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See Also: Schenectady in the Revolutionary War

A History of Schenectady During the Revolution:
Chapter III: The Rise of the Revolutionary Movement

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[This information is from pp. 11-16 of A History of Schenectady During the Revolution by Willis T. Hanson, Jr. (Brattleboro, VT: E. L. Hildreth & Co., 1916). It is in the Schenectady Collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at Schdy R 974.744 H25, and copies are also available for borrowing.]

In conjunction with the wave of protest against the Stamp Act and other measures of Great Britain thought to be unconstitutional and oppressive, secret organizations known as the Sons of Liberty sprang up throughout the Colonies. It is interesting to note that those who afterward became Whig and Tory were equally instrumental in the forming of these bodies. At their inception, the tendencies of these associations were for the most part not revolutionary. They "attempted no change of government, — only a preservation of the Constitution." (1)

In March, 1766, in compliance with a request from the New York Association, an organization of the Sons of Liberty was formed in Albany. While its members exhibited "the highest esteem of his most sacred Majesty, King George the Third," and swore to "bear true Allegiance to him and his Royal house forever," they nevertheless resolved that they would "Venture [their] Lives and fortunes, Effectually to prevent the Stamp Act from Ever taking place in [the] City or Province." (2)

Following the organization of the Albany Sons of Liberty, their Committee of Correspondence dispatched the following letter (3) to their friends in Schenectady:

Gentlemen:

Agreeable to the general sense of the Friends of Liberty over all the Colonies, and the particular instance of the Committee at New York, we earnestly request You to advise with the respectable body of the Inhabitants of the Town of Schenectady, that they form themselves, after the example of their Brethren, and appoint a Committee for Regulations and Correspondence with us, and this, and the other Provinces as there may be occasion; and that as soon as formed You give us notice, that we may transmit to you the several Associations, and other papers of importance we have from them, and from time to time thro' them from the other Colonies. We think You will readily conceive the necessity of this measure, when You consider how general it is thro' all the Colonies, and that the design is no more than the most effectual consolidation of the best of Systems, of which we can neither be too jealous nor too careful.

(Signed) FREEDOM.

By Order of the Committee of the Sons of Liberty in Albany.

While the original constitution of the Sons of Liberty of Albany subscribed to by ninety-four of its members is still in existence, together with several letters written by their Committee of Regulation and Correspondence, there is available not the least evidence to show that an organization was ever formed in Schenectady.

As time went on differences of opinion arose regarding the controversy with the Mother Country, and by 1770 two parties, Whig and Loyalist, were fairly well defined, each with its political organization and each subdivided into liberals and conservatives. The contest at this time "was not one between those who favored and those who opposed the acts of the English government — for both parties opposed them — but was over the form which that opposition should take." (4)

The Loyalist party helped to call the Continental Congress; although the proposal came first from the Sons of Liberty, the moderate Loyalist looked not unfavorably upon this body and even the extremists hoped for some good from it.

The First Continental Congress, which met at Philadelphia on September 5, 1774, was merely a group of committees with no technical authority, assembled with the idea of advising with each other regarding the public welfare. It did not intentionally meet as a revolutionary body, yet as something like a state of war existed in part of the country, in the absence of any formally constituted government "it took the reins" and almost immediately, to the horror of the Loyalists, became the "instrument for the promotion of revolution and independence." (5)

In proportion as Congress drifted toward radicalism and assumed powers not delegated to it, it was opposed by the Loyalists and enthusiastically applauded by the Sons of Liberty, who now became the chief supporters of the revolutionary movement.

The Loyalists, while they were opposed to revolution, were not satisfied with the pretensions of Parliament. They believed it their duty to propose a solution of the problem and they did not believe that this solution could be effected through despotic committees enforcing laws made at Philadelphia. Their opposition to Congress and its recommendations was soon felt in every section of New York.

In the Mohawk Valley the esteem in which Sir William Johnson, His Majesty's Commissioner of Indian Affairs, was held, with his tact and good judgment, did much to hold the radical revolutionary element in check. In him was placed the confidence and faith of the people, and rightly, too, for Sir William had seen the clouds gathering and while he stood loyally by the King we have reason (6) to believe that he saw justice in the demands of the colonists and that he was not entirely out of sympathy with their attitude.

The Dutch of Schenectady, Whig sympathizers almost to a man, appear to have been quite content to sit on their stoops smoking their pipes in silence and watch the course of events. (7) The armed interference of British soldiery had had no place in their lives; they were staunch friends of Sir William, for there were many who had served as officers under him in the Colonial Wars, and there was scarcely a Dutch family but that had been represented in his companies, while some had been honored with grants of land and others had held official positions under the Crown.

Following the death of Sir William Johnson in July, 1774, affairs in the Valley underwent a decided change. Sir John Johnson, (8) his son, came into possession of his estates and Colonel Guy Johnson, (9) his son-in-law, was appointed to succeed him as His Majesty's Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Neither Sir John nor Guy Johnson had the slightest sympathy (10) with the cause of the Colonies, nor did either possess the tact of Sir William. From the first their actions were antagonistic rather than conciliatory.

With the restraining influence of Sir William removed, the revolutionary movement rapidly gained adherents throughout the Valley. Although Colonel Johnson made every endeavor to check the rising tide of opposition to the British Crown, so rapidly did this opposition spring up that in one month after Sir William's death the Palatine patriots openly declared for Congress and soon the settlers in Canajoharie and German Flats were almost unanimous for "the undeniable privilege of being taxed only with their own consent." (11)

Notes

  1. Letter from the New York Sons of Liberty to the Albany Association, April 3, 1766. The American Historian and Quarterly Genealogical Record, No. 4, p, 148.
  2. Constitution of the Albany Sons of Liberty. The American Historian and Quarterly Genealogical Record, No. 4, p. 152. The original manuscript was at one time among the papers in the old Sanders House, Scotia. The writer has reason to believe that it is now in a private collection in Albany.
  3. The American Historian and Quarterly Genealogical Record, No. 4, p. 153.
  4. Alexander Clarence Flick, Loyalism in New York, p. 22.
  5. Ibid., p. 25.
  6. William L. Stone, The Life and Times of Sir William Johnson, Bart., II, 369. William W. Campbell, Annals of Tryon County, pp. 29-30.
  7. It is a matter of great regret that no source of information has been found available to warrant recording in more detail the trend of public opinion in Schenectady at this time.
  8. Sir John Johnson was born November 5, 1742, and died January 4, 1830. He had spent considerable time in England and at the age of twenty-three had been knighted. On the death of Sir William he had refused to accept the office of Superintendent of Indian Affairs and this position had therefore been given to Colonel Guy Johnson.
  9. Colonel Guy Johnson was a nephew of Sir William. He had acted for some time as his private secretary and had married Mary, the younger of his uncle's two daughters. Colonel Johnson resided at Guy Park one mile and a half east of Fort Johnson, the mansion house having been built for him by Sir William in 1766.
  10. Both were of the aristocracy and felt only the wrongs of their own order. Douglas Campbell.
  11. Minutes of the Tryon County Committee of Safety (first meeting), August 27, 1774. Tryon County was the first in New York to organize its committee.

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See Also: Schenectady in the Revolutionary War

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