The pioneering family blazing a new life in the wilderness is one of the great American stories. In the mid-nineteenth century, the earnest and self-reliant homesteader exemplified the spirit of the young Republic. Many artists like Jasper Cropsey celebrated a romantic vision of backwoods America. Derived from sketches made in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Eagle Cliff, Franconia Notch, New Hampshire shows a recently cleared farm with a young family going about the morning chores. Though the precariousness of the family’s existence is perhaps implied by the dark, encircling forest, the valley itself is bathed in the hopeful light of morning. The scene does not beg our pity or concern but elicits our admiration for the courage and resourcefulness of these settlers. By their industry the forest has surrendered to fields and pasture: livestock graze, grain awaits cutting, and vegetables ripen in the garden. In the foreground the farmer and an American Indian converse amicably beside a newly laid corduroy (or log) road that promises an end to the valley’s isolation.
The prominence of the eagle-headed cliff, “hovering” above the cabin, prompts a question: did Cropsey intend it as a symbol, perhaps a patriotic blessing upon the family?