When planning a pilgrimage or holiday with suffrage centennials in mind, consider Kingston, New York in the Hudson Valley. Friends of Historic Kingston’s walking tour of the city’s pre-Revolutionary stockade district drew a small group on a recent delightful spring day. I’m fascinated with the Stockade District as it relates to abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth, born in Hurley (now Rifton, NY). She filed and won a lawsuit in 1727 that resulted in the return of her young son Peter who’d been kidnapped into slavery in Alabama. The Ulster County Courthouse, where Truth’s case was heard, is still a working courthouse within the Stockade District. A plaque on the courthouse lawn honors Truth and her life in Ulster County.
In 1777, Ulster County residents townspeople gathered on the courthouse lawn to hear the newly-adopted New York State Constitution read from the front steps. Also at the courthouse, Chief Justice John Jay administered the oath of office to New York State’s first governor, George Clinton, a native of Ulster County. He is buried down the street in the Old Dutch Church cemetery. Kingston was the first capital of New York State, founded when a constitutional convention was held within the stockade at the home of Abraham Van Gasbeek, the oldest public building in America and now a museum.
The walking tour, led by Paul Tully, is expected to cover 400 years of the city’s history, starting in 1658 when about five dozen European settlers living along the Esopus Creek moved from the lowlands to the hill above. Colonial governor Peter Stuyvesant ordered them to relocate to an area that was more easily defended from Native Americans who also farmed along the creek. Sharing farmland for several years had brought the settlers and the Native Americans to the brink of war.
Stuyvesant chose the new site because its height on three sides offered natural protection. Board by board, the settlers took down their buildings, carted them uphill, and rebuilt them behind a 14-foot high wall. They constructed the 1,200′ by 1,300′ wall at night in three weeks by pounding tree trunks into the ground. During the day, the men left and farmed the fields in the lowland while the women and children remained confined within the stockade village known as Wiltwyck. This continued until a treaty with the Esopus Indians was signed ending the brutal Esopus Wars in 1664.
The streets of the original Wiltwyck remain laid out just as they were in 1658. Today they are a state and national historic district in the heart of uptown Kingston, NY. Although the wood houses of the original village are long gone, 21 Pre-Revolutionary homes still stand within the stockade area. These limestone and mortar houses are unique to Kingston and the surrounding area. All but one of these homes were burned by the British on October 16, 1777 when the New York State government was forced to move. The residents of Wiltwyck, now Kingston, rebuilt their village stone by stone, and the sturdy structures are used as homes and offices to this day.
Three hundred years are left to tell of Kingston’s rich history. You can hear Paul Tully tell it on the first Saturday of the month, May to October, while strolling around this beautiful national historic district. Tours depart from the corner of Wall and Main streets in front of the Fred J. Johnston Museum at 1 p.m. It takes a little more than an hour. Fees are $10 for adults, $5 for children under 16.
Kingston can be reached from Exit 19 of the New York State Thruway; from the east side of the Hudson River via the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge; and from NYS Routes 9W, 209, and 32. For more information, contact Friends of Historic Kingston, P.O. Box 3763, Kingston, NY 12402, 845-339-0720. www.fohk.org.
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