Inside the Lead-up to the American Revolution in the Hudson Valley

As the 250th anniversary of America's independence draws closer, we take a look at the early days of the rebellion.

With the 250th anniversary of American independence two years away, preparations have begun for marking the legacy of that world-changing event. In our area, a nonprofit called Revolutionary Hudson Valley will coordinate the region’s participation in the nationwide commemorations. Over the coming months and years, this column will follow the various anniversary-related happenings and detail how some of the most pivotal events of the Revolution unfolded in the Hudson Valley exactly one quarter of a millennium ago.

While many Valleyites are aware of the central role that the area played once war broke out between Britain and its colonies—the iron chain stretched across the Hudson at West Point, the burning of Kingston, the nighttime raid on Stony Point—less well-known is what was going on in the early days of the rebellion, before 1776.

Segments of the Great Chain across the Hudson
Segments of the Great Chain across the Hudson. Nonenmac at en.wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Revolution took some time to arrive in the Hudson Valley, mostly because the region was already locked in its own simmering state of civil war. Conflict had long raged between feudal-style landlords who owned vast stretches of riverfront real estate and their resentful, often-impoverished tenants. One outburst took place in 1765, just as delegates from nine far-flung colonies met in Manhattan to organize a protest against new British taxes. Eighty miles north, some 1,700 well-armed farmers had gathered in and around Poughkeepsie to compel the landlords to relieve their debts. While the elite colonists drew up their protest to the British

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Parliament, these “Mob Men,” as opponents called them, were far more worried about the abuses of power happening closer to home. The next year, hundreds threatened to march on Manhattan and break fellow farmers out of jail.

Such battles between tenants and landlords shaped the split in the Hudson Valley once the Revolution began. Whichever side a given area’s landlords were on, the farmers could usually be found on the other.

“Forcing a Passage of the Hudson River” by Thomas Mitchell
“Forcing a Passage of the Hudson River” by Thomas Mitchell. Thomas Mitchell, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Crowd actions in the early Revolution were more common in Manhattan and Albany, but following the Boston Tea Party of December 1773, self-organized “committees of correspondence” formed in smaller Hudson Valley cities and towns like Kingston, Poughkeepsie, and New Paltz. As royal officials lost legitimacy, these ad hoc groups took on the functions of local government. They held semi-official court sessions and applied heavy pressure to force locals to join the anti-British boycott movement. By 1774—250 years ago—Hudson Valley residents were being forced to sign loyalty oaths, or risk being publicly denounced as enemies of American liberty.

The Senate House in the state’s first capital, Kingston
The Senate House in the state’s first capital, Kingston. See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

When a call went out in the spring of that year for delegates to meet in Philadelphia to coordinate a joint response to new acts of British tyranny (a meeting that would come to be known as the First Continental Congress), some in the area supported the effort to protest “arbitrary and oppressive” taxes, while others objected to such illegal measures. As the conflict reached a boiling point, the Hudson Valley, like the colonies at large, remained bitterly divided—a situation that would turn deadly in the months ahead, with the outbreak of war.

Related: 10 Hudson Valley Mysteries That Remain Unsolved to This Day

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