History of Columbia County, New York
By Captain Franklin Ellis
Published by Everts & Ensign
Pages 36 to 45
THE MASSACHUSETTS BOUNDARY-ANTI-RENT-1751-1852.
The peculiar disturbances known as anti-rent troubles may be said to have existed in Columbia county for a full century before their final extinguishment, for, although the long series of violent and unlawful acts which were committed in the vicinity of the eastern border, and which had their commencement about the year 1750, have been most frequently mentioned as growing out of the question of the disputed boundary line between New York and Massachusetts, yet it is doubtful whether the controversy between the provinces was not less a cause of than a convenient excuse for the lawlessness of those who were determined to free themselves from the burden of yearly rent to the manors, particularly that of Livingston, which, as they asserted, owed its very existence to "falsehood and fraudulent pretenses."
This question of boundary had been long held in dispute. By the government of New York it was maintained that their eastern limit was the Connecticut river, because "that the Dutch claimed the colony of New Netherlands as extending from Cape Cod to Cape Cornelius, now called Cape Henlopen, Westward of Delaware Bay along the Sea Coast, and as far back as any of the Rivers within these Limits extend; and that they were actually possessed of Connecticut River long before any other European People knew anything of the Existence of such a River, and were not only possessed of the Mouth of it, where they had a Fort and Garrison, but discovered the River above a hundred miles up, and their People trading there, and purchased of the Natives almost all the Lands on both sides of the said River, and that the Dutch Governor Stuyvesant did in the year 1664 surrender all the Country which the Dutch did then posses to King Charles the Second, and that the States-General made a Cession thereof by the Treaty of Breda in the year 1667. That the Dutch re-conquered part of this Province in 1673, and surrendered and absolutely yielded it to King Charles the Second, in 1673-74, by the Treaty of London, and that in 1674 King Charles granted to the Duke of York all the Land between Connecticut River and Delaware Bay."
The Massachusetts government scouted this argument, and in turn claimed westward at least as far as the Hudson river,* although, as they said, they "had for a long Time neglected the settlement of the West Bounds, they lying very remote from Boston."
The council of New York inquired, "By what Warrant they Claim or Exercise any right To soil or Jurisdiction west of Connecticut River?" The general court of Massachusetts, in a report made to their governor, September 11, 1753, retorted that "It is Demanded of the Government What Right we have to Soil or Jurisdiction West of Connecticut River, Suggesting that it was but very lately they knew we had any possessions West of that River; this proceeding of the Gentlemen of New York appears indeed extraordinary, as severall of our ancient and best Towns Had been settled West of this River about an hundred Years, and the Shire Town of Springfield near a hundred and Twenty Years."
"On the first reading of the above paragraph," said the committee of the council of New York, in a report made November 16, 1753, "few of us doubted but that the Shire Town of Springfield had been situated on the west side of Connecticut river Till we were informed that it was on the East side of that river, and that Mr. Poplis' Large map Represents it so, which Information some of us doubts the Truth of, Because of the Difficulty of Reconciling it with what was Conceived the Obvious sense of the above paragraph." And the committee proceeded to say that "The Massachusetts Government have been pleased to appoint a time and place for the meeting of their Commissioners with those of this province. If they would have been pleased to have Recollected that the Government of this Province is his Majesty's Immediate government, which theirs is not, it would have been something more Decent to have referred the naming of those things to this Government.† And as his Majesty is concerned in the Controversy, and no Settlement which can be made by an authority derived from Both Governments without the Royal Direction, participation, and Concurrence can be Binding on the Crown, we Conceive that the appointment of Commissioners for the purpose would not only be fruitless and Ineffectual to the Determination of the Controversy, but also Derogatory To the rights of the Crown and disrespectfull to his most Sacred Majesty."
And thus the controversy grew more complicated as time elapsed, neither party appearing willing to concede, though both were evidently conscious of the extravagance of their claims; for it is noticeable that in the voluminous correspondence which ensued between the governments in reference to the numerous acts of aggression committed by the respective partisans upon the disputed territory, frequent allusion was made to the distance from the river at which those acts were perpetrated; this being really an acknowledgment on both sides that the boundary should be, and probably would be, established on the basis suggested by the commissioners of the crown in 1664, and, as between New York and Connecticut, agreed on by the Governors Dongan and Treat in 1685, and confirmed by King William March 28, A.D. 1700; namely, a line running generally parallel to, and twenty miles east of, the Hudson river.
It was in the fall of 1751 that the first symptoms of disturbance became manifest, in defiant threats made by the tenants on Livingston manor against their landlord, Robert Livingston, Jr., grandson of the first proprietor. Many of these tenants had neglected to pay their rents and now neglect grew into refusal, open defiance, and an avowed purpose to continue their occupation, not as tenants, but as owners, under authority of grants to be secured from the government of Massachusetts Bay. Among the earliest, and at that time the principal, malcontents were Michael Hallenbeck, a tenant upon the manor for thirty years, and Josiah Loomis, an ore-digger at the iron mines, and a tenant for twelve years under Livingston, who now brought action of trespass against Hallenbeck, and warned Loomis off his manor. Whether this action of the proprietor was the cause of, or was caused by, their rebellious conduct does not clearly appear, but it resulted in their seeking protection from the assumed authority of the adjoining province.
Not long after Livingston received a letter from a resident of Sheffield, the tenor of which was as follows:
"March 24, 1752.
"Sir,--in consequence of an order of a Committee of the General Court of the Province of Massachusetts Bay to lay out Equivalents in the Province land, I have begun on the East side of Tackinick Barrick and laid out a large Farm which encompasses the Dwellings of Michael Hallenbeeck and Josiah Loomis, and you may depend on it the Province will assert their rights to said lands. I have heard you have sued the one and threatened the other, which possibly may not turn out to your advantage. I should have gladly seen you and talk'd of the affair with Calmness and in a friendly manner, which I hope to have an opportunity to do. In the mean time, I am, Sir, your very humble servant.
This seems to mark the commencement of a long-continued series of active hostilities between the two provinces.
On the 16th of April, 1752, Mr. Livingston made his grievances known in a communication addressed to the governor, requesting that official to cause the apprehension and committal of such persons as should disturb his possessions under pretense of authority from Massachusetts. The petition was referred to Attorney-General William Smith, who reported that in his opinion it ws most expedient for the governor "not to Interpose at present by any Extraordinary Act or Order, but leave the Petitioner to his Ordinary Remedy at Law; and if any of his possessions are forcibly taken or forcibly held from him, the Statutes of England being duly put in Execution will sufficiently punish the offenders and afford a speedy Relief to the Petitioner."
On the 22d of November, 1752, William Bull and fifty-seven others, many of them tenants upon the manors of Livingston and Van Rensselaer petitioned the Massachusetts general court for a grant of land, which they described as "Beginning at the Top of the first Great Mountain west of Sheffield, running northwesterly with the General course of the Mountain about nine or Ten miles; thence turning and running West about six Miles, thence running Southerly to the North Line of Connecticut out; thence running Easterly to the first-mentioned Boundary."‡
This petition of Bull and others ws regarded by Mr. Livingston as "the Groundwork of all the proceedings" by which he was afterwards so seriously disturbed in his possessions; and this view seems to have been shared by the Legislature of Massachusetts, who reported "that the present warmth and disorders arose upon, or at least quickly after, the Petition of some persons (who had encroach'd on this Province's ungranted Lands West of Sheffield); that the General Court of the Province would sell or dispose of to them the Lands they thus possess;" proceeding to state that "not long after this a Number of persons in the Employ of Robert Livingston, jr., Esqr., burnt down the Dwelling-house of George Robinson, one of these Petitioners, and Mr. Livingston caused his Body to be attached and Committed to Albany Gaol, by a Warrant from Authority in New York Province, who was afterwards Bailed by order of this Government;" but Livingston declared that he caused Robinson's incarceration for trespass in carrying away his (Livingston's) goods, and that in his opinion the bailing and defending of him by the Massachusetts government was "an Aiding and abetting of the said Trespass, and an Encouragement to future Trespasser of the like kind."
In the spring of 1753 the Massachusetts government, under the pleas that they "judged it vain to attempt anything by way of Treaty in the Controversy," appointed Joseph Dwight, Esq., Colonel Bradford, and Captain Livermore a committee to view the lands west of Sheffield and Stockbridge, and report the exact state of affairs there. In the report of the doings of this committee it is narrated that they met Robert Livingston upon the ground in April, 1753, and that it was mutually agreed that all proceedings should be held in abeyance, awaiting a final adjustment of the boundary; but that notwithstanding this, in July "Mr. Livingston, with above sixty men, armed with Guns, Swords, and Cutlasses, in a very hostile and riotous manner, entered upon part of said Lands in the possession of Josiah Loomis, Cut down his Wheat and carried it away in his Wagons, and destroyed above five acres of Indian Corn."
The account given by Mr. Livingston, however, was materially different. He related that having met the committee and explained the tenure by which he held the lands, showing his boundaries, and that the extent of his patent was nineteen miles and thirty rods eastward from Hudson's river into the woods, they all proceeded to Taghkanic, where they found a great number of people were collected, to whom the committee recommended that they remain quiet and satisfied until the settlement of a division line, and that such as were tenants should pay their rents honestly to the landlord. It was his belief, however, that the committee were insincere in this, desiring only to quiet him for the time being, so that they could afterwards execute their scheme without his presence or interruption; and that after his departure to his manor-house they secretly gave orders for the survey of the tract petitioned for by William Bull and others; which, he added, was accordingly done by seven New England men, assisted by the sons of four of his tenants, and they took possession by the construction of a tree-fence. And that as to the matter of Josiah Loomis, he was a tenant at will, and had been ordered to leave the manor two years before; whereon the said Loomis had begged leave to stay long enough to raise one more summer crop, after which he promised he would remove. Instead of which he prepared to put in still another crop, which Mr. Livingston, on being informed of the fact, plainly declared to him that he should never reap; in accordance with which warning he (Livingston) at harvest-time "went with a Sufficient number of people, and did accordingly Cutt Down and Carry away that crop, as it was Lawful and right for him to do."
These occurrences were followed by many similar ones, acts of aggression and retaliation committed by both parties; not of great moment, except as showing how the temper and animosities of the contestants were gradually wrought up and increased until they became ripe for more serious outrages.
A man named Joseph Payne was arrested in 1753 by Mr. Livingston for the alleged destruction of about eleven hundred trees near the Ancram furnace, and was imprisoned in the Albany jail in default of bail to the amount of one thousand pounds, which was afterwards furnished by Colonel Lydius, at the instance of the Boston government. This occurrence was the cause of much bitterness of feeling and many recriminations. On the 19th of July in that year a party of men, of whom Captain David Ingersoll, of Sheffield, was said to be a ringleader, claiming to act under authority from Massachusetts, entered the house of Robert Vanduesen, taking him and his son Johannes as prisoners to the jail at Springfield upon charge of being members of the party who despoiled the crops of Josiah Loomis. Nine days later the governor issued his proclamation ordering the arrest and imprisonment of these rioters, upon which Michael Hallenbeck (who was said to be one of the number) was arrested and imprisoned in the jail of Dutchess county. Concerning this arrest the general court of Massachusetts reported (Sept. 11, 1753) to their governor that "Michael Halenbeck, whom they (the New york partisans) supposed to favor taking of the Van Dusars, has been apprehended and closely confined in Dutchess county jail (it is said to be a dungeon), and the most unexceptional Bail refused," and it was voted that the governor be desired as soon as might be to write very particularly on this affair to the governor of New York. This Governor Shirley did, and in due time received the reply of Governor Clinton, dated Oct. 1, 1753, assuring him "that Michael Hallinbeck, who was lately confined in the Gaol of Dutchess County, made his Escape from thence with several other debtors. Nor can I think he met with any severe Treatment while there. It must be a mistake that he was confined in a Dungeon, there being, I am told, no such Place belonging to that Gaol; and as to Bail being refused for his Appearance, in this, too, I imagine your Government has been misinformed, for, as he was committed on the Proclamation I issued, with the Advice of the Council, he could not have been admitted to Bail but by Application to the Chancellor or to one of the Judges of the Supreme Court, and I am well assured no such Application was ever made."
The Indian irruptions of 1754, at Hoosick and Stockbridge, had caused the organization of several military companies in the vicinity of the border and within the disputed territory. There were at least two of these in Sheffield, commanded by Captains David Ingersoll and John Ashley, one at Taghkanic, with Michael Hallenbeck as captain, and one at Claverack, under Robert Noble, a tenant of Rensselaerwyck; all these being under commission by the governor of Massachusetts; while Robert Livingston, Jr., and Dirck Ten Broeck, holding respectively the commissions of captain and lieutenant from the governor of New York, commanded a company made up of men living on both the Livingston and the Van Rensselaer manors. These companies, especially those of Noble and Hallenbeck, were not provided with a full complement of muskets, but the deficiency in this particular was made good by the use of pikes, cutlasses, and hatchets, which perhaps answered all the purposes of firearms. It was chiefly to meet the exigencies of Indian attack that these bodies were organized,§ but it is found that they were used to no small extent as agents of intimidation, and even of bloodshed, in the bitter quarrel of which we write.
The disaffection which first appeared among Livingston's tenants had now spread to those of the manor of Van Rensselaer, the proprietor of which, in an affidavit made at Claverack, Feb. 22, 1755, deposed "that one Robert Noble and severall other of his Tenants within the said manor had Entered into a Confirmation with some Boston People, and disclaimed being any Longer Tenants to or under him, and gave out and pretended to hold their Lands and possessions within the said Mannor under the Boston Government, and that they had taken Clark Pixley, one of the Constables of Claverack in the said Mannor, and by force of Arms, and had Carried him thence, and one John Moress, prisoners into Boston Government, and also had been Guilty of other Outrages and Threatenings upon severall other of his Tennents, in order to force and Compell them to Join in opposing the Deponent's Rights and Title in the said Mannor; . . . . and that he was informed that his Excellency Governour Shirley had given the said Robert Noble a Commission to be Captain of a Company within Claverack in the Manor of Rensselaerwyck, and that he had also appointed and Commissionated several other Military Officers to Doe Duty and Have Jurisdiction Within the said Mannor, and also in the Mannor of Livingston."
The cause of the capture of Clark Pixley and John Morris does not appear. They were seized on the 7th of February, by Robert Noble and a part of his company, and were taken to Springfield jail. On the 11th, Sheriff Abraham Yates, Jr., with a posse, and accompanied by John Van Rensselaer and his brother Henry, set out from Claverack, and proceeded towards Noble's house, for the purpose of effecting his arrest. On their way they saw and captured Thomas Whitney, one of the party who took Pixley. They found Noble's house transformed into a sort of fortification, with loop-holes for musketry, and garrisoned with some twenty armed men, under command of Captain Noble, who himself carried a pike, which he presented at the breast of the sheriff, demanding of which side he was; to which Yates replied that he was high-sheriff of the city and county of Albany. With that his prisoner, Whitney, was rescued from him, and he himself seized and confined in Noble's house, where he remained under guard from eleven a.m. until ten at night, when he was conveyed to Sheffield, and there remained in custody for twenty-four hours, at the end of which time he was released on a bail of one hundred and fifty pounds to appear for trial at the May term of court; the offense charged against him being that of having dispossessed two persons, one a tenant of Van Rensselaer and the other of Livingston, but who claimed to hold under Massachusetts authority.
The names¶ of the sheriff's captors were Robert Noble, Thomas Willnie, Jacob Bacon, Joseph Jellit, Benjamin Lovejoy, Elysa Stodder, Benjamin Chittenton, Richard Vane, Talvenis Stevens, Wheat Herk, William S. Hallenbeck, Myhiel Hallenbeck, Hendrick A. Brosie, William J. Rees, Francis Bovie, Andris J. Rees, William J. Hallenbeck, Nathan Lovejoy, Hyman Spenser, Andrew Lovejoy, and Daniel Lovejoy. A proclamation ordering their apprehension was issued on the 2d of April, and on the 13th four of them, including Josiah Loomis, were arrested and lodged in jail; their captain, Noble, and the remainder of the company having fled from their stronghold and retired to Sheffield before the approach of the capturing party, which was led by John and Henry Van Rensselaer and numbered between thirty and forty men. On the following morning at daylight the party appeared at the house of William Rees, a tenant of Livingston, and one of the partisans of Noble. Finding that Rees was in the house, they demanded his surrender, which was refused, and immediately after he was shot dead by one of the Rensselaer party named Matthew Furlong.
The exact circumstances of this killing will never be known. The statement made by the Van Rensselaer party was that Rees was desired to open the door, which he refused to do, and at the same time swore that he would take their lives; whereupon a board was broken from the door, and through this opening Rees attempted to fire on the party, but fortunately his gun missed fire. That the assailants then rushed into the house, and Rees retreated to the garret, and thence out through the roof, and was in the very act of firing upon Furlong, when the latter in self-defense shot him through the body, and then surrendered himself to Justice Ten Broeck, who was also lieutenant of the company. It was further stated as being susceptible of proof, that Rees had repeatedly declared his determination to kill one at least, and particularly on the occasion of the seizure of Sheriff Yates.
Upon the other side, it was asserted that Rees had attempted no resistance, but had retreated by the garret and through the roof, and was running away when he received the death-wound; that an inquest was held upon the body, which was found to be pierced in seven places, apparently by buckshot, and that the jury returned a verdict of willful murder.
A proclamation was at once issued by Governor Phips, of Massachusetts, offering a reward of one hundred pounds for the arrest and delivery of those engaged in the homicide; and under pretext of this authority, on the 6th of May following, the sheriff of Hampshire county, supported by a posse of over one hundred men, many of them tenants of Livingston and Van Rensselaer, made a descent on Livingston's iron-works at Ancram, capturing and carrying to prison in Massachusetts eight of Mr. Livingston's dependents who were present at the killing of Rees. Furlong, however, was not among the number taken, and as, upon examination of these prisoners at Springfield, it was found that no complicity in the homicide could be proved against them, they were sent under guard to Sheffield, with orders that they be held there as hostages, to be released when, and not before, the authorities of New York should liberate the Massachusetts partisans and anti-renters then confined at Albany.
The killing of Rees seems to have intensified the bitterness of feeling on both sides, but more particularly among the opponents of Livingston and Van Rensselaer. A surveying-party, acting under Massachusetts authority, and protected by a body of about one hundred armed men, set out from Sheffield, and during the months of April and May, 1755, surveyed several townships west of the Taghkanic mountains, and within the two manors, but chiefly in that of Rensselaer. These "townships" each embraced a territory about five miles east and west, and seven miles north and south; and within these a tract of one hundred acres ws presented as a free gift to each tenant or other person who would accept and hold it against the proprietors;¤ the remainder of the lands being sold or released by the Massachusetts government to purchasers at two shillings an acre. The result was that these "townships" became peopled by settlers who cared nothing for Massachusetts Bay except for the protection which that government afforded them against the rightful authority of the province of New York; but who were moved, first by a desire and determination to possess the land without rendering an equivalent, and next by an intense hatred of the proprietors, especially Livingston, whose life they freely threatened and place in such jeopardy that he dared not travel through his estate, or even remain at his manor-house, without a guard of armed men.¥
A very serious riot and resistance of authority took place on the 7th of May, 1757, by thirty-one anti-rent partisans, who were partially fortified in the house of Jonathan Darby at Taghkanic. In this affair two were killed and several wounded. In consequence of this, Gov. De Lancey issued his proclamation, June 8 of the that year, declaring that certain persons residing in or near the eastern borders of the province had entered into a combination to dispossess Robert Livingston of his lands comprised in the manor of Livingston, etc., and ordering the apprehension of all the persons concerned in the riot at Darby's on the 7th of May. Under this authority a number of them were arrested, and remained incarcerated in prison at Albany for about two years. This had the effect to quell the disturbances, and for a considerable time afterwards the proprietors of the manors remained undisturbed.
It having become apparent to the home government that it was useless to expect an adjustment of the boundary by agreement between the two provinces, the matter was submitted for final settlement to the Lords Commissioners of Trade, who, on the 25th of May, 1757, made known to the king, George II., their decision as follows:
"Upon a full consideration of this matter, and of the little probability there is that the dispute can ever be determined by any amicable agreement between the two Govern'ts, it appeared to us that the only effectual method of putting an end to it and preventing those further mischiefs which may be expected to follow so long as the cause subsists, would be by the interposition of your Maj'tys authority to settle such a line of partition as should, upon a consideration of the actual and ancient possession of both provinces without regard to the exorbitant claims of either, appear to be just and equitable. And we conceive it the more necessary to rest the determination upon these principles, because We find, upon examining the Grant from King Charles the 2nd to the Duke of York in 1663-64, and the Royal charter granted to the Massachusetts Bay in 1691, that the description of the limits of those grants is so inexplicit and defective, that no conclusive Inference can be drawn from them with respect to the extent of territory originally intended to be granted by them. We have, therefore, had recourse to such papers on Record in our Office as might shew the Actual and Ancient possession of the Provinces in question; and as it appeared by several of them, of dates almost as old as the said Grant, that the Province of the Massachusetts Bay had in those times been understood to extend to within 20 miles of Hudson's River, and that many settlements had at different times been made so far the the Westward by the people of that province; and as that evidence coincides with the general principle of the agreement between the province of New York and the Colony of Connecticut in 1683, which has received the Royal confirmation; We are of opinion that a line to be drawn Northerly from a point on the South boundary line of the Massachusetts Bay twenty miles distant due East from the said river on that line which divides the Provinces of New Hampshire and Massachusetts Bay would be a just and equitable line of division between Your Maj'tys provinces of New York and the Massachusetts Bay.
"But as a doubt might arise whether such boundary could be established without the concurrence of the Massachusetts Bay, the soil and Jurisdiction of it being granted by Royal Charter, We thought proper to call before Us the Agents for the two provinces in question, and to communicate to them such our opinion and the authorities whereon it is founded. And the Agent for New York having signified to us that he submits the settlement of the said boundary as a matter entirely in your Maj'tys determination, and the Agent for the Massachusetts Bay having acquainted us that he, on behalf of his constituents, acquiesces in the above-described line, We therefore beg leave humbly to propose to your Majesty that you would be graciously pleased, by your order in Council, to establish the line hereinbefore described as a final boundary of property and Jurisdiction between the provinces of N. York and the Massachusetts Bay."
This decision, however, did not meet the approval of the governor and council of New York, who expressed their dissatisfaction, and asked for certain alterations. Their request was duly considered, but being objected to by the agent of the Massachusetts government, was definitely and finally denied in a communication by the Lords of Trade to Governor De Lancey, dated Dec. 9, 1757; and a royal order in council afterwards established the line as determined on by the Lords, and nearly the same as at present existing.
But even the king's decision and the order in council did not prove to be a final settlement of the boundary, though it was tacitly accepted by the two provinces as to jurisdictional conflicts between them. It was not until many years after that the line was established. In the spring of 1773, John Watts, William Smith, and Robert R. Livingston, commissioners on the part of New York, and John Hancock, Joseph Hawley, and William Brattle, commissioners for Massachusetts, met at Hartford, where, on the 18th of May, they easily and amicably agreed on a partition line of jurisdiction, and this agreement received the approval of the governors of the two States. The line was agreed on was to commence at the northwest corner of "the oblong," and to run thence north 21o 10' 30" east to the north line of Massachusetts; this eastern deflection being given to conform to the course of the Hudson river, from which it was intended to make the line distant, as nearly as might be, a distance of twenty miles at all points.
But the line, though agreed on, was not then run. Great trouble appears to have arisen in the execution of the work, on account of the baffling variation of the needle among the ore-beds of the Taghkanics,---and perhaps from other causes,---and it was not until 1787 that the work was accomplished. In that year Thomas Hutchins, the national geographer-general, David Rittenhouse, and the Rev. Dr. John Ewing, of Philadelphia, three gentlemen whom Congress had, at the request of the two States, appointed as commissioners for the purpose, succeeded, after great difficulty experienced from the capricious variation of the needle, in running and establishing the boundary between New York and Massachusetts; the line being substantially the same as that ordered by George the Second, thirty years before, and identical with the present boundary, excepting the slight difference caused by the cession of Boston Corner to New York in 1855.
As has been before mentioned, the royal order in council of 1757, although it did not then close the question of boundary, yet virtually put an end to conflicts of jurisdiction between the provinces. And for a period of five years from the riots and arrests of 1757 there seems also to have been a season of quiet and freedom from outrage and lawlessness upon the manors. But in 1762 the clouds again gathered, and the malcontents, under lead of Josiah Loomis and others, again took the war-path. During this state of affairs Mr. Livingston wrote (March 22, 1762) to Governor Colden, "These Rioters have given me no trouble since the Proclamation issued in 1757, but now they intend to make their last bold push, which I think will be prevented by another proclamation coming out in time." The governor acted on the suggestion, and nine days later issued his proclamation, directed particularly against Josiah Loomis and Robert Miller, "who, in contempt of said Proclamation [that of 1757], have lately riotously assembled within the said Manor, and do now threaten to dispossess the Tenants of the said Robert Livingston, and to seat and maintain themselves therein by Force and Violence;" and he ordered and directed the sheriff to suppress all unlawful and riotous gatherings at all hazards, and with the whole force of the county. This prompt action seems to have had the desired effect, and four years more of comparative quiet succeeded.
But again, in 1766, the disturbances broke out with more violence than ever, this time under the leadership of Robert Noble, who assembled his band in such numbers that they were able to and did attack and defeat a strong posse under command of the sheriff of Albany while in performance of his duty. This outbreak caused the loss of several lives, and was immediately followed by a proclamation ordering the most stringent measures, and the apprehension of Robert Noble. In an attempt to effect the arrest of Noble the sheriff and his posse attacked the fortified house of Noble (in the present town of Hillsdale), but without being able to effect their object, and Noble escaped to Massachusetts. He and Josiah Loomis had been principal ring-leaders in the anti-rent insurrection from the time of it s first outbreak, but after this time Noble was no more heard of as an insurgent leader on the New York side of the line. His absence, however, had not the effect to intimidate or discourage the rioters. On the contrary, their demonstrations of violence increased to such a degree that the sheriff and magistrates, realizing that the civil power of the county was entirely unequal to the exigency, notified Governor Moore of the fact, and invoked the assistance of the military arms. The governor responded by ordering detachments of the Forty-sixth Royal Infantry to proceed to the neighborhood of the disorders to support the sheriff and enforce the law.
The following, a copy of a letter written by Mr. Livingston at that time, has reference to the state of affairs then existing on the two manors:
"MANOR LIVINGSTON, 9Tth July, 1766.
"Sir,---This minute arrived here Capt. Clarke of the 46th with 120 of His Majesty's Troops, in order to assist the magistrates and sheriff of the county to apprehend the Rioters in this County. And as it will be necessary yourself, the Sheriff, and Coll. Van Renslaer should be here, I desire you immediately to send an Express for them, that we may go on the service to-morrow. It would be agreeable to me if Capt. Schuyler¦¦ could come along. As it will be in our power to quell this dangerous Riot and Establish our authority in our respective manors, no time must be lost, nor no expense thought too much. In hope of your speedy Complyance, I remain,
"Sir, your mos Humble Servant,
"Robert Livingston, Jun.
"To Henry Van Renslaer, Esq.,
The presence of the military had the desired effect. The rioters seem to have had as wholesome a dread of bayonets as was displayed by their descendants on the same ground seventy-eight years later. The spirit of insurrection was immediately and (for the time) completely quelled.
On the 24th of February, 1767, Gov. Moore wrote to the Earl of Shelburne in reference to this anti-rent outbreak and its suppression as follows:
"There has been no dispute in the present case between the Provinces in regard to any Territorial Jurisdiction, but the whole has taken its rise from a Scene of Litigation among private Persons. Several Inhabitants of the Massachusetts, encouraged by the country-men (as they acknowledge in some of their affidavits), passed over the line of Division, and seating themselves to the Westward of it, on the Lands belonging to Mr. Renslaer, and acknowledged on all hands to be within this Province, began Settlements there without invitation from him, or even permission first obtained. Mr. Renslaer, unwilling to dispossess them, offered them Leases on the same Terms which he had granted to his Tenants, their near neighbors, which were refused; and notwithstanding they could not shew any Right in themselves to the Lands, refused to acknowledge any in Mr. Renslaer, who upon such behavior endeavored to remove them by a due Course of Law. But as it never was the intention of these People to submitt their Title to a legal examination, every opposition was made to the sheriff when he attempted to do his duty, and matters were carried to such a length that they assembled armed in a great body and attacked and defeated him in the Execution of his office, altho' supported by the Posse of the County, and some lives were lost on both sides. After an action in justification of which so little could be said, many of the Delinquents thought proper to quitt this Province immediately, and sheltered themselves under the Protection of the Neighboring Governments of Massachusetts and Connecticut; . . . but none of them were ever secured, although they appeared publickly in the Provinces of the Massachusetts and Connecticut, neither have any of those complainants thought proper to return to their Homes and submit their Cause to be decided by the Laws of their Country. . . .It was with great concern I saw the progress of these disturbances, but was still in hopes that the civil Power alone would be able to prevail, and it was a the earnest request of the Magistrates of both those counties** that the Troops were sent to their assistance. . . .I should have been guilty of a neglect of my Duty had I refused the aid required, especially in the County of Albany, where the rebels had set the civil Power at Defiance, and had defeated the Sheriff at the head of the Posse of the County."
After their suppression, in 1766, the anti-rent partisans did not again rally (as such) for a period of twenty-five years. During the Revolution many scenes of violence were enacted within the limits of the county, but these had (or were supposed to have) their origin in party feeling and in the hatred that existed between patriots and Tories, though doubtless the state of affairs then existing was, in many cases, made an excuse for the wreaking of private revenge. After the war, although robbery and other lawless acts†† were frequent enough, the old anti-rent spirit does not seem to have been actively manifested until about 1790, when combinations were again formed to wrest from the Livingston and Van Rensselaer proprietors portions of their lands. In 1791 these combinations took the form of armed resistance to he execution of the laws, and resulted in the shooting of the sheriff of the county, Cornelius Hogeboom, Esq., while engaged in the performance of his duty.
Few occurrences in the history of Columbia county have ever moved the feelings and sympathies of its inhabitants more deeply than this atrocious murder of Sheriff Hogeboom. The following account of the deplorable event appeared in the Albany Gazette of Oct. 31, 1791, being communicated to that journal by a gentleman of Kinderhook:
"Cornelius Hogeboom, Esq., sheriff of the county of Columbia, was shot on his horse on Saturday, the 22d inst., at a place called Nobletown, in the town of Hillsdale, and on Monday his remains, attended by an uncommon number of respectable inhabitants from different parts of the county, were deposited in the family burial-place at Squampommock, where they testified an unfeigned sorrow for the loss of so valuable a citizen.
"Mr. Hogeboom had filled the office of sheriff for upwards of two years; and it was at a very distressing period that he entered on the duties of this office, whereby his unexampled benevolence to the distressed was fully evinced, at the same time that a just degree of promptitude was paid to the interest of his employers. Few men were capable of giving so universal satisfaction. He was a real patriot and a true friend.
"The murder of Sheriff Hogeboom is of such a barbarous and inhuman nature, while at the same time it is so interesting, that we shall give to the public a short and circumstantial account of the horrid deed. A few days previous to the murder one of the sheriff's deputies was to have held a vendue at Nobletown by virtue of an execution against one Arnold, but on the day of the intended sale the Nobletown people assembled, and with threats deterred the deputy from proceeding in the vendue, who thereupon adjourned it to the Saturday following, informing the people that he should acquaint the high sheriff with what had happened, which he accordingly did. The sheriff attended on Saturday, and after waiting till near four o'clock for his deputy, who had the execution, and he not arriving, and a number of people having assembled in a riotous manner, he concluded to leave, and told the people that since his deputy had not come he would leave it to him to make such return as he thought best. He then, with his brother and another gentlemen, rode off, and when they were opposite the barn young Arnold fired a pistol, at which signal seventeen men, painted and in Indian dress, sallied forth from the barn, fired and marched after them, keeping up a constant firing. Some of the balls passing between them, the companions of the sheriff desired him to spur his horse or they would all be shot; to which he replied that he was vested with the law, and they should never find him a coward.
"Young Arnold seeing those in Indian dress fell astern, then mounted a horse with another fellow and rode up to them; two of whom mounted the horse, and (the sheriff having only walked his) soon came up and dismounted, when one of them leveled his piece, and lodged a ball in the heart of the sheriff; upon which he said, 'Brother, I am a dead man!' fell from his horse, and expired. His brother then took him up in his arms and carried him into the house of one Crum, but supposing himself yet in imminent danger rode off.
"Great praise is due to Captain Sloan, of the city of Hudson, who soon afterwards came and took care of the body, and at the risk of his life guarded the papers of the sheriff. Young Arnold went to Crum's house for the purpose (as is supposed) of putting a period to the existence of the sheriff, if it had not been already done.
"Four of the perpetrators set out the next day for Nova Scotia by way of New London. A reward of two hundred and fifty pounds is offered for apprehending them. A party of men are in pursuit, and, as we hear, were on Tuesday within fifteen miles of them.
"Twelve are lodged in the gaol at Claverack under a strong guard. Jonathan Arnold is not yet taken. It is recommended to all good citizens who wish well to the support of good government to be active in apprehending one who dares to commit such an outrage against civil government and civil society."
The accused persons were tried at a term of the oyer and terminer, held at Claverack in February, 1792, and "after a long and impartial trial were acquitted." The murderer was never discovered.
The widow of the victim, Mrs. Sarah Hogeboom, died wholly of grief, on the 16th of January, less than three months after her husband's murder. The Hudson Gazette of January 26, in noticing her death, said, "It is impossible to describe the extreme distress with which Mrs. Hogeboom hath been afflicted from the moment she received information of the inhuman murder of her husband until the time of her decease." This unfortunate couple were the grandparents of the late Judge Henry Hogeboom.
After the tragedy of 1791, the most vigorous measures were employed to quell the lawless spirit which had caused it, and although there were afterwards occasional instances of resistance to the payment of manorial rents, yet for more than half a century there occurred in Columbia county no demonstration of sufficient magnitude to be noticed as an anti-rent revolt.
The spirit of anti-rentism, however, was not dead but only sleeping. The farmer-tenants upon the manors not only in Columbia, but in the counties of Albany, Green, Ulster, Delaware, Schoharie, Herkimer, Montgomery, Otsego, Oneida, and Rensselaer, at last began to regard their condition as unendurable, and as being little, if any, better than that of vassals. They argued that they and their ancestors had already paid in rents far more than the value of the lands, even including the buildings and improvements which themselves (and not the landlords) had put upon them, and that the degrading and perpetual nature of the tenure was inconsistent not only with the principles of republican government, but with all proper feelings of self-respect. They asked upon what principle it was that their fathers left the oppressive, aristocratical governments of the Old World, to find here, in the New, and upon the banks of Hudson river, a system of land-tenure which was overthrown in England so long ago as the year 1290, and in France by the Revolution of 1787? Could they believe that such things were right or legal? And should they by their submission allow them to become permanent? These theories, advanced by their leaders and industriously circulated through the public prints, had the natural effect to reawaken the old feeling of resistance to what they considered the oppressive exactions of their land-lords, and it was not long before they began to consult together on plans to throw off the burden. About 1840 associations began to be formed, and delegates were appointed, who met for deliberation on ways and means by which to accomplish their ends. "Ere long the people became more and more engaged and excited, and the anti-rent feeling manifested itself in open resistance to the service of legal process for the collection of manorial rents. A secret organization was devised, extending through several counties, by which bands of men were formed, and pledged upon summons to appear disguised and armed, and ready to protect the persons of tenants from arrest and from the service of process, and to guard their property from levy and sale upon execution. So soon as a sheriff appeared in one of the disaffected towns, a troop of men collected in fantastic calico dresses and with faces masked, or painted to imitate Indians, and armed with pistols, tomahawks, guns, and cutlasses, and generally on horseback, gathered round him or hovered near, warning him away, and deterring him by threats from performing his duty."‡‡
It was not in Columbia, but in Rensselaer, Delaware, and some of the other counties, that this state of affairs originated. The first overt act of lawlessness occurred in Rensselaer, in the town of Grafton, where a body of anti-renters, disguised as Indians, met upon the highway a man named Smith, who was known and violent opponent of their plans. With him they entered into a violent altercation, which resulted in his being instantly killed by a pistol-shot, fired by one of their number. It was, however, alleged by them that Smith made the first attack, with an axe; but whatever the facts may have been, the person who fired the shot was never discovered, although more than two hundred persons were summoned, and testified in a legal investigation of the circumstances of the homicide.
It was not long before the spirit of revolt had spread to Columbia county. The first demonstration of force in resistance to the execution of the laws in this county, was made Dec. 12, 1844, when the sheriff, Hon. Henry C. Miller, attempted to serve process against the property of an anti-renter in the town of Copake. Proceeding without a posse (except a single companion) towards the place of his destination, he at length encountered the outlying pickets of the enemy, but was by them allowed to pass on. Arriving at the place where the process was to be served, he was surprised by a show of force which he had not anticipated. There was a body of about three hundred men disguised as Indians, under command of the chief, "Big Thunder," and besides these there was a gathering of more than a thousand people, undisguised, and present only as spectators of the scene of violence which they evidently expected, for they had, undoubtedly, supposed that the sheriff would appear with a strong posse, and prepared to use force in the performance of his duty. Upon his appearance the great chief, "Big Thunder" (whose real name was Smith A. Boughton), and six other sachems of the tribe, conducted him to the public-house of the place, where, after informing him that under no circumstances would he be permitted to execute his mission, and that his life would be endangered by a persistent attempt to do so, they succeeded, by intimidation with firearms, in dispossessing him of his papers, which they burned in public, amid the war-whoops of the braves and the plaudits of the spectators. The sheriff was then permitted to depart in peace, and to return to his home at Hudson, where his report of the outrage was received by the citizens with feelings and experiences of the deepest indignation.
It was advertised that, on the 18th of December, the chief "Big Thunder" would attend at Smoky Hollow, in the town of Claverack, there to address the people---particularly the Van Rensselaer tenants---on the (then) paramount question of the day. At the time appointed a very large audience had gathered there, some out of sympathy with the principles set forth, and some from motives of mere curiosity. Pursuant to the announcement the orator appeared supported by a strong body-guard in costume. It is said that this was the most brilliant---as it was destined to be the last---of his days of triumph. During the orgies of the day, a youth, named W. H. Rifenburgh, a spectator of the performances, was killed by a pistol-shot, alleged to have been accidentally fired. When intelligence of this occurrence reached Hudson, it was at once decided that "Big Thunder" should be arrested, and upon this sheriff Miller set out for the scene of the tragedy, accompanied by Mr. Joseph D. Monell. When they reached Smoky Hollow it was late in the day, and the meeting had already dissolved; but "Big Thunder" was found in a back room at the public-house, divested of his plumes and war-paint, and engaged in quiet conversation. He was arrested at once and without resistance, but upon reaching the open air, where he was surrounded by a number of his men, he drew a pistol and made a desperate attempt to escape, but was at last overpowered and bound.
The sheriff also captured the chief "Little Thunder" (whose real name was Mortimer C. Belding), and a little later he had delivered both the chiefs safe in the jail at Hudson. Soon after, deputy-sheriff Thomas Sedgwick effected the arrest of two other leaders, named,------Reynolds and Walter Hutchins. The last named was otherwise known as the "White Chief," and had frequently and freely uttered the threat that he would never be taken alive; but upon being found secreted in a garret, he was secured without so much as a show of resistance.
When "Big" and "Little Thunder" arrived at Hudson in the custody of the sheriff, a vast and shouting crowd followed them to the jail, and the whole city was jubilant; but when it was learned that wellnigh a thousand men in the east part of the county had sworn to rescue the prisoners and burn the city the rejoicings were succeeded by unmistakable panic, and the citizens were not in the least reassured by the proclamation of Mayor Curtis, in which he recalled to mind the fact "that no policy of insurance will cover losses by fire when caused by invasion, insurrection, or civil commotion."
It was decided that the citizens should be organized for the security and defense of the city, and the plan and details of such organization were placed in the hands of the committee, which might properly have been called the Committee of Public Safety, consisting of Colonel Charles Darling, Captain E. P. Cowles, Killian Miller, Rufus Reed, and Warren Rockwell, The first measure adopted was the establishment of a patrol of citizens, twenty from each ward, to be constantly on duty during the hours of night. Then Captain Cowles' military company, the Hudson Light Guard, were ordered to hold themselves in readiness, equipped and ammunitioned for instant service, and to muster at the court-house with the least possible delay upon the sounding of certain alarm-stokes on the bell of the Presbyterian church. Four pieces of artillery were placed in charge of a company of one hundred men, enrolled from the citizens, and under command of Captain Henry Whiting, and videttes were posted well out upon the roads leading into the city from the eastward.
These were but the beginning of the precautionary measures. A request was made to the State authorities to furnish five hundred stand of arms, with proper ammunition, which was promptly responded to by the governor, and the arms furnished. A battalion of five hundred volunteers was formed, called the "Law and Order Association," to act as "minute-men," to be always ready and subject to the call of the sheriff at all times. This body consisted of four companies, commanded by Captains Thomas P. Newbery, Ichabod Rogers, Hiram Gage, and Warren Rockwell, and the battalion was under command of Colonel Darling.
Assistance was also asked and received from abroad. Colonel Darling went to Catskill, told the people there of the danger which menaced Hudson, and asked for volunteers to return with him. A large number of men responded, and remained in Hudson over Saturday night, Sunday, and Sunday night, returning to Catskill on Monday. A request was made by the common council for the Albany Burgesses' corps to lend their assistance, to which the corps responded by reporting to the mayor of Hudson for duty, to remaining until the exigency should have passed. Afterwards, upon a still further request for troops, Governor Bouck sent hither the Emmet Guards, Van Rensselaer Guards, Washington Riflemen, Albany Republican Artillery, and a company of cavalry from New York, under command of Captain Krack. This comparatively large force crowded the available accommodations of Hudson, and many were quartered on the boats, which then lay winter-bound at the wharves. At the end of about one month, during which time the soldiery had given material aid to the sheriff in making the desired arrests of implicated persons, the danger was believed to have passed, and the troops returned to their homes, carrying with them the tanks and gratitude of the people of the city.
There are those among the citizens of Hudson, who, looking back to that time, freely express the belief that the magnitude of the power invoked was largely disproportionate to the danger which menaced, but there were probably few who then entertained that view of the case.
The prisoner Boughton, for whose safe-keeping the city had been placed in a state of siege, was brought to trial before Judge Parker at the March term of court, and was defended by Ambrose J. Jordan and James Storm. Attorney-General John Van Buren was assisted by Hon. Theodore Miller in the prosecution. The trial continued for two weeks, and ended in a disagreement of the jury. In the following September he was again tried before Judge John W. Edmonds, and was found guilty. When asked the usual question why sentence should not be passed upon him, he simply replied that he had done nothing which he considered a crime, but that the court had seen fit to convict him, and he must submit to its decision. He was then sentenced to a life imprisonment in the Clinton State prison. Several of the other leaders were convicted and sentenced for different terms, but "Little Thunder" was never brought to trial.
The conviction of these men quelled forever all attempts by anti-rent partisans to resist the execution of the laws in Columbia county; not that a single anti-renter had changed in his hatred to the manorial system, or was any less than before inclined to resist what he deemed its intolerable wrong and oppression, but that it was now fully realized that resistance to constituted authority was worse than useless, and that what was to be done must be accomplished by the wielding of political power at the ballot-box.
By pursuing this course the anti-rent party elected their governor (Young) in 1846, and one of his first official acts was to pardon from the State prison the so-called anti-rent convicts, including "Big Thunder" and all others who had been sentenced from Columbia.
The final triumph of the anti-renters came in the year 1852, in the decision of the court of appeals in the test-case of De Peyster vs. Michael. De Peyster occupied the position of proprietor by reason of purchase of Van Rensselaer's interest in some lands in Columbia county, from which lands it was sought to eject Michael for non-performance of certain manorial conditions. The counsel for the proprietor was the Hon. Josiah Sutherland (now of New York), who argued the case most ably for his client.
Without entering at length upon the merits of the case, it is sufficient to say that the court was unanimous in its decision in favor of the defendant, and that Judge Sutherland himself has never hesitated to declare that the decision in the De Peyster case was a legitimate close to the anti-rent controversy in favor of the anti-renters.
*For the ulterior purpose of establishing their claims upon the Hudson the Boston government had, as early as 1659, made a grant of land on the Hudson river, below Fort Orange, and in 1672 they sent John Payne to New York to solicit permission to pass and re-pass by water. He was received by the authorities with great consideration and courtesy, and his request was referred to the king, but was never granted.
†Commissioners appointed by both provinces, however, met in conference at Albany in June, 1754, "but could not come to any sort of agreement; and if we may be allowed to judge of this transaction from events which have happened since, instead of operating as a remedy to the evil, it has had quite a contrary effect."---Report of the Lords of Trade to the King, May 25, 1757.
‡ These boundaries clearly inclose a tract of which a great portion is included in the present bounds of Massachusetts.
§Mr. Livingston wrote the governor, in February, 1755, advising him of the raising of a company of one hundred men "to Defend Taghkanick against the French and Indians, but it is supposed it is in order to possess themselves of my Lands." A military company had existed on Livingston manor since the early days of the Palatines. In 1715 it mustered sixty-eight, rank and file.
¶ Vide Doc. Hist. N. Y., vol. iii. p. 778
¤ Vide Documentary Hist. H. Y., vol. iii. p. 807, report William Smith and Robert R. Livingston
¥ "Mr. Robert Livinstone's tennants being encouraged by such Proceedings to hold their Farms independent of him, was advised by his Lawyers to serve the most riotous of them with ejectments; and having the last term obtain'd judgment against them, The Sheriff of the County of Albany was ordered to turn them out of Possession and put him in. He accordingly, on the 25th of last month, went with some men he summoned to attend him to some houses of the ejected, and after some opposition effected it. . . .On the 29, one James Connor, of Sheffield, came to Mr. Livingston and informed him that two of Van Gelden's sons had been at Sheffield, when he heard them say they would have Timothy Connor (head collier to Mr. Livingston) dead or alive; that they would burn his (Mr. Livingston's) house over his head; that they went from thence to Stockbridge to invite those Indians to assist them to execute this scene of Villany, and that if they could not prevail on them, they would go to the Mohawks and require assistance from them. Mr. Livingston further informs me that one Nicholas Koens came twenty miles to advise him to keep a good watch, for that Van Gelden's sons intended to come with the Stockbridge Indians to murder him and burn all he had. . . .And to prevent their carrying into execution their threats, I applied to Lord Loudoun for a sufficient Guard to be quartered at the House and Iron-Works of Mr. Livingston for the security of his family, when his Lordship informed me he had heard the story from the Mayor of Albany, who is Coroner of the county, who he advised to make a requisition of such a guard in Mr. Livingston's name, and that he had left orders with General Abercrombie to send an officer and twenty-five men to Mr. Livingston's. Sir William Johnson was with Lord Loudoun at the Storys being told, who acquainted his Lordship that he would send immediately to the Stockbridge Indians. By all these precautions I trust Mr. Livingston will have no further disturbance for the present, for I cannot flatter myself that these violations will not be attempted again if opportunitys offer for it, and his House left unguarded." -- Vide Colonial Hist. State of N. Y., vol. vii. p. 206. Letter of Governor Hardy to the Lords of Trade, Dec. 22, 1756.
¦¦ Afterwards Major-General Philip Schuyler, of Revolutionary fame.
**Referring to disturbances which occurred also about the same time in Dutchess county, requiring the assistance of the military to quell. A part of the Twenty-eighth Infantry was sent to that county.
†† For the suppression of the numerous felonies which were committed in this vicinity after the Revolution a company of rangers was organized, and fifteen hundred pounds were raised under authority of the acto fo May 11, 1780, to defray the expense thus incurred; but neither the date of the formation of the company nor the particular acts of outrage which caused its organization can be given.
‡‡ New American Cyclopædia.