They Also Served

The Homefront Patriots

from
The Other Revolutionaries
by
Stefan Bielinski


On September 8, 1778, twenty-three Albany men aged fifty to fifty five inscribed a memorandum exempting them from military service on their promise to turn out to repel enemy invasion, incursions, or insurrections. They elected aging slooper Cornelis Van Santvoort as their captain and David Groesbeek and Marte Mynderse as lieutenants. Over the next months, the names of additional middle-aged city men were added to the list of Albany's "Associated Exempts." Earlier that year, the state legislature had created that category of patriotism for those too old for active soldiering but who could be entrusted with the role of a home guard. At the same time, these artisans and shopkeepers could continue supporting their families and sustaining the war effort in their most productive capacities.

That enactment extended the commitment to liberty to more than thirty of the community's households. The establishment of a home guard also helped ease fears that the city might be left unprotected while its young men were away - a condition previously unknown in Albany history. While each of the "Associators" was awarded a land bounty right in conjunction with the first regiment of the Albany County militia, these men were not required to march against either British or Tories. In fact, their wartime experience of not actually fighting but still serving the American cause represented a typical city senerio. Albany people on the homefront played key and critial roles in the success of the three American Revolutions. They were involved in setting up and running new governments at the local, state, and national levels; supplying and sustaining the war effort; and in finding new ways to accomplish these tasks in a wartime environment with their community was located in the center of a major theater of military operations. Overall, homefront patriots were more representative of Albany's householders and far outnumbered the community's actual soldiers. The older men known as "Associated Exempts" accounted for about five percent of the city's householders and were part of a broadly based community effort that made outstanding contributions to the revolutionary cause. This chapter will consider their specific roles in the winning of independence and the establishment of new political and economic orders.

Throughout its history, Albany had been a place of opportunity for those who could contribute. As the community economy evolved over the past century, many new people settled in - more than offsetting the departure of traditional people who no longer were able to survive in an economic climate that had become more complex than simply exporting forest and farm products. By the eve of independence, a new Albany society had emerged. Those who remained - the core community group or Albany's new mainliners, survived based on their specific production and repair skills and on business and human service talents. Those who left - failing crafts and business people and most of the younger sons of traditional families, represented an overflow group that could not be absorbed within the new city economy. This evolution first manifested itself during the last colonial war when virtually the only Albany city people to actually fight against the French were the officer sons of elite families, a few foreign immigrants, and even fewer younger sons of marginal families who were not pressed into the wartime production and service activities. Most of Albany's mainline men were needed to supply and support the British and provincial armies. With a dramatic increase in immigration and in-migration and the first influx of European manufactured goods during the third quarter of the eighteenth-century, the mature colonial community of 1775 was best represented by the merchant who accepted farm and forest products as payment for an always short supply but much in demand range of imported items; the shopkeeper - often a one-time craftsman, who could repair and modify metal, wood, cloth, and leather items - and provide domestic copies of European imports; and the transporters, food brokers, and other providers who embodied what had become a significant service economy. At the center of these economic networks and at the top of the opportunity pyramid were the officers of the city and county government. These city fathers were accustomed to mobilizing and utilizing Albany's diverse community resources. During the 1770s, the community's assets were brought to bear in the war on the homefront and would prove vital to the winning of the three revolutions in the years that followed.

To be continued . . .!

The Other Revolutionaries table of contents



notes

This excerpt is taken from a draft chapter last revised in February 1998. It focuses on people who came to Albany during the Revolutionary war." It is presented here to provide a broader perspective on its subject. Consider this essay to be in-progress!

Rosters are printed in CP 4:10, 209, 241. "An Act for Regulating the Militia," passed April 3, 1778, Laws of the State of New York (Poughkeepsie, 1783), chapter 33. Skipper Cornelis Van Santvoort (6721) had volunteered to served in the expedition against Canada in 1746 and had tried in vain for a regular commission in the revolutionary army. His Kingston property was damaged by the British in 1777. David Groesbeck; Marte Myndertse;

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first posted: 10/30/02