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Greene History Notes: The Catskill-Athens Feud

Six-pounder cannon at the Saratoga Battlefield. Likely similar to the one mentioned.
October 8, 2019 11:33 am Updated: October 8, 2019 11:46 am


The book Reminiscences of Catskill. Local Sketches by James Pinckney contains many interesting stories from the early 19th century. One that I found amusing involved a feud between Catskill and Athens over a War of 1812 cannon. Pinckney relates the story as follows:

“There had been for some time, a bitter feeling existing with our Athenian neighbors, growing out of the contest in relation to the location of the County buildings, and very little provocations was requite to fan the fire into a blaze of war. The immediate casus belli was as follows:

“Catskill and Athens had each an Artillery Company; the first commanded by Capt. Jared Stocking, and the second by Capt. Sam Hamilton. Soon after the close of the last war with Great Britain the Government withdrew all the ordinance from these Companies, except for one brass six-pounder, which had to do duty for both.

“Just before the Fourth of July, about 1820, the Catskillians, having resolved to celebrate that anniversary, asked of the Athenians the return of the gun, which was flatly refused. The war spirit of 1812-1815 had not entirely subsided, and the Catskillians determined to capture the artillery… Accordingly, two nights before ‘the Fourth,’ a devoted band…made a midnight raid into our sister Village, and, breaking into the barn which served as an arsenal, bore off the field piece in triumph.

“Athens reposed in quiet until its slumbers were broken by the echoes of the stolen gun, fired from the height near Brandow’s (Now ‘The ‘Willows’ about half way between the two villages). Then there was hurrying to and fro, tall swearing and threats of vengeance as the infuriated Athenians started in pursuit of the despoilers.”

According to Pinckney, the Athenians were too slow. The gun was deposited in Mackay Croswell’s bar and the carriage in the wagon-house. Before dawn, however, the Athenians located the gun-carriage, harnessed the landlord’s cow and returned it to Athens. Pinckney’s narrative continues:

“War was now, of course, fairly inaugurated. Our Village was then placed under martial-law, and young Barent Dubois was constituted Military Governor… Pickets were stationed at every outlet and inlet to the town, while the drawbridge (Site of today’s Uncle Sam bridge) was opened, and a swivel, loaded with slugs and paving stones, was planted upon it, to repel any attack which might, by possibility be made by the way of Kiskatamanatie (Kiskatom). All the next day and night the village resounded with the beating of drums, the squealing of fifes, and the ebullitions of patriotism.

“The succeeding morning’s sun ushered in the “Glorious Fourth.” It was a lovely day, and such a celebration was never witnessed in Catskill before or since. “The Gun,” mounted on the axletree of an ox-cart, its muzzle pointed towards Athens, bellowed “from morn till dewy eve,” doubtless striking terror in the hearts of our adversaries; the little swivel chimed to the sharp accompaniment, and fire-crackers filled up the intervals. The day closed, as usual, with a dinner and a drink, and the following morning, “The Gun” was hoisted up into Isaac Dubois’ loft, from which time to the present I have never seen nor heard from it. The war was over, but a long time elapsed before amicable relations were fully re-established between the two villages.”

This piece I have reported on was written on October 23, 1863, the height of the Civil War. The author closes with the following: “Let those who are disposed to sneer at the slight cause which produced this belligerent feeling among neighbors, ask themselves whether the war which is now devastating, depopulating and impoverishing our Country has any nobler and more honorable origin.” Sadly, I believe it most certainly did.

To reach columnist David Dorpfeld, e-mail or visit him on Facebook at “Greene County Historian.”