Beginning in 1764, the Parliament of Great Britain passed a series of tax acts attempting to tax the colonies to help pay for the costs of troops provided during and after the French and Indian War (which had ended the year before). Various taxes were imposed on sugar, newspapers, printed documents, dice and playing cards and later, glass, lead, paint, paper and tea. British tax collectors were physically threatened and prevented from collecting the tax and British goods were boycotted.
Colonists felt that British troops had been provided to protect the colonies from British enemies not colonial enemies, and felt that the war and the resulting loss of trade was due to constant British conflict, not their own. In his pamphlet Common Sense Thomas Paine argued these points and also argued that America was not a “child of Britain,” but rather a “child of Europe.” The descendants of New York’s Dutch, and the many German and other immigrants that had arrived since the New Netherland period, could see a lot of truth to that argument.
Colonists began the chant: “No taxation without representation!” However, if the colonists had been given a few seats in the British Parliament, it’s likely the new taxes would have still been opposed.
When Britain was largely unsuccessful in gaining tax funds to pay for America’s protection against the French and their Native allies, the King’s ministers began to more strongly enforce the Quartering Act, which allowed British troops to live in inside the home of colonists. The forced housing of one or two soldiers with a family was a major disruption and loss of privacy in the small homes of the time.
When British troops arrived at New York and Boston in 1770 to be housed with families, armed riots occurred in both places, including what is now known as the “Sons of Liberty Riot” and the “Boston Massacre.” The passage of the Tea Act in 1773 resulted in the “Boston Tea Party” in December of that year, and in April 22, 1774 the British Parliament passed the Intolerable Acts in response. The first Continental Congress was held in Philadelphia in 1774 to organize the colonies to oppose British taxes, the quartering of troops, and other Coercive Acts.
Prior to 1776, the city of Albany followed the laws and civil structure of Great Britain and the mandates of the British-appointed Governor living in the city of New York. Albany’s Mayor (and some judges) were chosen from local residents, but appointed by the King or his designated official. As the Revolution approached, British authority suddenly came into question. Albany needed to raise an army, clearly in violation of British authority, yet most residents felt that a compromise would be reached with England so British officials should continue to function because when the compromise was reached, the British officials would continue as in the past.
Albany had one version or another of the Committee of Safety since the 1600s, charged with providing protection for Albany’s residents. At one time it provided all police functions including a night watch and criminal investigation. A sheriff eventually took over the responsibilities of routine police work, but the Committee of Safety remained as a militia-type organization to protect against larger threats such as attacks by the French or their Native allies. The committee had been called on during the French and Indian War in the 1750s and the Journals of the Continental Congress refer to an Albany Safety Committee chaired by Jacob Lansing prior to 1774.
In 1775, the Committee of Safety, independent of Albany’s British-appointed authorities, started to take the steps to prepare for war.
On January 24th, 1775, the Committee, officially named “The Committee of Safety, Protection and Correspondence” but frequently referring to itself as the “Albany Committee of Safety” or the “Committee” met at Richard Cartwright’s Inn and elected Abraham Yates, Jr. as chairman.
Henry Quackenbush, who had served as chairman of Albany’s Committee of Safety during the French and Indian War and Robert Hoakesly from the Manor of Rensselaerswyck, were elected to answer all correspondence. (Hoakesly would later be declared “unpatriotic to the American Cause,” arrested, and his property confiscated. Richard Cartwright, owner of the inn in which the Committee met, would flee to Canada.)
Other members at this early 1775 meeting included Henry I. Bogert, of Albany’s First Ward; John Knickerbacker and John De Wandelaer of Schaghticoke; Cornelius Tymese of Half Moon (and representing the surrounding area); Adam Vrooman of Schoharie; Dr. Daniel Budd of Duanesborough (now Duanesburg); and Killiaen Van Rensselaer and Francis Nicoll of the Rensselaerswyck Patroonship.
Due to the need for secrecy, the Committee did not meet in a public building. At the January 1775 meeting they focused on re-forming the Committee, electing officers and sending letters to other districts seeking representation. In February 1775, seventeen months before the Continental Congress would adopt Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, Albany adopted its own act of defiance to Great Britain:
A General Association agreed to and subscribed by the Members of the several Committees of the City and County of Albany persuaded that the salvation of the Rights and Liberties of America depends under God on the firm Union of its Inhabitants, in a Vigorous prosecution of the Measures necessary for its Safety; and convinced of the necessity of preventing the Anarchy and Confusion, which attend a Dissolution of the Powers of Government:
WE the Freemen, Freeholders and Inhabitants of the City and County of Albany being greatly alarmed at the avowed Design of the Ministry, to raise a Revenue in America; and shocked by the bloody scene now acting in the Massachusetts Bay, Do in the most Solemn Manner resolve never to become slaves; and do associate under all the Ties of Religion, Honor, and Love to our Country, to adopt and endeavor to carry into Execution whatever measures may be recommended by the Continental Congress, or resolved upon by our Provincial Convention for the purposes of preserving our Constitution, and opposing the Execution of the several Arbitrary and oppressive Acts of the British Parliament until a Reconciliation between Great Britain and America on Constitutional Principles (which we most ardently desire) can be obtained; And that we will in all things follow the Advice of our General Committee respecting the purposes aforesaid, the preservation of Peace and good Order and the safety of Individuals and private Property.
We, the Subscribers, Inhabitants of the County of Albany and Colony of New York do voluntarily and solemnly engage under all the Ties held sacred amongst mankind at the risk of our lives and Fortunes to defend by Arms the united American colonies against the Hostile attempts of the British Fleets and Armies until the present unhappy Controversy between the two Countries shall be settled. FEBRUARY 17, 1775
This declaration was signed by John Barclay, Chairman of the Committee, followed by some of the most prestigious names to ever reside in Albany, many of whom would be powerful national figures, including Van Rensselaer, Schuyler, Livingston, Bleecker, Van Vechten, Lansing, Yates, Ten Broeck, Ten Eyck, Visscher, Van Schaick, Wendell, and Adgate. The names of these men would appear again and again during the Revolution, at the Continental Congress, the New York Provincial Congress, the New York State Constitutional Convention, the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention, the First U.S. Congress, in the first class of U.S. foreign ministers, as well as the company responsible for construction of the first U.S. passenger railroad, the Erie Canal, the first commercial steamboat company, and the Federalist Party – the first national political party.
As early as 1775, these men were descendants of families that had been in Albany for over 100 years. Most traced their lineage to Dutch traders. They had largely never considered themselves to be sons and daughters of England. In fact, in 1776 only about one-third of Americans living in the original 13 colonies had emigrated from England.
At the Committee’s second meeting on March 1st at the house of the Widow Vernor, the Committee read a three-page report and letter from Colonels Schuyler, Ten Broeck and Livingston who were Albany’s representatives to the New York Provincial Assembly, requesting that the Committee appoint delegates to the Second Continental Congress to be held in Philadelphia. The First Continental Congress had been held on September 26 to October 1, 1774. Philip Livingston was the Albany representative of the five members from New York. The Second Continental Congress would be held on May 1, 1775.
On March 21, the Albany Committee met and seated additional representatives: Walter Livingston of Livingston Manor; Peter Van Ness of Claverack; Isaac Fonda of Nistegaone (Niskayuna); John Tayler of Saratoga (now Schuylerville); and Jacob C. Ten Eyck of Albany’s First Ward.
The Committee appointed Abraham Yates, Jr., Walter Livingston, Colonels Philip Schuyler, Abraham Ten Broeck and Peter Livingston as deputies to attend the New York Provincial Congress on April 20 to appoint delegates to the Philadelphia Continental Congress. Albany’s appointed representatives to the Second Continental Congress were the same as those of the city of New York: James Duane, John Jay, Philip Livingston, Isaac Low and John Alsop but also included Philip Schuyler and Abraham Ten Broeck.
The Committee also appointed Quackenbush, Ten Eyck and Jacob Lansing to collect “Donations for the Poor at the Town of Boston.” They were directed to buy wheat with the donations and forward it to Boston, where the British had begun to blockade and quarter troops.
On April 19th, seven hundred British troops under Colonel Francis Smith attacked the Boston supply depot at Concord where they met little resistance. Proceeding on to Lexington, they were met by the first 70 Minutemen. In the ensuing fight on Lexington Common, eight Americans were killed and ten wounded while only one of the British were wounded. However, as the British marched to Boston, Colonial forces began to swell and the British suddenly found themselves under withering fire. Some three thousand Massachusetts Minutemen are thought to have responded that afternoon. By the end of the day, the British suffered 273 casualties to the Americans’ 93. Only the arrival of reinforcements saved Smith from disaster.
Ten days later, on April 29th 1775, the Albany Committee met and discussed “the unfortunate event which has lately happened in the Province of the Massachusetts Bay.” On May 1, the Committee published a notice throughout Albany saying:
“Whereas the various accounts that have been received of the extraordinary Commotions both in the Province of Massachusetts Bay and at New York, makes it indispensably necessary that the Sense of the Citizens should be taken … in this Critical Juncture, every Person therefore is most earnestly entreated to attend at the market house in the third ward at four O’clock this afternoon … It is expected that no Person able to attend will be absent.”
At that meeting, the Albany representation on the Committee was increased from two to seven, from each ward. Very influential Albanians such as Volkert Petrus Douw, Robert Yates, Jacob and Abraham Cuyler, Samuel Stringer and Cornelius Van Santvoord joined the Committee.
The Committee discussed the Lexington and Concord battles and was completely supportive of the action taken by the Massachusetts Bay colonists. They drafted a message to the Boston Committee of Safety:
“While we lament the mournful Event which has caused the Blood of our Brethren in the Massachusetts Bay to flow, we feel that satisfaction which every honest American must experience at the Glorious stand you have made … This afternoon the Inhabitants of this (city) convened and unanimously renewed their former agreement … in opposition to the Ministerial Plan now prosecuting against us.”
Captain Barent Ten Eyck was directed to deliver the letter to Boston. In some less important business, the Committee authorized the payment of “3 pence to Luke Cashady [Cassidy] for beating the Drum to notify the people and 3 pence to John Ostrander for going about and ringing the Bell.”
The next day, a meeting was held at the house of Widow Vernor and the Committee from Rensselaerwyck was increased from two to 22. New names included two more Van Rensselaers, Slingerlandt, Schermerhorn, Veeder, Van Schaick, two more Schuylers, Visscher, three more Lansings and another Ten Eyck.
The following day, May 3, 1775, a delegation from Massachusetts representing John Hancock, John Adams, Thomas Paine and others requested supplies for their planned attack on the poorly defended Fort Ticonderoga. At the same meeting a delegation was authorized to visit Sir John Johnson (eldest son of William Johnson at Johnstown) to “Know the Truth of the Report prevailing about the disposition of the Indians being unfriendly to the Colonies relative to the Present Commotions.” Johnson assured the Committee that the worry was unfounded. (Johnson and his cousin, Indian Agent Colonel Guy Johnson, who were very influential with the Iroquois, would remain Loyalists throughout the war and create much difficulty for the Albany Committee.)
The Committee also ordered “that all the (male) inhabitants of the City of Albany between the ages of 16 to 60 meet the next morning and form into companies by ward.” Each company to have “a Captain, 2 Lieutenants, one ensign, 4 Serjeants, 4 Corporals, one Drummer and 51 privates.” The Committee authorized the purchase of 200 small arms from Dirck Ten Broeck. General Abraham Ten Broeck was put in command and Colonel Henry Quackenbush was second-in-command. This group was the volunteer Albany Militia (although membership was at this time mandatory).
On May 10th the Committee met again, now its numbers were swollen to over 150 with new representatives from “Schonectady, Saratoga, Kinderhook, Schoharry and Duanesborough, Cambridge, Bennington, Sinkaick and Hosick, and Schagtekoeke.” Abraham Yates was elected Chairman. Eleven representatives were designated to go to New York for the General (Provincial) Congress. These included Abraham and Robert Yates, Volkert Douw, Abraham Ten Broeck, Walter Livingston and Robert Van Rensselaer. Dr. Samuel Stringer was elected to serve as chairman of the Committee while Abraham Yates was absent.
On May 10th the Continental Congress met and elected John Hancock, President of the Congress and nominated George Washington as Commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. Two days later a letter was read from Ethan Allen informing the Albany Committee that he had taken Fort Ticonderoga and on the 18th a letter was received from the Philadelphia Continental Congress requesting aid in the support of Ticonderoga. The letter was signed by several delegates, including Philip Schuyler. Fort Ticonderoga had been held by the British for just 16 years, since 1759.
The city of New York sent 100 barrels of pork to be forwarded through Albany to Ticonderoga. The Albany Committee directed the “interception of all mail intended for Canada to be opened and read by John Ten Broeck.” Four hundred and fifty additional guns were inspected by Leonard Gansevoort and Abraham Cuyler at Dirk Ten Broeck’s gunsmith shop, although most were found to be in need of repair.
Two companies of troops were dispatched to man the defenses at Ticonderoga with a promise of two more; supplies and building assistance were sent to Fort George. The unfinished fort at the southern end of Lake George, had been the location of important military actions during the French and Indian War, including the Battle of Lake George. At that time Fort William Henry had already been financed, constructed, and defended by William Johnson, now a Loyalist.
During the early part of the Revolutionary War Philip Schuyler and his fellow Dutch descended relatives, the Van Rensselaers and Livingstons, would finance a large portion of the northern military effort. In later years they also helped finance the effort by purchasing bonds authorized by the State Convention to raise funds for the effort.
This article is part of a short series about the experience of Albany, NY during the American Revolution. You can read the entire series here.
Illustrations, from above: A 1774 etching, “The able doctor, or America swallowing the bitter draught,” from The London Magazine depicts Prime Minister Lord North, author of the Boston Port Act, forcing the Intolerable Acts down the throat of America (depicted as a woman in Native American garb), whose arms are restrained by Lord Chief Justice Mansfield, and a tattered “Boston Petition” lays trampled on the ground beside her. Lord Sandwich pins down her feet and peers up her robes; behind them, Mother Britannia weeps while France and Spain look on The able doctor, or America swallowing the bitter draught (NYPL, cropped); Map of Albany, New York, 1758 (Library of Congress); and portrait of Guy Johnson (c1740-1788) with Mohawk chief Karonghyontye (aka Captain David Hill), 1776, by Benjamin West.