A couple weeks ago I received an email from Debbie Allen alerting me to a history marker in the town of Catskill on Embought Road. I was aware of the marker, but have never viewed it.
It is different than the blue and yellow New York state historic markers we are all familiar with. It looks to be bronze and is affixed to a rock ledge not too far off the road. It was placed there by the Onteora Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. It reads as follows:
KYKUIT OR LOOKOUT
“FROM THE TOP OF THIS HILL SIGNAL FIRES WERE LIGHTED DURING THE REVOLUTION WHEN KINGSTON WAS BURNED BY THE BRITISH (1777) AND TO WARN INHABITANTS OF THE TOWN WHEN INDIANS AND TORIES WERE ABROAD. “
Fortunately for Greene County the British never made it to Greene County during the American Revolution, but Tories were a constant threat. Why do I say that? Because despite strong support for the colonial cause and no battles fought here, there were many Loyalists or Tories who caused murder and mayhem.
As we learned when we studied American history, Tories were people who did not actively support the American Revolution and remained loyal to the British monarchy. Tories were also referred to as Loyalists, Royalists and King’s Men. Today we will just stick with the words Tory or Loyalist. The patriots sometimes referred to them as “persons inimical to the liberties of America.” Historians have estimated that 15-20 percent of the population at the time were Tories.
In upstate New York and the Hudson Valley the Tories received considerable support from Native American allies. These Native Americans were part of the Iroquois Nation and not native to Greene County. Their most well-known leader was Joseph Brant, or Thayendanegea, who led Mohawks and Loyalists against the rebels. After the war he fled to Canada.
There are a couple of recorded incidents in which Tories and their Native American allies raided and kidnapped people they believed supported the colonial cause in Greene County. In one of these cases the Stropes, a husband and wife, were slaughtered. In another, often referred to as the “the abduction of the Abeels,” three or four people were kidnapped and carried off to Canada to be turned over to the British. The British paid a bounty for each suspected rebel delivered to them and in some cases were willing to accept a scalp as proof that a supporter of the colonial cause had been slain.
The mountaintop in Greene County was very lightly settled before the end of the Revolutionary War and consisted of a vast wilderness that was largely impregnable except for a few trails that the Native Americans knew about. They used these trails to come from the west and conduct raids on the rebel supporters in the valley. One of these trails follows the Kaaterskill Clove and is what we know today as Route 23A, or as it was known for years, the Rip Van Winkle Trail.
Recently I learned from Hunter Town Historian Dede Thorpe that folks from the mountain top have spoken of a place called the “Tory Fort” that Tories and their Native American allies used as a hiding place and stopping point between western New York and raids they conducted in the valley below. Thorpe directed me to the book “Pioneer Days in the Catskill High Peaks” by Leah Showers Wiltse, which includes a bit about this infamous spot in the Catskills.
According to Wiltse the fort was located on the slope between Round Top (not be confused with Little Round Top in Cairo) and High Peak. She says it is believed Joseph Brant was one of the instigators in constructing the fort.
Wiltse says the following about the fort’s use: “At the Fort, food and supplies, as well as goods, were stored, and there the Tories planned their forays to the Hudson Valley below. In addition to prisoners destined for Canada, tradition says some young, unfortunate victims marked for death by torture were detained at the fort as well. Many and gory were the 19th-century legends told of the treatment received at the fort. The tales increased in violence with each retelling as time went on; probably unfairly…”
Wiltse brings us up-to-date when she says: “Today, the Tory Fort site is very much an item of historical interest and holds its rightful place in mountaintop lore. Over the years many have visited the place and some intrepid hikers have claimed that digging or scratching of the soil has yielded remnants of human bone. There are few ruins to be seen except the tumbled stones and heaps of earth which mark the walls.”
After the war the Native Americans who supported the Tories returned to their ancestral homes or fled to Canada. As for the Tories with European roots, it is estimated that about 15% fled to other parts of the British Empire. I suppose the rest tried to get along the best they could in uncomfortable circumstances. We know there was retribution on the part of the victors. In his book “The Greene County Catskills: A History,” Field Horne writes: “The final impact of the Revolution on the farmers of Greene was the confiscation of the property of those ‘indicted or convicted of adherence to the enemy, authorized by a 1779 act to the new state government … A list by John T. Reilly of confiscated estates includes only 12 Coxsackie names and three from the Great Imbocht (Catskill), although there were certainly more sympathizers.”
When all is said and done, what does this marker tell us? It demonstrates that the American Revolution was not just a war to throw off our British oppressors as we perceived them, but a civil war as well, pitting neighbor against neighbor and sometimes family members against family members — probably to a greater extent than we learned in school.
Reach David Dorpfeld at firstname.lastname@example.org.