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See Also: Schenectady in the Revolutionary War

A History of Schenectady During the Revolution:
Chapter XIII: The Winter of 1777-1778. A Tory Plot. Schenectady Declares a Grievance.

Go back to: Chapter XII | ahead to: Chapter XIV

[This information is from pp. 78-82 of A History of Schenectady During the Revolution by Willis T. Hanson, Jr. (Brattleboro, VT: E. L. Hildreth & Co., 1916). It is in the Schenectady Collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at Schdy R 974.744 H25, and copies are also available for borrowing.]

The winter of 1777-1778 seems on the whole to have passed quietly in Schenectady, although about the middle of December the town was visited by a disastrous fire which caused considerable suffering to several families, for the relief of whom committees were appointed to solicit contributions throughout the Schenectady District, the city of Albany and Tryon County. (1)

The attention of the Committee of Safety was for the most part given over to the settling of petty disputes arising among the townspeople, to the hearing of charges brought against those considered unfriendly to the patriot cause and to the relief of the distressed condition which early in the winter had prevailed throughout the district, due to the scarcity of salt necessary for the proper preparation of the winter's supply of meat. (2)

Details of the militia (3) stood guard at the pickets in their regular turns and further protection was afforded the town by the presence (4) of a detachment of Colonel Van Schaick's regiment which was garrisoned here.

Although the activities of the Tories had received somewhat of a check by reason of the success of the American arms the previous fall, they did not long remain inactive and late in the winter rumors of a plot wide in its scope reached the state authorities. (5)

That agents connected with the conspiracy were working among the many "disaffected persons," who were now included among the inhabitants of Schenectady, was early suspected, and the Marquis de Lafayette who had been sent to make a personal investigation reported (6) to the Albany Committee on March 3 that the suspicions were "very far from groundless." "A soldier who I think is a Spy," continues the report, "has been taken up and examined by me Yesterday. It has been impossible to obtain a true Confession from that Man, but I can however assure you that there is a Conspiracy and an important one. Major Carleton, General's own Nephew, was some days ago disguised in this Town and making preparations — two parties are gone on after him but I question much if they will be successful."

Dissatisfaction it would seem was at this time quite as prevalent in Schenectady as disaffection. Many of the townspeople felt that they had just causes for complaint against the treatment accorded them by the authorities and on March 20 in the hopes that through their intercession redress might be obtained, the whole matter was placed before the Committee of Safety in the form of the following petition (7) signed by fifty-five of the inhabitants, which number included not a few of the more prominent militia officers:

Gentlemen, We the Inhabitants of this town & Distract beg leave to Lay before you a state of Grievences which (in our opinions) we have Just cause to Complain of, and as you are appointed by us to the Care and management of the public affairs in this District, It is through your Means we Look for and Expect Redress.

In the first place you know that a Barracks (8) was Built Here for the Reception of Such Troops as might be ordered Here from time to time, in order that the Inhabitants Should be free from the Trouble and expence of Having them billited on them; that notwithstanding this, Last fall the Barrecks was converted into an Hospital (9) and the troops to be quartered here was billeted on us, which have been Both troublesom and finding them with firewood attended with a Great deal of Expence, which we have not had the Least allowance for but hope you will indevour to procure us a proper Consederation for it.

Secondly, the director of the Hospital appointed a Commisary, (10) and under him a Number of other officers for that Department, who are a part disafacted persons to the States, which we look to be both Verry ungenerous and unjust to appoint Enemys to the Country to posts of profits while so many true friends are in want of bread; and altho the Sick have been entirely removed from the hospital Some Consederable time ago, a Doctor Commesarry, Deputy Commessary and their attendents are still keep in pay, which we look upon to be intirely a waste of the public money, and as we Expect to Bear a part of the public Expence we Cannot help Complaining of this abuse and hope that they may be Emediately Discharged.

Thirdly, that Great partiallity hath hetherto Been Shewen to the Inhabitants of Albany, apointing them in preference to us to posts and places in the public Service, tho the far greatest parte of the Citizens of Albany are in Some public posts, there is only three Inhabitants of this Town Imployed in public Services (Exclusive of Soldiers); That they not Settesfyed with filling all the posts in Albany with their own friends but have Sent a Commisary and Commisary's Clark here to act, while we are Confident we have people Enough Capable to fill Such places.

That Upon all Ocations when the Melitia is Called out, we have Sent three men to the field for one that the City of Albany have done, they being Chiefly Exempt By the public Employment they hold; and we have been obliged to do their duty; this we look upon to be unjust and must beg Leave to tell you that we Expect a more Equatable Distribution of public offices will be made; That we at all times are willing to do our part of the public Service, providing we Can Keep Some proportion of the public Benefit, and unless we can have that, we disvice you will not call on us for any further Services, but on those who are filling their pockets while many of us are in Dainger of Suffering for want.

Fourthly, that one (11) of the three Gentlemen in this town imployed in the public Service, hold no less than four posts viz A.D. Quarter Master General, D.Commisary, D.Barrack Master, D.Forrage Master, which we look upon to be unjust for so many posts to be given to one man while so many are in want and have none at all.

Gentlemen These are the Grevences we at present Complain of and in full assurance that they will be redressed as far as in your superior Judgment they ought and in your power to procure we Remain.

Gentlemen with the Greatest Respect your most humble Sarvants.

The petition was forwarded (12) to Governor Clinton on the twenty-fourth and some three weeks later his answer was received. "Be pleased to assure them," he wrote (13) in part, "that as far as I have anything to do in the Distribution of Offices, the People of the Town of Schenectady shall equally participate with the People of Albany, or of any other part of the State, and that my Orders shall never charge them with more than their due Proportion of Military Duty. As to the appointments in the Continental Line, in which tho' there may have been Partiality, it is out of my Power to correct it, but as to any abuses which have been committed by the Staff of the army on proper Complaint & Proof the Persons injured will be redressed and the Offenders punished."


  1. The Minutes of the Schenectady Committee of Safety.
  2. Ibid.
  3. The return of General Ten Broeck's brigade, dated February 19, 1778, credits Colonel Wemple's regiment with four hundred men, of whom thirty-three were officers. Public Papers of George Clinton, II, 780.
  4. Public Papers of George Clinton, III, 108.
  5. Ibid., II, 248 et seq.
  6. Ibid., p. 852.
  7. Ibid., III, 63.
  8. See chapter X, pp. 62-63. [end of the chapter]
  9. A burying ground was in the rear about halfway between Union and Liberty Streets. From this burying ground in November, 1854, were exhumed the remains of fifty-seven American soldiers. These remains were reinterred in Vale Cemetery with military honors in August, 1859, and the spot where they rest is marked by an imposing monument erected by the citizens of Schenectady.
  10. John Duncan. On October 27, 1777, the townspeople had petitioned for his removal and on November 7 the Schenectady Committee was advised of his resignation. The Minutes of the Schenectady Committee of Safety.
  11. Henry Glen is probably the one referred to.
  12. Public Papers of George Clinton, III, 78.
  13. Ibid., p. 165.

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See Also: Schenectady in the Revolutionary War updated March 30, 2015

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