This weeks' thoughts: class and ethnicity as dividing lines in the Valley

When you examine the story of the American Revolution in the Mohawk and Schoharie Valleys, it becomes clear that revolutionary politics were heavily seasoned by personal grudges, often unfairly distilled into a "have vs. have not" conflict.

The aristocracy of the Valleys centered mainly on the Johnson clan. Sir William, his son Sir John, nephew Guy and son in law Daniel Claus occupied the top legislative, judicial, and military offices in Tryon County. If that wasn't enough, every candidate who won in the 1773 county election was a Johnson tenet, retainer, or crony. Most of these men were of English, Irish or Scots extraction. Sir William was Irish by birth; he made an effort at one point to attract Scots and Irish �migr�s to settle on his lands. Johnson's primary reason for creating a pro-crown population was to counter the growing radical political movement led largely by the Palatine Germans.

The Palatines had come to New York early in the eighteenth century. They had been manipulated by the Royal Governor, and forced into servitude on Dutch patroon lands along the Hudson. Eventually they broke away from this bondage and populated the Valleys of upstate New York. Given their past experience, the Palatinates were predisposed to not put a great amount of trust in the Crown.

The Germans in turn, since they were largely shut out of County and Colonial government offices, became the leading members of the district Committees of Safety in Tryon County. Just as Committees had formed elsewhere in reaction to the establishment, the Tryon Committees developed largely to provide a counter voice to the Johnson clique.

Other factors probably influenced the German settlers to go against the Johnson dynasty. On a purely material level, there was intense competition between the two groups regarding control of the best farmland. Johnson had been deeded nearly all of the arable land along the river by his Mohawk allies. No doubt there was some jealousy present over the control of this land.

Also affecting the relationships between the British settlers and the Germans was the inevitable clash between their cultures. The native English speakers scorned the Palatines, many of whom spoke little or broken English. The Palatinates, in turn, resented the lordly ways of men they saw as their equals, not their betters.

These pressures, along with political preferences, influenced which side a man would choose. Although this is a gross simplification, the majority of the recently arrived British Isles settlers chose to support their rightful government, the Crown. On the other side, the Palatines largely chose to support the upstart Provincial government. It should also be noted that religion acted as a dividing line, with Anglicans not surprisingly supporting the King and various Protestant sects(notably Presbyterians)speaking out for the colonies.

The resentment, scorn, and masked contempt due to these varying differences surfaced as men chose one flag or the other. Their feelings came through probably for the first time at Oriskany, as former neighbors now faced each other for the first time over the barrel of a gun. The fighting that day was brutal, and utterly personal. Former friends fought each other to the death, often in hand to hand combat. After Oriskany, there was no turning back; any veneer of civilized behavior between loyalist and rebel adherents had been brutally stripped away in the dark forest.

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Copyright Greg Ketcham 1997