Sunday, May 31, 2015

From "The Lick" to "The Rapids"

This roadside marker stood for many years at Chautauqua, NY
to identify the last home where my 5x great grandparents
William & Mehitable Prendergast lived. They finally found
land, peace and security surrounded by loved ones who were
raising families and achieving success in business, politics.
In about 1783, William and Mehitable Prendergast packed up most of the family and headed north from their home of 30-some years in Pawling, NY for the less populated lands of upstate New York.

Specifically, they followed some of their Quaker neighbors who had already moved from Quaker Hill in Dutchess County. Others departed from newly formed Putman County that was created from the Philipse patent long ruled by Adolphus Philipse from the manor house at Upper Mills near Sleepy Hollow.

(Still under construction)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Prendergast's Rent War today -2

Marker in Quaker Hill Cemetery.
Today, my sister Bette and I visited the stomping ground of our 5x great grandparents William Prendergast and Mehitable Wing from the 1740s until the end of the American Revolution in 1783.

The family then moved north to a settlement called The Lick on the Hoosick River northeast of Albany. Originally, I had assumed the Prendergasts moved north because they were loyalists. Many loyalists weren't treated well during and especially after the war.

Akin Free Library, Quaker Hill, NY.
Matthew Prendergast, oldest son of
William & Mehitable, married into
the Akin family (Abigail) and had
three children. Abigail died before
1806 and Matthew married again,
this time into the Hunt family as
did two of Matthew's brothers.

But today I learned from Jim Mandracchia of the Akin Free Library atop Quaker Hill, that some of the Prendergasts' neighbors and friends were unhappy with how populated Dutchess County was becoming. The neighbors were moving to north of Albany, especially the Glen's Falls area. Bette and I will head there tomorrow.

Merritt store ledger, 1769, showing
purchases that my 5x great grand-
father William Prendergast made.
Courtesy Akin Free Library.

Today we were in Pawling and Quaker Hill where Jim at the Akin Free Library showed us a store ledger from 1769 (the store was owned by the Merritt family; William & Mehitable's granddaughter Catherine Rodman Prendergast married the Honorable William Hamilton Merritt who was a member of Canadian parliament at St. Catharines, Ontario and born to the wealthy Thomas Merritt of Bedford, NY. The Merritt store ledger showed that William Prendergast purchased various food and supplies on credit. He paid for them in 1770.

The Akin Free Library has a tremendous amount of information; I wished that I could have spent more time there. Ironically, the Prendergast family married into the Akin family, as William & Mehitable's oldest son Matthew (who served as a lieutenant in the British forces during the Revolutionary War) married Abigail Akin in Dutchess County in the 1780s and had three children. She died before 1806 and was laid to rest at Quaker Hill. Matthew remarried, this time to the Hunt family of Chautauqua County as did two of his brothers, Martin and Thomas. The latter is my 4x great-grandfather.

We visited Deborah DeWinter at the Pawling House Bed & Breakfast, part of which built before the Revolutionary War and the rest in the 1860s. Deborah named the rooms after local women who played important roles in history. We were happy to see Mehitable Wing be recognized.

Mehitable Wing Prendergast room
at the Pawling House B&B, part of
which was built before the Revolu-
tionary War.
Deborah also gave us directions to an historical marker for Mehitable, placed at the Quaker Hill Cemetery. Even though she is not buried here (she was laid to rest at the Prendergast-Hunt Cemetery west of Jamestown, NY), it gave us solemn pride to see here memorialized here as "The Heroine of Quaker Hill." See the marker at the top of this blog entry.

Our next stop wasn't far away: the Oblong Friends Meeting House. This 1764-built structure was where the Wings, who were orthodox Quakers, worshipped and discussed important events of the day. William reportedly joined the Quakers to marry Mehitable. Except for the addition of a 19th-century stove, the meeting house doesn't appear to have changed much in 250 years.

Oblong Friends Meeting House, Quaker Hill, NY, built in 1764.
This is where my 5x great grandparents worshipped and where
part of Prendergast's army reportedly hid from British troops
during their hunt for William Prendergast in 1766.
The interior of the Oblong Friends Meeting House appears little
changed over the last 250 years of its service.
Finally, we visited the John Kane house on Main Street, just east of Pawling. This 1740-built house was bought by Protestant Irishman Kane (originally O'Kane) in 1752.

John Kane house, Pawling, NY. It was General Washington's
headquarters of his winter encampment in 1778. And it was
right across the road from my ancestor's farm.
John Kane was arrested for being a loyalist and his wife and children fled to British North America (Canada). His house was seized by the Continentals for use as Gen. George Washington's winter 1778 headquarters.

That was shortly after William Prendergast, also a Protestant, came here from Wexford, Ireland. William built his farmhouse across Main Street from Kane's where the Dutcher Golf Course is today.

Prendergast, living right across the street with thousands of colonial soldiers encamped all around his farm, was also was a loyalist. His oldest son Matthew was a lieutenant in the British army stationed on Long Island.

Site of the 250-acre farm that William Prendergast rented from
manor lord Frederick Phillipse III. He lived here from the 1750s
to 1783. Today it's the site of the Dutcher Golf Course.
Yet, Prendergast remained on his land until after the war. Perhaps his exploits in the rent war, including the first shooting between British regulars and a colonial rebellion, won him some brownie points with the Continentals?

Perhaps his loyalty to the British crown was dismissed as merely being the result of King George III granting him a pardon of treason for his leading the rent rebellion of 1766? If only the Continentals knew of the Prendergasts' centuries of history of supporting British royalty.

The safer move was to head north to less populated areas where Native Americans were either friendly or had been displaced by the Continentals. So the Prendergasts' 35 years of building a family and making history in Pawling-Quaker Hill had come to an end.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Prendergast's Rent War today -1

For the next few days, my sister Bette and I will be visiting sites that played key roles in William Prendergast's Rent Rebellion. So this and coming installments of the blog about my 5x great grandfather and his wife Mehitable will be heavy on photos and light on text.

The artist's rendering above of Prendergast's 1766 trial in the Dutchess County Courthouse came from a book I bought today, "Hidden History of the Mid-Hudson Valley - Stories from the Albany Post Road" by Carney and Tatiana Rhinevault.

That courthouse dated from 1720 (see painting of the old courthouse) and was replaced on that same site in downtown Poughkeepsie, NY by two later courthouses. I photographed the current Dutchess County Courthouse which is about 110 years old, below.
Current Dutchess County Courthouse, Poughkeepsie, NY

That site was also where William was imprisoned for six months while waiting for a hoped-for royal pardon from England. After passing the courthouse, my sister and I had lunch with Vassar College history professor James Merrell who is researching a book on the Prendergast Rent Rebellion.
From left: Bette Prendergast, her brother Ken Prendergast and Vassar College history professor James Merrell.

Prendergast's trial was succeeded by Mehitable's famous 80-mile ride south to New York City to plead with the governor for her husband's life. My sister and I followed her route down the Albany Post Road.

Since that incredible trek to Fort George at The Battery took her about 36 hours of near-continuous riding, my sister and I also spread our travel over two days, but with an overnight stopover at the Tarrytown House along the way. Mehitable got no such rest.

Bette and I got a small sample of her route as about a half-dozen miles of the original, unimproved Albany Post Road remains today just north of Peekskill. It is narrow, unpaved and incredibly isolated from the surrounding bustle and 20 million people of the New York metropolitan area.

Imagine a young woman with six young children and a husband on death row, and riding a horse alone through remote, rugged settings like these for 80 miles each way on no sleep for four days and nights. My sister and I couldn't imagine how she did it. Here's a few glimpses of the unimproved stretch of the Albany Post Road...

Most of the rural stretches of the Albany Post Road looks like this today:

The road took Bette and I (and Mehitable, of course!) past several estates of the enemy lords of the manor against whom William and 500+ man army rebelled. This is one of the best preserved thanks to donations by Cleveland's John D. Rockefeller -- the Phillipse Manor-Upper Mills in Sleepy Hollow, NY:
Phillipse Manor Upper Mills,
Sleepy Hollow, NY
The following day, Bette and I visited the larger, Lower Mills manor house of the Phillipse family in Yonkers. And we continued south, roughly following Mehitable's route to where Fort George stood at The Battery.

I don't know how Mehitable survived. Had she failed, her husband would have died. Had she fallen in the dark along the dark, unpopulated road, her children would have been orphaned. I have a newfound respect for her.

Phillipse Manor House (Lower Mills) at Yonkers, NY. It was
built in three stages, from left to right and from 1682 to 1755.
Today, this is home to a museum about slavery as Frederick
Phillipse I was a notorious slave trader and fence for pirates'
goods stolen in the Caribbean Sea and Indian Ocean.
Coming down the length of Manhattan on
the Bowery where it ended at Broad Way at
The Commons, Mehitable was met in 1766
by the brand-new St. Paul's Chapel, a massive
structure on the outskirts of New York City.
Customs House built on the site of Fort George (1626-1790) and
next to the 400-year-old Bowling Green in Lower Manhattan.
My 5x great grandfather William Prendergast was imprisoned
here briefly in late July 1766. A week later, his wife Mehitable
Wing rode solo here from Poughkeepsie to secure a stay of exe-
cution for her husband from Governor Sir Henry Moore.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mehitable's four sleepless nights

New York City in the 18th century.
William Prendergast's only known week he ever spent in New York City was spent in a jail cell at Fort George at the Battery. While there, courts of oyer and terminer were seated in Albany and Dutchess counties to hear and determine cases against the leaders of Prendergast's rent rebellion.

In that rebellion to give property rights to tenant farmers, seven persons were killed – four soldiers and three rioters. Many more were wounded in several battles. It was perhaps the first time British troops clashed with a large, organized colonial rebellion.

While Prendergast was away in New York he was indicted in absentia. Rebellious tenant farmers continued their violence, including killing a grenadier. A company of the 46th regiment was ordered to Claverack, NY in Columbia County to aid Sheriff Harmanus Schuyler.

On Wednesday, Aug. 6, 1766, the day after an eclipse of the sun was seen in North America, William was returned north to the Dutchess County Courthouse for the case of the Crown v William Prendergast. Presiding was Honorable Daniel Horsmanden, chief justice of the Supreme Court of the province of New York, with associate justices Johns Watts, William Walton, Oliver DeLancey, Joseph Reade, William Smith, Whitehead Hicks and John Morin Scott.

All jurors were among the landed gentry of the colony. Justice Robert R. Livingston, father of a fast-rising New York City lawyer and uncle of Dutchess County Sheriff James Livingston, was present in court although not sitting.
Prendergast was charged with disturbing the peace, levying war against the king, assembling a number of 500 unlawfully for that purpose and did order and levy war. The prosecutor was Provincial Attorney General John Tabor Kempe, assisted by James Duane.
Dutchess County Courthouse at right and the Dutch Reformed
Church at left, Poughkeepsie, NY, c1770s.
The trial against my 5x great grandfather proceeded continuously for 24 hours. It was covered by the Poughkeepsie correspondent of the New York Gazette, which had reported on the Rent Rebellion in the prior months. News of the rent rebellion trials had a tremendous following in the fast-growing port city 80 miles south. Prendergast's was the headline trial.

Although William was not permitted to have legal assistance, his Quaker wife Mehitable rose in the court to his defense. She so capably provided his defense in word and charm that prosecutor Kempe demanded her removal “as her very beauty might influence the jury.” His request was denied.

Despite Mehitable's attempts to assign blame elsewhere, the evidence against William was too great. Even the visible presence of their children failed to solicit an acquittal from the court. The landed gentry of the jury returned a guilty verdict against this leveler who sought to give power to the weak. Justice Horsmanden said the jury's harsh verdict didn't accord with the evidence and ordered them to deliberate further. They returned again, “guilty” but urged mercy.

Justice Horsmanden had no choice but to assign the punishment appropriate for high treason against his Majesty – to be hanged and his entrails burned while still alive on Sept. 26, 1766. The New York Gazette reported William Prendergast sobbed “May God have mercy on my soul.”

Mehitable cried out loud upon hearing the sentence. “No, no, no!” Others in the court room wept. Angry farmers stirred outside the courthouse, according to “The Story of Mehitable Wing” an episode of the 1940 radio series the Calvacade of American History by Yale professor Dr. Frank Monaghan. As Prendergast was led away to the county jail in the courthouse's basement, he looked toward Mehitable and said “Goodbye, my sweet pigeon.”

Mehitable immediately met privately with Justice Horsmanden who advised her that Gov. Moore was the only one who could help. If the governor was not leaving soon on a long journey, he might have had the opportunity to stay the execution while a petition for a pardon was sent to King George III. But the justice said it was too late.

Already exhausted from her efforts in an emotional 24-hour trial, Mehitable was about to undertake an incomprehensible task. First she warned a small crowd of angry farmers outside the courthouse not to take any action involving her husband until they saw her again. Then she departed for the Beekman home of her older, wealthier sister Abigail, borrowed her most elegant dress, packed it away, retrieved a lantern and gathered food before riding off alone into the evening, heading south.

At Fish Kill just before midnight, she picked up the Albany Post Road which was like most of the king's rural highways – fraught with danger. Many travelers encountered beasts of all kinds, be they thieving highwaymen or wild creatures. There were often rocks or fallen trees in the uneven path and could not be seen in the dark. It was only four days after the eclipse, so the night was as black as could be imagined. The moon had barely started waxing.

A proper lady sat sidesaddle but, when others weren't around, she could be excused if she rode with her legs on both sides of the horse. For the next 15 miles after passing Fish Kill, she likely did not pass another living soul until along Sprout Brook north of Peeks Kill. The road was miles from the Hudson River and took her through the darkest, most terrifying forests made more infamous by more than a century of Dutch lore. Those stories included haunted Dutch burying grounds, bridge trolls and other ghouls.
Hudson River valley
She surely considered turning back many times. But if she turned back, her dear husband would soon be dead. By the same token, if she was attacked by an animal or merely fell off her horse from lack of sleep, their six young children risked being orphaned altogether.

The road returned to alongside the Hudson and morning came. The farther south it went, the Albany Post Road improved in its condition and was dotted by more farms and towns – Van Cortlandt Manor, Tappan Bay, Philipsburg Manor House and Tarrytown. She would have passed more people and countless tenant farms throughout the day. 

After dusk and more than 24 hours into her journey, she slipped by the Yonkers mansion of her family's nemesis, Frederick Philipse III. Perhaps she feared being recognized in Yonkers as she did in being attacked by wild animals in the thick forests north of Peeks Kill?

At the Harlem River, she had two bridges to choose from to reach Manhattan. One was the King's Bridge to Marble Hill. The other was the recently built Farmers' Bridge which was without toll.

On the improved road down the length of Manhattan Island, Mehitable's tired horse was able to reach the intersection with The Bowry Lane in only two hours. Homes were passed every few hundred feet, including the farm of former governor James DeLancey whose relative served on William's jury.

In 1766, Liberty Poles were posted along the road by the Sons of Liberty in celebration of the Stamp Act's repeal. On each wooden pole or tree were handbills displaying patriotic American messages.

New York City, 1776. Fort George is at the lower left before
landfill was added into the North River of the Hudson.
A commons was encountered at the intersection with The Broad Way. At the south end of the commons was a brand-new church – St. Paul's Chapel. South of there along The Broad Way were 10 more blocks of crowded port city, bustling with conviviality even at the midnight hour.

The street brought Mehitable to the sight of Fort George at the Battery, where her husband was kept a week earlier. At a nearby tavern, she could have purchased tea to fend off sleep and used a foul latrine to slip into her sister's elegant dress.

Mehitable arrived at the doors of the fortress and was at first told the governor had retired for the night. He could not be disturbed as he needed rest for the long trip tomorrow. She begged for entry and explained why she was there. It was the first news that anyone at the fort had heard about the outcome of Prendergast's trial. She was granted an audience with Sir Henry Moore, Governor of the province of New York.

Despite her lack of sleep, Mehitable told Sir Moore her husband's story coherently and concisely, striding back and forth in front of him in her lovely blue and white striped linen. Her arguments were so convincing that the governor was moved to tears and exclaimed “Your husband shall not suffer.”

Sir Moore granted a reprieve, staying the execution until His Majesty George III’s pleasure was known. He then permitted Mehitable to draw up in her own words the petition for a royal pardon. It was ordered sent to the Earl of Shelburne for presentation forthwith at Whitehall.

Fort George figured prominently in events during and after
Prendergast's Rent War.
With the reprieve in hand and knowing there would be ever-increasing pressure by William Prendergast's supporters to free him from jail and turn him into a fugitive, she mounted her exhausted horse and dashed north out of New York City at greater speed than she arrived.

For the second time, Mehitable traveled by Philipse's Yonkers mansion in the shadows, this time moments before dawn. Throughout the day she and her horse labored northward. Could she remember passing the same landmarks as she had southbound? Did she fear taking a wrong turn in her condition? Did she begin imagining things like feeling rain drops that weren't really there? Mehitable was going on four days without sleep.

In the middle of the night, she left the dark woods south of Fish Kill and would have noticed the familiar Brewers' mill at Wappingers Falls. In the pitch black, she would have heard it more than seen it. The sound probably gave her a rare sense of relief.

Morning glories sang at first light as her horse came up Albany Post Road into Poughkeepsie. According to Carl Cramer's book “The Hudson,” Mehitable arrived the courthouse virtually incoherent. Dozens of men were gathering outside the courthouse on Saturday morning to free Prendergast by force. Monaghan reported that Mehitable pushed past them and went into the jail, handed the stay of execution to Sheriff Livingston and collapsed into her husband's arms he extended through his cell's iron bars.

Now came six months of waiting for three possible outcomes – an outright pardon, a commutation of the sentence to life in prison or affirmation of the death sentence. Sheriff Livingston banked on the latter as he continued to advertise for an executioner. No local hangmen would respond for fear of revenge by Prendergast's many followers. One would have to be brought in from as far away as New York City, depending on the king's reply.

William spent two to three months at sea and that transatlantic ship was probably the most arduous lodging of his life, until now. It would have been broken up by special meals on Thanksgiving and Christmas. He would been allowed out of his cell with an armed escort to spend time with his family upstairs in the courthouse. He probably did not like his children to see him in his cell. Later evidence showed his imprisonment greatly weakened him.

Mehitable surely would have brought him gifts like food and blankets to keep him warm in the stone cell as autumn turn to winter. But her greatest gift came sometime in late January or perhaps February, 1767. A rider arrived the Dutchess County Courthouse from New York City along with Justice Livingston and Sheriff Livingston where a document was processed.

It was a letter written to Governor Moore by the Earl of Shelburne, dated Whitehall, Dec. 1, 1766, ended with these words, “I have laid before the King our letter of the 11th of October, recommending William Prendergast who was sentenced to death for treasonous practices and riots committed in Dutchess County, to the Royal Mercy, and His Majesty has been gratiously pleased to grant him this pardon, relying that this instance of His Royal clemency will have a better effect in recalling these mistaken people to their duty than the most rigorous punishment.”


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

From peaceful farmer to rebel leader

A decade before the American Revolution, tenant farmers in the Hudson River valley massed into a revolt against their manor lords. It wasn't the first such rent rebellion but it was the largest, most organized and disciplined revolt. When its 500+ armed rebels moved on New York City, it sent America's third-largest city into a panic. My 5x great grandfather William Prendergast was the leader of this rebellion.

Prendergast prompted British regular troops to be ordered into armed conflict against the colonists for the first time. And more importantly, it came during increasing unrest in the American colonies as British Parliament levied new taxes on the colonies to pay for the American Theater of Seven Years War, here called French & Indian War.

In fact, many confused Prendergast's actions with those of the Sons of Liberty that was growing in strength and violence to combat the new taxes without representation in colonies that had governed themselves for more than a century. The actions of Prendergast and his wife risked orphaning their children.

Two decades before the revolution, 28-year-old William Prendergast married 17-year-old Mehitable Wing in 1755. Protestant Prendergast converted to the Religious Society of Friends to appease Mehitable's orthodox Quaker father, as Quakers were forbidden to marry outside the faith.

In Ireland, Prendergast was a shipwright and reportedly worked in a sawmill in the Hudson Highlands. It's possible he worked for SilasWashburn who ran a sawmill since 1745 on the West Branch of the Croton River in Carmel, NY. Despite owning most of Carmel's Main Street shops, Washburn lived in a house set on a lot leased from the Philipse Patent. Washburn later followed his friend Prendergast into rebellion and paid for it with his life.

A typical colonial American tenant farmer's house.
Prendergast settled down and leased from Lord Philipse 200 acres of wooded land along a tributary of the East Branch Croton River between Pawling and Quaker Hill for 4 pounds, 12 shillings per year, according to the 1939 book “The Hudson” by Carl Cramer. Prendergast cleared the land, used the wood to build himself a house and began farming to feed a family he would create on this side of the Atlantic.

By Christmas 1755, Mehitable was pregnant with their first child. Matthew (born 1756) was followed by Thomas (1758), Mary (1760), Elizabeth (1762), James (1764) with Mehitable pregnant in 1765 with Jedidiah – named after her father who died two years earlier. William's father Thomas had died in 1761 in Clonmel, Ireland. Reportedly, Mehitable's mother and her four youngest children moved in with the Prendergasts. William was having a hard time financially and went to Frederick Philipse III at his manor house in Yonkers to ask for more time to pay his rent.

Not only did Philipse refuse, he threatened to throw Prendergast into prison for nonpayment. Many other tenant farmers had suffered the same fate, and many more were destined to follow. The reason was that the Philipse family went to court in 1765 and successfully enforced a land claim against the Wappinger Indians. Expensive manorial leases were imposed on tenant farmers.

Farmers rallied behind Wappinger Sachem Daniel Nimhan, who appealed the case to the Court of Chancery. No attorney could be found to represent the Sachem and juries were comprised of the landed gentry. When the Court of Chancery rejected the appeal, the Philipse estate brought 15 actions to eject tenant farmers from their holdings.

Sometime in 1765, Prendergast learned that Lord Philipse paid to King George III an annual sum of 4 pounds for tax on his entire manor. That's 12 shillings less than what Prendergast paid to the lord in rent for his small farm. Prendergast was furious at Philipse's greed. William visited farmhouses and taverns to speak to other tenant farmers in the Philipse Patent. He learned each of them paid at least as much to Lord Philipse as William did.
Roadside taverns were the social networks in colonial times.
When the farmers learned how little Philipse paid to the king, and knowing how unforgiving Philipse was to those with debts, they demanded action. In the fall of 1765, the local farmers met and agreed to reinstate the dispossessed tenants by force, if necessary. They were known as "levelers" because they believed that their equitable claim to the land should be recognized and their leases converted into fee-simple titles.

Prendergast recruited James Secord, Elisha Cole, Isaac Perry, Michael Veal, Samuel Munro and his friend Silas Washburn to help him lead the army. Carl Cramer wrote in his book “Tavern Lights Are Burning” that Prendergast enforced a code of behavior within his army to not take retribution against farmers who didn't join the fight. And when combatants were captured and jailed, they would not be left behind. The army would free them by the real or threatened use of overwhelming force.

“Prendergast's Army” as it came to be known had expanded north into Columbia County and east into Connecticut. They declared their rents invalid and emptied jails of tenant farmers imprisoned for their debts. The rebellion spread west into the Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania, near Scranton. William's warriors would soon head south.

After the Stamp Act was repealed in March 1766 and news of the repeal reached the colonies two months later, Prendergast led a march of at least 500 armed men, with rumors of as many as 2,000 southward along the Hudson River toward New York City to free tenant farmers imprisoned for their debts. The armed advance caused great panic in the colonies' third-largest city, home to 20,000 people. The New York Gazette reported residents stood guard all night outside their own doors, gun in hand. New York City Council members offered a reward of 10 pounds for Prendergast's capture.

On May 1, 1766, Prendergast stopped his army north of Manhattan Island at the Harlem River and sent six riders south to meet with Gov. Henry Moore in Fort George at the Battery. Moore promised he would not interfere in their disputes with the landlords. Satisfied, Prendergast turned his army north, away from the city.

In stark contrast, the patroons were not satisfied. They furiously petitioned Gov. Moore to intervene. At first, he refused. After repeated petitions by the landlords, he finally relented. Prendergast's Army revealed how weak the governors had become.

Warrants of arrest were issued June 7 by the New York Provincial Council against Prendergast, Washburn, Secord, Cole, Perry and Veal. The provincial council applied June 19 for military assistance from Major-General Thomas Gage, commander-in-chief of British forces in North America. He activated the stronger of two regiments left from the North American theater of the worldwide Seven Years' War. Under the command of Major Richard Browne, 300 British regulars from the 28th Grenadiers boarded sloops-of-war at Albany and went south to Poughkeepsie to restore order in Dutchess County.

British regulars were summoned instead of the provincial militia for two reasons. First the size of Prendergast's army demanded a strong show of force to restore order. Second the 1760s was a time of growing territorial disputes between New York and Massachusetts Bay. So activating a large military force that was not beholden to either colony was deemed an impartial act.

July 2, 1766 was the first time that British troops were ordered to move against the American colonists under a threat of force. What had been a rewarding, sometimes joyous campaign suddenly turned into a very serious prospect for Prendergast and his followers. Many scattered and returned to their farms in fear.

Prendergast's remaining army split into two groups. Prendergast led a group of 50 rebels more than 20 miles east from Poughkeepsie to the Oblong Meeting House atop Quaker Hill. Prendergast was hid separately nearby in a farmhouse.

The diversionary second group of about 50 strong was led by Robert Noble, a retired captain, a tenant of the Rensselaerswick Manor and leader of antilandlordism movements for 15 years. Sheriff Harmanus Schuyler brought 105 militamen in a siege against Noble's fortified house.

After several sorties against the house, one militiaman lay dead and seven of his comrades were wounded. The rebels sustained greater loss – three died and countless were injured. Yet the rebels did not concede and fought on. Sheriff Schuyler left for Poughkeepsie to seek assistance from Major Browne.
An eyewitness picture of an anti-rent uprising in New York.
Browne refused to take the bait. Instead he commanded his 300 troops to march east toward Quaker Hill to capture or kill Prendergast and his rebels. At the foot of the hill and at dusk, they were happened upon by 30 armed rebels riding to rendezvous with their brethren atop the hill and strengthen their forces against the Grenadiers.

The rebels hid amid the cornstalks and fired muskets, killing two redcoats. Browne's men advanced on the field the next morning but the rebels had already fled. The regiment marched up the hill to the Friends meeting house where Prendergast's men surrendered under a white flag, Cramer wrote.

Mehitable, mother of six children and wife of a farmer turned fugitive from the most powerful army in the world, learned her husband was not among the dead, wounded or imprisoned. She searched for and found the man she had loved since she was a girl, then convinced him to give himself up.

William joined Mehitable riding proudly side-by-side into Major Browne's camp where William was promptly taken into custody on July 28, 1766.

Until the trial, William Prendergast could not be safely held in the Dutchess County Jail in Poughkeepsie as he had proven it was little defense from his rioters. They had previously freed from it imprisoned debtors with great ease. And hundreds of his followers were left scattered in the surrounding lands waiting to learn of Prendergast's fate.

So Prendergast was marched right past the jail and to the shores of the Hudson River where he was placed under heavy guard aboard sloops bound for New York City. Mehitable surely sobbed as her husband's boat sailed away. If convicted of high treason, Prendergast would be publicly hanged and his entrails burned while he was still alive.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Crossing the Atlantic, landing Oblong

By all accounts, my 5x great grandfather William Prendergast bravely crossed the Atlantic Ocean by himself at the age of 21 in 1748. Certainly there were others with him on the ship crossing from Ireland to America. Apparently there were no family or friends accompanying him, however. There are no references to any Irish-born family or acquaintances living near him or engaged in his activities in America.

Interestingly, William did have an enigmatic brother named John who is referenced in Irish genealogical records but without dates of birth or death. Could he have come over with William and disappeared into the wilderness of the west or south? That's possible, based on letters mailed in the 1960s to my great Aunt Ruth Prendergast Wightman by other Prendergasts in America.

From information in those letters, Ruth wrote the following:

"If we descend from William of Wexford, he must have had a son not named who went south (Jobe?); or William could have come from Ireland with a brother (Luke?) who lived a while in  Connecticut (just outside Pawling, NY?) and then moved south before the Revolution. Descendants of Dr. William Allen Prendergraft say we descend from Jobe Prendergraft, killed at the battle of Camden, S.C., in 1780."

Ruth also wrote, in reference to William Prendergast's Rent War of 1766 (Hudson Valley sites that my sister and I will visit this week), that "Part of William's revolt was over land grants in the Wyoming Valley of Northeast Pa. on the Susquehanna, granted by the Delaware Indians October 1755. These lands might have been held by a brother or son who drifted south after the revolt, perhaps with a price on his head. Note also that [years later William's son] James touched at New Madrid [Mo.] where a Jesse Prendergast held land in 1806."

That, however, is the extent of any documentation of William traveling with a family companion.

Wexford, Ireland's Crescent Quay. Ken Prendergast photo

It is likely that William departed from one of the principal ports near his home of Wexford and in a region populated with Prendergasts and their castles and manors more than 500 years old. The largest of these ports was the Crescent Quay of Wexford at the mouth of the River Slaney on the Irish Sea, which I visited in May 2014 and again last week.

Other ports nearby are New Ross and Waterford, but are far upriver from the sea and have less ideal soundings for larger transatlantic ships. Although a hunger ship from the late 1840s is docked at New Ross as part of a museum -- across the street from the Prendergast Pub. The Prendergasts remain ever-present here.

William's crossing came 256 years after Christopher Columbus' inaugural voyage across the Atlantic. By the time of William's departure, transatlantic crossings were commonplace -- a half-dozen ships a day departed European ports for American ones by the mid-1700s. But that didn't make the journey any less dangerous or unpleasant.

In fact, William's two- to three-month journey came only a few years before a Scottish mariner discovered that eating oranges and lemons during the months-long voyage would combat scurvy, a deficiency of vitamin C. Symptoms of scurvy include anemia, bleeding gums and bumps under the skin near muscles. Other ship-borne conditions and ailments included wretched food and water, overcrowding, smallpox, seasickness, fevers and dysentery. Violent storms often struck the North Atlantic.

This blog is too constrained to share how difficult conditions were aboard transatlantic ships. But suffice it to say that regardless of a passenger's income, no one had it easy. Certainly, some had it easier than others. Read travelers' accounts here, some of which are truly heart-wrenching (ie: the German's story). Some ships were delayed for weeks by an ill wind causing the exhaustion of food and water supplies or worse. Sometimes sick and dying family members were thrown overboard to prevent the spread of disease.

Contrary to popular myths in the United States, most who immigrated to America didn't do so by their own free will in search of liberty. From 1700 to 1775, 250,000 people emigrated from Europe to the mainland British colonies. Many of whom traveled for free as indentured servants in exchange for the ship's captain to sell his passengers to employers upon arrival in America. Plus, 250,000 African slaves were brought to and sold on the mainland colonies in the 18th century.

There is no evidence William Prendergast traveled against his will. The Prendergasts in Ireland were landed gentry and could afford to buy William passage to America. The possible reasons why William left Ireland for America were discussed in the prior installment of this blog.

William probably paused in Newfoundland after a month or two and 2,000 miles of crossing the open sea to resupply and enjoy the benefits of solid ground. Soon after departing the port of St. John, he would have passed Louisbourg, a French fort so elaborate that when King Louis XV was presented with its construction bill of 30 million livres, he said should be able to see the peaks of the fortress from his Palace in Versaille.

It would soon become even more costly -- for New Englanders. They provided the ground assault troops for a British sea-born siege and bombardment of Louisbourg in 1745. Perhaps 8 percent of Massachusetts' adult male population was killed in the assault.

Boston, MA as seen in the 18th century.
William may have landed at Boston, America's second-largest city (after Philadelphia) located another 1,000 miles southward from St. John. Only three years after the assault on Louisbourg, William would have found a wrecked economy in New England as the 1740s and 50s were the only decades in Boston's first 300 years in which it lost population. Also, no land was available for purchase in New England anymore. The Massachusetts Bay Colony was one of America's oldest and most developed.

Many growing Quaker families who settled in Massachusetts 100 years before, like the Wing family, were moving west to an opportunity to own land created by a compromise to resolve a border dispute between New York and Connecticut. In 1731 Connecticut received its unique panhandle along Long Island Sound, while the province of New York got the "Oblong" -- a narrow pencil of land extending some 60 miles northward. The transfer of the Oblong from one province to another gave Massachusetts Quakers a chance to own land.

Upon landing in America, Prendergast likely heard about this opportunity too. If I were him (and part of me is!), I would have headed to the Oblong in search of land. But William would have been disappointed to learn all the land was quickly snapped up long before he arrived in America.

It was still possible to lease land from the Wappinger Indians along the Hudson River valley or rent it from the powerful Phillipse family who dominated the Highlands between the Hudson and the Oblong for nine decades after arriving from the Netherlands. Frederick Phillipse I was a self-made man, although not all of his riches were obtained legally. Phillipse fenced stolen goods for pirates, supplied their illicit acts, and traded for slaves from Africa.

Frederick Philipse, first Lord of Philipsburg Manor
By the time William Prendergast arrived in the Hudson Highlands and settled in Pawling, NY, he dealt with Frederick Phillipse's descendants. And he also met the Wing family, orthodox Quakers who relocated from Plymouth and Barnstable counties in southeast Massachusetts five years earlier and settled in Beekman, NY, between Pawling and Poughkeepsie. All these communities were in Dutchess County.

A new Religious Society of Friends upset (or caused the establishment to quake) the Anglican church. John, Daniel and Stephen Wing arrived Boston from Scotland in 1632 in search of religious freedom and built the Wing Fort House in Sandwich in 1641. The house still stands today.

Stephen Wing (born circa 1621 to the Bachiler family espousing separation of church and state, died 1710) had 11 children from two marriages. His second marriage to Sarah Briggs produced Elisha Wing (1668-1752). By his wife Mehitable Butler they had seven children, among them was Jedediah Wing (1697-1763). Jedediah married Elizabeth Gifford and had 10 children, among them Mehitable, their third-oldest, born 1738.

Mehitable was only 10 years old when William Prendergast arrived in America. Family lore has it she was quite taken by the elder William and his dark-red, wavy hair. But the Protestant Prendergast was probably more interested in working and making some money in the strange new land considering he didn't marry for another seven years. Besides, Mehitable's father was a strict Quaker; it was forbidden for Quakers to marry outside the religion. Or for a woman to exert incredible fortitude. Or to own slaves. Or to wage war.

All of those prohibitions would be violated in due course.


Monday, May 11, 2015

850 years of Prendergasts changing history

Enniscorthy Castle, County Wexford, Ireland.
Built circa 1205 by Philip de Prendergast.
In 1169, Knight Maurice de Prendergast joined Strongbow, formally Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, in the Norman invasion of Ireland from Prendergast, Havorfordwest, Wales. It took only one year for the invaders to oust the Danish lords from Irish control.

For Prendergast's service to the invasion, he was awarded land in southeast Ireland, across the Irish Sea from Wales. His son Lord Philip de Prendergast began construction on Enniscorthy Castle in 1201. It passed to Philip's son Gerald de Prendergast who died in 1251, and then passed to his son-in-law Maurice Rochford whose descendants lived in the castle until 1418. The castle remained a private residence until the 1950s. It is now a museum, which I visited with my sister Bette in 2014.

Founder of Enniscorthy Castle.

From the 1400s to the 1600s, the Prendergasts remained as landowners and Jacobites. My family's branch of the Prendergasts was originally established at Newcastle, county Tipperary, but they were dispossessed of much of their land in the mid-17th century as England was beset by Civil War. English Parliamentarian Oliver Cromwell destroyed many Irish towns and castles whose residents supported the Royalists. 

Thomas Prendergast (died 1725) of Croane, County Limerick had five children: of Juliana Brabazon, Countess of Meath; Elizabeth Smyth; Jeffrey Prendergast and Thomas Prendergast, 1st Baronet of Gort and Brigadier General, plus a fifth unidentified child. I am descended from Jeffrey.

Thomas Prendergast 1st Baronet raised the ire of the Catholic church in Ireland and many others on the Emerald Isle when he converted to Protestantism, then withdrew from and revealed a Jacobite assassination plot against King William III. Thomas was rewarded by the king with his baronetcy and lands in Gort and Clonmel.

King William III of England awarded a baronetcy
to my 7x great uncle Thomas Prendergast in 1696
after Prendergast revealed an assassination plot
against the king.

Many of Thomas' former allies and Jacobites held great contempt for him. Most well known among his adversaries was author and poet Rev. Jonathon Swift. He gained lasting fame for his novel "Gulliver's Travels." But Prendergast and his son, Thomas 2nd Baronet, knew Swift best for his scathing poems against them, like "On Noisy Tom" and "The Legion Club."

Jeffrey, brother of Thomas 1st Baronet, also had a son named Thomas Prendergast who married Mary. Her family name is unknown. They lived in Counties Tiperary, Waterford and possibly Wexford and had three children -- Thomas, John and William. Thomas was the oldest (1719-1802) and later relocated to Dublin. John's dates of birth and death are unknown. William, from whom I am descended, was born in 1727 in County Waterford and later lived in Wexford.

Since he wasn't the oldest son and thus would not inherit property from his father, William faced a decision of whether to stay in Ireland. Given the political and religious turmoil facing Ireland and his family as well, it is understandable why William would not stay. So at the take-on-the-world age of 21, William left Ireland (possibly alone) for America. He likely last stepped foot on Irish soil at the Crescent Quay in Wexford that I will visit tomorrow.