a relatively undistinguished governor. According to Sandra Weber, author of Mount Marcy: The High Peak of New York, attempts to change the name of the peak in the 1800s all failed. Nevertheless, “Tahawus” has endured as an unofficial name of the peak and even appears on a plaque on the summit. The appeal of “Tahawus” as a way for European settlers to pay homage to Native Americans (whom they had repeatedly mistreated) means that Mount Marcy will continue to be known by these two coexisting names (Goodwin).
The summit of Mount Marcy is an extremely popular spot for Adirondack hikers, heightened by its status as the high point of New York. Marcy is one of the more accessible high peaks, with several maintained trails to the summit- the most heavily trafficked one starting at the Adirondack Loj. Despite its impressive elevation, Mount Marcy is not one of the most challenging high peaks. The 14.8 mile round trip from the Loj ascends 3,166 feet in elevation, making for a long, yet very manageable, day trip.
Goodwin, Tony. “Mount Marcy: The High Peak of New York.” Adirondack Explorer, Jan. 2002, www.adirondackexplorer.org/book_reviews/mount-marcy-the-high-peak-of-new-york.
Williams, Evan. “Mount Marcy.” Pure Adirondacks, Pure Adirondacks, 31 Dec. 2016, pureadirondacks.com/blogs/adirondack-hiking/mt-marcy.