The Village of Hurley During the Revolutionary War
October 16,1777 through December 18,1777
When the British forces under General John Vaughan burned the village of Kingston on October 16, 1777, they found the village vacated, with the exception of a few stragglers and the militia forces who were defending it. The residents of Kingston had fled southward, through the lower section of the Town of Hurley the evening before, and those who did not, did so the following morning when the artillery battle between the American and British ships began around 9am.
During the afternoon of the 17th, a party of British regulars had started down Hurley Avenue, burning houses and barns as they went. The last house they burned was the Schoepmoes house on the Town Line. At the time of the Revolution, that house was in plain sight of Hurley’s Main Street (trees near homes had been cut for firewood). The billowing smoke from the burning buildings on Hurley Avenue would have been very noticeable in Hurley, and those who saw it would have fled in fear, knowing that they were next, as there were no forces to stop or slow the advance of the British.
Hurley and its grain crop was saved from destruction when the British soldiers on Hurley Avenue hear the ‘retreat’ signal blown on a whistle and were called back to the Strand to board their ships. The other reason the British did not reach Hurley was the four hour artillery fight that had been made by the militia of the First Ulster Regiment under Colonel Johannes Snyder and Major Adrian Wynkoop. This battle delayed the British from advance on Kingston and Hurley. There is little doubt that General Vaughn had intended to destroy the granaries of Kingston and Hurley on his way to assist General John Burgoyne in Saratoga. The loss of the entire fall crop at Kingston, Hurley and Marbletown would have been a severe blow to the colony, New England and the war effort that winter of 1777.
General George Clinton had anticipated the British advance up the Hudson to Kingston, however his Continental Army was in poor condition from the recent battle at Fort Montgomery and Clinton on October 7th and could not move as fast as necessary. The Continental Army also ran into masses of people fleeing sought from Kingston on the evening of October 16th and were further delayed while that traffic jam was sorted out.
The advance units of the Continental Army reached the outskirts of Kingston during the British withdraw on the 17th, but did not engage the enemy. General Clinton decided to encamp his troops at the village of Marbletown, from where he could watch the movements of the British and temporarily established his headquarters at the Oliver House (on Old route 209).
A reconnaissance of the Kingston areas the following morning revealed that the British force ad moved up river. The need to be closer to Kingston and the Hudson River was recognized and General Clinton moved his command to the village of Hurley that day, however the main body of the army remained at Marbletown.
Hurley village was an ideal location for a military outpost. Hurley Avenue provided ready access to the village of Kingston and areas north; Dewitt Mills Road provided access to the Strand area on the Rondout Creek and the Hurley Mountain Road was the back road to Saugerties and Kaatsbaan to the north.
Hurley Main Street became a military outpost with guards stationed at all the roads leading into the village. There were also guards stationed at the A.B. Houghtaling home, the Wynkoop Inn and the Dumond (Guard) House. These guards, from Col. Samuel Webb’s Connecticut Regiment, were dressed in British uniforms – red with yellow facing. The uniforms were originally slated to be replacement uniforms for the regiments under British General John Burgoyne, but the ship carrying them to Montreal had been captured by the American Navy and brought into Boston harbor. It was there, with the approval of General George Washington, that Col. Webb requisitioned many of the uniforms for his regiments. The bright red coat was easily seen among the blues, greys and brown of the other soldiers.
With the security of the Continental Army close by, the residents of Hurley returned to their homes and provided accommodations for Gen. Clinton. The Wynkoop Tavern at the corner of Schoolhouse Land and Main Street became Gen. Clinton’s headquarters. His staff and the officers of various regiments were quartered at the old Wynkpp Inn and the Half Moon Tavern (Elmendorf House) on Main Street where they had the convenience of cooked meals and the liquor supply of the inn. Diagonally across the street, the Dumond House was converted into a guard house for the Officer of the Guard and his Guard Mount. The room on the right front of the house was used as the Guard Room and the basement room provide confinement for many prisoners the Americans had with them.
Across the street and next to the Wynkpp Inn, was the militia training field where the General’s Guard from Col Samuel B. Webb’s Regiment were encamped. These soldiers would provide men for the guard mounts and the personal guard for Gen. Clinton. They would have access to the Half Moon Tavern, located in the left hand room of the Elmendorf House at the corner of Main Street and the lane to the burial ground, which was operated by Peter Elmendorf, who lived across the street. The other homes on Main Street were occupied by their owners or tenants.
Hurley Main Street was literally a seas of red-coated Continental soldiers. No one could get into the village without passing a guard post and giving the countersign- a code word that was recognized by the guards and changed every day. Only officers and those who needed to know knew the sign and countersign. There were no other soldiers or militiamen on the streets of Hurley during the time that Gen. Clinton had his headquarters here.
THE SPY AND THE ‘GUARD’ HOUSE
Among the prisoners held by Gen. Clinton’s army was a convicted spy, Lt Daniel Taylor, of Captain Stewart’s Company of the 9th Royal Regiment. This was a unit of New York and Connecticut men who were loyal to the Crown and willing to fight the Americans. He had been captured at Little Britton in southern Ulster County on October 10th, carrying a message from Gen. Henry Clinton to Gen. John Burgoyne. His job was that of ‘express’, which meant that he was a trusted junior officer who travelled in civilian clothes on horseback carrying messages between various units of the British Army. An ‘express’ was supposed to blend in with the civilian population.
When he entered Little Brittan, he was deceived by the red uniforms of General Clinton’s Guard into thinking he had met an outpost of the British Army. Unfortunately, that was not true and he was captured. General Clinton later wrote that Taylor was seen to swallow something and administered him a very strong emetic, ‘calculated to work either way. This had the desired effect; it brought it from him; but though closely watched he had the art to conceal it the second time….I demanded the ball on pain of being hung up instantly and cut open to search for it. This brought it forth. It was a small silver ball in an oval form, about the size of a fusee bullet and shut with a screw in the middle.” Opened, the ball yielded a message written on tissue paper:
“Fort Montgomery, October 8, 1777
“Nous y voici*, and nothing now between us
But Gates (American General Horatio Gates).
I sincerely hope this little success of ours may facilitate your operations. In answer to your letter of the 28th of September by C.C. I shall only say, I cannot presume to order or even advise, for obvious reasons. I heartily wish you success.
*I am here
Under normal circumstances, ‘express’ from either army were not considered spies of such a nature that their conviction would call for the death sentence. A popular Connecticut soldier named Captain Nathan Hale was captured by the British a year earlier and was hung as a spy. Lieutenant Taylor was tried in New Windsor by a Courts Martial composed largely of Connecticut officers and was condemned to be hung ‘at such time and place as the General shall direct.”
The American troops, trying to reach and defend Kingston from the British, set out immediately from New Windsor and took Taylor with them. He had a long thin rope around his neck, which was coiled and carried after him by a soldier. On halting in Marbletown, he was held in a church. The evening of the 16th, Clinton issued an order that the hanging be carried out “when the troops are paraded and before they march tomorrow morning,” probably to let his men see that someone was paying go the spiteful destruction of Kingston. But the sentence was not carried out the following morning. The troops moved on to Hurley on October 17th, where Taylor was held in the Dumond House, the ‘Spy House’.
On the morning of October 18th, Lt. Taylor was moved by horse and wagon to the sweet apple tree on the side of Schoolhouse Lane, about halfway down the lane. The noose had been placed around his neck earlier. The loose end of the rope was run over a limb of the tree and tied to the trunk. Before the death sentence could be read and the wagon moved out from under him, Lt Taylor fainted and died. His boots were given to the soldier who acted as hangman, as was the custom. The body hung from the tree for at least two days, during which time all the units of Gen. Clinton’s Army were paraded by the body as a lesson to any British sympathizers among them as to what their ate would be if found out. The body was buried at the edge of the road. It was later removed by relative and taken to a private burial location.
After leaving Kingston, the British fleet sailed upriver to the Livingston Estate and remained at anchor there until the 23rd of October. On that date, the British force set sail to the south, passing Kingston without incident and on the 24th, rejoined the British forces at Fort Clinton. Once the British had passed, General Clinton left Hurley and moved his troops south to their original base at Little Brittain. Thus, for one brief week, Hurley was the center of the war effort for the Continental forces in the mid-Hudson area.
THE COUNCIL OF SAFETY AND THE VAN DEUSEN HOUSE
On October 7th, at Kingston, the members of the State Senate and Assembly met in joint session and passed a number of resolutions concerning the movement of supplies and records from the Kingston area. They also resolved to re-establish the Committee of Safety for as long as it was necessary. The membership of the committee consisted of William Floyd, John Morin Scott, Abraham Yates, Johannes Snyder, Egbert Benson, Robert Harper, Peter Pra Van Zandt, Levi Pauling, Daniel Dunscomb, Evert Banker, Alexander Webster, William B. Whiting and Johnathan Langdon. It was also resolved that any seven of the above members would constitute the Committee of Safety.
The Governor, or the President of the Senate was the presiding officer. The Council conducted the business of prosecuting the war at Kingston until the village was evacuated. It then moved to Marbletown and on November 18th, they moved to the village of Hurley, where they met at the Van Duesen House.
The room which was used in the Van Deusen House was most likely the East room. The West room, connected to the kitchen addition, would have been used by the family. Tradition has it that the West room was difficult to heat and a group of men were sent to the ruins of the County building to find the remains of a workable iron stove. This stove, somewhat damaged from the fire, was placed in the West room and provided a bit more comfort. Records of the Council were stored in a ‘secret room’ over the kitchen which could only be reached via a staircase (which looked like shelves) in the kitchen closet. The ‘secret room’ was entered through a trap door.
The actual names of the men who comprised the Committee of Safety at this time is not recorded. They most likely stayed at night in the Wynkoop Inn, where they could be fed and where there was a liquor supply. As communication had to be maintained between the Committee of Safety and Gen. George Clinton, men from Captain Silvester Salisbury’s troop of Light Horse were stationed at the village as ‘express’. They most likely camped at the militia training ground on Main Street. Captain Salisbury was a native of Kingston and his men were local militia.
On December 18th, they left the Van Deusen House at the request of Gen. George Clinton, who wanted the group to meet at a place closer to Newburgh. (It also thought that the Council members found the Van Deusen House to be uncomfortably cold, and with winter coming on, wanted warmer quarters.). With the departure of the Committee of Safety, Hurley returned to more normal activities and the events of October through December of 1777 became history.