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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Anti-Rent War: "Tin Horns and Calico"

Stephen Van Rensselaer (1764-1839) who, together with Amos Eaton, founded Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1824, was the patroon of the Manor of Rensselaerwyck. Forbes magazine extrapolated his wealth to current dollars and proclaimed him the 9th richest person of all time. Van Rensselaer owned much of Rensselaer county and controlled it through a system of semi-feudal leases. Following Van Rensselaer's death in 1839, his son began seeking to collect back rent. This ignited a revolt of the tenant farmers on the manor that continued until 1846. Protesters, wearing war paint and dressed in calico as "Indians," harassed rent collectors. They used tin horns to communicate with each other from farm to farm. In one unfortunate incident between the anti-renters and authorities, Elijah Smith was shot to death by an unknown individual in Grafton. The practice of patroonery ended quickly after the gubernatorial election of 1845 when the new governor, John Young, pardoned the anti-renters and put in place measures that rapidly accelerated the demise of the patroonship system.

Henry Christman, an Albany newspaperman who lived on Shaver Pond Road in the Town of Grafton, and who was a friend there of Granville Hicks (author of Small Town and many other books and articles), wrote Tin Horns and Calico, the definitive book on the anti-rent war.

My high school history courses never even mentioned the Anti-Rent War. I hope that has changed for area schools, since it is a very important part of this area's history.

Tin Horns and Calico
Henry Christman

Calico Indian (New Scotland Historical Association)

Small gravesite just east of the end of Shaver Pond Rd. in Grafton adjacent to Granville Hicks' former house.


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