Immigrants, Opportunists, and Refugees

Newcomers in a Climate of War

from
The Other Revolutionaries
by
Stefan Bielinski


Stephen Lush winced as the sloop cleared Castle Island and headed for the dock that jutted into the river in front of a large cluster of small buildings. His first sight of the city of Albany in early 1775 left him with the most mixed of feelings. Sent upriver to open a law office for his mentor William Smith, Jr., he already knew that at age twenty-two he would be the best educated and most well-connected lawyer in the region. As the morning sun reflected off the timbers of new buildings being erected in all parts of the old city, he wondered whether the crude community coming into focus before him would be able to satisfy any of his ambitions. Soon he would see his brother who had been in Albany for several years - making his way as an importer and land speculator. As he left the waterfront, this son of a sea captain wondered about his future in a new place where everything seemed to be in a state of flux.

Accutely aware of the uncertain political situation and that his identification with the Kings College establishment might require him to make some new contacts in order to survive, he too was in transition. But Lush quickly decided for the American cause. Before long, he would leave Albany to serve with distinction in the revolutionary army, suffer as a captive on a British prison ship, and finally return as the secretary to governor George Clinton. His political aspirations were already forming. But in 1775, Stephen Lush could not dream that he would live the next fifty years - the rest of his days as a leading resident of what would become New York's capital city.

Uprooted from a comfortable Montreal home, spinster Margaret Livingston was a refugee - living with her parents in a Market Street house owned by her brother Colonel James Livingston. Although born in Albany, Margaret grew up in Canada where her father and brother engaged in the Indian trade. As war clouds gathered, these Livingstons relocated to family property at Stillwater and then fell back on Albany in anticipation of a British invasion. At age thirty-seven, Margaret became reaquainted with Edward Chinn - an English-born frontier trader who served under her brother in the Canadian refugee regiments. Coming to New York with his regiment in 1775, Chinn fought for the American cause. Captured in in Pennsylvania, he was exchanged and then found himself in Albany serving as a clerk in the Chamber of Accounts. In 1779, this forty-seven-year-old bachelor married Colonel Livingston's sister in a union celebrated by more than a dozen Livingston family members and other members of Livingston's staff who, because of the war, also were refugees in Albany.

The names of thirty-one men appeared on a document entitled "Freedoms Purchased, 1781." Complying with a city ordinance to do so, each of these individuals paid between one and three pounds for the "Freedom of the City," an official designation empowering outsiders to conduct business or practice a trade with the rights and privileges accorded Albany-born "Merchants, Traders and Mechanics." Included in this diverse group were Scottish-born John Easton - a cordwainer; newly arrived French merchant John Fontfreyde; John Ram - a German baker who had been living in the city since the 1760s; and Hugh Orr - a Dutchess County native who previously owned a house in Schenectady. As the war dragged on into its sixth year, the city fathers sought to enforce war-suspended municipal ordinances in an effort to regain control of a community economy that was undergoing a transformation and suddenly had many new human elements.

This list of newcomers represents a few of the several hundred people who found themselves living in Albany because of the war. They were immigrants, refugees, and opportunists; but also soldiers, prisoners, and officials. Some of them were not born in America, others were from established colonial families. If not for the war, few of these visitors would have believed that their time in Albany was as anything but temporary. With the British occupation of the lower Hudson and the perilousness of life on the frontier, the long war held all of these would-be visitors much longer than they would have anticipated. Many of them left with the coming of peace - returning to pre-war homes, settling in other communities, or moving on to the new American west. Others stayed on and played key rolls in Albany's transformation. This chapter will consider the newly arrived - their roles in the war effort and their impact on the Albany community.

*

During the fifteen years following the fall of New France, more than a million Europeans came to the American mainland. The pace of their unprecedented transatlantic migration quickened during the 1770s - bringing more than a hundred thousand new people each year until the start of the war. By the eve of independence, many of these Europeans had migrated several times more - from seaport cities, to large plantations and small farms, to riverports and inland communities, and out to the frontier in an effort to catch on. The war brought some of them to Albany. Some of them like the Scots John Easton, Alexander Forsyth, and Colin Gibson set down roots in Albany. Others like Isabel Fife (Phyfe) who came to America with her young son Duncan to find her husband, passed the war in Albany, and then moved on with the coming of peace. Some of the younger newcomer men found themselves in the revolutionary army. Their fathers and other brothers fit in along the Albany mainline - becoming craftsmen and artisans or eeking out an existence in the wartime service economy. The stories of some of the others were more exceptional.

John Tunnicliff of Derbyshire brought his family to America after the Seven Years War. By 1774, his large family and more than a dozen "followers" were working a model farm and ranch on the "Whitehall" lands of Colonal John Bradstreet. While John Tunnicliff was a pillar of the St. Peters vestry, his people also had begun to develop Bradstreet's land in the Unadilla Valley at a place called "Butternuts." Tunnicliff's English-born son, John Jr., came to Albany in 1772 and opened a clock and jewelry shop near the foot of State Street. At the outbreak of the war, these Englishmen were suspected British sympathizers with at-large Tories often seen near both the Whitehall and Butternuts farms. Reports from the frontier charged old Mr. Tunnicliff and son William with supplying the cheese and cattle to the British and that Joseph Brant was a guest in their Unadilla Valley house. Although Colonel Bradstreet was dead and his estate in limbo, Tunnicliff's settlers were called back to the Whitehall acreage where they could be monitored by Major Thomas Reed - a disabled revolutionary officer who was living in Bradstreet's house.

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!



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first posted: 10/30/02