When the American Revolution began in 1775, Schaghticoke was a sparsely populated region. It had been on Albany’s frontier with Canada for many years. The citizens remembered Indian raids in the past, and some of the men had been in the colonial militia during the French and Indian Wars. Some had gone as far as Canada as part of English offensives against the French. There was a small fort in the Albany Corporation Lands, near where the Knickerbocker Mansion is now, but it was made of logs and was in poor condition. The last time it had been garrisoned was probably around 1750. So while the residents had lived a peaceful life since the end of the French Wars in 1763, they remembered the danger there had been before, and knew that the fort they had would not protect them.
One of the first tasks of each district of the colony of New York when the Revolution began was to set up a civilian Committee of Safety, whose task was to root out Tory or Loyalist activity. John Knickerbocker, probably the most prominent local citizen, was chairman of the local committee. There was a concern throughout all of the colonies that some if not many people did not support the rebellion against Great Britain. There was special concern about Loyalists in a frontier area like Schaghticoke, where there could be easy infiltration of the British and their allies. It was necessary to prevent the British from getting support from local residents. In some areas, for example in what is now Washington County, there were many Tories.
The major accusation of loyalism in Schaghticoke was in June 1779 when locals Colonel Peter Yates and Major Groesbeck told the Committee of Safety that several strangers had moved into town who collected cattle for Burgoyne’s Army at the time of the battle of Saratoga, and that “those persons daily obstruct the execution of the orders of the miliita officers.”
In the end, only fourteen men were arrested on suspicion of Loyalist actions in the Schaghticoke district (which included today’s Pittstown), and none were convicted. Schaghticoke’s strong Dutch heritage may have kept Loyalist activity to a minimum. The Dutch in Albany remembered the British as conquerors in the past and viewed them as economic competitors in the present, so had no great loyalty to Great Britain. Schaghticoke’s government came from Albany, thanks to the dominance in the town of the Albany Corporation Lands. The accused Tories were arrested between 1778 and 1781. Most were released on bail or upon doing service in lieu of bail. Many remained in town after the Revolution, and one, George Wetsel, of the Melrose area, became a prominent citizen.
The next task of the district of Schaghticoke, was to assemble its militia companies. That will be the topic of the next post.
Bibliography: Kloppott, Beth, History of Schaghticoke, 1980.
Sylvester, Nathaniel, History of Rensselaer County, 1880.