Remembering the Burning of Kingston

By Joan MacDonald, Hudson Valley Magazine

This month marks the 240th anniversary of the Burning of Kingston, an assault by the British troops on what was then the state capital during the Revolutionary War, which left more than 300 homes reduced to ash and rubble only weeks before the onset of a cruel winter.

According to Ulster County Historian Geoffrey Miller, the Burning of Kingston was an act of retribution after Britain’s plan to conquer the upper Hudson Valley suffered a serious setback at Saratoga. British troops torched almost all the homes in Kingston’s Stockade District, a settlement British Major General John Vaughan called a “nest of rebels, a nursery for almost every villain in the country.”

“Kingston at that time was the seat of the new government of New York State,” says Miller. “The state constitution was written in Kingston. The Assembly, the Senate, and the Supreme Court met there. Kingston also had a history and heritage that was stubbornly Dutch and never quite accepted British rule. All of those things combined made Kingston a target.”

Word came quickly of the impending invasion; residents gathered some of their possessions and fled to neighboring Hurley only hours before British troops arrived.

On Oct. 13, 14, and 15, the city is staging a Burning of Kingston celebration that honors the resiliency of the people who lost their homes and rebuilt their village stronger than ever.

“It’s important to keep in mind the sacrifices people made for the freedoms we enjoy,” says Miller.

Events

Friday, Oct. 13: The weekend begins with The Story of the Burning of Kingston at 5:30 p.m. at the Vanderlyn Gallery of the Senate House Museum, followed by a 6:30 p.m. procession to the Persen House, for a re-enactment of The Great Debate by the Colonial Kingston Committee of Safety. At 7:45 p.m., actors represent the ghosts of those interred at the Old Dutch Church Cemetery and share firsthand accounts of the fire.

Saturday, Oct. 14: At 2:15 p.m., British troops storm Kingston’s Stockade District, marching alongside a picturesque background of pre-Revolutionary and Revolutionary War-era buildings. Troops march from Forsyth Park to the Senate House, where they replace the colonists’ flag with a Union Jack. After the fighting ends at 3:45 p.m., Kingston’s (current) mayor will be put on trial for treason outside the Persen House. The Colonial Grand Ball takes place at 7 p.m. at Kingston City Hall. Both re-enactors and the community are invited. Donning 18th-century dress is encouraged, but not required, and instruction will be given in 18th-century dance styles.

Sunday, Oct 15: At 9 a.m., visitors can tour military camps at Forsyth Park and watch drills. The Battle of Upper Forsyth Park takes place at 12:30 p.m. with tactical demonstrations.

For a full list of activities, visit burningofkingston.com. To read the full story, visit hvmag.com.